Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Visiting a Muslim Orphanage in Bobole

Yesterday was a great day...I had the chance to visit Masgid Nuru - a Muslim orphanage in Bobole (in the Maputo Province). The orphanage is run by a Muslim refugee from Burundi who arrived in Mozambique in 2001 and built a small mosque and orphanage with about 22 boys. The ages of the boys range from 8 - 17.

On this particular day as you can see there were many more children than just the orphans. It was a Muslim holiday - Eid ul-Fitr and everyone from around town gathered at the orphanage and mosque for the festivities and to greet us. This holiday marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. Fitr means "to break the fast" and therefore symbolizes the breaking of the fasting period. It was the perfect day for us to visit the orphanage and bring our gifts. We brought food, clothes, blankets, toys and some school supplies.

When we first got there it was all very surreal. We drove up and saw all these children sitting waiting for us. It seems like everyone had put on their best clothes just for us. When we got there everyone just sat there and looked at us. I wasn't sure what to do. We sat down with them and they thanked us and Kristin (from the US Embassy) said a few words in Portuguese to the group.

After the greetings they took us on a tour of the "facilities." They showed us the sleeping quaters, classrooms, kitchen, chicken coop and their on-going project to bring water to the orphange. The children followed us and were excited to show us where they lived.

It was quite difficult for me to communicate with the children. My mix of Spanish and Portuguese did not work well in Bobole. I got as far as "Hello, my name is Melissa and yours"...and I was able to ask them their age. The children were quite serious and shy...but the minute I knelt down and asked them their name they opened up and the smiles came pouring out. The little toy cars I had in my pocket also helped to break the ice. The toy cars were perfect...later that day they were going to a nearby house to watch a movie for the holiday. Guess what movie....CARS! I don't think many of the children had any toys at all.

The pictures speak for themselves. These children don't have much. They sleep in a room with no windows and many sleep two to one small bed. They orphanage does not have any running water. I don't think they they have electricity either. They must walk 2km for water. I can't even imagine having to care for all these children with such little resources.

I am going to try and work on raising enough money to purchase a sewing machine, 10 beds and complete thier water project. Please let me know if you would like to help. Just send me an email at mvigues@msn.com.

To see all of the pictures from the visit click on Our Photo Album.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Lunch with Fatima

This week was amazing! JJ and I completed an "Orientation Course" on Mozambique. We spent the week participating in discussions with historians, editors of newspapers, leaders of political parties and writers. We also had field trips all over town. It was part of a course that taught us about Mozambique's culture and history.

We are living in a country that we knew nothing about. It is a strange feeling living in a country where you did not know the national holidays, political parties or any basic history. Imagine living in the United States and not knowing why there is a 4th of July or who George Washington is. It sounds strange...but that is what it is like for us...well, at least for me. JJ might have been a little more informed. Now we are both familiar with the history...everything makes more sense as we walk around the city and go around on our day-to-day activities.

The best part of the class was the FIELD TRIPS! We visited museums, monuments, markets and took walks around the city. But by far my favorite moment was having lunch with Fatima and her family! Fatima's granddaughter works at the school that was coordinating the class. She welcomed us into her home and made a Mozambican feast for us...complete with appetizers and dessert.

As we first drove into this neighborhood with dirt roads and streets wide enough to barely fit our car we could see kids playing in the streets and families going on with their daily chores. It was a particularly warm day so everyone was outside trying to enjoy some of the breeze. None of these homes had air conditioning and you are lucky to have running water in your home.

As you start to look at the houses you can see that each house is built differently and with materials that they have found and collected over the years. Some houses are made of brick (you are considered rich if your house is brick or tile) and other houses are made of aluminum panels (like Fatima's) or any other materials they can find. The kitchen is usually outside and stoves are powered by coal.

This is how most of Maputo lives, but these are NOT the really poor folks! The rest of the country is filled with families that have much less than Fatima's. It is amazing to see their resilience and ability to get through every day and be thankful for what they do have.

Fatima was born in this house that was built by her parents. I got to speak to Fatima...struggling with my mix of Spanish and Portuguese she asked me about my family and where I was from. I also found out she loves to watch soccer. I can just imagine her glued to the TV during the World Cup yelling and shouting for her favorite team. She is a riot! She also told me she was Muslim and then asked me if I knew what Muslim was? I laughed and told her yes. She went to explain that she was fasting for Ramadan and although she was making all this food for us she could not eat until later that night.

I also met some of her friends that were visiting from Ilha de Mozambique. Her friend had come to Maputo to have her tooth pulled out so she was not doing so well, but still joined in our conversation. Little by little her nieces and other members of the family stopped by to say hello. It reminded me of being in my abuela's house while she was cooking and the family coming in little by little to chat and spend some time together. I loved it!

Now I can say that I am a little bit more familiar with Mozambique and have taken a closer look at Maputo. I hope you like the pictures.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Letter from Maxwell

I really love living in Africa. Maputo has welcomed us with open arms and we have no complaints. But...there is always a but, right. I really miss being close to my family...especially my nephew Maxwell. I have been lucky enough to see him grow up the last couple of months via internet video phone (thanks to our ultra-fast connection in Maputo). I think he even recognizes my voice and even smiles when he sees my face on the screen. Seriously, what did people do before they had the internet!

In any case, this auntie is missing being an auntie! I think they told Maxwell how I was feeling so he decided to write me a letter. You could imagine my surprise when I received a letter from a three-month old baby! As a very proud aunt I have no doubt that Maxwell is a genius, but I think in this case he got a little help from his grandfather (my dad). I laughed so hard when I read the letter that I decided to share it with everyone:

Dear Auntie Melissa,

I miss you a lot. I know that I will see you soon in February, but I want to send you some pictures so you can keep track of my progress.

I love you a lot. Everybody tells me you are a lot like my mother. She smells good and she makes me laugh a lot. My dad is really big and he grabs me and pretends I'm flying. I like that a lot.

I want to tell you a secret...but you have to promise not to tell mom because she gets really weird about the subject, I LOVE FORMULA!!! She is still pumping left and right (literally) trying to make sure I have at least 3-4 rations a day.

I went to a very nice hospital and had a rough time, but mom was with me and it was not that bad anymore.

I heard you are trying to make me a cousin. Please try hard and have fun. I remember how much fun mom and dad had (especially dad) in making me.

Well, you know my writing is very limited and my grandpa doesn't let me write any adult subjects. By the way grandpa is always grabbing me and making me cry. I think "he is losing his touch" like mom says. But I feel he has good intentions.

Well I got to go, I can see mom's nipples ready for me.


P.S. As soon my mom lets me take a picture of my circumcised penis I will send you one. They did a good job, they didn’t cut any big part, just the skin. But let me tell you it was scary to see that asshole with the surgical knife grab my thingy.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Regatta in Maputo

Yesterday was a picture perfect day in Maputo. The weather was fabulous. There was just enough breeze to even call the day "cool." JJ and I spent the day at Club Naval watching a regatta. It was my first regatta. The only regattas I had seen were on TV or in movies. Although this regatta was not as grand as those I had seen on TV and the sail boats were definitely not as big...I think it was spectacular. The participants in the regatta were locals, mostly fisherman. They used their fishing boats, many of them with "homemade" sails. The first prize was $10,000...that is a whole lot of money considering these fisherman make $1-5 dollars a day!

While at the event, I heard some other people talking and they said that close to 80 locals registered in the race. I don't know if I saw 80 boats come in...maybe there were 3-4 entries per boat...that sounds about right. In any event it was great to see the faces of the winners. There were also cash prizes for second and third place.

Enjoy the pictures...it was truly a unique experience for us. The day didn't end with the race. The festivities continued with a luncheon. They party had live music and interactive African drumming. Basically they distributed drums to everyone and there was a drum leader that taught and lead the crowd. Some people were great...others not so good, but everyone had FUN.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Meeting the Real Pumba

Okay, like most of you reading this right now...my only point of reference for the animals I would encounter on our first African Safari were The Lion King (movie and Broadway show) and two trips to Animal Kingdom. Oh, yeah and channel surfing through the Discovery Channel. Let me tell you....the real thing is so much better!

The first animal we met as we drove through the gates of Kruger National Park was Pumba and his family (Warthogs). From there we saw monkeys, giraffes, zebras...the list goes on and on. You are so close to the animals and at times they look at you like you just showed up to their house unannounced. You can see pictures of all the animals we saw at Our Photo Album.

In Africa when people talk about the “Big Five” they are referring to leopards, elephants, rhinos, buffalo and lions. From the Big Five we only saw elephants....but I am hopeful for our next trip. We are really lucky to live so close to Kruger National Park. Anyone that comes to visit will certainly get a trip there (HINT).

But back to the safari, in addition to all of the animals we saw, the experience was amazing. The smells are distinct, size of the bugs are out of control (that is what I was most scared of...I am such a girl...but I am over it). The sunset was...I can even describe it (You can see some of the pictures we took, but the pictures don’t do it justice). There is something about the African sky that is different from anywhere else I have been to. As JJ and I were taking our sunset safari drive I kept pinching myself because it all felt so surreal. It makes you realize how much more there is in life to see.

Enjoy the photos and we look forward to reporting on other adventures. By the way the trip started out to be a 4-day trip in Kruger and White River...but got cut short after JJ and I got food poisoning. Note to self: Don’t eat poached eggs with a secret sauce at the park cafeteria. Kruger is great...just stay clear of the cafeteria food. It was a rookie mistake!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Hashing in Maputo with Sugar Ray the Boxer

Yesterday was my first "hash" experience in Maputo. Before you start thinking I did something naughty...let me tell you that it involved lots of walking. On the advice of a friend I went to my first Hash House Harriers walk/run. Let me tell you...I was surprised every step of the way. By the end of the day, I had beer poured over me and I had a new nickname "Too Cheeky." I won't tell you how I got the nickname...but let me tell you more about the Hash House Harriers.

Okay, I had never heard of the group. Here I thought I was going for a walk for the purpose of exercising. Uhhh, NO! The HHH is a "Drinking Club with a Running Problem." It is a large group of foreigners, expats and locals that like to have a good time, drink and somehow manage to squeeze in hour runs....and walks. Half the group (me included) are walkers.

Every week it is a different walk. This week we drove about 45 minutes outside of Maputo. The drive took us through dirt roads all the way to a place that I would have never visited if it wasn't for the HHH. The walk took us through a local village, where there were no roads. The only points of reference were train tracks, tons of goats, various fields of crops and some make shift houses along the way. We did see many locals carrying on with their weekend chores. It was great to see the country from this perspective.

I was also excited about accompanying Sugar Ray...Yes, Sugar Ray the Boxer...a dog. He is fawn and about 60 pounds...he reminds me so much of Duke. I miss you Dukie! Anyway, I had a blast with Sugar. Sugar's mommy is going into labor soon and I think I will be taking Sugar out for his Saturday Hash walks. I think he likes it more than some of the people. He even partakes in the beer break following the run.

Oh, yeah did I mention that there is lots of beer involved! Well, in any event it was fun and DIFFERENT to say the least. I don't have photos of the walk, but I should have photos of the "after party" soon. I will let you know if I get photos of me in my wet t-shirt.

As far as an update, my volunteer job as an English teacher is going great. JJ's job at the embassy keeps him very busy, but he still manages to start his weekends on Friday afternoons...one of the perks of the foreign service.

Our house is set and ready for friends. Paintings and curtains have been hung up with up care in hopes that many visitors soon will be there!

This week we are headed to Kruger National Park to see lions, cheetahs and anything else that gets in our way. Hopefully we will have some good photos!