As Machambas

The Machambas of Chokwe 

Machamba means farm in Portuguese. I can’t remember how I came to explore them first, on foot or by bicycle, but it changed my entire Peace Corps experience in Mozambique. Chokwe escaped the danger of land mines because it is a center of agriculture in fertile southern Mozambique. This meant the land was safe to explore.

During Mozambique’s war for independence from Portugal and subsequent 15 year civil war approximately 171,000 land mines were planted throughout the country leaving Mozambique one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. The war ended in 1992 and Halo Trust entered the country in 1993 to began the dangerous, tedious, and courageous work to clear the country of land mines.  On 9/15/15,  Mozambique was declared officially landline free years ahead of schedule.

I remember crossing the bridge over the canal for the first time. Before me the lush green fields spread out as far as the eye could see. The dusty trails visible by their contrasting caramel brown color weave through the fields with no end in sight. I spent hours exploring the land. It was my sanctuary particularly on the days when nothing seemed to make much sense linguistically, professionally, and personally.

After time I grew to know the fields and where the trails led to, but still I was convinced I would find new paths to follow which kept me coming back. My presence there was confusing for a long time to those who worked in the fields until eventually I became a familiar face. A smile and good morning in the local language Shangana usually made people brighten, some would even stop to talk usually to find out where I was going.

The machambas are now the view from the front of my new home in Chokwe. I have asked Orlando inquire about buying the unsettled piece of land across from our house to ensure that I will always have a view of the machambas. Our house is a short walk from the bridge that takes me over the canal and into the maze of dirt paths through the agricultural fields. It was a perfect choice for our home in Chokwe where Orlando’s family still lives.

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A view of our house (the one on the right) from the fields

My first solo walk in the fields since arriving in Mozambique made me feel that safe familiar feeling I felt many years ago. I breathed deeply the fragrant aromas a blend of fruit trees, passing animals, mostly cows and goats, vegetation, a smattering of floral scents, and fresh air. I smiled as I set our along the canal remembering my almost daily walks or bike rides on this same trail.

On an overcast day the clouds hang low in the sky adding a smoky mystique to the land below, but the contrast of the women’s brightly colored capulanas worn on their heads, around their waists or to hold a baby snug to their backs is like a splash of watercolors on a grey canvas. On a clear day the sun hangs high overhead like a ball of fire suspended in a sea of turquoise. The heat is oppressive and there is no shade cover when you are in the machambas making the already backbreaking work seem heroic.

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I wonder what the Mozambicans think of me leisurely walking or biking through the fields. I try not to think about that too much as I enjoy the fresh air, wide open space, and peacefulness around me. It’s where I do my best thinking. I often slip into a meditative state waking to find I have gone further or longer than planned. I like the quiet and I use the opportunity to listen to my breath, my thoughts, and the universe’s messages for me. My time in the machambas brings clarity to deep pondering questions.

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It is the Machambas that endeared me, mind, body, and soul to this dusty often harsh crossroads town in southern Mozambique. The sunsets and sunrises over them are amongst the most brilliant scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Each day brings new beauty from the sky. The machambas served as a trusty friend, reliable counselor, and a calming respite whenever I needed them. I feel as though I have returned home every time I reunite with my beloved machambas.

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The House in Chokwe

Orlando and I are the proud landowners of two plots of land here in Mozambique. We are  financially unable to purchase land in the US, but given the relatively low land prices here in Mozambique it was a wise decision to invest in land here.

Our first purchase was a simple square of land high on a hill overlooking the lagoon of Bilene. We opted for the spanning view of the crystal blue water over a waterfront plot on the backside of the lagoon. We are both drawn to expansive views. The waterfront land was isolated and offered a lovely sight of the water, but it abutted land already owned by a resort. That signaled potential future issues namely a busy flow of people bringing with them noise and litter. After touring the waterfront land we were driven to the land on the hill. I think we both knew instantly that it was our land. I would have accepted any decision Orlando made because this is where he is from and I wanted him to feel most connected with the choice, but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt when I saw the land on the hill that it was his preference too.

These are older photos from when the wall was going up around the land. The photos obviously don’t do the view justice.

Orlando worked hard to secure the purchase of the land in Bilene after our 2009 visit to Mozambique. I admire his tenacity. Like most processes here in Mozambique buying property is no easy task, complete with a great deal of bureaucracy, red tape, bribes, and paperwork. My brother-in-law assisted with the transaction, but the sale was not concluded until we next visited in 2011.

The land has a mandatory wall surrounding it, a specially made sign designating it as ours and some fruit trees. There is a family nearby that is paid to care for the land and the fruit trees. One day we will build a home there.

After renting homes in Chokwe during our visits in 2009 and 2011 we had talked about the possibility of building a small “dependencia” on my in-law’s land. A dependencia is a small house which is typically devoid of a kitchen and bathroom as those activities are usually done outdoors. Cooking is done over a coal stove and many bathrooms are still outdoor latrines. My only stipulation was that our dependencia have a functional bathroom indoors. At some point Orlando was confronted with the opportunity to buy land in his hometown of Chokwe, where I also served as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The plot was in a newly developed area which was once vacant land housing an old ruined stadium and a newer soccer stadium. We had seen the development on our visit in 2011 and I didn’t need much convincing that it was the right place for us to build a home. Orlando worked through his brother to secure the land purchase. I think it went a little more smoothly than the first time he bought land.

Orlando got the land cleared and started the ball rolling for construction to begin during his solo visit to Mozambique in February of 2015. He returned from his trip motivated and energized by the prospect of having our own home in Chokwe. The first order of business was to build a dependencia for my brother-in-law to live in so he could also guide the construction of the main house. I’m happy to see that his dependencia has a small kitchen inside and an adjoining bathroom which is much fancier than a latrine. I know Orlando feels a sense of security knowing that his brother is watching over things.

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Our house was initially meant to be a small two bedroom home to provide us with a comfortable place to stay when we visit. I stay a safe distance from decisions affecting the land here. I am included in discussions and dilemmas surrounding the building process, but I tend to be less opinionated about it than I am about other issues. Orlando made a sacrifice leaving his family to relocate to the US and although he has carved out a successful life there, I know he misses home. I want this home to feel as though it is about him. After some thought and conversations with his brother and friend here he decided to make the home much bigger than originally planned. We now have a three bedroom, two bath home complete with a large open living room/kitchen space, and a garage. I’m not demanding and I actually prefer to live in simple surroundings, but my one request again was that I have a nice functional bathroom for my visit in December.

I was assured “my bathroom” and the bedrooms would be ready for our visit this December. Unfortunately I know Mozambique all too well and like most things here construction is also slow. We have walls, a roof, windows with screens, doors, bare bedrooms, and some semblance of a bathroom. It turns out the bathrooms were built too small and they furnished one bathroom with the basic equipment to function for our visit, but once we leave it will all be ripped out. The two small bathrooms will be joined to form one large bathroom and there will be a second bathroom installed on the other side of the house.

We spent the first night in Chokwe in a hotel so Orlando and his brothers could prepare the home for our stay. The bedrooms had beds, a reed mat and mosquito nets that we brought with us. After a couple of days I requested a strong rope be strung up in the closet and hangars so I could move our clothing out of the suitcase. I also bought a plastic shelving unit to house toiletries, under garments, socks, and some books I brought. Surprisingly that was enough to make me feel settled.

We lost water most days from morning until late in the afternoon so I took a few bucket baths. That I can handle. When I did shower in my half done cement bathroom it was no shower curtain, but given the heat the water felt refreshing anyway. Carlos actually opted for bucket baths in my brother-in-law’s bathroom. He has no interest in the “weird” cement shower. Considering some of the bathrooms I have had here in Mozambique this one, although not my dream bathroom, is not the worst I’ve had to use.

Orlando has spent a great deal of time discussing future plans of the house with the construction crew. He is not thrilled about how some of the process has gone, and he would like to rectify that as the project moves ahead. His immediate goal is to finish the house and rent it until we return for our next visit. There is an abundance of need for rentals in Chokwe because of all the aid organizations working in town.

I’m proud of what my husband has done. It is nice to have a place to come home to that we can call our own. It grounds us and connects us always to this place where we first met, fell in love and got married.

Fated tooth

I mentioned that I was having dental surgery on Friday. There’s a story behind that surgery that connects many dots of my life. In my early 20s while a student at UMass the left side of my face became swollen and inflamed in pain. Two ER visits, a dentist visit and finally an X-ray later it was discovered that I had an infection in the root of one of my molars and required a root canal.

After graduating from college in 1996, I knew that I was going to apply to the Peace Corps. However, my stepfather passed away on December 2, 1996 and I put my Peace Corps (PC) application in a drawer because it didn’t seem right to leave my mom. Eventually she found it and told me to apply.

I sent in the application sometime in mid 1997. Applying to the PC is a long process for some of us. There is a medical exam, dental exam, lots of paperwork and an interview. I sent in all the paperwork as well as the medical and dental which included full mouth X-rays. My interview was in Boston in August 1997. By February of 1998 I was getting antsy. I wanted to move on with my life and was ready to take off for distant places whether with the PC or on my own to teach English.

In early March 1998, I called the PC headquarters in D.C. I was congratulated and told I had been invited to serve in Armenia. I told the woman  that I hadn’t received anything in the mail. She put me on hold and when she returned she seemed nervous. She explained she shouldn’t have given me that information over the phone. She also mentioned I should have received an envelope from the Dental Office. I hadn’t so she transferred me to that department. I was told that it had been sent a couple of months ago and indicated a problem with the tooth I had the root canal on a couple of years earlier.

The invitation to Armenia finally arrived. The group was scheduled to leave at the end of May 1998. I eagerly began seeking as much information about Armenia as I could including connecting with current PC volunteers in Armenia via a very bare bones newsgroup on the internet. I was really excited to go especially after communicating with people who were already there. They spent vacations traveling to Greece or interesting places within Armenia and the summers sounded beautiful.

While planning my departure to Armenia, I was also being scheduled for the dental procedure to repair the root canal. I had periodontal surgery at the beginning of April. I can’t remember how it worked exactly, but by the end of April I had been told I could not go to Armenia because I would not be dentally cleared until my mouth was completely healed. My dentist wouldn’t clear me until June. I was devastated.

The PC recruiter in D.C. assured me that once I was cleared he would work on placing me somewhere else. However, when I called him in June 1998 with the news that I was finally cleared by dental, he was dealing with 4 PC evacuations out of unstable countries. His priority was placing those PC volunteers who wanted to continue their service. In our conversation he mentioned a new PC program in Mozambique beginning in the fall of 1998. I expressed my interest and he immediately apologized saying that I wasn’t going to be on the list for the new Mozambique program.

I hung up the phone and immediately called my boss at the time. He was an African American Studies professor at UMass Amherst. He also ran a scholarship program for black students in Durban, South Africa. I had been involved in organizing his trips to and from South Africa. Together we wrote a letter to PC to explain why I thought I would be an asset in PC Mozambique.

I sent the letter and waited. I waited and waited. Finally I called and spoke to the recruiter. He told me he received the letter, but was very sorry he couldn’t invite me to serve in Mozambique. I thanked him and told him I really couldn’t let PC keep me in limbo any longer. I fibbed and said I had an opportunity to teach English in Guatemala. In all honesty I could have gotten a job in a hot minute teaching English in Guatemala as jobs were plentiful then.

That evening there when I got home there ws a voice mail from Dan, the recruiter, welcoming me into PC Mozambique. I screamed!! I knew without a doubt that this was where I was supposed to be going. Armenia never felt like a good fit, but Mozambique seemed to have everything I was hoping for in a PC experience.

My PC experience is another story for another day, but suffice it to say my time in Mozambique was life changing. I loved my life in Mozambique and not just because I met my husband there. I was truly happy and comfortable there. I met such beautiful people. The food was delicious. The weather was hot. The beaches nothing short of perfect. I ate mangos and papayas from the trees in my yard. Most importantly I learned to relax.

Prior to leaving many friends and family members “warned” me not to get married over there in Africa. I laughed. I wasn’t exactly known for dating. And who goes into the PC with a goal of getting married anyway? I certainly didn’t, but it happened. Orlando and I will celebrate 14 years of marriage this September.

Not only did Mozambique introduce me to my husband, it also gave me a dear friend. For my first year in the PC, I had a site mate. Well when you live in a small house with lots of down time and no tv you become friends really quickly. Amelia and I learned so much about each other in a short time. There was no such thing as TMI! However, when she was offered an opportunity to move to the capitol and work with the Ministry of Education after a year we both knew we were ready for an independent experience. Our friendship has stood the test of time and I cannot imagine having gone through my first year of PC without Amelia.

Upon my return to the US the pesky tooth required an updated crown. Then a couple of years ago I felt a twinge of pain in that area and the memory came flooding back. I knew it was an infection so I called the dentist. A quick X-ray confirmed it and after a short discussion with my dentist I decided to pull the tooth. I couldn’t justify anymore expensive root canals. My dentist who had nothing to do with the previous procedures showed me exactly what the problem was and admitted that the job not done properly.

In a matter of 30 barbaric seconds a dental surgeon yanked the tooth out of my thankfully numb mouth. It was horrible. I cried briefly because I couldn’t believe the manner in which it was done. I left with a wad of gauze in my mouth and a nauseous feeling in my stomach. Later on I would run my tongue over the gaping hole and feel a sense of sadness. That tooth had cost me a great deal of pain, anguish and money, but it also changed my life forever.

I was assured by my dentist that the issues did not stem from poor dental care. I refused to leave the hole as is because I didn’t want my top teeth to shift as the bottom teeth had shifted. Before I could address the missing tooth I had to straighten my teeth. A word to anyone with teens in braces…insist that they wear their retainers or get a permanent retainer placed behind the teeth. I had braces at age 10 and they were removed by age 12. I wore my retainers for a bit, but then orthodontic care fell to the wayside as did my retainers. By not continuing to wear the retainers my bottom front two teeth began to spin inwards towards each other.

I wore Invisalign from October 2013 until Friday. I now have retainers which look similar. I have to wear them as often as possible for the next 6 months and then I will go to nighttime wear only.

With Invisalign completed we could now discuss the gaping hole wear my molar once sat. I had two options – a bridge or implants. I say implants because the space is large enough to fill two teeth into it. I honestly don’t know what happened to the other tooth or if there really was another tooth. My dentist sent me for an CT scan of the head to determine if implants were a feasible option. We sat in his office and he explained that implants were possible but I would need to have a sinus lift to add more bone in which to “implant” the new teeth.

My dentist is truly enthusiastic about his profession. He admitted that he was just learning to do this procedure and offered to do it for free. I just had to pay the cost of materials. He said he would invite a more experienced colleague to assist. I had faith in his abilities so I said yes. Friday was the sinus lift and first stage of the implants. The procedure took 3 hours. I am a ridiculously good patient. I don’t flinch or whine. I am totally still. At one point I even got drowsy! It went really well, but my face is really swollen and uncomfortable.

I honestly think the worst part of the surgery was the post op instructions. Before beginning the procedure Dr. Fox told me I could do any crazy pounding exercise. I thought he was kidding because he knows I’m training for a marathon. I said, “what like a 20 mile run on Sunday.” He thought I was kidding. I reassured him I wasn’t joking and he forbade me. He and his colleague told me absolutely not, no 20 mile run. No running for at least 48 hours and then only a short run if the swelling has subsided. My eyes welled up with tears. Not only was I mentally ready for my 20 miler the weather is amazing.

At the end of the procedure he told me I should stick to a liquid (smoothies, juices, broths, pureed soups) diet for 2 weeks and then a soft/liquid diet for another 4 weeks. I have numerous sutures and the area really needs to heal without any potential trauma. I will do anything I have to in order to heal properly. This tooth has cost me more money than I care to think about.

In 6 months I will at last have the implants and this lengthy tooth saga will at hopefully be finished. When I recount the story of “the tooth” it’s difficult to be resentful of the money spent (quite possibly a down payment on a house) and the pain felt because I wouldn’t have the one thing that means more to me than anything in the entire world…Carlos.

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My little bug

 

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After tearing it up on the dance floor at his aunt’s wedding!