Tuesday, July 26, 2011

You Know You're In Mozambique When..

Wow. I can't believe it. I'm already on my way back from Africa. My flight was scheduled to leave Saturday, but that would have left me alone in Mozambique for two days (the CFL workers are on vacation and the HELP team leaves on Thursday), so my flight got moved to today, Tuesday. We haven't had Internet for a week--it's out in the whole city--so I am writing to you from Johannesburg, South Africa, as I enjoy my 6-hour layover before my 15-hour flight back to the states.

Anyway, I've been writing blog posts all along, so below you'll find posts from this week we haven't had internet. Hope you enjoy them! Comment and let me know what you think! I love to get comments and know who's reading.


During our adventures the team made the following list titled “You Know You’re In Mozambique When...”

1. You use horse tape and yarn to keep the door from falling off the chapa (van).

2. You take pictures and kids tackle you.

3. You drive more on the wrong side of the road than the right.

4. You compare driving to playing MarioKart.

5. The taillight in your truck bursts into flames.

6. The ants are bigger than capterpillars.

7. Your door is locked with four padlocks, and you can still break in.

8. You watch Lion King in 16 parts.

9. You have to bring your own toilet paper everywhere.

10. When the internet stops working, it stops working in the whole city and it stops working for weeks at a time.

Monday, July 25, 2011

FHE with the Lost Boys

Tonight I had Family Home Evening with the Lost Boys.

My last night in Africa was one of the best nights ever. We went over for a barbeque at Kedesh, a boys orphanage pretty close to our house. There are around 25 boys that live there, and the orphanage is run by an American named John. They have this awesome site with a big soccer field and lots of wilderness, and a huge house with a big room upstairs that feels like a giant treehouse.

All the boys know how to cook, so while a few manned the barbeque, others fried up some onion rings, and we brought rice and sweet and sour meatballs. I feel so lucky that I speak Portuguese, because I could talk and joke and laugh with the boys—I love to learn about life in Mozambique.

After dinner we went upstairs for what could only be called an African orphanage Family Home Evening. One of older boys was MC, and with an egg beater as a microphone announced several dance groups including Balas Perdidas, New Boys, and Game Over. Two or three of the boys would get up and start dancing while the rest of us clapped and cheered. It felt like a family talent show. Then two of the boys played the guitar and sang, and we all got to sing along with their last song. Bella, the volunteer from Brazil also played and sang. Her voice is absolutely celestial—I could have sat there and listened to her all night.

There was one more song, during which I was pulled onto the dance floor to show off some of my moves, several of which generated some applause and whistling. J Much too soon we were saying goodbye, exchanging names to find each other on Facebook, and driving away for the last time. Truly these are the Lost Boys from Peter Pan. They live with just each other for brothers and John. The cook and clean for themselves, and live in a giant treehouse.

Tonight I had Family Home Evening with the Lost Boys.

*I'll add a video to this post of the boys dancing once I have reliable internet. Check back soon!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Nhamatanda Orphanage

Today was perhaps my favorite day in Africa. It will be hard to find words for my experience. We spent the day at an orphanage in Nhamatanda, a village about an hour and a half outside of Beira. The orphanage is run by a pastor named Domingos, and there are 65 orphans, girls and boys ages five to eighteen. All morning I was super excited knowing I would get to go to an orphanage today and play with the kids. I could hardly wait to get there. Fortunately I had the last chapter of The Happiness Hypothesis to finish on the ride.

When we got to the orphanage, we were quickly ushered into the great room, where chairs had been set up in the front for all of the volunteers. The kids sat in neat rows on wooden benches. When we were all seated, the kids started to sing for us. The sound was amazing! It was the most beautiful music, like a call and response sort of chant, complete with harmony. I could have listened to it all day.

After that warm welcome, everyone went outside onto the veranda to start on the day’s activities. I wanted to help with sewing, so I took a group of five young men, all in their late teens, and showed them how to sew a drawstring backpack. Now that I’ve done this several times before, this time I explained much better and helped them get set up for success from the get go. Four of my five successfully completed their backpacks, and proudly showed them off. Domingo, the last one, promised to finish.

We brought lunch for everyone (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches). With the backpacks done, I started to play with the younger boys. They are so adorable! Francisco, 13, showed me how to make a cool flower out of construction paper. Then I showed him and Manuel, 16, how to make my palm frond grasshopper. To keep things lively I started a paper airplane competition. During all this I’m joking with the boys, making them smile and laugh, and completely loving life. I gave my good airplane to Edson, 13, but even so Francisco’s went farther—he’s good with paper. J

Around 2:30pm, other volunteers were getting tired, but I felt invigorated—I wanted to stay there forever. The kids were so polite, so fun, and so excited to have us there. As the afternoon wound down, we all went back into the great room for a few more songs and a prayer. The kids sounded so great. As the music filled the room and I looked at their beautiful faces, I couldn’t hold back a few tears, tears of joy or tears of sadness I don’t know—I just know that I loved these kids I’d only known a few hours and I wanted the very best for them. The pastor shared a message of hope and gratitude for our visit, and several kids spoke as well. We handed out the hygiene kits and school bags we had brought as donations to the orphanage. Then I gave lots of hugs goodbye to Franciso, Edson, Manuel, Whait, Tindai, Johnny, and Jeronimo, and we were back in the chapa (Mozambican shuttle van) on our way home.

At one point in the afternoon Edson asked me a question that I didn’t understand very well. Francisco translated for me: “Edson and I were wondering if we could come to Beira with you during our vacation [school ended on Friday].” They looked at me with wide eyes and sweet, endearing faces. I said with all the truth I could convey, “I wish you could! I would love to spend more time with you, but I’ve leaving for the United States in just a few days!” As we were walking out, I told them that even though they couldn’t come with me in person, they would come with me in my heart. They smiled and nodded. Francisco and Edson, I will not forget you. I will pray for you—that you get every opportunity you deserve, and that your life is wonderful. You will be in my heart.

first row: Edson, Johnny, me, Francisco, more kids who jumped in
second row: volunteers Mariah and Isabella adding their flair :)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Income Generation 2

Besides interviewing budding entrepreneurs, I have also attended one of the Income Generation classes and sat in many meetings about how we can best achieve Care For Life’s goals of promoting self-reliance and alleviating suffering. We’ve toured a facility that makes coal stoves and also houses other small business ventures. One of the things we wanted to do is design a sort of savings program or mini-credit union that communities could implement in order to receive the advantages of joining funds, depositing money, and taking out loans.

Today was the culmination of the our efforts over the last three weeks. We selected two zones (about 30 families) in the community of Ngupa 2 to start an association. One of the zone leaders, Papa Marques, has been a great ally for us, and very excited about the program. He’s a real go-getter, and serves as a great help for CFL. For the whole morning before we got there, he was out knocking doors rounding up people for the meeting.

We were able to share our vision about what an association is, and I explained to them wat I thought were the benefits of being part of an association (which Marques then translated into dialect for me). An association is a legal group that usually has a bank account where members can deposit money and also take out loans. Because taking out loans is next to impossible here (the interest rates can be 50%), this is a pretty big deal.

The people got pretty excited about the idea, and several shared with me the business ideas they had that could be realized with a small, low-interest loan. After our discussion, Margues and Margarida wrote down the names of those people interested in joining (thirty-three!), and we even elected honorary officers until the association could be officially legalized. These people, and the members, will meet together to discuss what the association will look like, how people will borrow, and the difficult question of how to ensure people pay back their loans. When all of this is ready, I have offered some of my funds to start the association.

I told the villagers gathered there that they are pioneers. This will be the first association of its kind in the community, or any of the communities where Care For Life works. As such, they’re almost surely be hiccups along the way, and obstacles to overcome. Yet they can rejoice through their experience, not only will they be blessed, but also Care For Life will learn valuable lessons and better be able to help others in the future.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Team Mozambique

I can’t talk about the volunteer experience in Mozambique without talking about the team. While I’m officially here as an intern, I’ve spent a lot of time with the HELP volunteer team, and I live with them at home. The team is 10-14 people from all over who have come to Mozambique to volunteer for the month of July. You are with these people all day every day, so you become super close super quick. I love the team members. Each brings something unique to the group.

Margie is one of the team leaders, she makes sure everything goes smooth and knows what to do at the orphanages and communities. Check out her blog here with more about Mozambique (and pics of my stories and me!). Chris is the other team leader, a returned missionary that served in Mozambique, so he’s our connection to the culture and the language.

Sandy and Alice are two ladies who just stayed two weeks but were awesome—Sandy is this incredible volunteer fire fighter, triathlon runner, safari woman, and Alice saved our sewing projects with her adept needle and thread.

Wynn (pronounced Winnie) and Henry are the cutest couple, originally from Vietnam. I swear Wynn can do anything! She is a fabulous cook of Asian food, great with the kids, and can make anything from friendship bracelets to wood benches. Henry taught me to make a grasshopper from a palm frond. Definitely going to try that with my kids this year.

Sherri is another lady who comes, and she is the best at feeling—she really connects with the stories and the people. Sherri can simply see someone or hear their story and she already loves them. Read up on her version of our experience here.

Mariah and Michael Ann are college-age girls who decided to come on this adventure, and boy are we glad! Mariah is great with the young ones at the baby orphanage, and is a lot of fun to be around. Michael Ann brings energy to the group—she is incredibly enthusiastic and outgoing. She puts us all at ease and keeps us laughing.

Brandon and Meredith are brother/sister, both college-age as well. I love these two. Meredith is super nice, intelligent, and thoughtful. She always inspires us to always make the most of each moment in Mozambique. Brandon is the most prepared pre-missionary I’ve ever met. He also loves to read like few people I know—he’s devoured the book I brought along (Switch) and we’ve exchanged lists.

Isabella is a volunteer from Brazil. It’s great because she speaks Portuguese and English, she’s incredibly nice, and she is always appreciative of the beauty of Mozambique and its people. She has a beautiful singing voice, so sometimes she serenades us at night with her guitar. See some great pictures of our work on her blog here!

I have loved working with this group. Go team Mozambique!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Saturday is a Special Day

I love when I get to go out with the team and work in the villages and orphanages. Today we went to an orphanage in Dondo. In truth, it's not really an orphanage anymore because the roof has a gaping hole in it, so they had to shut it down pretty much. The kids got sent to surrounding houses or other orphanages in the city. Still we had fun with the kids who were there.

My favorite was Erlan. Another volunteer made him pipe cleaner glasses "just like mine", per his request. Then I suggested a paper airplane contest. So we set about folding and coloring the best airplanes we could. When we were ready, we climbed up on the ledge to throw them as far as we could. The winner? Well, I did make an eighth grade science fair project titled "Which Paper Airplane Goes the Farthest?" :). We danced and played, and generally had a great time. I love playing with the kids.

Then to add a cherry on top of the icing on the cake, we had a bonfire/tin foil dinner night out on the beach. The moon was beautiful--it emerged soft red, huge on the horizon, and lit up our small group as it rose in the sky. We invited our Mozambican friends from Care for Life, and others our team leader Chris knew from his mission. It was so much fun! We ate tin foil dinners of meat, potatoes, and veggies with soft fresh-baked bread. One of the ladies I invited prepared some sort of incredibly juicy lemon chicken that was to die for. We sat on the beach, dipped our toes in the Indian Ocean, frolicked in the sand, and enjoyed the company of friends. Perfect end to a perfect day.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Me in Mozambique

Papaya for breakfast? Yeah!

Teaching kids to sew backpacks

Teaching English

Beautiful Mozambique

The Children of Mozambique

Boys from the orphanage

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Income Generation

Care For Life's work in Mozambique is centered around the Family Preservation Program, which helps families in rural communities with health, hygiene, cleanliness, and more. One of the areas in which Care For Life works is Income Generation--working with families to plant gardens or utilize other skills to start and maintain a small business that could bring in a little bit of extra income.

Care for Life is especially interested now in creating some sort of savings and credit program for these communities, so that the people will have a place to save money and/or take out loans for these small businesses. To give you some idea, when people try and get a loan from the bank, the interest rate can be around 40%--you borrow 100 Meticais, you have to pay back 140 next month. When they try and borrow from a neighbor or friend, the interest rate is 50%. Insane! Obviously, this deters most people from getting loans. CFL would like to make low-interest loans available to budding entrepreneurs. Part of my work here this summer is to visit the communities, talk to the people, and begin to think about what this could look like.

So for the last three days, I've been visiting communities with members of the CFL team to talk with families that already have small businesses, or would be interested in starting a small business to get a little bit of extra money. Talking with these people for even a few minutes, I am amazed, shocked, and inspired.

Albertina is an elderly woman who really wants to start a banana business--buying bananas closer to downtown and bringing them to her rural community to sell
Money needed to start her business: 100 Meticais (about $3.00)

Joana is a widow who takes care of six grandchildren because most of their mothers (her daughters) died in childbirth. The only income she has is from selling wine, which brings in about 150 MT ($5) every two weeks. Every day she travels outside of the village to tend to her garden, which is the only way she is able to take care of her family. She would love to expand her offerings to include other drinks that are in greater demand.
Money needed to expand her business: 1000 MT (about $34)

Three years ago, a Care For Life worker kept pressing Jordino to create his own business. Almost as a joke, he started selling stuff out of his front yard. Now he has a thriving corner store, where he sells oil, crackers, biscuits, drinks, detergent, and other general goods.
Money to start his business: 1250 MT ($41)

And my favorite story. Torres is the neatest 14-year-old entrepreneur. He really wanted to buy a cell phone (the model he wants costs about 1200 MT, $30), so he asked his dad for some money. He went to the beach, bought some fish, and began to sell it out of his front yard. Now he's got an income of 200 MT (about $6) about every 10 days. Now he gives money to his parents sometimes to help out. He's almost got enough saved to buy his cell phone.
Money needed to start Torres' business: 300 MT ($10)

This is incredible to me. First, it's inspiring to hear these stories and others of people starting a little business from almost nothing and creating for themselves a small but significant amount of income. What's shocking is how little is needed to help them get started ($3 for Albertina to start her banana business! $10 for Torres's fish!), but so many can't because they don't have that money, and they can't afford to borrow at the outrageous interest rates available to them. Hopefully my work with Income Generation can find ways to make credit more readily available to these wonderful entrepreneurs.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Gorongosa National Park

After visiting the boys orphanage, I thought to myself, "I can't go and just play in Gorongosa and go on a safari while these boys just stay here. I want to move in here, be their teacher, play with them, love them." But then I thought to myself, No, I need to experience all sides of Africa. And who I am to turn down the chance to safari in Africa? :)

So on Sunday we drove 5 hours Mario Kart style (weaving in and out of potholes) to Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. It was cloudy and rainy when we got there, so our plans for a sunset drive were quickly replaced with an afternoon safari. It was so Jumangi/Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. We were in this big Safari jeep, and we had to go through a gate into the deep forest of Africa, on the hunt for wild animals. Awesome!

We saw lots of warthogs, monkeys, and a variety of antelope-esque animals I didn't even know existed. Have you heard of waterbuck or nyala? Then about halfway through I spotted what I really wanted to see off in the distance. Elephants! They were close to the road, and the matriarch even charged us at one point because she was worried about her young ones. It was awesome! My other favorite part is when we we stopped to take some pictures of several monkeys about 20 yards away, and didn't even notice the warthog burrow two feet away from the jeep. They grunted, then bolted out of their hole, but not as fast as Michael Ann jumped clear across the jeep to the other side. I've never seen anyone move so fast--I couldn't stop laughing.

Our accommodations and the food were fantastic--a little African paradise in the middle of the jungle. Then the next morning bright and early at 6am, we began safari drive #2. We had a great guide, Motinho, who really knew his stuff and took us to the some great places. The highlight of this drive was the crocodiles and the African plains. At the end we came out on this large plain, and in every direction you could see heards of bushbuck, waterbuck, impala, and more. It was incredible, and just the kind of Africa experience I was hoping for.

Gorongosa is beautiful. It's an example of the natural resources and diversity that exist in Mozambique.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Isaac in Africa

As I drove out of the African village of Nhamainga this afternoon, crowded in a van full of American volunteers, I had this thought: “That was the single coolest thing I have ever done.” I had just spent two hours teaching five young African boys how to sew a drawstring backpack. It was absolutely incredible. I just sat on the ground in the community hut, and taught these amazing youngsters where to sew—most of them were already experienced at threading needles and the basic backstitch, all they lacked was materials and instruction. I can’t describe how wonderful that moment was. In an instant, I loved these kids just as much as my fourth graders. Oh, I love them!

I keep saying incredible, awesome, wonderful, but it just doesn’t do justice to the experience. I mean, I’m actually in Africa, meeting the people, hearing their stories, and giving of my time and effort to bless their lives. I’ve wanted to do this for my whole life. At the same time that it’s so completely normal that I just get in a van and go out into the field to work, it’s also completely surreal, like how could I, me, actually be living this moment as though out of a good feely movie or inspiring documentary. I love it. I love it.

That was just one of several remarkable experiences I’ve had over the last two days. On our first day out in the field, we visited a boy’s orphanage in the jungle area outside of Beira. We played soccer and volleyball with them. It was so awesome! I was talking to one of the older boys for a minute and he was telling me that a lot of the boys here actually have one or two parents, but because they didn’t have conditions to care for their child, they sent them to the orphanage. The proprietor there, an American who created this orphanage in Mozambique, pays for them to go to private school, and gives them a place to sleep and eat. The boys were so nice, and so kind. The last time they had visitors was a year ago when the Care for Life volunteers came. We only stayed two hours, but I honestly wanted to stay and just live there.

Finally, the last experience I’ll tell you about right now was at the House of Innocent Saints girls orphanage in Beira. They laid out some mats for us, and we sat outside on the dirt and made flowers out of construction paper and pipe cleaners. I sat with Rosa and Maria. Isaac, a little boy looking no older than 8, came and sat next to me. I asked him how old he was, and he said twelve. I was shocked. He also said he was in the third grade. He was from the boys orphanage down the street. We don’t volunteer there because there are 250 boys, and we don’t have enough supplies or manpower. As we drove away, I was overwhelmed by my feelings. This precious child, so kind and polite to me, without parents, without shoes. The thousands of other orphans in Mozambique that never get visited, that never get pipe cleaner flowers, that never get a loving hour of attention. I waved fervently at Isaac as we pulled out, and I swear I saw him wipe a tear away. I know I was wiping tears away.

If I left today, the experiences I have already had will have altered me forever. I have seen, with my own eyes, how some of the poorest people in the world live. I’ve talked to them, played with them, taught them, and loved them. I will never be the same.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Independence Day in Mozambique

34 hours, 3 airports, 3 airplanes, and 2 countries later, I am in Mozambique! I arrived Monday afternoon, and Chris, the team leader was at the airport to pick me up. He told me the best way to get on Mozambique time was to stay up and go to bed at the regular time. I was super tired, but I was ready to start my Africa adventure--I can't waste a day!

So after a quick tour and shower, we went downtown in the Care for Life truck. Wow, how can I convey to you everything I took in being out in Mozambique? Well, first, I love it. I was smiling the whole time, just loving everything--the people, the palm trees, the jungle, the third worldness of it all. Second, did you know people drive on the left side of the street in Mozambique? Very disconcerting to have a semi barreling toward you on "wrong" side of the street. Third, there are no traffic lights, or any traffic rules for that matter, so everyone drives like the Knight Bus from Harry Potter. Best part is, I never felt unsafe--or maybe I was too enamoured with the landscape. So we went downtown in search of nails and some food, which we purchased at a very Americanesque grocery score called Shoprite.

A Cozinha (Kitchen)

Don't forget your mosquito net!

Soon to be my bunk bed

O banheiro (bathroom)

We had plenty to do that evening. First we went to visit a family that Chris had met (he actually taught and baptized the husband Bernardo) on his mission in Mozambique. They were super nice, and we enjoyed FHE and a legitimate Mozambican dinner with them. Rice, chicken, fries, and salad--my first Mozambican meal is a success!

We spent the rest of the evening celebrating the Fourth of July with four other Americans at a little farm on the outskirts of Beira. Chris had met them early that day volunteering at the orphanage, and they invited us over to celebrate that night. It was a total blast. We made our own homemade fireworks out of steel wool, ate Brazilian food to beyond contentedness, and played Uno. It was so much fun.

I love Mozambique!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Vegas to Africa!

So the chief reason I shall resume blogging in earnest is to tell the tales of my Africa travels. I'm going to Mozambique! I leave tonight--see attached visual travel itinerary. :)

Drake Going to Mozambique FAQ

Q: Why are you going to Mozambique?
A: I've always been fascinated by this country. For a long time, I've wanted to go to Africa, and Mozambique in particular. After my mission in Brazil, I learned a lot about Mozambique because it's one of only eight countries where Portuguese is the official language. Turns out my interest in Mozambique is more longstanding then I thought--the other day I was searching through my old schoolwork is search of an essay I'd written I wanted to read to my kids and lo and behold, guess what I found? A travel brochure I'd made in sixth grade all about...you guessed it!...Mozambique! I attached it below in case you want to take a look. :)

Q: What will you be doing in Mozambique?
A: I am going to Mozambique with a non-profit foundation called Care for Life. The current plan is that I will work within an area of their organization called Income Generation. This program teaches business skills to Mozambicans so that they can become self-reliant and qualify for micro-credit. I will also be in the country the same time as a humanitarian team, so hopefully I will also get to visit orphanages and teach vocational skills occasionally as well. I will also be revitalizing my Portuguese language skills, enjoying the warm winter of the southern hemisphere, and all around enjoying my summer in Africa.

Q: How long will you be in Mozambique?
A: Four weeks, July 4 through July 31.

Q: How are you feeling about your trip to Mozambique?
A: Okay, I guess.... Are you kidding?!?! I'm so stoked--I can't believe I am actually going. It is going to be awesome, incredible, and super super rad!

If you have any other questions, feel free to ask them in the comments. Africa, here I come!

Drake's Pensieve Revisited

In my very first post just over two years ago, I talked about how I put off starting my blog because I didn't know where to start, and I didn't know exactly what to say.
A similar thing has happened over the last year. I've been so busy teaching and starting life in Las Vegas, I stopped blogging, and didn't start up again because I didn't know where to start. How do you capture the experiences of a whole first-year teaching, a whole first year in the real world, out on my own? I didn't know where to start and I felt intimidated.
The good news is, just like then, I'm going to start again. I'm empowered by the fact that I don't have to record everything, I don't have to feel guilty. This is my Pensieve--it is the collection of my thoughts and memories that I choose to store here.
So without further ado, I give you...Drake's Pensieve!