Pouco a Pouco

It’s 5am and the possibility of sinking back into slumber is inconceivable as the overeager chorus of roosters crowing from the tree just outside my window begs me to join them in starting their day. Dogs chatter and howl to distant friends, lashing out from time to time in defense of their precious territory. Women gossip in Changana, the language commonly spoken in Maputo province, as they emerge from their homes with yellow, white, and blue buckets balanced effortlessly on head to retrieve water or get an early start on washing clothes. The cacophony of sound I take in every dawn from my mosquito-net bound fortress composes the music of Namaacha.

Around 6, I’ll groggily slink from my room into the living room where the older two of my three irmäos are already busy cleaning the floor of the living room, kitchen, bathroom, and veranda on their hands and knees, ironing their clothes for school or church, running to the panederia to buy bread, and washing dishes, while the youngest is out the door before I have breakfast to make it to class in time. He is proudly the chefe de torma, or boss of the class, and must not be late in order to set an example. I’m greeted with ‘como está?’’s and ‘como descanso?’’s and force the formation of Portuguese words before my pre-caffeinated brain can begin to consider speech. I boil a chaleira of water for brushing my teeth, washing my face, and coffee and continue on, getting dressed, making breakfast, and helping with dishes. Every morning, the view of dark red earth sparsely punctuated with papaya, mango, and banana trees brings me to a halt, forcing me to catch my breath and wash anew with gratitude.

Friday was a wonderful day. My original lingua group – Eleanore, Ashley, and myself – cooked and taught our mães how to make homemade pizza, bruschetta, and reeses bars and they cooked and taught us to make rice, matapa (the leaves of young cassava plants combined with coconut milk and ground peanuts), and bbq’d chicken. A true feast. We worked together all day long, pilaring peanuts, relaring coconuts, kneading pizza dough, and boiling down chocolate together. We danced to Beyoncé, played with Kitty, Eleonore’s two year old host niece, cheered each other on when testing out new skills that would make us true mulheres Moçambicanas and laughed so much.

I tried to kill a chicken, and let me tell you – it did not go as planned. I inhaled deeply, stepped on it’s feet and wings as instructed, and began sawing away. What felt like hours later, I came to realize my eyes had shut of their own accord, I was weeping, and ‘I can’t do it!’ in Portuguese was escaping from my tightly clenched lips. About halfway through, I found myself locked in loving embraces from all three mães. ‘É normal,’ they reassure me as I cry apologies and laugh through tears at my own weakness for not being able to finish. They have more força than I and finish the job without batting an eye. ‘Já passo,’ they say. It has passed.

The food was delicious, fresh, and full of comfort, but the true bliss was in the day full of exchange. We traded recipes, we traded dances, we traded music, language, foods, culture, heritage, and gratitude. We taught each other, supported each other, sang each other praises, gave hugs and high fives and congratulations. We had fun together. It had been one of my favorite days so far.

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These have been the most wonderful moments in Mozambique, these small moments of exchange. Teaching my pais how to do Junior’s math homework in broken Portuguese so they can help him in the future, claiming that we’re an equipa upon its completion. Watching Transformers 2 and explaining that, “That, right there – see the Empire State Building?! That’s my city! I used to work right there!” Attending a neighbor’s 40th birthday party and singing along to the songs I don’t know while gifts are presented. Learning to say ‘good day,’ and ‘good afternoon,’ in Changana from the women who congregate daily at the well while they laugh openly and heartily at my feeble attempts. Dancing to Michael Jackson and Shakira’s ‘Waka Waka,’ in the sala with over eager Junior and Mãe and reluctant Samito, Felix and Speeky (the family’s cat). These little moments, these small exchanges, are what cast new light, new beauty on this experience every day.

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2 thoughts on “Pouco a Pouco

  1. Paige, Love this entry. I feel like I am right there with you. You remind me that it is the little challenges and surprise that make life meaningful. I could not kill that chicken, either. So glad you are well. xoxox andy

    1. Andy! Thank you so much for your kind words. So truly lovely to hear from you. Sending you lots of love and hope you’re well!

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