I returned to Meconta-Sede on a Saturday from my cohort’s MidService Conference. On Monday two staff members pulled up to my door to help me remove everything the volunteers before me and I had accumulated through our services. A month ago my house was officially repossessed by the government. Motivation unknown. Liz, Jaimie, Kerri – I’m sorry, Peace Corps and I did everything we could.
I moved into the community children’s library, the most successful Peace Corps project in Meconta becoming a storage space. My dog, a backpack of clothes, and I moved in with a family across town. I was told repeatedly by Peace Corps staff that this would be temporary, that I would only be here until they returned from their staff retreat in the capitol, Maputo. For the next three weeks I slept with my backpack propped against the door to dissuade anyone from entering after I had gone to sleep, ate one meal a day with the girls – aged 11 to 17 – and tried to keep my dog from being hit by the woman of the house. During the day the room was kept open and used by the woman of the house and her boyfriend. After the first day we resumed their routine of eating once and only once per day, despite the food that I bought and brought into the house. After the first week I was told I was not to use the family charcoal, which I had supplemented when I moved in. After the second week I was locked out of the house every day at 8 am when the head of the house went to work.
I spent my days hunting for a new home in the village and teaching at the secondary school. By morning I told my story to everyone I met around town, anyone who was confused about my sudden disappearance or curious about where I was staying: your Administrator took my home, I don’t have anywhere to live, do you know of any houses to rent? By afternoon I got back into teaching, enjoying a full schedule with my 408 students and the work of organizing the REDES Training of Trainers event for the province.
My friend Julia from the bairro behind my old house pointed me in the direction of a vacant house across from her, cared for by a guard at the prison. She told him I was suffering and explained her opinions in eMakua before returning to her area of the small group of houses. Senhor Felex was eager to help, and to be my new neighbor with keys to the house. We negotiated a price and proposed it to the home owner, a mystery woman I never met who lives 70 kilometers west in the city. This property, a low ceilinged adobe house with a grass and plastic roof, became my goal. Only two rows of houses behind my old home, I would still be near the school and the library, the market in easy walking distance. All my favorite kids from my first year would be that much closer – for better or worse. I set my mind on moving from the Houses of Cement to the Houses of Mud.
I counted down the days until I could show it to my Assistant Peace Corps Director (APCD) and move out of the dark oven of a room I was staying in.
Two weeks later, Monday, on his first week back from the mandatory training, my APCD arrived to find me seated on the veranda of my host family’s house, locked out again. We drove across town to visit my new potential home, only to find it locked and Senhor Felex nowhere to be found. This isn’t uncommon – a meeting is established but a key member is missing without warning – so my APCD and I sat to have a chat with my boss, the Director of the Secondary School, the man who had told me that I would be without a home, the man responsible for aiding in housing the Peace Corps volunteer he had requested. As we left the secondary school I choked up while trying to explain how hard of a time I was having. My APCD asked me what other potential solutions we had, if we couldn’t find a new home for me in Meconta. He wanted my opinions and thoughts so he could best support me. He promised to return again the next day and left me sitting outside.
Tuesday. My APCD and I went to investigate my potential new house. On the outside the house seemed sound, if a cheaper set up than my previous home. Inside though, the house sweltered, much like the adobe ovens used to make the bread sold in the market. The adobe was unfinished, crumbling in key structural areas. The plastic and grass roof leaked. I was told the house could have electricity, but the uncoated wires inside looked unpromising and prone to sparks. The front door wouldn’t open; the backdoor wouldn’t shut. My APCD explained the various repairs that would be needed for the house, his estimated total climbing to above my monthly stipend, and asked Senhor Felex if he could procure someone to begin taking measurements and give us a more firm quote. As the senhor left, my APCD switched from Portuguese to English to ask me how I was holding up.
(Context: crying is something reserved in Mozambican culture for the death of loved ones and even then most Mozambicans respond hesitantly to American tears of grief.)
I want to be a volunteer. I want to continue serving in Mozambique, the country I have called home for the past 500 and some days. I want to be here so badly because I have been fighting internally for the last two months to stay, because I am so far from the people I love and the access to the resources (vegetables, clean water) that I need to be healthy but I made this commitment to serve in times of hardship, wherever I am asked. And I wanted to stay in my house, in my home. Even if I was alone, even if the market had only onions and rice. Even if every neighbor and friend has a story of near starvation, disease, and crippling poverty. Life in Meconta, a town left undeveloped when the civil war drove people from the district capitol, is unfair. So I cried. Because this small, hard, rural village no longer had a place for me.
My APCD told me he wanted me to be happy. That leaving me outside on Monday had weighed on him all night, even though he was trained to remain objective and detached. He told me he would make some calls, that we would talk the next day, that he wouldn’t let this continue.
On Wednesday I was told that I would be transferred, that I would move on Friday to my new site and new job. As I set about preparing my things in the community library I received a call from my Peace Corps Country Director, the head of Peace Corps in Mozambique, asking how I was handling this situation and what my experience had been. I finished arranging my bags and left, feeling relieved in the knowledge that soon I wouldn’t be homeless.
On Thursday I began the heavy task of saying goodbye to the community I had called home. I wondered around, clutching my soggy handkerchief as my only lifeline. I celebrated with Analia, a newly graduated student who is also leaving Meconta soon to start medical school. We shared our last meal in the village and promised to stay in touch.
I arrived at the house of Senhora Fátima, the woman in her fifties with the scarred face who supports herself, her sickly adult daughter, and two grandchildren on the home brew she makes and the food she grows in her garden yet still found time to sit and practice eMakua with me and explain her culture when I couldn’t understand alone. Then I punched a hole in the screen of my old home to steal the banana capulana curtain for her.
I said goodbye to Adinha, who sat silently and wouldn’t turn to face me and continued washing plates, using her capulana to dab at her eyes. I said goodbye Julia, and her unborn baby that I won’t get to meet. I kissed her toddler son Toxy on his head, then did it again, whispering that I was sorry I wouldn’t be around to scoop him up and call him my husband. I didn’t slap her 4 year old son Elton’s hand when he reached into my purse uninvited, instead I grabbed him up and kissed his little thieving fingers. I held Julia’s 7 year old daughter Sonisa’s hand and knelt down to explain where I was going and that no, I wasn’t just going on a trip. I said my goodbyes to the neighbor who always asked me to buy her things, whose cute fat little girls actually learned to tell me apart from my roommate. I said goodbye to Sando, who helped me even when I couldn’t speak Portuguese, who hung around with me and taught me jokes in eMakua and riddles in Portuguese, whose health is failing even though we keep going to the hospital together.
I stood in my old backyard, abandoned and overgrown with weeds, my permagarden indistinguishable from the encroaching wild, my compost pile washed away by the floods. Goodbye rain gutter that gave us water. Goodbye mango tree that sustained me through my first January, that shaded and protected me, that taught me that to have is to share. Goodbye Milky Way that reminded me of how infinitely grand our universe is and how small I am. Goodbye rope bed, destroyed by use. Goodbye tiny house outback, once home to English Club. I stood alone in the back of my home, arms wrapped around myself, letting the sun burn Meconta into my skin one last time while I cried myself out. Goodbye home of mine.
On Friday my APCD returned. We loaded up the car with what we could fit, I situated my pup in the back, and we started out. “Ready?” He asked in English. “Vamos,” I replied.
A 5 hour road trip later we pulled into my new home, the Institute of Teacher Training in Pemba, Cabo Delgado. My new roommate Francesca greeted me with open arms and helped me settle my dog in her new home with a new human dad, a good friend of Francesca’s who already loves his new dog. Yesterday I unpacked in this beautiful house full of shelves too tall for me and a serious shortage of stepstools. Today I toured the campus of the college where I will teach. Tomorrow I start my new job training the future primary school teachers of Mozambique. I live in a city with vegetables and clean water, with access to meat and the ocean.
I can be happy here. I am filled with gratitude to the Peace Corps volunteers and staff members who reached out to help carry me through my heavy time. To Matt who encouraged me and gave me a safe space to sob when I couldn’t carry the water weight any further. I am curious and excited for what the future will bring me in a new job, in a new city, in a new province of this country I can still call home.