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Another Peace Corps Blog - Thoughts from Moz - the journal of a Peace Corps Volunteer
Another Peace Corps Blog - Thoughts from Moz - the journal of a Peace Corps Volunteer
Saturday, May 04, 2002
There are two events I've been thinking about lately, about two weird people I encountered in Mozambique (not including that jackass dentist). One of those people was my site mate at my first school, in Moamba. He was one of the freakiest people I have *ever* met in my life.
When I first arrived at my site, I was reluctant at the idea of having a site mate, but I thought it would be safer than being at a site alone. I admit that I was worried about rape or something like that, being a female. I had requested that I be placed near Maputo, the capital city, knowing I couldn't live far from a city, and the only other option than Moamba, was Namaacha. If I had gone to Namaacha, I would have had to share a house. I'd lived on my own for three years in D.C., in my own apartment. There was no way I saw that I could share a home with someone. Living in Moamba, the other choice, I would have my own house, and have the safety of a site mate. At that time, I didn't realize what a weirdo my future site mate was.
When I arrived at site, I was sitting with 3 other volunteers from earlier groups (Moz 1 and 2), and my site mate (Moz 2), talking over dinner. I wasn't the only volunteer from my training group (Moz 3) who would have site mates, who they had not known previously. We had two people who would have to share a house with a volunteer who had already been at their site a year. The boyfriend of a girl from Moz 2, talking at the table, who would have to share her house with another girl from my group, said she wasn't exactly thrilled about it, but that she had told Peace Corps, when they talked to her about sharing her house, that she wouldn't leave over it. I asked my site mate if there was any concerns he had when Peace Corps asked him about potential site mates. He said he told Peace Corps he didn't want anyone needy because he didn't want to have to help anyone.
O-K, I thought to myself. A Peace Corps volunteer who doesn't want to help anyone. Riiiight, makes total sense. By this time I was already used to meeting people that were the opposite of what I thought I would find when I joined Peace Corps.
The funniest thing about that night, besides the irony of a Peace Corps volunteer not wanting to help anyone, was when I was talking to another of the other volunteers after dinner. A lot of people don't like [your site mate], he said, because he speaks without thinking.
I couldn't endure how irritating my site mate was. I couldn't tolerate his manipulative personality. I couldn't believe his treatment of cats.
My site mate had a cat named Jezebel. The cat had basically been cared for by the volunteer I replaced, who had shared a house with my site mate. My site mate was not an animal person, he was an animal killer. A month before my site mate was my site mate, in December, he had locked Jezebel in the house with one or two of her kittens, and left for a holiday. I don't know how long it had been before Jezebel starting going crazy and ripped a screen in the back window of the house to escape, dragging a kitten outside with her. The kitten died, Jezebel stayed away, returning because she was pregnant again. She returned to the house around the same time I moved in to my house at the school in Moamba. I can only guess, based on what I witnessed of my site mate's behavior towards his "pets", that when he took off for his holiday, he left no food or water for Jezebel and the kittens.
Jezebel had her babies, and my site mate decided that once and for all, he would get rid of her. Jezebel was a bush cat. She was used to living in a village setting. One Saturday (I was in Maputo; Damiao and I went to Maputo every weekend and I avoided my site mate as much as possible), my site mate stuffed Jezebel into his backpack, and took the bus to Maputo. He ran into one of the volunteers from my group, a laid back surfer type, and was talking to him outside Teledata, one of the internet cafes located on the main busy street of the city, 24 de Julho. My site mate's backpack started moving, and he decided to let Jezebel out right there, on this city street, a cat that had been living in a village, where there were no cars, few people, no chaos of the city. According to my site mate, he thought it was really funny when the cat got out of the bag, looked around for a second, bewildered, wondering where the hell it was, before shooting off like an arrow, down the side alley street, obviously looking for someplace safe to hide.
There are parks in Maputo, safe areas, that my site mate could have left Jezebel, if he felt he really had to get rid of her. There aren't animal shelters like in the U.S., but there were safe areas you could leave an animal if necessary, safer than a downtown city street.
From the litter of kittens Jezebel had before my site mate got rid of her in Maputo city, my site mate kept one. In my opinion, you can't keep animals as a pet in Africa. It's too dirty, there's too much potential to get sick from them, there's no cat litter, no proper cat food so you end up buying fish in the market and cutting it up. It's not easy. You have to do so much just to take care of yourself that it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to take care of a cat as well.
So my site mate keeps this one kitten. On one particular weekend, I headed to Maputo and ran into one of the volunteers from Moz 2, who was heading back to the U.S. early, because he lost his temper at a public phone and was escorted to the jail in handcuffs. His service would have been terminated so he did early close of service. This guy asked me if I could get a hold of my site mate so my site mate could come to Maputo and hang out with him his last weekend. So I called Damiao on his cell phone (Damiao would arrive in Maputo on Saturday after the morning school meeting; I went to Maputo on Friday afternoon, sick again, diarrhea and a fever, to meet the nurse and get some meds) and gave my site mate the message. My site mate hurries off to Maputo, leaving his kitten outside, all weekend. The kitten was about a month-and-a-half old.
Damiao and I arrived back in Moamba on Sunday night, and the kitten was huddled at our door, it's face cut. It came to our door, since the porch was attached, when it realized its owner was not home and was not going to help it. I'm a cat person. I took one look at this poor, sick kitten and I began crying. I thought of my own cat, Zave, and how protective I am of her. I couldn't believe this guy was so uncaring, to not even ask anyone to look out for the kitten--a student, a fellow teacher, ANYONE. My site mate returns the next day, three days after leaving the kitten outside, and I asked him why he left the kitten outside all weekend and I thought it was going to die. My site mate said when he left, he couldn't find the kitten (the kitten never went any further than 8 yards from the front door) and he was in a hurry. I told my site mate the kitten was very sick and it was going to die. My site mate thought it would be fine, and was very casual about the whole situation--it's nothing, no big deal.
The next two days, the kitten stayed near our door, because my site mate was not taking proper care of it. It was awful. So sad. I just couldn't believe how inhumane my site mate was. Damiao complained about the kitten being near our door, paranoid that we could perhaps get sick from the kitten. So I told my site mate he had to do something about the kitten, because of Damiao's concerns. He finally took the kitten inside his house.
A week later, I asked my site mate how the kitten was. He said it had been sleeping under his bed for days and he hadn't checked on it lately. A week later, the school director complained that someone had put a dead kitten in a plastic bag and threw it away in one of the trash cans along the school corridor, even though there was had a trash dump far off in the back corner of our school compound. My site mate had taken the dead kitten and tossed it in a plastic bag, in a public trashcan, the equivalent of someone who lives in an apartment building throwing a dead animal into the trash can of a recycling room, rather than taking it outside and tossing it into one of those massive metal trash containers outside the building. He didn't even think ot bury it; he didn't care. He took this little kittens life, and it was apparently no big deal.
Besides showing complete disregard for the animals, he showed complete disregard for the health and safety of people at the school by throwing the kitten into a public trash can in the school corridor, where students walk past it.
The evening that Damiao and I had arrived back at our house and the kitten was outside our door, huddled, and I was crying, our neighbor Sardinah came to see what was wrong. Damiao explained about the kitten. Sardinah brought over some food for the kitten, to go with the milk Damiao and I left for it. He joked, don't go anywhere with that guy (my site mate). He'll offer to take you out for a drink at the bar, and he'll kill you along the way.
posted by rebekah robertson at 5:19 PM
Wednesday, February 20, 2002
Upon the suggestion of a friend, names have been changed.
Iíve been holding off on writing about some Peace Corps issues that have really troubled meósome things that happened, not related to my personal situation, that Iíve found really disturbing. This is triggered by some discussions Iíve had this week.
During the Christmas holiday this past December, one of the volunteers from my group, Moz 3, was in a car accident. He was driving the car and the accident resulted in the death of two passengers. One of those passengers was his Father.
At the end of December, Ronís Father and sister were visiting and they went to South Africa, taking along a past PCV, Nikki, who was working for PSI . I had brought things for Nikki (she stayed on a third year to work for PSI as a PCV and then became part of the PSI staff) when I went to Mozambique and had talked with her Mom over the phone and met her sisteróthis was back in October 2000. Her Mom was a sweetheart.
The word from the PC Mozambique desk is that early in the morning, around 4am, the group set out early with Ron driving a rented car. He fell asleep at the wheel and had an accident. His Father, sister, and Nikki were in the car. His Father was killed and so was Nikki. Ronís sister was fine and Ron went to the hospital with minor injuries. While PC reports that Ron fell asleep at the wheel, the word from PCVs in Mozambique is that police think the car was shot at and thatís how the accident occurred.
It was really shocking to hear the news. Nikki was one of the kindest people you could ever meet. And it was a shock to hear that Ronís Father had been killed in the accident. How horrifically awful. Ron returned to the U.S.
I had called the PC Moz desk here in DC the other week to ask a question about my insurance and I asked how Ron was doing (hoping that the injuries were all healed). They said he was fine and that he wasnít reinstated yet but planned to return to Mozambique. I was surprised (incredulous) to hear itóthat he would return and that PC would consider it.
Another volunteer from Moz said Ron is going back on Sunday, this Sunday. I find it surprising (disturbing), for a variety of reasons, that he would be cleared by the PC medical staff to return to Mozambique. When I spoke to another RPCV last night, she called it negligence on PCs part. I have to agree.
The other thing that has bothered me is that during service, I myself felt this, and I heard other volunteers say it as well, that they felt if they complained about anything, they could get sent home. And I donít mean complaints like: my water tastes bad. I mean complaints like: the support from staff is bad, you put me in a school where they donít want me, my Mozambican housemate and his girlfriend donít want me in their house, the house you gave me is below the level of fellow Mozambicans, etc.
There is definitely an atmosphere in PC Moz (again, the experience is always different depending on the country staff) that if you complained, you wouldnít have a choice in the matter if PC decided to send you home. So volunteers start trying to find out how much of the situation they can complain about, hoping to get some assistance, without complaining too much so PC doesnít decide they donít want to deal with you.
This leads me to the next issue. We had a volunteer who was older, Sarah. The other PCVs treated Sarah terribly. Anyone could tell you that. They were mean to her and didnít want to have anything to do with her. (This wasnít the first time older PCVs have been rejected by the group. An older, African-American PCV who had served in Moz 1 was ignored completely by the other volunteers in her group. She finally addressed the fact, tired of being ignored and treated rudely, so the other PCVs were aware that she was offended.)
Sarah was 36 and in a totally different place in her life than kids just out of college. I had gone to the PC nurse during training and complained about how the other volunteers treated Sarah and that I felt like I had to defend her. I could relate to Sarah completelyÖI had been on my own, paying my own bills, paying my own rent (in her case, mortgage), working professionally, etc.
While I was included in things because I looked like I could have been just out of college, I really couldnít relate to these kids just out of school. I actually listed on my survey of how training was (a total disgrace) that they needed to make sure that they have a greater variation of ages. Having everyone just out of school and only three people who were older (27, 30, 36) was ridiculous.
When the volunteers from Moz 4 came to my site during training, one of them, in her late 20s, told me that she was having a hard time relating to people and all people did was go out drinking every night and because she didnít do that, she didnít click and connect with anyone. She said she was the only older person. I couldnít believe it. Obviously PC Moz doesnít read feedback from people and doesnít try to improve things or avoid repeated mistakes.
Back to Sarah. Sarah was placed at a site that was one of the worst sites, literally. She was placed there with another volunteer. Weíll call him Joeóhe was one of the three of us who were older. Joe got the nice new cement house and Sarah got the house of the previous volunteer that had no privacy, was outright unsafe, was dirty and consisted of three rooms that could only be entered from outside (each room was simply a room). It was quite simply an unacceptable house and below the living level of her fellow teachers.
Here in the U.S., Sarah has her own home on the beach in San Diego. To put a volunteer in a situation like this, after they owned a home, seems ludicrous to me. And her living situation made me wonder, and made other volunteers wonder, and made Sarah wonder as well, if PC had set her up for failure.
While at site, when she was visited by the PC nurse, she was complaining about the house. The latrine was filled up to capacity with waste when she arrived, and the whole house reeked of waste. The PC nurse told her she better not complain or PC would send her home.
She went several times to the school (your school provides housing) to ask if someone could do something about the latrine (it was set up like a toilet. You sat on the latrine like a toilet). One night, someone affiliated with the school came to her house with a bucket and began scooping out the shit from the latrine, without any protection for his hands, arms, face, etc. Sarah tried to stop him, telling him it wasnít safe. He said it was fine and scooped more shit, throwing it into her front yard. The next day he went into the hospital sick and was in the hospital for the next week.
And finally, I felt that PC Mozambique really instilled behaviors of alcoholism as a norm. Since our group was so young and still had the mentality of life being to go out and drink at the bar, PC Moz really played into that and in my opinion, encouraged the behavior.
posted by rebekah robertson at 10:31 PM
Tuesday, February 12, 2002
posted by rebekah robertson at 3:08 AM
Monday, December 31, 2001
I started my new blog tonight. I'm addicted to using a blog now! I never want to go back to FTP-ing ever again. I couldn't think of a title so I decided to stick with my original theme and am calling the new blog Thoughts from the District. I still have to get rid of the ad.
posted by rebekah robertson at 2:57 AM
When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:
This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?
Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."
In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.
Read the stories and leave your comments.