Explaining Moz (Everything is Relative)

I am not the most patient person; this is no secret.  However, I would like to think I’ve gotten a little better with time, especially from my teaching experiences both in the Peace Corps and giving SCUBA diving lessons.  Despite these improvements, I still have a ways to go.  And when living in working in foreign countries and cultures, patience (both with yourself and others) is key to successful communication.

I lived and worked in Mozambique for about 32 months in the end.  I buy my purple Moz havaianas from the same guy every time in the same market.  I can stand in front of 400 students and sing the national anthem at 6:45am with the best of them.  And when I see it, I know the petrol station at which every Vilankulo-Maputo bus stops en route (it has Simba sour-cream and onion chips and Cadbury fruit and nut chocolate bars — I never miss this stop).

On the other hand, when my colleague asked me where those train tracks went leaving Maputo city, I responded, “I don’t know, probably nowhere.  But they look new, so maybe somewhere.”  To me, this is a sufficient response.  However, to someone with limited experience in Moz and who is unfamiliar with the U.S. Peace Corps, this was far less than sufficient.  I found myself losing credibility left and right. Some examples:

Where do they produce most of the tea?  Somewhere up north, but not all the way north.

Where does the EN1 end?  Somewhere north of Inhambane province.

The best peri-peri is in Inhambane.  Why?  What makes it different?  I don’t know, but I’m not the only one who thinks so.

While I see why these responses were frustrating to my colleagues, I too became quite frustrated with them.  Why didn’t they understand the kind of experience I had, what I would and wouldn’t know?  Finally, when Luciana commented how far north Vilankulo was and asked how my parents had felt about living there, a few things clicked.

Relative to other PCVs, in Moz my site was fairly posh.  Teaching is teaching, and that part of my service was similar to many other services, but I was on the beach near a tourist town in a World Bank-built house — posh.  So Luciana’s comment brought to light how unrealistic it was of me to expect them to understand what my time in Moz meant to me.  If she thought Vilankulo was “rural North”, then we were working with entirely different baselines (not uncommon in environmental policy either).

Once I realized this things got a bit better.  I at least saved some energy by practicing patience.  And I certainly grew loads professionally.  However, I’m not sure I’d jump at the opportunity to guide people I’ve only known a few weeks (no matter how nice and well-traveled) around my home province any time soon.  I’ll need more patience to do that again.

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