Thursday, September 20, 2012

Some Official Goodbyes and Tofo Take 2

After my last post I had a week of work at my site and a week in the bush visiting our other centers as well. These trips are always draining for me. We have really long days, lots of driving, and seem to only encounter problems, not successes, at the centers. And after 4 days of no cell service, food I’m not necessarily a fan of and holes in the ground for a bathroom I am SO ready to get home. I must admit I have broken down a time or two and pouted like a little girl, but come on… who wouldn’t?! However, it is a great reality check for me personally and professionally. These trips always make me appreciate what I do have here and how strong our main center in Quelimane is.

I had a few days to regroup after the work trip before I headed to Maputo (the capital city) for my final Peace Corps conference: COS (Close of Service). It was a quick briefing on all the paperwork we will have to fill out and complete during our actually COS week, as well as a fair warning of what America will be like for us. 1. Man, I thought I had to fill out a lot of paperwork just to get into Peace Corps! It’s even harder to get out! But for those of you who know me all too well, I have most of my paperwork done and ready to be handed in. 2. I found it kind of funny that we had a session about “What will America be like?” Oh Peace Corps. To be honest, and maybe I’m in complete denial, but I’m not too worried about returning. I feel like I got a little taste when I went home for Christmas and I shouldn’t have too many problems readjusting. I don’t think it will actually hit me that I’ve left Mozambique for good until I land in Seattle, but I’m also just blinded by the happiness in seeing my friends and family soon that I can’t even think straight. Trust me, I am ready to come home.

The sad part about this last conference is that it was the last time my group (Moz15) will be together as a whole. I had to say some tough permanent goodbyes and some “maybe see you in the states.” I know that I will keep in touch with the close friends I made here… we have a strong bond that no one else besides other volunteers can relate to. I’m sure when I have reverse culture shock issues back home I will be calling one of them. On the other hand though, it was ok to say goodbye as I am ready to start the next chapter of my life.

After the conference I extended my time in the southern part of Mozambique to return to my favorite beach: Tofo. This time, I went with two other volunteers and again, I had an amazing time. We went horseback riding on the beach and through the neighborhoods. I did another dive where I felt more independent and comfortable with being down 18 meters. And of course, we ate some great food and met some wonderful people. And again, time flew by way too fast.

Now I’m back at site for my final 50 days. Less than 2 months! I don’t have anything too exciting planned for my last few weeks in Quelimane. Just wrapping up my work, starting to clean my house/ pack and say my goodbyes to my fabulous coworkers and the girls.

I do hope to get back to Tofo one last time before I actually leave Mozambique. I can’t express enough how much I love that place!

I hope life is treating all of you well. I miss you, but will see you SOON!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

I Spy... A Whale!

Here I am again way overdue with a blog post. This time I’ve been busy, been lazy and been travelling! Here’s a recap of the last few months.

I’ve pretty much been staying at my site focusing on work. I did, however, get a chance to slip away for a long weekend/ much needed mental health break back to Angoche (a beautiful beach north of me). This was at the end of June. At the same time we had an actors group from Canada come and work with my girls program for 3 weeks. I think it was a great experience for everyone involved. The girls got to learn new games and I got a sense of home (kind of). The Canadians, on the other hand, got to see for themselves the struggles of Mozambique.
On a sad note, at the beginning of July, my second netbook in Africa and my longtime friend, my blackberry, died within 4 days of each other. I had a bit of an electronics meltdown, but luckily survived. I am now currently using an extra laptop of an amazing American friend at my site and bought a new (less fancy) internet phone. Though I am in a developing country I still gots-ta-have me my email access! I think one of the things that got my through my “crisis” was knowing that I only had a few months left of my service. I also had quite a reality check. I felt so stupid freaking out about this when I am surrounded by people with way worse struggles than I will ever face. I am hoping to bring this perspective back with me to the states. It’s a good lesson for all of us.
Next up, we decided to take one month off at my girls program. My 2 coworkers and myself have been working our butts off since the new year and we figured we deserved a break. Now, normally I would freak out… I have one month off… what am I going to do with myself?! I HATE being bored. But as it turns out this month off has helped me to be the most relaxed I’ve ever been here.  I had 2 amazing weeks just at home with no schedule, no responsibility, no worries. One thing I’m really going to miss when I leave is the simplicity that has been my life. In those two weeks I slept in, read, ran errands if needed, watched TV shows from my hard drive, and just relaxed.  That was it. 2010 Meagan couldn’t handle it, but 2012 Meagan has thoroughly enjoyed this time.
After 2 weeks I admit I was itching to do something. So I planned a trip with a fellow volunteer and we headed to Vilanculos and Tofo: 2 of the most beautiful beaches in Mozambique. Vilanculos was more business for me. I was there to finish my scuba certification. I had one day of classroom work, testing and a pool dive.  The second day was filled with the final 2 open water dives I needed to complete, along with some tasks to receive my certification. Luckily (which I didn’t find out until later was a good thing), I was nervous to do my final dives. That first ever dive where I got extremely seasick and couldn’t even complete the second dive will always haunt me. For a split second I considered myself crazy for even trying to do thing again. Well, as it turns out I did great! I completed the dives/ tasks and got my certification that day. The lucky part I’m told is that divers can get cocky after a few dives and that’s where mistakes are made. Because of that first dive I experienced, I don’t see myself ever getting careless underwater, which will only make me a better diver. My instructors were impressed and I was happy to be out of the “classroom” ready to make my first open water dive without instruction.
We then headed to Tofo beach which is a very popular tourist spot. I instantly fell in love. The town itself was small, but filled with gorgeous houses, hotels and restaurants. I definitely didn’t feel like I was in Mozambique anymore. The first full day there we walked around town, checked out diving/ snorkeling companies and enjoyed the beach. Day 2 was where the real fun starts. I signed up for a morning dive where I ended up being the only one on the boat besides an instructor from the diving company (you never dive alone). It was great. We took our time and saw so many amazing things. On the short boat ride out we spotted some humpback whales. Luckily our dive site wasn’t too far from where we saw them so underwater I could hear them communicating so clearly. It was the most amazing thing I have ever experienced. It literally sent chills throughout my whole body. Right then I knew why I was doing this. I was also excited because in my first 4 dives I never saw a turtle. Well, this time around we spotted a large green turtle just hanging out on the reef. Among other things I saw many times of stingrays, including one the size of my wingspan, a small shark, many amazing fish and yes… I did find Nemo. Granted we were not in the Australia region, I still found him. After an hour, we resurfaced and headed for the shore.
Within 30 minutes I was back on the boat for a sea safari/ snorkel adventure. The goal was to find and snorkel with whale sharks. Unfortunately, the water was pretty choppy that day so no snorkeling or whale shark sightings. What did redeem the trip were the many humpback whales we saw. They are currently hanging out in the area after giving birth, which we got to see: a mom and a calf together. Just as we were about to head back to land we see a blowhole in the distance. Our skipper heads in that direction. Soon enough that humpback was breaching all the way out of the water. What an amazing site. As we got closer, we realized the whale was having a great time. He was bobbing his head in and out of the water and slapping his fin on the surface as if he was waving to us. So cool!
Unfortunately all good things must come to end. After a week of bliss I find myself back at my site and back in my home. I’m happy to be here though and get another week off before the madness of 100 girls starts up again.
I’ve hit my 3 months left mark. What a crazy concept. I’ve realized that my home here is the longest placed I’ve lived consecutively since high school. My time here has definitely gone by fast and I know these last 90 days will fly as well. That’s why I’m not letting anything get to me. I’ve also realized that at times I take for granted where I’m at. So in these last 90 days I’m really going to enjoy the fact that I am in Africa. I’ve had some unforgettable memories here, especially this last trip and I’m so lucky I get to experience all of it… the good and the bad.
I hope everyone is doing well at home. Let’s hope I post another blog before I leave. Otherwise, I‘ll see you all in November. Love you!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Beaches and More Beaches

I had about 2 and a half weeks at site between my two visits to Vilankulo in one month. This is no easy feat. Depending on the type of ride you get it could take anywhere from 10-17 hours… usually the latter. So I think I deserve a special medal for making two trips.
The second adventure was for a traditional Peace Corps reunion of sorts… a competition between the northern, central and southern region volunteers of Mozambique. I am team north (because of my site location) and usually we’re considered a joke due to many factors: low turnout (some volunteers have to travel almost 2,000 km to get there), disorganization and more. But a few of us in our last year decided to take it seriously so we organized a private ride for anyone in the north who was interested. It ended up being quite a success and while we lost in the final tie-breaker, we certainly surprised the other regions, which was all we wanted.
Also during this trip I attempted my second scuba dive. I shook off my awful first experience and geared up for what was going to be a great day. And it was just that. The weather was perfect, the water was calm and I was ready to do this the right way. We stayed underwater for an hour as I got to enjoy the sport of diving and complete the skills required (i.e. lose my regulator and locate it, use my instructor’s buddy regulator, and flood/clear my mask). My instructor was so proud! With the dive accomplished, I got to snorkel in the afternoon with two other volunteers. Throughout the day we saw a pod of dolphins (including a baby!), lots of beautiful tropical fish and a few devil rays. At this point I am halfway through my scuba certification and will finish it before I leave the country this fall.
After the quick trip back to Vilankulo, it was time to return to Quelimane. So we packed a bunch of volunteers in a chapa and headed north. 17 hours later we arrived, got 4 hours of sleep and then headed back out to our next adventure. One of my close friends from the south travelled back with us. She and I decided to go even farther north to visit fellow PCVs in another beach town, Angoche. After back to back LONG days, we had finally made it. We spent the next 3 days relaxing and enjoying a new beach, as well as catching up with old friends. As we all know vacations end all too quickly. Next thing I knew we were on an extremely early chapa back to my site.
Now here I am back to work and life in Quelimane. I’ve surpassed the 6 month mark and am creeping up on 5 months left of my service. I don’t have any big plans coming up any time soon so I’m just enjoying the time I have left with my girls.
I hope everyone is doing well and that you start a homecoming countdown for me soon!! I love and miss you all very much!

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Feast of Events

I am the first to admit that I am horrible at keeping an updated blog. I could give you a list of great excuses as to why I haven’t posted anything since January, but I’ll just stick to one: the months have flown by and the next thing I know it’s the end of April. So now I have a poo-poo platter of things that have happen in the last 3 months.
1.      At the end of January my site, Quelimane, was hit by a level 3 cyclone. I, along with my site mates, were evacuated from my house and sent to a consolidation point (I love using Peace Corps terms) a.k.a. a hotel just a few blocks away. We were held up there for two nights while the streets of Quelimane were being thrashed by strong winds and hard rain. With a break in the weather, I trekked it back to my house in knee high water to see if any damage was done. Luckily it is a pretty solid structure and I had no flooding.

2.      As the storm was slowly leaving the area, I was flown down to Maputo (the capital city) for a mid-service Peace Corps conference. It was the first time my group (Moz 15) had reconnected all together since we were sworn in as official volunteers on Dec. 3, 2010. If Peace Corps has done anything to me it has made me a little more awkward in large social situations. I spend a good amount of time alone at site (which I enjoy) so a group of 70 Americans was a bit overwhelming at first, but it was great to see so many friends, as well as the growth we’ve all made at now as veteran volunteers. This mid-service conference was just that… the midway point of our service; a time to see how everyone’s doing with one year down, as well as get a physical exam/blood tests to make sure we’re all still healthy. I passed all my tests, but one… the TB skin test. It turns out I have been exposed. TB is an airborne disease so I have no idea how I got it. All it takes is breathing in the same air as someone with active TB. I work with 100 girls three days a week in a poorly ventilated room, as well as travel to the bush every other month to visit 450 girls. So your guess is as good as mine. Here’s the deal: my exposure lies in the borderline stage (between 5 and 10cm), I am not contagious and my chest x-ray came back relatively normal. If the skin test was bigger than 10cm, I would have immediately gone on a medication to rid it from my system… I guess a very stressful process on your body/ liver (you can’t drink alcohol for 6 months). If I had it my way I would be on the meds to just get it over with and not allow it to get worse, but I have to trust Peace Corps for now. I will get retested before I leave Mozambique for good and we’ll go from there.
Side note: Shortly after I got back to site in February I went to visit one of our other centers and broke out in an allergic reaction that spread from my hands, all up my arms, throat, chest and stomach. I’ve never had an allergy in my life… until now. I still have no idea what caused it, but after 2 weeks, including 5 days of intense steroids, it was gone. One thing I never expected was that my health would deteriorate while I was here. I feel like my immune system has called it quits in my second year. Now I’m just trying to be extremely cautious and do what I can to prevent any other crazy health issues.
3.      After the mid-service conference I stayed in Maputo for a bit so I could take the GRE. Worst. Idea. Ever. Note to self: don’t take a standardized test that is required for grad school while in the Peace Corps. It was too much stress in an already stressful environment and I felt that I wasn’t as mentally prepared as I should have been. I’m just glad it’s over.

4.      I got back to my site mid-February and a month later I was celebrating my 25th birthday. I had a nice, relaxing weekend with friends, pizza, the beach and movies. It definitely didn’t compare to last year’s horseback riding on the beach, but hey, I’ll take what I can get!

5.      A few weeks later I did head back to the site of my 24th birthday: Vilankulos. I did a very useful exchange of experience with another volunteer at the beginning of the week and started on the path to scuba certification at the end! One the first day we went over diving theory, equipment and a practice dive in the pool filled with a bunch of tasks i.e. flooding my mask and getting rid of the water, losing my regulator, using my buddy’s air, hand signals etc. I did surprisingly well for never having been diving before. I think the hardest part was getting the dang wetsuit on!!  The second day was the open water dive out over a beautiful coral reef in the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, to my surprise, I got seasick (never happened before). The water was pretty rough getting out to our dive spot so my instructor and I got our gear on quickly and rolled backwards off the boat into the water (I’ve always wanted to do that!).  12 meters below the surface I was struggling with my buoyance and fighting a rough underwater current. I felt like I was in a washing machine. 45 long minutes later my instructor and I resurfaced. Along the way, I got a bloody nose and proceeded to throw up once we were back in the boat. It was a rough morning. I went back out an hour later to attempt the second dive of the day, but the waves got worse while my projectile vomiting increased. I wasn’t able to make the second dive, but I’m certainly not giving up. I have more course work and more dives to complete before I get certified and I am already planning to go back and finish. This time I will be taking some seasickness pills beforehand! More to come in June!

6.      Back at site, I receive a phone call the other day that informed me of my COS (close of service) date. I will be leaving Mozambique officially on November 15, 2012. I’ve already started updating my resume and slowly working on grad school applications. Though at the end of the day I’ve really enjoyed my service here, working on these documents gives me a firm grasp that the end is near and that I will be returning home soon(ish). I definitely feel that I will be ready to welcome the next chapter of my life.

7.      Work has still been the same: stressful, but fulfilling. My goal was to work less and travel more this year. Thus far, I’ve failed. I still put a lot of pressure on myself to do everything for my program and I don’t think I will ever learn that there is only so much I can do. In the meantime, I’m working on keeping my stress level down and trying to thoroughly enjoy the last handful of months I have left!

I hope life back home is treating you well. I love and miss you all.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Round 6

After getting settled back into my site, I was confronted yet again with the realities and problems I will continue to face for the rest of my service and issues the country of Mozambique will keep on encountering for years to come: corruption, abuse and dishearten-ness.
I had a serious conversation with my counterpart, Ledice (Le-dee-see), the other day about our current donor funding issues, as well as the problems that have yet to be resolved within my program. I come to find out that the local Mozambican organization we are in partnership with to transfer donor funds is abusing their 5% cut of our money to pay the director’s (who is also a pastor in a local church) salary… something that was discussed in negotiations with out donors that WOULD NOT happen. Unfortunately this is not really something I can intervene in as a Peace Corps Volunteer, nor would I feel comfortable doing so. But Ledice has had many conversations with this man that have ended in tears on her part, trying to explain that if he abuses this money we will no longer receive money from out donors as a lesson to be learned.
I’ve also slowly learned over the year I’ve been working with my program that the director simply doesn’t give a sh*t about our girls project. She has never once walked the 10 steps across our compound to talk to the girls and she has no idea about the activities I’ve done and the improvements I’ve made to the program. Yes, it upsets me, but I’ve learned that being mad doesn’t help me… especially here. So, I’ve just dealt with it.
The thing that does piss me off is that the director, for no reason other than being lazy and downright selfish, won’t put my counterpart back on contract. This has been ongoing political BS since March 2011. Being on contract in Mozambique means that the employee is covered with insurance in case of car accidents or other healthcare issues. Since we travel a lot for work Ledice is always nervous. It simply comes down to the fact that my director simply doesn’t want to protect her hardworking employees.
Because of this, my counterpart has become extremely tired of the mistreatment and plans to move her whole family to Maputo (the capital) in June or July. This would mean leaving me stranded again, running my girls program with only one colleague or potentially alone for the last few months of my service. Déjà vu all over again. But I certainly don’t blame my counterpart for wanting to leave.
What is also frustrating is that my director is a woman. Not to be sexist, but the majority of assholes in Mozambique are men. In fact, my situation is the only one in which I can think of that a woman is in charge. In country where women have been suppressed, underprivileged and neglected from the start, it’s extremely hard to watch a woman with power treat her female staff this way.
It all just breaks my heart and again makes me reevaluate why I’m here and if I can even be an effective volunteer through all of this BS. You come over here hoping to “change the world,” but time and time again you find yourself with your hands tied behind your back in a situation far beyond your control. Luckily for me, when Mozambique likes to put its dukes up for a good fight I’ve been able to rediscover the fighter in me and bounce back or re-adjust to whatever situation comes my way!
These situations definitely feel like a punch to the gut, but I’m not ready to give up. In the world of boxing, here’s to Round 6 Mozambique. Bring it on!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

COS Year 2012

Happy New Year everyone! It has been such a whirlwind since my last blog, but here’s the rundown on my last month or so.
My girls’ program came to a close for 2011 in accordance with the Mozambican school year. We threw an end of the year party for our girls where about 80 showed up. We prepared food all day for the event and enjoyed out last day all together in 2011. I spent most of the day soaking up my situation… I have completed one full year of my Peace Corps service and one full year of work with my PEDRA program. Incredible!
I wrapped up my last few days at site and on December 15th I started my journey home. 31 (flight time) hours later I was running off the plane in Seattle to see my family. I was expecting my mom to go a little crazy, but she actually held it together! I went up the escalator at SeaTac Airport and hugged my family for the first time in 15 months… best feeling ever. We headed home to a new house and a big new comfy bed for me!
My parents moved into our remodeled lake house while I was in Mozambique. I was a little apprehensive at first because I spent the last 20 years of my life in our old house, but once we pulled up to the driveway my worries disappeared. The house was amazing! I spent the next 3 weeks enjoying the heck out of the new lake house atmosphere: otters lounging on our dock, our neighbor, the bald eagle, dining on fish, and a pair of swans passing by occasionally to say hi!
The other nerves I thought I’d encounter while home was the culture shock of being back in the States. Reflecting on my time at home, the only moment of internal hysteria was a casual trip to Best Buy the first full day I was back. Come on… who can blame me?!? One, Best Buy is already overwhelming. And two, it was one week before Christmas so (as my former site mate would say) it was a hot mess! After that, I felt like I was able to easily adjust to my “old” life i.e. driving (oh how I miss driving), teasing my brother, and best of all, playing with my dog who luckily did not completely forget about me.
Here are some of home’s highlights besides spending time with my family and Godparents:
·         Emotional reunion with my two best friends, Samantha and Caron, as well as multiple visits with them.
·         Finally meeting my brother’s lovely and amazing girlfriend, Carly, in person- Thanks Carly for being such a great support system to me while I’m over here. She’s a keeper!!
·         Eating lunch/dinner with my former bosses… two of the best mentors a girl could ask for: Rep. Larry Seaquist and Deb Wallace.
·         Christmas Eve and Day with my family- I love time with just the 4 of us.
·         All the amazing food I ate especially Mexican food!
·         The words out of my mom’s mouth- I can’t say much more as I want to keep this blog PG-13. Love you mom!!
·         Visiting two 4th grade classrooms in Federal Way and Marysville, WA- I had the best day! Kids really do say the darnedest things!
·         Skiing with my brother- not the best snow, but still a GREAT day with my big brother.
Soon after, the nightmares I was having in Mozambique came true… It was time to return to my service. The time at home flew by. To a certain degree I was excited to get back to my colleagues, the work I’ve planned for this year, my fellow Peace Corps volunteers and of course the tropical weather. This time I knew what I was getting myself into (as compared to the first time I left home in September 2010). On the other hand, this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I had hear that some volunteers have an extremely tough time re-adjusting back to their site while others simply just don’t return to the country of service after they get a taste of home. The night I headed back to the airport, every inch of my body was fighting to stay at home. I wasn’t ready to leave the comforts of home and didn’t know if I was ever going to be ready. I had to shut off my brain and my heart and just let my instincts do the work. Next thing I know I’m on my 27 hours voyage back to Mozambique. I’m not going to lie… the flight was hard, but arriving in Mozambique was extremely difficult. I didn’t want to be back and on top of that, my bags got left behind in Ethiopia with everything in them. This time I was the hot mess… 3 days without a shower and tears galore (luckily my bags arrived in full 2 days later).
I got to my site finally after the longest travel of my life and ran into the supporting arms of my site mate, Caitlin, who I am forever indebted to for helping me get through this confusing, emotional and just downright tough time.
It took me 2 very long, tear-filled days along with the advice from loved ones back home and the patience of Caitlin to make me feel semi-stable. A week back at site and I still feel anxious at times… especially in the morning. I’m trying to get used to being alone again. It’s so weird… I was living alone for a full year here (and I did the same back home), but these 3 weeks with my family messed me up.
I’m refocusing myself on the work to be done this year and grasping the concept that I’m in the home stretch of my service. COS stands for Close of Service, which I will be doing THIS year!!
Next up for me: I head down to our capital city to meet up with my Moz15 group for mid-service checkups. I haven’t seen a lot of the group since we officially swore in December 3, 2010. So excited! Also, I will be staying down there for two more weeks in preparation for the GRE at the US Embassy on February 11th. Wish me good luck!
I miss everyone from home so much. I love you all and can’t wait to be with you by the end of this year!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Visits Galore and More

Well, it has been a while yet again. Time really seems to fly here… something I was not expecting at all. Here I am, over one year in Mozambique and less than one month from going home for a much needed Christmas break with family and friends in the States!
Last you hear from me I was traveling a lot and celebrating completing one year in country. Since then, my life has been packed with visitors, friends and of course… work.
The first of our PEDRA program visitors was a big one: the U.S. Ambassador to Mozambique. I got an amazing opportunity to work with her office in planning her trip to my site, going out to dinner with her and then hosting her at my center to get to know my girls program. I was stressed out in the weeks leading up to the big visit, but it went off without a hitch. I think the Ambassador enjoyed herself and I know my girls had a great time talking to her. I was so proud of them. Some of the parents were even able to come speak on behalf of the PEDRA program, which made the visit that much more special. Besides the program itself, the U.S. Ambassador was interested in our financial situation. And so, she put me in contact with someone from PEPFAR for potential funding next year. Though I was a bit stressed during the whole ordeal, it was a great reminder of the life I led back home in politics… for a few weeks it felt like just another day at the campaign/ legislative office!
October was full of visitors at work. After the Ambassador, came our Canadian donors and shortly to follow them were our Kenyan donors working for an American organization. Along with these visits comes a lot of prep time and my second official job… translator. Because the word “hate” does not directly translate, I told me counterpart and co-worker that I detest translating and would die a happy woman if I never did it again. Fat chance! Written translation is mind-numbingly dull for me, but verbal, straight on conversation translating is simply a killer. By the end of one day I was left with a migraine, curled over wanting to throw up. I never had time to think and I felt like I had 10 people in my head at once! Though it is pretty cool to function with two languages at one time, I still think translating is the worse job ever!
In this past month I’ve also gotten to spend time with two of my closest friends from the group that got here a year before me. I’ve since said goodbye as now is their time to finish their service. I’m sad to see them go, but I’ve had some amazing times with them. It just makes me realize how special this whole experience really is and how such a great, but stressful and at times scary situation can bring people together from all over the U.S.
Now, I’m just in cruise control until I go home in a month. I’m planning on spending Thanksgiving at my site with other Peace Corps Volunteers and expat Americans.
I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving themselves and I’ll see you at Christmas time!