Four weeks in Mozambique and I’ve not actually said what I’m doing. A general update seems to be in order. So without ado…
Who I mean when I say “we”: We are the more than forty members of the 26th Peace Corps cohort in Mozambique. In Peace Corps lingo, Moz-26. We are volunteers in public health and are the largest cohort on the public health sector in Mozambique to date.
What I’m doing: I am midway through Pre-Service Training, or PST in Corps circles. (Being a government agency, the Peace Corps is committed to the bureaucratic love affair with acronyms.)
Although it varies from country to country, PST in Mozambique is a 13-week, three phase program. For the seven weeks of Phase 1, we stay with host families in the town where training takes place and learn the national language. From 0730 to 1700 every weekday we have language classes and technical training, heavily weighted toward the former. (In other words, Phase 1 is seven weeks of nigh total Portuguese immersion.) At the end of Phase 1 we are given our site placement, where we will be living for the next two years.
During Phase 2 we split up, leaving our safe little group of P.C. trainees, for three weeks at our final host sites. There we stay with another host family and spend time getting to know our communities and the organizations and people we will be working with for the next two years.
In Phase 3 we reconvene for three weeks for yet more specific training. Much of this phase is “job training”, although what that entails may vary. Some of us might start to learn the indigenous language spoken at our site, if appropriate. We will all learn in great detail effective tactics to involve communities in addressing public health.
At the end of Phase 3, those of us who have survived PST swear in as official Peace Corps Volunteers and are released into the wild.
Where I am: unfortunately, for security purposes Peace Corps protocol strictly forbids us from releasing our exact site location anywhere as public as a blog. I can say that PST takes place in a town just this side of the Mozambican border with Swaziland, in the province of Maputo. (Imagine my surprise at hearing “Sanibonani!” yelled on the street, a greeting familiar from the time I spent in Kwa-Zulu Natal and one of the only bits of the Zulu language I actually learned. Swazi and Zulu are both Bantu languages and are apparently very closely related.) On a clear day we can see the capital city of Maputo and the sea some 80km away.
Why we’re here: As far as PST goes, getting more than 40 people functionally competent in a new language in less than three months is a challenge, as you might imagine. Add to this the number of people who have never lived alone, or never traveled outside of the U.S., and the change in culture can also pose a significant challenge. I at least am pretty comfortable with training, with our current location, and with my host family (more or less) by this point. What comes after training is a different story.
As for the larger question of why we are here in Mozambique, that demands a longer answer, and one for another day.