The last time we heard about the latest adventures of poet and  frequent WVFC contributor Alice Pettway, she was processing an abrupt shift in her Peace Corps plans after her posting in Mauritania was canceled. But we’ve just learned, and are happy to report, that Alice’s new Peace Corps country director, in Mozambique, has agreed to allow her to blog for WVFC from Africa, when she can find both the time and Net access. Meanwhile, we’ll enjoy these words of introduction to her new world, where she and her partner, AJ,  will discover what’s exciting and perplexing every day.

We are in Mozambique.

How can one statement encompass so many difficult-to-translate experiences? I guess I should start by saying AJ and I are both in one piece (obviously, since I’m writing this). There rest will just be hodgepodge of impressions.

It took us roughly 30 hours to travel from Philadelphia to Maputo. Once there, we had two days of vaccines and orientation in the city and then headed to Pre-Service Training (PST) on Saturday, Oct. 3 (my 30th birthday!). We arrived in the afternoon and were greeted by a crowd of women singing traditional songs of welcome. I didn’t know voices could sound that thick. You felt it more than heard it: a blanket of sound.

All of our host mothers and sisters were holding signs taxi-driver style with our names on them. Of course, we don’t speak Portuguese, and our “irmá” (sister), doesn’t either, so we pointed and pantomimed our way home. Our host family’s home is luxurious. We definitely lucked out. We have some electricity and an indoor bathroom. (Note: In Mozambique, an indoor bathroom is a ’50s-era bathroom with no running water. You flush the toilet by dumping a bucket of water in it and bathe with a bucket of water in the bathtub. Still, it’s better than the outdoor “latrina.”) We have our own (very small – maybe 10’ x 20’) building that is behind the main house, which gives us a little privacy.

The people here are incredibly friendly and welcoming, the countryside is beautiful, and the culture is, while still very foreign to us, appealing. The food is surprisingly reminiscent of deep Southern cooking. One of my favorite dishes is xima. It is almost exactly like grits, just a little firmer. We had beef (another sign our family is well-off) in a peanut and coconut sauce last night. Delicious.

We are slowly picking up the Portuguese and figuring out how to function in this exciting new place. We are required to bathe twice a day (three if you count the bedroom bath required of married couples before, well, you know). You get two buckets in your bedroom – one for washing, one for “xi-xi” (urine). You can imagine our embarrassment when it was discovered a few days ago that we had been using the wrong bucket for the wrong thing. Our host father explained the proper usage of each bucket to AJ, sex pantomime included. Ah, cultural exchange.

Our days are crammed full for now. We have class from 7:30 a.m. to around 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday. Because the family routines are much more regimented here than in the U.S., and because we have a long (45 minute) walk to class, we have to get up at 5:30 a.m. to make it to our first language session in the morning. By the time our second “banho” and dinner are over, it is often 9:30 p.m. and time to sleep.

We have very limited Internet access here. There are two functioning Internet computers in town, 69 trainees and 15 or so staff members. You get the idea. So, if you’ve e-mailed me and I haven’t gotten back to you, it means I haven’t gotten through my ginormous inbox of e-mail, not that I don’t want to talk to you. I know I’ve left out so much, but I could write 50 pages and still leave 90 percent of the last two week’s events out.

We are falling in love with our new home, but missing our old one.


We’re officially finished with week three of training. Things are good here; we’re starting to be more comfortable with our new routines. There is something new to learn every day, and every new thing I learn makes me love Mozambique more.

The clip below is video of me making xima, a local dish very similar to grits (Dad has another clip with more pictures, but it contains video of me actually killing the chicken). You start with corn and start smashing, add water, keep smashing, add water, keep smashing. An hour and half later, you have the beginnings of xima. Boil for another hour and it’s ready.

Yesterday, all of our host moms got together and taught us how to cook some traditional Mozambican dishes. I arrived sans capulana, but was quickly outfitted with all the appropriate cooking attire: lenço (scarf), capulana (traditional skirt) and apron. We pounded, ground, mixed, boiled, and oh yes, I killed my first chicken. Being here even a short time has grounded me in much the same way backpacking does. The women here are tough, and they understand the value of every resource. I aspire to become more like them.

These opening notes appeared first on Pettway’s personal blog, Curiouser and Curiouser. — Ed.

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