What do you see out of your window today?

Peace Corps Mozambique

A story by Mary in Mozambique



These stories began as letters home to family and friends and have become wonderfully descriptive of the Peace Corps experience. Anonymous posting has been requested while the author is in Africa. I could make a laundry list of the things that transpired as rainy season and summer have arrived in Mozambique. Definitely been one of those months. Two weeks ago Christina flew out of Pemba to return home to California for her grandfather’s funeral. Not a fabulous way to celebrate Teacher’s Day. After that, Pemba seemed to slowly come apart at the seams. That news and the first big storm of the season should have been a sign of things to come. It has literally not rained in Pemba in 6-7 months. At least. The storm seemed to have confused Pemba and it’s stellar electricity, causing the electricity to be rather fickle until the blue skies returned the following Monday morning. In previous emails I have mentioned my bed that is one night shy of completely falling apart as I sleep. I finally got Abdul Remane, our carpenter, to the house to fix my bed so that 10 people can dance on it and to look at our broken front/back doors. Two hours later, feeling accomplished, I left for class, returned to talk to Peace Corps about my door repairs, and my productive wheels began turning. Those wheels came to a sudden screeching halt when the electricity turned off at 4:00pm. As the minutes crept away, my hopes of the electricity’s return rapidly diminished. Frustrated, angry, and hot, I ate a peanut butter sandwich for dinner and acknowledged the IFP’s lack of payment of the electricity bill. While I threatened to go to the Director’s house if the electricity did not turn on by bedtime, I decided that would probably not be the best approach to the situation. Last time this happened, I thought the Director learned his lesson and we would not be powerless in the depths of the summer months. I assumed he would go and pay the bill first thing the next morning. Tragically, I was mistaken. I easily got out of bed that morning after a night of uninterrupted nightmares. At national anthem, Sacume (the Pedagogical Director) spoke words of problems with the electricity and we cannot pay and also the water. That did not sit well with me. As you can imagine, that is no good news. No good news at all. Utterly disgusted, hot and exhausted I went to class. The students were told at national anthem that they are to blame for the Energy Crisis of 2012. I felt sorry that my students were getting yelled at for this. How is it their fault that the school has no money to pay their bills? Sure, the students could probably use a lesson on energy conservation, but they are not responsible for the IFP’s treasury funds. Within the first five minutes of class, I came to learn that while I feel sorry over the electricity situation, the students are tapping into none of their physical or mental energy to complete their schoolwork. They laughed when I told them if they did not hand in all of their work by Tuesday I would take points off their tests. Did they laugh because they know as well as I know that I’m not going to deduct points? It’s amazing how two days into teaching Christina’s class has been a dream compared to my lazy, disrespectful, horrible bunch. The week continued on and still no electricity. I knew that the only person I would get a straight answer from was my neighbor Paissene. I finally found him Thursday and got the truth. After three months of neglecting to pay the electric bill, the company turned off our electricity. On top of that is the water bill, which has not been paid in two months and will also be cut off very soon. Great work IFP Alberto Chipande. I asked where we get the money to pay bills and Paissene said the government provides a monthly budget for the school, which is apparently not enough to cover food, water, electricity, and other expenses. While I understand that the budget was inaccurately estimated, the school has ignored this inevitable crisis for at least three months. They knew this would be an issue, as they were unable to pay the bills three months in a row. So why do nothing? Why wait until the electricity and water are cut to address the issue? The director, along with many other important people live in our compound. Do they not desire the comforts that fans, refrigerators and lights provide? I can’t fathom why they sat on their asses for three months doing absolutely nothing to prevent this problem. Are preventative measures too difficult to ponder? Could they use some help? Because I would be more than happy to assist them. Last Friday in its entirety was the start of my unraveling. No electricity today meant no electricity until at least Monday, at least. It also meant I would have to devise a plan on how to give my test next week without making photocopies. The bakery had been a bust for charging my electronics, leaving an expensive and far restaurant as my only option. Saturday morning began with an easy early wakeup (feels like I haven’t slept in weeks, which is proven by my horrible cold and cough) for Abdul Remane to finally fix our doors. He left having completed 90% of the work. All of that whole week felt like one unfinished accomplishment after another. Coming back to the house on a chapa Saturday late afternoon I noticed that the school’s lights were on, so I walked through to check it out. There was a party/wedding going on at the school, so my hopes of the bill being paid in a prioritized manner were shattered. The electricity was turned on solely for this party. Sunday my unraveling continued. I started to get more and more discouraged as I saw that it was a Pemba Sunday with electricity and I was living without it. I do not want to manage my expectations and have the expectation that the electricity may not return. My reality is that for the past 10 months living in Pemba the electricity has been more or less consistent and always daily—especially during the hot, breezeless nights. Now this problem brings out a whole new set of living frustrations and changes in my routines. My mind started racing with all the issues we would be facing in the future without electricity. Having a site without electricity eliminates that expectation, false hope, and then frustration when things go wrong. I have adjusted to life in scorching Pemba while sleeping with a fan, perfecting and understanding out shoddy electric oven, excepting the finicky internet, the excitement towards running water, and more. Sometimes just knowing I can easily connect with people from home and having days where we have TV/movie marathons while drinking mimosas and eating popcorn was enough of a comfort to get me through the week. Now I think about what other comforts I can possibly rely on that do not rely solely on the presence of electricity. I recognize that it seems dramatic to think that I can’t survive simply because I do not have electricity, but for the past two weeks dealing with everything alone and with an endless stream of visitors at my house, it has made me stressed beyond belief. Monday rolled around and the electricity was on in the school. Magic? No. Apparently Sacume asked for a favor and got the electricity turned back on for the event over the weekend. It was unclear why the electricity was still on Monday morning or how long it will last. It was unclear if the electricity was really on or if they were using a generator. But I was told that the bills still had yet to be paid. My hopes remain the same, dismal. I spent Monday afternoon in the company of all the neighborhood kids. I easily welcomed them into the house, proof of how bored I was without electricity. During this time I had a very serious chat with the Director’s 8 year old daughter about the electricity situation. We see very eye to eye on the whole thing. We want cold water, to cook inside with our stove (and not a mini coal stove outside), and we are afraid of the bathroom at night. We decided that we must do something about this situation because the birthday festa we were in the midst of planning for Christina would be terrible without electricity. A party without a radio is no party at all. So, we needed to talk to the police and figure out a way to solve this electricity problem. Our party needs to go off without a hitch—we planned a day of cakes, cookies, balloons, hats, and decorations galore. Problem solved. Now, Christina is back and the electricity is currently on. I still have not gotten a true response about the situation and if the bills have been paid. It leaves me on edge when my phone battery power goes down past 90% and I still fear it will turn off again. I have no idea if they talked to the government about the issue or if this situation will happen again in the future. For now, I’ll cherish all the moments I have with my fan, cold water, the ability to refrigerate food, and use my computer and internet. And hopefully the electricity will help me through the stressful weeks with my colleagues, students, and general Mozambican troubles. Knocking on wood every time I talk about it that I won’t be left to sweat to death in my sleep as the summer months go on…

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  Pemba, Mozambique
Jun 15 2024


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