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.

 

A New Normal

Almost daily I find myself in the midst of scenes and events that somehow seem casual…until further reflection. Then I realize, typically after the fact, that almost nothing about them was remotely mundane. I suppose that’s the way we tend to view our own lives, if only because the experience is our reality.

The great cat-venture could be considered a good example now that I sit here thinking about it (more on that later), but Saturday afternoon may just top them all. I’ll let you be the judge.

It was an average day in Tete City, all the provincial volunteers visiting the capital to celebrate two birthdays. We were meeting at a restaurant on the banks of the Zambezi River, a swanky outdoor eatery in stark contrast with the usual local bathers and laundresses in the water below. Three of us arrived ahead of the rest to see a large crowd gathered on the shore, watching a second crowd working diligently in the fast-moving current.

Oh no, we all said in unison, they found a body again. We weren’t wrong, but it definitely wasn’t the type of body we were expecting.

As we made our way to a table inside, the other patrons seemed thoroughly unimpressed by the scene. It wasn’t adding up. We approached the railing, leaned over, and strained our eyes to see that the group of men in the shallows was hovering around a large grey mass. Some were toting hand-smithed axes, others holding the edges of a large sheet, and others furiously pulling and shifting smaller masses.

hippo

The waiter approached to ask us what we would like to drink, entirely ignoring the commotion until asked about it directly. Oh that? He shrugged and waved it off with a dismissive smirk. They’ve killed a hippo.

According to his intel, the hippopotamus had been wandering alone on the banks further upstream. When spotted by people in nearby homes, it was immediately pursued with axes and machetes until it made its wounded way back to the water. The hunting party followed, gaining ranks as the pachyderm floated along. There were nearly 100 people by the time it reached water shallow enough for them finish the job.

It took over 4 hours and approximately 30 men to hack through the leathery hide and thick layers of blubber, each swing of the handmade axes landing in dull thuds. The crowd waxed and waned with the arrival of police, firing warning shots into the air over the course of an hour. Though frowned upon but not technically illegal, law enforcement was only asking that the hippo be moved to solid ground to prevent any more than the three drownings that had already silently occurred.

And we stood there drinking beers. Commentating on the event. Eating burgers and plates of nachos and listening to American 80s music as it all unfolded. By the time we paid the bill, there was no trace left of the entire debacle but a small portion of hippo skin drying in the sun.

Moz 26, Revisited

As mentioned in my previous post, the Mozambique 26 cohort attended a Peace Corps sanctioned conference back in December, called Reconnect. While the main intent of the conference is to answer any questions we may have and cover any information we will need after our first 1/10 of service, it’s also an opportunity to catch up with fellow volunteers after 3 long months apart from each other.

Naturally, this felt like an ideal time to bother my fellow PCVs into doing a Reconnect installment of their photos from Pre-Service Training.

Unfortunately, our cohort was split into two separate groups (North and Central/South) due to the political conflict and embassy-instated travel restrictions, thus making my participant pool much smaller despite my constant nagging. Cheers to the kids who put up with me, y’all are the real MVPs.

In keeping with my theme of untimely posts, I present to you Moz 26, Revisited:

An open letter to…myself

Last August, at the end of pre-service training, we were asked to write letters to our future selves.

It’s one of those classic activities that leaders of large groups love to use: scribble a quick note to yourself, throw it in an envelope, give it to the leader and totally forget about it until it gets handed back to you weeks or months later. I’ve quite honestly never cared for it much.

So, naturally, when our letters were passed out at our Reconnect conference in December, I stuffed the unopened envelope into a folder without giving it a second look…until last week.

I received a text from a fellow PCV saying he had just opened his letter to himself and was impressed by what he had written in August. I dug through my backpack, pulled out the folder, and searched for the envelope. Then I let it sit on my table for another 4 days.

I finally decided to open (and share) it in honor of completing 9 months in country, 6 months at site. I’m honestly not sure where the time goes, but I have a feeling these words will manage to transcend.

While they were written in response to personal situations, they seem more relevant than ever. I hope you can take them with you as you go.

It reads as follows, the photo above closing out the letter:

Remember that tomorrow is promised to no one. Take time to laugh every day, to smile, to be thankful. Remember the big picture and don’t lose a valuable day of your life being angry or upset or worrying about things out of your control. This day is yours.

Piti piti zwazo fè niche. Little by little. All good and important things worth having in life take time. Remember to be patient and to draw strength in the waiting. Things will come with time.

Bloom where you are planted. Adversity is a blessing that transforms you and pushes you to become stronger. Things may be tough, life may be nothing like you expected, but you have the power to choose how you will respond. Flowers make life more beautiful.

Things happen, such is life. Remember to let go of the things you don’t need, they will only make you heavy. The world you live in is inherently beautiful, remember to seek out the good every day.

When a wave comes, go deep. Throw yourself into everything you do wholly and fully, even when it seems impossible. When the world is daunting and life is giving you more than you think you can take, go with it. Let it toss you around and take you places and carry you along with it. You will come out better for it.

You have everything in you that you could ever need, you are stronger than you know. Above all else, remember that.

Living Without: Running Water

Running water…who needs it?

Not most PCVs in Moz…nor the 2.6 billion other people in this world living without indoor plumbing or improved sanitation. In fact, more people in this world have a mobile phone than have access to a toilet. But why should it matter? I’m writing this from the other side of the world and, if you’re reading this in the states, you can probably look around your immediate area and identify at least one source of clean and safe water.

But here’s the deal. About 1.7 million of those 2.6 billion people with limited access to safe water live in the US. And our water stores around the world are being depleted at a rapid rate. If we’re not careful, half of the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress by the year 2030…meaning the demand for water will exceed the physically available amount.

Scary, right?

That’s why what is happening at Standing Rock in North Dakota is important, why the Rampal situation in Bangladesh matters, why Rio de Janeiro deserved more attention for Guanabara Bay than for the Summer Olympics, why protests in Ireland and India over water rights should be closer to the forefront of our global consciousness and international conversations.

Here’s what I’ve learned while living on carted, limited water over the last 7 months:

  1. It’s more than possible to live on 125 liters of water a week. That’s right. 125 liters all stored up in 5 jerrycans. Or, for those of you better acquainted with the customary unit system, about 33 gallons for all of my drinking, cooking, bathing, and cleaning needs. And most of that allowance goes to staying hydrated.
  2. I’m much more conscious of how and where I use water. The water in those 5 jerrycans? Well, it has to come from somewhere. It’s most often collected from the spigot in our quintal, but the government controls that water and it’s only turned on 2-3 times a week. And a lot of people rely on that faucet. The supply gets tight some weeks, and water has to be dug up and carried from the riverbed instead of waiting for it to turn on in the backyard. In either case, I have found myself acutely aware of how I am spending my water stores. This can lead to some interesting priorities and hard life choices…like do I want to bathe or have clean dishes? Do laundry or have filtered drinking water? Flush the toilet or mop the floor? It’s a constant personal battle.
  3. Washing dishes by hand can be gross and time consuming but it works. A necessary evil, if you will. More often than not, dishes are the last thing I want to do at the end of the day. But I fill up my basin on the floor and get to scrubbing, and 15 minutes later I have clean plates.
  4. Bucket baths aren’t that bad. Some days they feel inconvenient, but the truth of the matter is they get the job done. It takes a particular level of skill to pour and scrub at the same time, but a shower is a shower. One just takes a little longer than the other.
  5. Neither is a dump-flush toilet. Although, believe it or not, I would much prefer a pit latrine. I know, I never thought I would say that. The dump-flush system is just a toilet stool positioned over a latrine pit, so it’s flushed by force from water being poured into the bowl. Aside from having to keep a big bucket of flushing water in the casa de banho, it’s really not all that different than your standard American toilet.
  6. We waste an incredible amount of water in the States. The US boasts some of the highest rates of daily water consumption in the world, around 600 liters per person. The average American uses 189 liters of water in a 10-minute shower (an average of 19 liters/minute), a single run of the dishwasher calls for an average of 42 liters, one load of laundry requires about 114 liters, and a single flush of the toilet will cost an impressive 11.5 liters of water. Those numbers in Mozambique? I’d tally them up at around 6 liters if I’m washing my hair, 4 liters to do almost all the dishes in my kitchen, 10 liters if I’m washing half the clothes I own here, and 3 liters if toilet paper is involved. THAT’S A DIFFERENCE OF 333.5 LITERS OF WATER. That’s 88 gallons of unused water that I don’t miss and can easily live without. Think about that.

Life without running water sure is interesting, but I wouldn’t change it. Some days it is frustrating and feels inconvenient, but it forces me to be conscious of my actions. It keeps me learning, humble, and aware of how my choices impact my environment.

If you’re ever looking for a little challenge: try quantifying your water intake for a day, turning on your hose, putting that amount in containers, and abstaining from all that indoor plumbing for 24 hours. I promise it will change your perspective in unexpected and enriching ways.

The world needs more water protectors and people invested in conservation.