Malaria in Moz

The world’s deadliest animal…what is it?

Probably something ferocious, right? We often hear about shark attacks, people being trampled by hippos or snatched by crocs, poisoned by snake bites. In light of recent events, maybe our first thought drifts towards the fellow human— gun toting and angry.

While all of these are undoubtedly the cause of numerous deaths each year, they don’t even come close to being the deadliest. In fact, the deadliest animal kills 250,000 more humans annually than its next closest competitor. So…what is it?

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The mosquito.

That’s right, a teeny, tiny mosquito is the world’s most dangerous killer, responsible for several million deaths around the world every year.

Mosquitos are carriers of malaria, dengue and yellow fever and can also transmit lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis) and Japanese encephalitis. Each year, 3.9 billion people worldwide are at risk of Dengue infection, 120 million are infected with elephantiasis, and 3.2 billion are at risk of contracting malaria.

3.2 billion people at risk for malaria every single year. Malaria is considered endemic in 91 countries, meaning nearly HALF of the world’s population is at risk. When we do the math, 90% of these cases in these countries occur in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, of the nearly 430,000 malaria deaths reported in 2015, around 387,000 (90%) of them occurred in sub-Saharan Africa.

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In Mozambique, the prevalence rate of malaria is 40.2%, making it the number one killer at the national level, accounting for 29% of all deaths. In Tete, the provincial prevalence is 30.4%. While are provincial rates are significantly lower than national rates, malaria is still endemic and numbers of annual cases/deaths are disproportionately high.

In an effort to reduce cases of malaria on a national level, the Mozambican Ministry of Health and the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMIS, a US aid program) are partnering up with provincial organizations to distribute insecticide treated mosquito nets to every household in Mozambique. Treated nets are one of the most effective prevention methods, showing a 50% reduction rate in the incidence of malaria.

Starting last spring, trained teams of volunteers and community activists have been responsible for going out into their communities, tirelessly walking from door to door in every corner of their districts, to register every household ensure that everyone in the district has a mosquito net to sleep under.

The distribution has been moving from the north of the country to the south; Tete was the most recent province to participate. As the distribution works it’s way down, PCVs across Mozambique have been involved in helping organize logistics, register households, and distribute nets.

The goal of the campaign is 100% coverage, but more than that, it’s eliminating malaria. It’s working towards the day that not a single Mozambican dies from a preventable disease. It’s working towards the day that not a single human dies from a preventable disease, and it’s going to take all of us to make that day a reality.

 

*Sources: http://www.who.int/neglected_diseases/vector_ecology/mosquito-borne-diseases/en/, http://www.who.int/gho/malaria/en/

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Moz 26: Midservice

After a year of Peace Corps service, I once more photographed fellow volunteers and asked them to complete the same prompt, “I’m a firm believer that…” The results are nothing short of incredible.

In a world that seems to have gone mad, amongst a global population that seems to have lost its collective mind, these people keep me grounded, centered, humbled and hopeful that there will be better days ahead. A future with them in it surely means a brighter universe.

Thank you, Moz 26, for inspiring me every day. For pushing me to be better. For reminding me that there is good in this world. I’m honored to call you colleagues and, more importantly, consider you friends. Our numbers maybe be smaller after a year of service, but we are still strong. Parabéns on a successful first year, saúde for the year ahead, and estamos juntos always.

 

The Bookshelf Debacle

What’s a bookshelf worth to you?

Up until last week, I had never asked myself that question (honestly most of us probably haven’t because, well, why would we?). That also means that up until last week, I did not know how I would answer that question.

For context, Chitima is full of carpenters. There’s at least one reputable operation in every neighborhood of the community, open about 10 hours a day/6 days a week. They run pretty standard prices: a table for $30, a bed frame for $50, a bookshelf for $25. All things considered, that’s a pretty reasonable price for handmade, custom furniture in a week. However, being who I am, $25 seemed totally unreasonable—that’s 1,500 mets! So, in phase one, I learned not what a bookshelf was worth, but what it was not worth. And it was not worth $25 to me.

Commence phase two: brainstorming. Luckily (disastrously?) I have a sitemate, Cole, who is equally as cheap and exponentially more crafty in his planning. This kid has hand-drawn blueprints of chicken coops and cat condos, frisbee golf holes made from sticks, and a house half-full of furniture he made out of wood from the bush. A bookshelf was right up his ally and I finally pestered him into agreeing, under the sole condition that I help cut the wood and stock a fridge with beer. Game on.

Phase three is where things start to get sticky…or maybe I should say itchy. The day had come to go out into the bush and cut down wood; it was a cool Sunday morning, sun shining, birds chirping. We each threw on a hat, picked up a saw, and headed out the front door and into the scrub of the nearby mato. Cole, being the seasoned pro he is, began gesturing into the thicket at good candidates for shelf legs and cross beams— saplings that were growing straight and thorny, no thicker than the forearm. I quite honestly could not tell where he was pointing and set to work on cleaning up a small tree that had already fallen down and, to Cole’s scoffs, proved to be too small. Feeling confident in my abilities I set my sites upon a tall and narrow tree, knocking off the thorns per Cole’s instructions while incurring far more injuries than his demonstration. And that’s where the trouble started. In my skilled stripping of the spikes, I took several good pricks to the hands and arms that began to swell and ache. Frustrated, I beat at the tree more quickly and forcefully, shaking it from root to branches. Ha, tree, that will show you! That’s not actually how nature works…the tree quickly had its revenge.

As I cut through the trunk and the tree shuttered under the teeth of my saw, I noticed a stinging sensation on the back of my hands. Must have brushed my hand up against another plant, I thought to myself as I look up into the tree at the leaves, the creeping vines and the large, fuzzy bean pods. I continued on. The further into the trunk I cut the more the tree shook, and suddenly my hands weren’t just stinging, they were burning, they were itching…and suddenly not just my hands were burning, but my arms…and the back of my neck…and….and…and MY WHOLE UPPER BODY WAS ON FIRE. Like a million tiny, rapid pinpricks over every surface of my skin that you wanted to scratch but were only intensified by the friction. I kicked down the tree in one last gallant effort, dragged it out onto the path, and spewed a string of profanities at Cole. In the haze of my torture, I believe I yelled anything and everything between “I’m not having fun,” “I don’t know how you’ve done this so many times,” “this isn’t even worth it, I’ll just go buy a bookshelf,” and “you have NO idea how uncomfortable this is.” Naturally, as I demanded his house keys to go douse myself in cold water, Cole laughed in my face and told me I was being dramatic. “Grab those other branches we already cut and carry them back to the house, would ya?” he requested lackadaisically. Under the weight of the trees I shuffled out of the bush, focusing all my efforts on not dropping the wood and breaking into a run.

After finding some relief in buckets of water, a thick layer of calamine lotion, and seat in front of the fan, the burning itch finally began to subside. That’s when I heard the pounding footsteps, the crash of logs, the bursting open of the front door. Before I could blink, Cole was ripping off clothes in a mad dash to the shower. “You were right! You weren’t being dramatic!” he yelled, followed by a string of profanities to rival my own. HA. I know I should have been sympathetic, but misery loves company. While sitting side-by-side on the couch, limbs akimbo, we realized our error of straying into feijão maluco and finally understood how it earned its name, crazy beans.

Phase 4 was admittedly less exciting, mostly just construction. We needed a flat surface for the shelf tops, and a wide search for chip board resulted in the $8 purchase from a carpenter about 1.25 km down the road from Cole’s house. I ponied up, shucked out the mets, and threw the board on top of my head. As with all things, this was only the beginning. The slight breeze caught the edges of the board perfectly, turning me into more of a kite or a sailboat than an autonomous human being capable of walking. Cutting into the board turned out to be another debacle, the saw seemingly having too wide of teeth to sever it effectively. We settled on scoring it with a kitchen knife/exacto blade combo that worked until it didn’t. Unsurprisingly, one stray swipe led to a clean, deep gash to a finger and a lot of gauze.

Finally, 3 days and a lot of mishaps later, the bookshelf was done. We could finally wipe our hands clean of it…but not before carrying it across town to my house. Another 1.5 kilometers with the completed piece on our shoulders.

So, what’s a bookcase worth to me? Apparently a 1.25 kilometer walk with a sheet of chipboard on my head, a rendezvous in the bush with feijão maluco, bloodshed, and $10 worth of supplies. It may have been a mess, it may have been easier to drop the $25 and call it a day, but I have a feeling I will never take IKEA furniture for granted again.

But hey, would ya just look at that bookshelf? It sure is a thing of beauty.

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A Presidential Address

When Nyusi comes to town, the chefe bellies come out to play.

All the authority figures in the district turn up to flex their muscles, the entire town cleans up streets and paints buildings, and the ag producers pull their finest products to showcase for nossa excelência, our excellency, the President.

His arrival was anticipated for months. First in whispers, then in the preparation of buildings and public spaces, and then in the loud planning of dances and performances. As the time drew nearer, the war-era runway was power washed to clear away decades worth of disuse, tree trunks were given a fresh coat of white paint, flags were erected and new shade structures were constructed around the stage upon which he would speak.

Then, the week before his visit, he cut his Tete tour short and postponed almost an entire month. Honestly, I didn’t think he would show up. Until he did.

What seemed like all of Chitima gathered near the town plaza. Perusing the county-fair style setup of produce booths and livestock pens (in true Tete fashion), citizens donned Nyusi stickers and waved Mozambican flags with his face plastered on the back. Suddenly, a faint buzz in the distance. A blip on the horizon. A loud humming, another blip appearing while one drew close. A loud roaring as the first helicopter hovered overhead and settled in a cloud of dust. Momentary silence as it settled, then roaring again as the second chopper lowered itself to the ground. The town swarmed to the runway.

Nearly 30 minutes later, President Nyusi arrived at the open field near the plaza to tour the agricultural producers’ booths. Surrounded by a posse of community leaders in colorful capulanas, the tiny beetle of a man was shuffled from structure to structure, laughing loudly and forcefully shaking the hand of each presenter. The crowd began to push in on him, no real security in sight save for the man in all black carrying an AK47 and a elderly gentleman in a worn suit carrying a megaphone. This was no Air Force One/Secret Service situation to say the least.

Finishing his tour, Nyusi mounted the main stage and was welcomed by a slew of dances from community groups: young girls, teen boys, the women who sell produce in the market. Lengthy introductions were given by community officials who take advantage of every opportunity to be in front of a microphone. And finally, to the joy of the crowd, the President stepped up to the podium and began his address.

In the scripted version of his speech he appealed to the masses: he called for peace, the laying down of arms and the promise to work together despite party affiliations. He pushed for economic expansion, for the people of Tete to continue pressing forward in their efforts to grow food for their province and produce energy for their country. And then, to the sounds of their yells and clapping, I can only imagine he strayed from the paper in front of him and began riding the energy of the crowd. “TETE NEEDS MORE GOATS! 2 FOR EVERY PERSON, 10 FOR EVERY FAMILY” he bellowed. After all, you’ve got to give the people what they want.

The people cheered, he stepped down, and just like that he was gone— ushered into a car and taken to the administrator’s house for lunch. The presenters packed up their produce, the town slowly meandered back to their homes, and Nyusi flags littered the streets for days.

For a Buck in Mozambique…

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The official currency of Mozambique is the Metical…Meticais in the plural, met(s) for short, pronounced met-ee-call and met-eek-eye-sh.

The current exchange rate is 65 mets to every 1 USD, but it has changed fairly drastically over the last year. In fact, upon arrival last May, the exchange rate was only 49.6:1 USD. While some fluctuation is common with the changing dynamics of the global economy, Mozambique has been uniquely impacted by recent business dealings gone awry and the uncovering of secret international debts.

As of 2015, the average income in a Mozambican household was approximately 512 USD per year, equaling about 1.44 USD per day.

Factor in the average family size of 4.5 members, and we’re talking about approximately 0.32 USD per person, per day if only one person in the home has a job.

33,280.00 meticais per family/year

93.6 meticais per family/day

20.8 meticais per person/day

So there you have them, the basics.

As volunteers in Moz, we live on approximately 10,500 Meticais a month…about 130 US Dollars.

If you do the math, it ends up at about 4.5USD/day to cover everything from phone bills to food to transportation to leisure activities. Some expenses don’t fluctuate much, but the majority of shopping is done in open-air markets where prices are always changing based on local supply, demand, seasons and rainfall, gas prices, and bargaining skills.

So, what can you buy for a couple bucks in Tete, Mozambique?

For less than 1 USD (less than 60 Meticais)

  • A large beer (550 mL)
  • A can or bottle of soda
  • A lightbulb
  • A mid-sized pumpkin
  • A rice sack full of charcoal

For 1 USD (65 Meticais)

  • Approximately 8 tomatoes
  • A 1kg bucket of potatoes
  • 2 loaves of homemade bread
  • 6 onions
  • 3 large carrots
  • 7 eggs
  • 4 heads of garlic
  • 3 bunches of couve
  • 1 kg of flour or sugar
  • 1 large papaya
  • 3 packs of spaghetti
  • 2 rolls of toilet paper
  • A second-hand shirt/blouse

For 2 USD (130 Meticais)

  • 1 liter of milk
  • 1 liter of oil
  • dinner at a restaurant— 1/4 of a chicken, fries/rice/or xima, and salad
  • a box of wine
  • one-way trip from Chitima to Tete City (almost…you’d need 20 more mets)

For 3 USD (200 Meticais)

  • 1 capulana
  • A dress custom-made by a tailor from aforementioned capulana
  • 1 jar of peanut butter
  • 2GB of data for a smartphone
  • A live chicken

The Great Catventure

My sitemate lost his cat. I thought I would help him find a new one. Simple enough, right?

It’s fairly straightforward to find a pet in the States; you’re looking for an animal so you go to your local shelter, check a site like Craigslist, or google breeders in your area. Nine times out of ten you’ll have what you’re looking for by the end of the day or at least know where to go next. It’s not like that so much in Mozambique.

I started by asking my landlady if she knew of any neighbors with kittens. She thought for a moment, said no, and with a furrowed brow recommended I try to wrangle one of the strays that comes into our yard at night to eat garbage. She promptly summoned all of the young boys in our quintal and told them of their new project: throw the next small cat you see into a bag and bring it to Abby. Not that I didn’t believe in their abilities, but my expectations were low. I moved on.

For the next several days I asked all of my mães at the market if they had any leads. Our early conversations went something like this:

Mãe: Hi Abby, what do you need today?

Me: Hmm, I need tomatoes, onions, couve, maybe a little garlic, and a kitten.

*the mãe would look very perplexed*

Me: …do you know where I could find one?

Mãe: A kitten?

Me: Yes a kitten…

*the Mãe would now look entirely taken aback…realization would strike me*

Me:…not to eat! I’m looking for a kitten for my friend, not for food…

At this point the mãe would look relieved that I am not some sort of curandeiro or strange American that eats cats. However, none of the women had any at home nor did they know of anyone who did. They graciously offered to ask around to their neighborhoods, and I continued on my way.

I resorted to asking coworkers next. I was met with the same amount of skepticism as from my market mães, although I suppose this was owing to me bringing it up to nearly everyone I spoke with at the hospital. I couldn’t even find one when I was out doing home visits with an activista…I thought this was rainy season! Baby animals were everywhere…just apparently not kittens.

Disheartened at my misfortunes, I finally asked my thirteen year old neighbor, Rita. Kittens? she said, Sure, my aunt has tons of them at her house! Let’s go! And we set off. It seemed too good to be true.

She took us to her grandmother’s house first, Vovó Eliza. The raisin of a woman emerged from her tiny slat-board home in a flurried, welcoming mixture of Portuguese and Nhungue, took my and Rita’s hands, and led us off once more. Through the gate, down two dirt paths, and into the yard of Rita’s aunt. Kittens? says the aunt, Sure, I have tons of them! Yet there were no kittens to be seen anywhere. She informed me that they only return at night but they would have one waiting for me if I came back at 6 am the next day.

Those who know me well know that I hate mornings. But I was committed.

Rita showed up at my house at 6 am the next day. I scrambled for coffee and silently followed her out the door to her Vovó’s house. Eliza had presumably been awake for hours at this point, as she was already outside washing her breakfast dishes. She retrieved an old rice sack from inside her front door and came to greet us, shaking the dust from it as she walked. A scorpion dropped at our feet as she reached us, and with very little hesitation she kicked a stray leaf on top of it and squashed it with her bare wrinkled foot. We set off once more.

We reached the home of Rita’s aunt to find…no kitten. THERE WAS NO KITTEN. Trying to control my brewing incongruent rage, I quietly listened to them negotiate in Nhungue: we were to return the next day. Eliza, however, was not satisfied with this response and ushered us on, issuing strict instructions to Rita along the way.

I walked Rita the twenty minutes to school, made plans to meet her at 11, and returned home to collect myself.

We were on a mission that afternoon. Rita walked us to her aunt’s to check with them once more, who then referred us to a neighbor. The neighbor had none. We continued on to speak with Rita’s great aunt, who had kittens until the previous week when she sold them all. She recommended we visit another great aunt, who had conveniently lost the remaining 2 of the litter. Rita’s great uncle had one kitten left that he intended to keep, but he offered to visit a friend in the Caphaia who he suspected might still have a few…he set off from his home immediately.

An hour later I went back to his house. He had just arrived empty-handed, explaining that the last of the kittens disappeared earlier in the week. He began to ask small children passing by on the road if they or someone they knew had kittens…the situation had reached a new level of ridiculous. But, like I said, I was committed.

After four tries, a boy around 9 years old nervously told us he had previously seen kittens at a nearby house. The great uncle charged the boy with leading me there, and Rita materialized to join us at some point along the walk. When we arrived, they said they had one kitten left. A young man stood from his upturned bucket of a stool, hissed and clucked his way into the kitchen, and emerged with a tattered, wild-eyed excuse for a cat. Brown tabby, flattened jaguar face, and only half of a bottlebrush tail cranked into a sharp right angle. It was perfect.

However, they wanted $3 USD for it…I was appalled. 3 dollars?! In hind site it was a bit of an overreaction, but my stubbornness proved the ultimate victor. I walked away with a fraying rice sack in hand containing the scraggliest kitten that ever lived— for no more than $1 USD. The ultimate irony of this story? The house we were standing at was no more than 2 minutes from my own, I pass by it every day on my way to work.

While I hear it’s been a bit of a rough adjustment into semi-domesticated house cat life, I have no doubts they’ll get along just fine. With all that effort, they better.

International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day…we celebrate our continued will to fight, the sacrifices made, and the progress achieved.

The Moz 26 cohort is currently attending a training with counterparts from our sites, and the Central region was able to take a few minutes to talk about our dreams for the future of women and how we get there, all in honor of today’s holiday.

We come from different places, we represent different values and experiences, but we’re all working to realize the same goal: a better future for women and for the world.