Independence Day

Yesterday, June 25, was Mozambique’s Independence Day, marking the 41st anniversary of Mozambique’s liberation after nearly 500 years of Portuguese colonial rule.

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Praça dos Heróis, or Plaza of the Heroes. The memorial square is one of the largest green spaces in Maputo and  the site of a major independence celebration.

Many of us Peace Corps trainees marked the day by attending the town’s ceremony. Gathered in the Praça dos Heróis, the Heroes’ Plaza, we listened as local officials gave speeches and watched as local groups performed. The dances may have been different, but the ritual of coming together to celebrate a shared national pride was familiar, and comforting in that familiarity.

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Today is a different sort of independence day. Today I’ve taken the first steps toward life as a volunteer in Mozambique. I departed our training site for Phase 2 of basic training.

We received our site assignments last week, in an emotional, hyped, and occasionally tearful, ceremony. Peace Corps staff chalked a map of Mozambique across the concrete floor of the instruction center, embellished with the provinces, cities and towns where we will be serving. The forty four of us gathered around the edges, clutching the unopened envelopes naming our sites. At the signal, we each opened our letters and traveled across the map to find our new homes, creating in the process a visual geography of where we, as a collective, will be. For myself, I will be working with a regional hospital in central Zambezia and living in the same city.

So we depart for our sites, for Phase 2, where we live with a host family and begin work with our host organizations in our final host communities for three weeks. We traveled in groups, divided by province, destined first for a three-day conference with our supervisors. After this, on Wednesday, our supervisors escort us to our sites and drop us off with our host families.

Phase 2 is our trial by fire: our first time traveling any distance without Peace Corps staff accompanying, the first time working with people who are not accustomed to my childish Portuguese, my first time truly working in any capacity a clinical setting (although the Corps makes it very clear that we are not clinicians. Which is good. Because I’m not. Yet.) In short, our first action in this country taken (somewhat) independently, without the Peace Corps holding our hands the entire way.

*       *       *       *       * 

I have learned a lot in this last month and a half, beyond just rudimentary conversation in another language. I have learned that I may work well with others, but I certainly don’t live well with them. I have learned that as a 22-year-old woman who has neither husband nor children, nor any interest in either, I am both an oddity in this society and I will likely have to fight to be seen as an adult in my community. The latter will be interesting, given that I hardly see myself as an adult. I have re-learned what I already knew, that I am too often cocky about what I know and too reluctant to admit that I don’t know everything. 

I have learned much about the pathology and epidemiology of HIV and malaria, although the elephant that is tuberculosis had hardly been mentioned. I have learned that I as a Peace Corps volunteer am forbidden to work with tuberculosis specifically. But each of these is worthy of their own in-depth  consideration, at a different time.

I’ve learned the craving I have for space uninterrupted by other people, even if that space is confined to my apartment or house and ends at the door, is a both a luxury and an oddity in this culture. But I crave independence, freedom of movement where I am not obliged to ask permission of another person, whether that be my host family’s matriarch or anyone else. I crave a space to call my own, no matter how small, that I can define. And I’ve learned that such a concept, that I thought so innate to humans, is not in fact universal, that it is foreign to many Mozambicans.

I’ve learned that fear and excitement often feel identical, and that both are reasonable responses to my current journey. But I am moving toward independence away from the coddling of basic training, and on this day I cherish that sentiment.

 

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