“Tea” with a Side of Sugar

IMG_5028Coming to Mozambique, I had no idea how central tea was going to be to my life, and days like today are when it becomes more apparent. Days like today are days for reflection; days where everything is quiet: no music, no kids running around, and only the tip tap of the rain hitting its puddles. Days like today allow me to reflect on how teatime went from a thought of Victorian era dress with crumpets and teacakes to laughing with my community members.

Flashback to the first day of training…

With butterflies in our stomachs, we unloaded from our bus to a chilled hiss of rain coming down to this new home. Eyes wide and goosebumps all over, we walked into a memory. Drum beats and sweet songs filled the air as we searched to find our new family. Living in the moment with nothing to prepare us for this, we embraced our new families.

Clueless and lost, I followed my sister hand-in-hand to our house. Not wanting to just walk in silence we tried to muster any conversation we could in Portuguese; when all failed we started singing one through ten with our arms swinging back and forth. Then I was there. Home.

My House During Training

My House During Training

The rest of my family welcomed me in, and I was sat in a chair. “Tomar chá? Tomar chá?” my host mother kept repeating to me. I looked around the room for help, and then proceeded to nod out of confusion. Everyone started to move around me, and as I tried to get up, I felt hands on my shoulders push me down. “Okay. Not moving,” I thought to myself.

Moments later a steaming cup of tea was laid before me. After lifting up the cup, the steam spread across my face as a calming blow left from my mouth. After a day in the rain, this was the needed warmth. After a day of confusion, this put my mind at ease. After a day of miscommunication, this allowed for a welcoming silence. As I sat there enjoying my tea, as I would learn to do at least twice a day during training, I started to understand how blended teatime and Mozambican culture have become.

Flashback to being dropped off at site for the first time…

With nerves at an all time high, we were loaded into the car after dropping off my closest fellow Americans. I didn’t know what was before me or how far away my new home was going to be, but there was only one way to go.

Through the five hours of floating in and out of consciousness to my site, the anxiety turned into a blissful peace. The peace settled in as we wound through the mountains; we caught glimpses of small communities and tea fields. I reminisced on all precious teatime moments with my family and neighbors in training. Any doubts floated away as I remembered the comfort of a fresh batch of tea, the company of the people around, and how each teatime led to deepening relations with the people around me.

Tea Fields Near My House

Tea Fields Near My House

Flashback to tea at someone’s house…

After the first couple of weeks of wandering around like a lost puppy, people started to realize I wasn’t going anywhere. And when they realize you’re not going anywhere, they welcome you with open arms, literally; hugs every five meters. What comes next are an overflowing series of invitations: “Will you come over to my house?”; “I want to show you my life and become best friends.”; “Come meet my daughter.”. The last comment may have had some hidden intentions, but all seemed equally enthused to have the new person in the community come to their house.

Before going to the first house, my nerves were everywhere. “What do I say?”; “Am I going to be able to keep conversation flowing with my Portuguese?”; “What are we even going to do?”. My thoughts were racing, so I cranked up the Space Jam Soundtrack and jumped around singing around my house. “Shake out the nerves Thomas. Shake ‘em out,” I told myself. I slipped on my shoes and headed out my door hyped-up, nerve ridden, and ready to talk about anything, and when I entered the house, any hint of nerves left immediately vanished.

The table was set for tea. This was perfect.

I sat down and was ready. I had been through this before with my host family – the perfect blend of conversation, silence, and the comfort of a warm cup of tea.

As the sugar was passed around the table, people were scooping countless heaps into their cup. As the sugar finally came around to me, I scooped in my usual amount. Before I could pass it along, confused eyes stared back at me. “No take more. Take more,” they insisted. Not wanting to overpower the tea, I poured one more teaspoon in. “Ohhhhhh. You don’t understand,” someone let out.

“Wait what?” confused, I muttered.

“We don’t use leaves in our tea. The leaves are too expensive, so we just use sugar and water. That’s how we do tea.”

Others around the table looked confused. One person decided to chime in.

“What? There are supposed to be leaves in tea? What do you call it when there are leaves in the tea? What is it supposed to be called how we drink it? What do these leaves look like?” and the questions rattled on.

Silently, I leaned back and listened in on the conversation about the different between “proper” tea and tea defined by Mozambique’s standards. My friends around the table did not know the word chá (tea in English) consisted of anything beyond hot water and sugar. The cultural exchanged that ensued was eye opening.

The poverty around Mozambique has changed the vocabulary of the people in country. Although tea fields surround where I live and many other places in Mozambique, the people did not see the connection between the plants and the drink that share the same name. This disconnect allowed for an opportunity to have a cultural exchange in a calm and welcoming environment of teatime.

As we sat around that table for a couple of hours drinking our “tea”, I realized how easy this was. They welcomed me, the cultural exchange was fluid, and I felt at home.

As I reflect on these moments watching the rainfall off my veranda, I can’t help to be comforted by the experiences and opportunities I’ve had just with a cup of “tea” and a side of sugar.

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Culture Quiz

Pop quiz time! How culturally adept are you in Mozambican culture? Grab a pen and paper, and you will probably end up surprising yourself.

Next to each number write down if you think you the action would be considered rude or not rude in Mozambican culture. Tally them up in the end, and we will see how you offensive or cultured you truly are. Remember, no cheating.

  1. Spitting
  2. Showing the sole of your shoe
  3. Asking for money
  4. Asking for a phone number from a stranger
  5. Telling someone he/she is fat
  6. Throwing rocks
  7. Picking your nose
  8. Answering your phone during a meeting
  9. Being late
  10. Showing your knees (women only)
  11. Showing cleavage
  12. Breastfeeding in public
  13. Whistling
  14. Hissing at someone
  15. Calling and hanging up
  16. Refusing food
  17. Asking someone’s age
  18. Asking someone’s religion
  19. Eating with your hands
  20. Licking your fingers
  21. Taking pictures of strangers
  22. Eating on the run
  23. Dancing in public
  24. Snapping at the waiter
  25. Wearing wrinkled clothes

You got all that? Here comes the big reveal… drum role please… Let’s see how you did!

1. Spitting

Not Rude. If you’ve got something in your mouth feel free to let it loose. The world is your oyster. People spit everywhere – inside and outside.

2. Showing the sole of your shoe

Not Rude. Unlike other African countries, Mozambicans could care less about seeing the bottoms of your feet. Also, they love to kick back and relax, so don’t be afraid to join them.

3. Asking for money

Not Rude. Everything is very communal, and everyone shares everything with each other. This includes money. However, as a foreigner you will definitely be likely to get asked more. Sometimes the only things kids know in Portuguese or English is “Give me money”.

4. Asking for a phone number from a stranger

Not Rude. After the initial introductions, it could easily be the next thing you’re asked. People are proud of their phones and having a phone. Just beware that giving your phone number to someone puts you in the position to potentially receive relentless phone calls.

5. Telling someone they’re fat

Not Rude. It is actually a complement. It traditionally shows wealth and health in the community. However, most PCVs still don’t take very kindly to it.

6. Throwing rocks

Rude. However, there is an exception if you happen to be a dog. Mozambicans are terrified of dogs and will do anything to keep them away. Keep an eye on your dog if you have one in Mozambique.

7. Picking your nose

Not Rude. Mozambicans must get deeper into their nasal cavity than anyone I have ever seen before. Walking around town or in the middle of the conversation, don’t be surprised if someone goes knuckle deep up their nostrils searching for gold.

8. Answering your phone during a meeting

Not Rude. No matter how serious the matter, the phone call always takes priority. No need to get upset; they probably weren’t listening anyways.

9. Being late

Not Rude. Nothing starts on time! Being 30 minutes to an hour late is on time in Mozambique. Get used to Mozambique time.

10. Showing your knees (women only)

Rude. Those knees apparently really get people going here. Knees and above are the most sexualized part of the body according to Mozambicans. Most women just wrap around a capalana to be culturally appropriate.

11. Showing some cleavage

Not Rude. Breasts are non-sexualized objects in Mozambique. Sometimes tops are even optional for women. The amount of breasts that people in see in Mozambique rivals the amount of breasts in the mind of a pubescent boy.

12. Breastfeeding in public

Not Rude. As a 23 year male graduate fresh out of college, I was pretty ignorant to breastfeeding. However, you learn fast here; everywhere you turn you’re likely to see someone breastfeeding.

13. Whistling

Not Rude. There is not as much whistling tunes here as there is to get someone’s attention. You hear a whistle, and someone is a calling.

14. Hissing at someone

Not Rude. One of the most common ways to call someone over. When you first arrive in country, it feels dirty; however, with time it the disgust begins to fade.

15. Calling and hanging up

Not Rude. Referred to as beeping someone in Mozambique. This tactic is used so that the other person uses their airtime phone credit, and you don’t have to use any. It is wise, but incredibly frustrating.

16. Refusing food

Rude. If someone offers you food then they have probably worked all day preparing it for you. People take pride in their food here, so no matter what it looks like (maggots, rat, or grub) you better eat up.

17. Asking someone’s age

Rude. Exception being children and foreigners. People are blown away by my age. One of my students guessed 45 years old… I’m 23. Not even close.

18. Asking someone’s religion

Not Rude. It is often one of the first questions that you are asked after if you are married and how many kids you have. Mozambique is fairly split with Christian dominance in the South and Muslim dominance in the North. Don’t take it as invasive; they are just looking for some way to relate.

19. Eating with your hands

Not Rude. Most people can’t afford silverware, so hand is the best step. Also, they cut out the middle man and have less work to do afterwards.

20. Licking your fingers

Rude. You would think that would be the most logical step after eating with your hands. Wrong. Someone will come around with a bucket of water for you to wash your hands after the meal. Just wait and don’t touch anything.

21. Taking pictures of strangers

Not Rude. I don’t even know the number of pictures there of me on Mozambican phones. Instead of being creeped on, I’ve turned it into a game of getting as many random other people in the picture with me as possible. The best part is when another PCV spots you on a random Mozambican’s Facebook. It’s like Where’s Waldo Peace Corps edition.

22. Eating on the run

Rude. Americans are horrible about this; everything is go go go back in the States. However if you do not sit down, enjoy, and digest, it is an insult to whoever made the food.

23. Dancing in public

Not Rude. Dancing in public is encouraged. With music blaring around the clock, everyone is dancing everywhere – in the street, outside the classroom, and in the middle of a store. Join on in; Mozambicans will love it.

24. Snapping at a waiter

Not Rude. This snap is usually followed by the person shouting “you, hey you” in the local language. It’s in common practice around the country. If you feel like getting out of your comfort zone and seem even more Mozambican, you can try hissing at them; hissing at people is a Mozambican pastime (see number 14).

25. Wearing wrinkled clothes

Rude. Looks are the highest priority in Mozambique. On the first day at site, I went to do some work at the school during the holidays. Before I arrived, one of my colleagues told me I needed to go home to iron my shirt. After I explained that I didn’t have an iron yet, she told me to take off my shirt. She took my shirt, walked to her house, ironed the shirt, returned, and told me that I looked presentable now. Needless to say, an iron was bought the following day.

 

So how did you turn out? How many did you get correct? Let me know in the comment box.

0-5 – You’re lost. Check out other posts and take it again.

6-10 – Remember a thing or two from world history class?

11-15 – Maybe you’ve read Things Fall Apart.

16-20 – You just arrived in Mozambique. You’re picking this up quickly.

21-25 – You must be from Mozambique.