I teared-up for the first time in Mozambique this past Saturday. It was a fresh Coke that finally broke me. And it wasn’t pretty.

My language turma spent the day cooking an American meal for all of our mães (this was in exchange for a Saturday session a couple weeks ago in which the mães taught us how to cook a traditional Mozambican meal). We were very ambitious, which translated into six hours of work buying ingredients, prepping, and cooking a feast that included massive hamburgers (including real ketchup and mustard found in the gas station), both sweet-potato and regular fries (American-style rather than the limp, oil-tastic variety preferred here), salad, and brownies. I do not have the poetic skill to describe how beautiful my full plate looked or how delicious everything tasted. It was transcendent. Keats could have written an ode or two about that meal.

And then I took a swig of frosty Coca-Cola and nearly started bawling. I am the opposite of a sentimental person and I have honestly felt almost no homesickness to date, but that meal forced a visceral, uncontrollable emotional response from me. After over a month of non-stop new, new, new, to dive into such a familiar, comfortable plate knocked me back. So there I am all teary-eyed while simultaneously laughing maniacally in delight and continuing to stuff my ketchup-smeared face with an oversized burger. Sexxxxy.

At least the other six Americans in my group were having a similarly messy/euphoric experience. I’m afraid we may have scared our mothers. They certainly weren’t eating with nearly the same gusto as us. Mãe Susana said she liked everything but she was doing a whole lotta shifting of food around on her plate and wasn’t down for seconds, which is pretty standard protocol at any festa here.

That is actually rather illustrative of one of the major cultural differences I have experienced in Moz. Life for the locals is fairly strictly defined by the one-right-way. There is one-right-way to wash clothes, and one-right-way to cut vegetables, and one-right-way to cook all of the standards of a Mozambican diet, and one-right-way to prepare your tea, and one-right-way to do pretty much every daily task. Deviating from the accepted formula just doesn’t happen, and anything different is pretty automatically equated with wrong or bad.

I can’t really fault Mozambicans for this attitude – given the massive, unimaginable chaos this country went through after independence, and the constant uncertainty that probably defined life during the war, I would be a stickler for the regularity of one-right-way as well.

But I’m proud that (generally speaking) Americans aren’t tied down by one-right-way. We are willing to adapt and integrate new ideas and we actively seek out new ways to do things and we evaluate pragmatically based on what works best rather than what is traditional. That certainly isn’t the case across the board with everything and everyone in America, but I do think it’s a pretty strong undercurrent in our nation. I certainly think it shows up in all of my fellow volunteers, who are so excited to learn new customs and ways of life and who view change and variety as fundamentally good things. It’s a characteristic that I have appreciated more since arriving in country.

To continue the Amurrrica! theme on Saturday, we had a Peace Corps Volunteer Halloween dance party that evening. While it was fun and I am falling deeper and deeper into friend-love with a number of people here every day, it just couldn’t stack up to a dirty-sweaty-glittery-best-friendy Austin dance party, and that made me a little sad. I pretty desperately wanted a certain blond in gold hot-pants and a certain Ch-Irish sexbomb and about twenty other people from a certain incomparable major to be surrounding me. And louder speakers, those would have helped too. I promise that I will eventually get another picture post up on this blog, as soon as I can relocate strong enough internets, and incriminating Halloween evidence will be included.

Not too much else to report, the weeks have slowed waaaay down because we are in such a stable training routine now, but I’m not really complaining. I continue to tear through books at a delightfully fast pace (seriously, the time/freedom to read is at least top three on my list of favorite things about Peace Corps). I finished up Elizabeth Pisani’s Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothers, and the Business of AIDS which I j’adored (and not just because she clearly likes alliteration as much as I do). It was a witty, extremely well-written account of an epidemiologist’s front-row seat on AIDS response and a powerfully critical (without being preachy) examination of every aspect of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic, from government/international health policy and aid to faults in epidemiological studies to the reality of outreach to MARPs (Most At-Risk Populations). Excellent and highly-recommended.

I’ve been on an HIV/AIDS marathon recently between all of our Peace Corps sessions dealing with the epidemic in Mozambique plus my own reading on the side and I find it incredibly fascinating. It’s so much more than just a biological disease, branching out into issues of politics and sociology and economics and philosophy and more. Very Plan II. I don’t know, I have rapidly become very interested in epidemiology and public health, and now I desperately want to be placed in a community that also has a clinic or HIV-focused NGO to hopefully set up a secondary project for myself over the next two years. Fingers crossed.

Also notable, I finally received my first mail delivery this week (thanks Mom)! That means that the previously given mailing instructions should be working and you should (pllllease) be sending me care packages! Magazines, CDs, Peanut M&Ms, Purell hand sanitizer, and other fun American food treats (of both the candy and not-candy variety) are all highly recommended/requested. Eu amo voces todos!

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