Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Dealing With Mozambican Men

One challenge women in Mozambique face on nearly a daily basis is dealing with Mozambican men. They are extremely bold, extremely persistent and many are just outright annoying. It makes establishing friendships with males in this country very difficult and should be done with extreme caution. Let me give several different examples from my personal experience.
One day I was at the beach with some Mozambican friends, men in fact, when I was approached by a man as I attempted to read my book. He spoke English and asked if he could sit down next to me. I said no. That surprised him but he sat down anyways. He said he wanted to talk to me, be my friend. I said that I was reading and didn’t want to talk right now. He replied by saying he read “once” and for this reason we should be friends. I very firmly said that I would like to be left alone and if he could please go away. He did. For about 15 minutes. This time he didn’t ask if he could sit down, he just did. I was extremely annoyed. Over the next 45 minutes he implored me to be his friend, insisted that he was a nice guy, he owned books and I could read them, all I had to do is give him my phone number or tell him where I lived. I tried to be as polite as I could but my frustration was apparent. I said very directly, in Portuguese so it was clear, “I am sure you are a nice guy. It is nothing personal. I do not want to be your friend. I will not give you my number or tell you where I live. I will not take your number. I will never call you. I do not want to talk. I just want to be left alone so that I can read my book in peace. Please go away.” After another 15 minutes of me subsequently ignoring him completely and a little kind backup from one of my Mozambican friends, he finally went away.
A “chapa” is the main means of transportation here in Mozambique. It is like a taxi-van that is made to seat about 14 that is usually packed with 20 to 30. That can make for a very tight squeeze. The best spot is in the front with the driver (although you have to be able to handle his advances also.) I was sitting next to the driver one day waiting for the chapa to fill so we could depart when a man asked if he could sit next to me. I wanted to say no but that wasn’t an option. He tried to engage me in conversation and I tried to show that I wasn’t interested in talking. He talked to me anyways. Then the key question arose as it usually does in any conversation, “Are you married?” I knew where this was now headed. I said “no” in the coldest, most unfriendly way you can possibly say one word. Clearly he didn’t get it. He proceeded to ask where I live, where I work, could he come to my house, can he get to know me, etc. When I said no to everything he was surprised. Why wouldn’t I want to invite a complete stranger to my house? My silence or directness didn’t detour him in the slightest and he kept talking to me (or himself since I wasn’t responding) until I reached my destination and made my escape.
On another chapa ride a man in the front seat yelled three rows back to where I was sitting and asked if he could have my number. I had never seen or spoken to this man in my life. He didn’t even say hello, how are you or any other greeting. I said no, of course. He responded by passing his phone back and saying, “just put it in here.” I passed the phone back and said again, “no” adding “never.”
A very common mistake we all make is when we think that we are meeting a coworker, colleague, or a potential friend we give them our number when they ask. It’s very common for both men and women to ask for your number upon first meeting you. The difference is the man will call and text message you every day, ten times a day from now until eternity. My first week at site I was in the city shopping when a man said, “Bom dia, mana Emilia.” He knew my name so I thought I must have known him and so stopped to chat. I gave him my number when he asked because I was new in town and hadn’t yet learned that I could say no. Starting that day he called me between five and ten times a day, often in a row even though I only answered the first two times; first, because I didn’t recognize the number and the second time because he called from a different number. That lasted about a month. Several of my friends have dealt with many of the same issues and Mallory is even considering getting a new cell phone number. Now I don’t ever give my number to any men, ever.
In my opinion, the best way to deal with Mozambican men is to ignore them completely. It’s sad and sometimes I feel bad when someone in my town says hello and I don’t respond but I have learned that the second you say something back it gives them an opening to do what they do. Often when I do respond I get called “baby” or “pita” which means mistress/the other woman or they tell me they want to marry me. Then I just get mad and end up yelling at them, which is entirely pointless because they want any attention even if its negative.
That said, there are always exceptions. Here in Mozambique I have met very few men that I trust completely but they do exist. My counterpart Sam, for example, is completely trustworthy. But to avoid the hassle I unfortunately don’t get the liberty of figuring out which is which. I’d rather surround myself with Mozambican women.

Me vs. The Rat

The volunteer who lived in my house before me had recommended that I get a cat because she had always had a rat problem. However, after living there for over a month I had yet to see any rats or any signs of their presence. One night, I awoke to the sound of rustling in the kitchen area of my house. My friend Mallory happened to be staying the night and because I didn’t want to frighten her I decided to not draw attention to the intruder. I awoke early that morning and cleaned up the mess that had been left before Mallory could see it. I knew it was a rat. Cardboard and paper shreds were scattered everywhere as well as the tell-tail disgusting little black pebble droppings.
The next night, I awoke again to the rustling, only this time much closer to me. I hesitated to act, wondering if I really wanted to turn on the lights and face the issue or simply try to ignore it and go back to sleep. I knew I had to be brave. I couldn’t allow my home to be taken over by vermin. I thought that when I turned on the lights, the intruder would flee but it did nothing of the sort. It sat on the desk next to my bed, twitching its whiskers and blinking its black beaty-eyes at me, with no apparent cause for concern. Even as I poised my shoe above its head, its just stared at me. I gave it a good, solid whack, which sent it running to the nearest crack in the wall.
The following day, I was sitting at the table working when I heard the pot on my stove rattle. I looked just in time to see a tail disappear behind my kitchen cabinet. I was furious! How dare it be so bold as to come out in broad daylight! I couldn’t let this continue. I peaked behind the cabinet and saw it paused on the wall directly behind. I placed both my hands on the sides of the cabinet and thought, “Am I prepared to do this? Can I?” With that I pulled the cabinet forward and launched it back into the wall with all my force. I heard nothing but when I looked again it was in the same place, seemingly unphased. So I pulled the cabinet forward again and put all my weight behind me as I pushed. This time I felt the contact between the wood and the soft body of the rat. It fell to the floor, injured, and began to run around my house dragging its legs behind it. This was too much for me. I panicked. Its one thing to hit something unmoving that you can’t even see and another when it is right before your eyes, alive and moving. I couldn’t bring myself to finish it.
I ran outside where my neighbor, Orchidia was hanging laundry. “Pode ajudar-me por favor?” I asked with desperation in my voice. “Help you now?,” she responded, “Okay, I’m coming.” I shinned the flashlight on to the spot under my couch where I had seen it attempt to hide. “Hold the light there,” Orchidia said. Then, with the smallest and most unthreatening stick imaginable, she proceeded to beat the remaining life out of the little thing. Orchidia was holding my leg to support her as she crouched over the rat but I began to squeal and scream and would have run right out of the house if she didn’t have such a tight grip on me.
After about 50 blows and stabs it was over. Orchidia kicked it out of the house, over to the trash pit while I attempted to compose myself. Tears filled my eyes. I had never killed anything larger than a cockroach. And it was such a brutal killing. But I knew it had to be done. The next day I got a cat. Hopefully, it’s presence alone will frighten away every rat to come anywhere near my house and I’ll never have to do anything like that ever again.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Saturday, November 28, 2009


I was picked up from the airport by Peace Corps Staff who helped me get my temporary visa and then took me to the Peace Corps office for my first three vaccinations. Then I was driven from the capital, Maputo, to my training site in Namaacha, an hour and a half away, where I was dropped off at the home of my host family. Usually there is a transition period of about a week where you have a staging in the states and then stay at a hotel for a few days in country but because I was joining the group a week late, all that hand-holding was bypassed. I am glad too because everything was so exciting. Looking back it seems so surreal. Like it was all a dream. I spoke no Portuguese (nothing!) and knew nothing about Mozambican culture or life. But when I went to bed that night I felt so comfortable and knew that I was going to love living in Mozambique.


This is just a little note to thank U.S. Airways and the powers that be for miraculously upgrading my government purchased economy class ticket for the 15 hour flight to Africa to first class. It was glorious. I am certain that the likelihood of such an event ever happening again are miniscule so I wanted to express my gratitude. Thank you, oh so very much.


I am very often asked why I joined the Peace Corps. It is never easy for me to give a short and complete answer, but for the sake of not wasting space or your time, I will try to do both. Life, in my opinion, is innately self-centered. We spend all of our time focused on ourselves; our interests, pleasures, goals, and our basic survival. I see nothing wrong with that because that is just life, but I wanted to take the opportunity before my life became filled with responsibility to devote a short period to something that wasn’t just about me. I also can’t deny the idealistic intensions either. I want to try to make a difference in the world. Maybe that’s ridiculous but why not give it a shot.

There are three main goals of the Peace Corps: to promote world pace and friendship through the service of American Volunteers abroad; to help the people of developing countries meet their basic needs; and to help promote mutual understanding among Americans and people from other countries. This seems like a good idea to me so I applied. It is a 27-month minimum volunteer commitment that can be very rewarding and also extremely challenging. I was definitely up for the challenge and looked forward to the potential for adventure.

Since I majored in Spanish and Latin American History I hoped to be placed somewhere in Central or South America. Instead I was nominated to Central Asia and was assigned to teach English as a second language in Turkmenistan. Turkmeni-what was my initial response but I did some research and soon grew excited about my assignment. I spent months preparing. I began learning Turkmen, studied the history and bought an entirely new wardrobe for the cold and conservative climate. By the time I arrived in Philadelphia for staging before departure I was really excited.

Sadly, my excitement was short lived. Within the first hour of our staging we received news that the Turkmen government no longer wanted our assistance and we were being sent home. Our program was canceled. Needless to say, we were all devastated. We were told that if we chose to continue with the Peace Corps, they would do their best to try to reassign us to another country as soon as possible. I had spent a small fortune and given up my entire life to do this. I knew I couldn’t give up.

Fortunately, the day after I returned home, the Peace Corps called me with great news. They had an opening to serve as a Community Health Promoter in Mozambique, Africa. I was thrilled! This was everything I had ever wanted and never knew it. I had always dreamed of visiting Africa but was intimidated and now I would be living there. I would be learning Portuguese; another Romance language that could be useful after completion of service. And finally, I was going to be entering the health field, an entirely new path for me with so many possibilities. I only had 5 days to readjust what had previously taken me several months. I had to hurry because my training group was already in Mozambique and I would already be a week behind. Less than a week after the cancelation of my initial program I was on my way to my new assignment and I was filled with so much enthusiasm.

And here I am, in Mozambique. Everything happened so fast. But every day I am so thankful to be here fulfilling a dream


In the unlikely event that someone I don’t know reads this I feel I should give a short introduction of myself. As I said before, my name is Emily. I am currently a quarter of a century old and spent the majority of that time in beautiful, sunny, southern California. I attended the University of California, Los Angeles where I received a B.A. in Spanish and History and a minor in Latin American Studies. After graduating college, I pursued a lifetime goal and joined the US Peace Corps. I am currently serving in Mozambique, Africa as a Community Health Promoter.