Tag Archives: CARE

Meeting The Presidente

Did I tell you that I had the chance to meet the president of Mozambique!?

I went with my favorite colleague, Roberto Cassiano, to a small village called Mussengue in the Mabote district several hours west of Vilankulos.  This itty bitty town was preparing for the president’s visit and THOUSANDS of people showed up to celebrate.  Don’t ask me where they all came from, since there really isn’t much close by for at least 10 km, but there we were in the middle of a huge crowd enjoying the excitement.  It seemed like a rather random place for a presidential visit but Guebuza has promised economic growth for the region and aparently came to check up on his constituents.

My responsibility was to help with the CARE display table and be ready to offer a basket to the president if he stopped by. We waited for hours then finally five helicopters zipped in and landed in the middle of the field.  Everyone started dancing and singing and getting all agitated for a chance to see the Big Chefe!

Roberto got a chance to talk to Guebuza for seval minutes and explain the different elements of our project.  Then Sara, my field extentionist, gave him a big beautiful Xindzala basket.  I even got the double cheek kiss and handshake. We’re basically BFF now.

The funniest part of the whole afternoon was when my friend Mandy, a Peace Corps volunteer in the area, showed up.   She said one of her students ran up to her shouting, “Hay uma otra Mulungu aqui!” or “There is another white person here!”  Mandy said finding me was like playing Where’s Waldo, except not so hard.  Not only did the people get the great honor of seeing their country’s leader, they also got to see TWO white people in one day. Pretty exciting stuff!



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It’s been a long time since I added a post and it’s not that Okay?Okay! hasn’t been on my mind. It’s just that, honestly, I don’t know where to start. The last three months have been a rollercoaster ride of great highs and real lows.

I’ve had 5 visitors come visit me and I’ve done some fantastic traveling; through Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and back. And while I want to review all these great highlights, I am still struggling with how to write about the more serious moments. They are important too. It feels wrong not to address them or to pretend  that my experience in Mozambique has not been shaped by some of the more sad realities of life and death in Africa.

The most serious news is that my counterpart passed away in June. Sonia was not only my main colleague in the arts and crafts sector at CARE, but she was also my next door neighbor and friend. Although we had the occasional communication breakdown and frustration, she was an asset to the SEED Project and was dedicated wholeheartedly to the improvement of rural women’s lives in Mozambique. We were all shocked by her sudden death and left reeling while the future of the arts sector seemed vulnerable and uncertain.

Sonia was only 33 years old. She had a 16-year-old son and a great fiancé. She was building a house and planning to open a store when the project ended next year.  My heart sinks when I think of her family these days and I wonder how they are rebuilding their lives and coming to terms with this tragedy.  I’m sure they miss her incredibly and there is no way to replace a mother or life partner, but I have found that Mozambicans are particularly stoic when it comes to loss.  Every Mozambican I have met has experienced deep sorrow at some point in his or her life whether it was during the gruesome civil war or at the hands of HIV. But I am living in a country of survivors and deep misfortune is met with great courage and maturity.

Three months later, things here are strangely almost back to normal. I was a bit of a mess after Sonia’s first week gone – trying to figure what was done, what was not, and what responsibilities were to be divided and absorbed. In true African fashion her death was met with deep sympathy and a sense of realism and pragmatism – probably one of the more efficient transitions I’ve seen since I got here.

I think of Sonia often and still struggle to fully realize and understand that she is really gone. It is a surreal feeling to lose such a young friend, but I am ever grateful that she was apart of my life, even for a short time,  and she will always be ingrained in my memories of Mozambique.


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365 Days and Counting

I have officially been in Mozambique for 1 full year. 365 days abroad. 

I don’t quite know how to express what this mark in time means. Part of me feels as if I just got here and I’m still trying to figure out how basic things work. Where do I catch the bus? How much is that supposed to cost? How do I say “embarrassed” in Portuguese?  Simultaneously I feel like this is my home and I have been here for years. I am faltering as to how to describe this duality. Maybe someone out there can help me better describe this feeling? 

I’m also in the midst of transition, not so much for myself but as a voyeur for the comings and goings of the people around me. Eve and David have left for Canada for six months on maternity leave. My Peace Corps girls officially have a month before they start their journeys home to America. Of course, a new boss will be filling in temporarily and other volunteers will move in next door. Strangely I will now be the go-to girl for bills and decisions for our neighborhood compound. How exactly did I end up being the one who has been here the longest after just one year?

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Anyway, the big one-year anniversary offers a good opportunity to reflect on some of the things I have seen and learned in the last 12 months. 


Received twelve packages filled with letters, food, chocolate, journals, music, coffee, an entire 4th of July picnic among other treats

Observed eleven full moons since I arrived

Been proposed to by ten total strangers (none motivated by true love)

Spent nine days snorkeling out at the islands 

Made at least eight friends here. Not just acquaintances but people with whom I enjoy their company, conversation and would feel comfortable asking for help and advise if ever I’m in a pickle 

Found seven new vendors for our baskets

Had six friends and family members visit

Gained a new family member; my nephew is now five months old

 Traveled in four countries; Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana & South Africa

Become the shared owner of three pets; two dogs and 1 cat

Swum with whale sharks two times

Learned to speak (more or less) one new language

Of course there are other things that ought to go on the list, such as learning the value of clear communication and leadership or the feeling of entering an empty house after friends and family have left, but those are complicated and make for much harder situations to watercolor.  I am still enjoying my job with CARE International and look forward to days spent in the field with our weavers. Even with logistical frustrations and communication failures, I continue to feel positive and optimistic about the potential and sustainability of the project. 

I didn’t get a chance to discuss whole chunks of life, from witnessing faulty presidential elections to watching World Cup madness in neighboring South Africa. It’s never easy to sum up a whole year, and I’m sure I will never fully be able to explain the nuances of my everyday existence abroad but I guess this blog has been (and will continue to be) my little forum for sharing just a glimpse into this life over here.


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What I (try) do here

I enjoy my placement in the SEED project quite a lot. I work with several people, mainly a woman named Sonia and 2 extensionists that relay between the office and training in the field. There is much to be done in developing the arts and crafts sector, which is both great to be involved in deciding which direction the project will go, but it’s often very overwhelming. Where to begin? What’s already been started? Who do I need to talk to to get things moving? Is this even productive? What is the true capacity of the weavers and our training sessions?

The list goes on and on…

I get to work on all aspects of the development, from the business to the creative side. The pricing scale and business plan are not quite as fun as developing marketing products, such as appropriate sales tags that tell a bit about the Xindzala weavers and the baskets. I have yet to come up with a really sustainable way of developing marketing material that would be technically possible for others to continue once I am gone but also projects the image of the baskets as high-end artisan goods.

Because the baskets are made in the limited free time of rural female weavers and the quantity of products developed is not yet very high, and the price reflects that.  They are rather expensive, perhaps not to most tourists, but definitely to locals. I have been responsible for setting up displays in the lobbies of several local hotels, as tourist season is about to peak for Christmas. The sales have been really encouraging, but now we don’t have enough stock to maintain the displays. The biggest challenge right now is getting the production quality and quantity up to par with the demand.

How do you simultaneously get poor people to spend their time producing something if there is no immediate fiscal reward? But then, if there is a market, how then do you get a retailer to sell your goods if you can’t guarantee your production?

Ooooh what a learning process this is.

I keep thinking about the mantra: Under-promise & Over-deliver. Begrudgingly I feel that I am struggling on the latter part. 


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