Alright, stop whatever you are doing. Now walk into your bathroom and let your toilet know how much you appreciate and cherish it. Maybe pet it a little, or sit and talk for a while. As much as I love all of my friends and family and wish I could see you, if I were magically transported home right now I would run past everyone to give my beautiful, beautiful toilet a hug.

But I’m jumping ahead. Peace Corps really began last Saturday, when our group bussed out of Maputo to the village of Namaacha, on the border with Swaziland. We were greeted by a group of our new mothers singing and dancing something along the lines of “Bem-vindos a Africa!” Then chaos broke out as volunteers and mães tried to find each other with names on post-it notes and severely butchered Portuguese. I finally found my Mozambican mom, Susana, and she held my hand as we walked to my new home and my new family.

I now have two sisters, Yula (15) and Zaida (14) who are both super sweet and helpful and patient with me, as well as two brothers. Fernando (11) is a tough little guy, and he knows absolutely every shortcut and goat path in Namaacha. He has been my guide all week. Then there is Ricardo (5), who is an hilarious ball of energy, keeping everyone in the family laughing constantly. He is secretly my favorite, although he is also super curious about all of my things, so I have to be careful about setting boundaries.

I hit the PC jackpot when it comes to home-stay families. Minha mãe is incredibly kind and eager to help me learn both Portuguese and household skills, but she also doesn’t try to shove too much on me at once, and thankfully doesn’t force ungodly amounts of food on me (for most of the volunteers, their mães are in competition to see who can make the fattest American in 9 weeks). My brothers and sisters are a lot of fun (we have been teaching each other card games at night, Slapjack and Go Fish are hits) but also respectful of my space and willing to help me out. I feel like they are all genuinely excited to have me as a guest, which is awesome and incredibly motivating.

Our house is a different story. My family is clearly on the poorer side in comparison to other volunteers’ host families, and the house reflects that. Many of my friends are living in relative luxury, with impressive houses and fancy appliances/electronics and maids and indoor bathrooms. My place is not so much the fancy. For the most part, I actually don’t mind this in the least, the only thing I’m jealous of, as you might have guessed, is a toilet. We have an outdoor casa de banho made of sticks with a sheet for a door. Instead of a toilet, I now have a latrine with an 8-inch brick chimney to squat over. And squat I have, thanks to consistent low-level gastrointestinal goodtimes. Seriously, by the end of training I’m going to be like the Bond-villain from Goldeneye, able to crush people with my quadriceps. I made the mistake of going out to pee the first night here, which is when I discovered that at night the latrine becomes roach Utopia. Thankfully mom let me know I’m supposed to pee in a bucket in my room overnight.

Saturday and Sunday were spent at home with my family, and by “at home” I mean walking all over Namaacha. Sitting down for more than five minutes is apparently construed as a desperate plea to walk for five miles. I can already navigate the entire town, because my brothers walked me everywhere. I feel like a prize cow that the family wanted to show off to all of their friends and neighbors.

Classes started on Monday, and time to decompress has been scarce since then. Luckily, it turns out I’m coming in with a relatively healthy level of Portuguese, which has been a big confidence booster. I already have so many stories to tell, far more than I can fit in one post, but all I really want to say is that I am happy. The first night here, after a successful and exhausting day meeting my family and starting to learn an endless list of adaptations for this new world, I took my second bucket bath of the day in our outside banho (it’s separate from the latrine, luckily). It was a cool night, and my mom had warmed up my bathwater, and I looked up at a sky full of stars, and I felt like I was exactly where I should be.

There may have been some discomforts, and it is certainly exhaustingly difficult to learn so much so fast, about both the language and the life here, but I have made it through one week without loosing that certainty and that wonder, and I really hope that never changes.

-Christopher

P.S. Pictures of the house and family and otherness follow.

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