Thursday, March 18, 2010

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World

It has officially been over 6 months since I returned home from my Peace Corps service in Lesotho and my beautiful, long vacation in Mozambique. Before I returned, I thought 6 months would be a milestone during my "re-adjustment" just as it was an important marker during my "cultural integration" in Lesotho. Just last month I finally started to feel normalized to American society, or should I say, life in Los Angeles.

I have traveled to a few places since last August. Panama was the highlight. I visited my friend Piper doing Peace Corps Panama near Bocas del Toro. I also took a Spanish course to get me started and traveled around the small, diverse country. It was a fantastic trip including rainforest hikes, Caribbean beach vibes, perilous boat rides, snorkeling, "pueblo life" at Piper's site, salsa dancing, cold showers, and many chances to practice speaking Spanish.

My other travels were in the United States. I have taken a couple trips to San Francisco and had fun on a backpacking trip through Yosemite in the Hetch-Hetchy area (which I had never been to prior). I went to Las Vegas for a Bachelorette Party, whoa. Then just last month I went to New England in the winter to visit some Peace Corps friends. I spent most of my time in Western Mass, spent about a week in Vermont on a lake, and had a ball in New York City for a jam-packed 2 and a half days. It was cold, but fun. I think everyone there could tell that I was from Southern California because I was fascinated by the snow ("every snowflake really IS unique!") and had a blast snow-shoeing and building a snow-woman.

Job-searching has proved much more difficult than I anticipated. I sent my resume and cover letters to quite a few jobs, all of which I really wanted and matched well. I had a handful of interviews, but never quite made it to the end--the hiring part. While that was a tough pill to swallow, I think it is for the best. I'm still finding my place here, and I'm glad I have had some time to figure myself out. I still haven't landed my dream job, but I have worked many jobs during my search. Since I returned home from Africa, I have had the following jobs: Media Director, Studio Assistant, Substitute Teacher, Freelance Designer, Mural Painter, SEO Specialist, and I'm sure the list could go on. It has been a bit stressful, but I tend to work well with many, different jobs (like college) so I'm sticking with it.

I still haven't found what I'm looking for...

...but I'm getting close.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Home Sweet Home

I am officially home in the United States. My adventure in southern Africa is over... for now. I have promised my best friend and her family (my Basotho family) that I will return to Lesotho to see them again some day, so I am not too sad knowing that I will be there again in the future.

A new adventure starts for me now in a strangely familiar place. I feel like I can do anything, the sky's the limit! And it truly is. For now, I'm getting started on learning Spanish and surfing the web for jobs and ideas (wish me luck). Unlimited internet is addicting! One of these days I'll get a cell phone, but for now I can be contacted via email.

It's good to be back!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tambo Tambulani Tambo

The Tambo Festival was full of rich cultural events and activities. I'm so glad that I flew to Pemba for Tambo's International Arts & Cultural Festival. As I suspected I would, I've met some fun and interesting people from Mozambique, Brazil, and the Netherlands.

Watching and listening to the Afro-Arab Muslim choir was one of the most unique and beautiful musical experiences of my life. It was fascinating. I'm sure I will treasure the videos of this choir for a long time. I also witnessed the Mapiko dance, a tradition of the Makonde tribe that I was particularly interested in seeing. The Makonde tribe is matri-lineal, but the only dancer in the Mapiko dance is a man whose whole body is completely covered except for his hands and feet. A large group of drummers and singers supports the dancer. The rhythm of the drums can be heard throughout the large village. A traditional horn announces the Mapiko group of over 20 people as they parade through the village to the Tambo Cultural Center. The dance lasts for about 20 minutes starting slow and building excitement with quicker drum beats, faster dancing, and additional characters for drama. They performed a handful of times, and I loved every second.

I'm staying at a new friend's place tonight before I head to Johannesburg. More soon!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pemba: Strange & Beautiful

I arrived in Pemba a few days before the "International Art Camp" began because that was the only time I could get a flight to Pemba from Maputo without arriving late. I felt quite lonely being in a new place by myself where only a select few speak English. I hired a "private taxi," a guy and his personal car, to take me to Russel's Place, the only real budget accommodation in Pemba. There, I was pleased to find my own sturdy tent with a double mattress inside. It was surprisingly comfortable except during the mid-day heat. I liked my tent and the food at Russel's, but the atmosphere was a bit strange--almost all white South Africans. The day I arrived, the only black people at Russel's were the guys working. Not so comfortable or normal.

I lulled around with the ex-pats at the beach and at Russel's for a couple days, reading and writing and relaxing, until Vitor finally picked me up to go to the Cultural Center in a nearby village. Finally! I was back in Africa again, in a village with dirty little kids and drunk men, and simple homes! I was happy to be there after the string of backpackers I had stayed in. I met my roommate, a sweet Brazilian woman who speaks Portuguese and English, and others attending the camp. I am now staying in a still-under-construction house in the village, sleeping on simple woven cots with mats on top of them and using grandma's "African fabric" as sheets. :) Sorry Grandma! There's no running water and no mosquito nets, but I'm quite happy there.

The first day, we went to Arte Makonde where artists of the Makonde tribe in Pemba create beautiful wooden carvings. They all sit outside on burlap sacks on the ground outside, sitting next to each other, and work all day. They worked so fast and effortlessly creating their wooden art. I was mesmerized and excited to try it myself. I was pretty disappointed with my work. My hands were incredibly awkward with the tools and hard wood, but it was fun to try anyway. Yesterday was a sort of literature and poetry day. The discussions in Portuguese were quite boring for me because I didn't understand anything, but a small group of English speaking Mozambicans gave me and the only other non-Portuguese speaker a brief summary of what we missed which was nice. Then some people read poetry and folklore stories, again in Portuguese, but I liked it because you could see the emotion in the poets' intonation and expression.

Today was a beach day. Wimbe Beach is gorgeous, a photo-perfect tropical paradise. It was a nice morning. This afternoon, we will go visit a historical site in Pemba which I believe will include a visit to a mosque and listening to an Arab-inspired choir. Everything is day-to-day with the camp. I'm still in Africa! The cultural experience and exchange has been fabulous so far, though, despite the hiccups in scheduling and communication.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Peace Corps Mozambique Experience

I had about a week of "in-between time" after Chris Conz left and before the "Art Camp" started. A few months ago, two Lesotho PCVs connected me to two Mozambique PCVs--I love the Peace Corps network. Both PCVs are girls living in the south, conveniently located close to the places I was visiting.

I stayed one more night at Zombie Cucumber in Vilankulos--I loved it there. I woke up to a leisurely morning and breakfast of scrambled eggs on a toasted Portuguese roll. I took my last shower for the week (PCVs don't have showers), bought some snacks and airtime (for my pre-paid cell phone), and got on a chapa to Maxixe, then the ferry to Inhambane. It was fun going back the same way I went up Mozambique because I knew the drill and the prices this time. Slowly I made my way to Inhambane where Emily lives. I used the internet and picked up some peanut butter (worth its weight in gold to PCVs) in town. Once I got to Emily's, I was so comfortable. She has a simple 2-room home, a pit latrine, friendly neighbors--this was the Mozambique I wanted to see.

The main differences between our homes in Lesotho and Mozambique are the materials used to build the house and the pit latrine and the fridge. In Moz, people bathe outside so the out-house is split in two parts--one for bathing and one for relieving yourself. Emily's pit latrine is literally a hole in the ground that you squat over, and the hole's kind of small for peeing so I had a hard time. There are two platforms on either side of the hole, one for each foot, that are more humorous than helpful. Emily and I talked about our Peace Corps experiences, and they were quite similar. She is working with an organization on HIV Prevention and finding quite a few obstacles--many of them cultural. I met her neighbors too, and finally got to see a real Mozambican family situation. The only thing that sucked was that I couldn't communicate with her neighbors. I greeted them in Portuguese and apologized for not understanding them.

The next day, I traveled south some more to meet another PCV, Tiffany, in Xai-Xai (shy-shy). Tiffany is a third year volunteer so she really knows her stuff. I met her and her boyfriend at the bus-stop and we walked through her village to her home. I was happy to see cattle plodding along the road. It's not as common as it is in Lesotho to see cattle here. Tiffany also has a simple home made of reeds and cement, but she has three rooms and a toilet seat in her latrine--yay! Tiffany started a children's recreation center for kids in her village. The group is CACHES, and the theme is HIV/AIDS education and messages of hope for young kids. I don't know how to talk about the center without sounding cheesy, but it was beautiful. I never really saw anything like it in Lesotho. When I first visited CACHES, a big group of kids was dancing together. It was a very organized step-by-step dance led by an ebullient male volunteer. The man, Mario, who works during the day volunteers his time in the late afternoons at the center. Tiffany's boyfriend and others donate their time and energy there too. I was in awe the way the community came together to support the center and the kids who are mostly orphans. The second day I explored Xai-Xai a bit, then for lunch Tiffany's neighbor made a delicious chicken and peanut sauce with xima (like papa). Yum, it was so good!

I truly enjoyed experiencing Peace Corps in a different country. I feel like I know Mozambique better because I visited PCVs at their sites. Big thanks to Emily and Tiffany for hosting me!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Rainclouds in Paradise, or F*** You, Jellyfish

Good thing we relished in that sunny day on the beach in Tofo because we haven't had very many. It seems the precipitation is heavier than usual this winter in Mozambique. It's usually a tropical paradise this time of year with hot, but relatively mild temperatures. The last couple weeks though, have been quite chilly, especially at night, with consistent cloud cover and sporadic showers. Chris Conz and I couldn't complain though--it's still more pleasant weather than what we left in Lesotho.

Our last day in Tofo, CC and I packed up all of our belongings and laid on the beach like hobos with our backpacks for a few hours. It was hot and perfect--and our backpacks made good headrests. Then we met Kj and our new friend Erik for lunch in the Tofo market before taking the 1-hour bus ride to Inhambane where we stayed for 1 night. We arrived in Inhambane at dusk and watched the sun melt into the water. Our hostel was right on the waterfront , and we had a beautiful view for the next hour or so. The next morning we boarded the ferry to Maxixe (masheesh)--only a 10 meticais trip over rough water to the mainland. Then from Maxixe, we took a chapa (minibus taxi) to Vilankulos, a sleepy town on the coast about 4 hours north. Here we stayed at an awesome place called Zombie Cucumber, named after a book about Mozambique called "Kalishnikovs and Zombie Cucucumbers". I hope to read it soon when I can get my hands on a copy. This was our favorite place by far--friendly people and a cute, simple hut. We stayed at Zombie for 5 nights and loved it. We went on a dhow safari one day. There were 3 of us tourists--CC and I, and Wei, a female traveler from Singapore. Then there were 4 Mozambican guys manning the boat. We drove out to Magaruque, the smallest of the major islands making up the Bazaruto Archipelago. We walked around the picturesque island, ate a feast for lunch of barracuda and rice and pineapple and salad, then proceeded to snorkel after we stuffed ourselves. We got into the ocean from the beach wearing our fins and masks, confused as to why we were still at shore. But just a few meters off-shore was a gorgeous reef full of different kinds of fish. It was spectacular. CC and I even saw an octopus and a strange, long, thin fish that we can't find an accurate description/name for. Unfortunately the clouds covered the sun by the time we got in the water so it was too cold to stay in for very long. It was fabulous though--snorkeling is really fun, usually. The sky darkened and clouds covered the sky completely as we got back in the dhow. The motor broke shortly after departure so we had to sail the whole way back which takes a lot longer. That's when the whole crew came in handy-they even had to jump out and push the boat a couple times when it got caught in a sand bar. Sailing was nice except that it was cold, and it started raining as we approached the mainland. Our teeth chattered as we jumped off the boat at low tide and walked to shore. Luckily, Rodriquez, the dhow owner, picked us up in his truck and took us back to Zombie where hot-water showers awaited. It might have been my favorite day in Mozambique so far.

A couple days later, CC and I went on another adventure to a different island in the same archipelago. This time, CC went diving on 2-mile reef with a few people, and I snorkeled with two French guys on the other side of the reef. The water was way too rough for snorkeling, but we didn't want to do nothing so we jumped in anyway. I had trouble with my snorkel (it wouldn't fit in my mouth) plus the waves kept pushing me around. I kept coming up out of the water to fuss with my snorkel, and one of those times--BAM! Jellyfish to the face! No, not really, the jellyfish didn't lunge out of the water to sting my face, but a large blue jellyfish (bigger than my head) ran right into my arm and stung the shit out of me. It burned so bad, but I tried to tough it out. It got a big patch of my elbow and forearm, then some tentacles lashed my upper forearm... F*** you, Jellyfish. It's been almost 3 days, and I still have the marks on my arm. At least it stopped hurting by the next morning. After I got stung, I freaked out a little bit, mostly because I didn't know what hit me and I just saw this big blue blob rubbing up against me. If I hadn't been wearing a shorty wetsuit, my stomach and chest would've been stung too. Of course, if I had a full wetsuit I wouldn't have been stung at all. Hmmm. I snorkeled for a bit, but I just couldn't relax. Every time I saw a jellyfish, I frantically swam in the opposite direction. A woman on the boat had to swim out to tell me I was going the wrong way and missing the reef. There were lots of colorful fish and plants underwater, but I couldn't enjoy it amongst my burning arm, jellyfish paranoia, and seawater in my snorkel every other minute. So when the boat left to go pick up the divers, I tagged along and left the Frenchies alone--they weren't very friendly anyway. After all the divers and snorkelers were on the boat, we drove to Bazaruto Island for lunch and relaxation. CC and I walked up the big sand dune before eating out tuna sandwiches. The divers went out for the second dive in the afternoon, and the snorkelers were left to explore the island. I took a nap in the sun because it was a beautiful day. Then I did a bit of snorkeling off the island's shore. It wasn't as good as Magaraque and my jellyfish paranoia got the best of me so again I didn't stay in for very long. CC saw a lot of awesome marine life on his dives--giant turtles, reef sharks, stingrays, potato bass, and a longhead flathead. Unfortunately neither of us saw a Harry Hotlips which is my new favorite fish.

Yesterday I accompanied Chris Conz to the airport in Vilankulos. He's on his way back to Qacha's Nek, and I'm on my own for the next 2+ weeks in Moz. Next up, I'm visiting a few Peace Corps Mozambique volunteers in the southern part of the country. Should be interesting!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Ocean Safari

Tofo is a cute, touristy, beach town about 400 km north of Maputo. Beautiful beaches, friendly locals, and a chill atmosphere—this is why I came to Mozambique. Chris and I met our PCV friends, Kjessie and Andre, at Turtle Cove in Tofinho, outside of Tofo, at a sweet surfer hang-out just a few minutes from the ocean. We were pretty beat after the 9-hour bus ride from the capital, but we couldn’t resist the atmosphere. We sat down with the surfer crowd and enjoyed the local beers (Manica is best, 2M most popular) while we waited for our fish kebab dinner. We’ve met some awesome people here.

The next day, the four of us and four others went out on an Ocean Safari led by Dave and Sean. They said the conditions were perfect for finding whale sharks—so we grabbed some snorkeling gear and jumped on the boat. When we reached the beach, we were informed that we would be helping with the “surf launch”. Basically, we all pushed the boat straight into the waves and jumped in as quickly as possible before the engine started. Then we blasted over the waves at full speed, bouncing up and down. Just the surf launch was exciting. After just a few minutes, Sean spotted some porpoises. We drove up next to them and everyone frantically put their snorkel gear on—mask and fins. It was so fast and exciting that I had trouble breathing calmly in the water. Luckily I didn’t miss the pod of dolphins a few meters underneath us—maybe two dozen or so. Naturally they swam away after a few minutes, then it was back in the boat off to find more sea creatures. We saw a whale breach in the distance soon after. Dave floored it and got so close to the whale we nearly hit it. As we approached it, the humpback whale launched out of the ocean again, turned mid-air, and landed on its back with a splash—breath-taking! It was really close to us, I’ve never seen anything like it. THEN we again got ready to jump in the water with the whale. I was ready this time with full gear already on. Kj and I were the first in the water and got to swim with the whale for an ecstatic few seconds before it swam off. Kj saw the head, I saw the ass. As soon as I saw it underwater, I froze. Kj swam after it. I just watched it disappear around the other side of the boat. That was crazy—a humpback. Then we drove after it, but it obviously wanted some alone time so we let it be.

Eventually, we spotted a whale shark! We ended up seeing two that day. I didn’t get a good look at the first one. All I saw was SHARK! And again froze in the water. I was much closer to the second one and stared at its gorgeous white on black pattern for a good couple of minutes I think. In a nutshell, I had an unforgettable day swimming in the ocean with a whale, dolphins, and whalesharks… oh yeah, and turtles too!

The last couple of days have been rainy, so hopefully the weather improves! We had a fabulous beach day yesterday.