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June 22, 2002

The students that I teach at the vocational school are, for the most part, between the ages of 18 and 25. Many of them have varying experiences, everything from a student from a wealthier family to a "street-kid" who has a scholarship. But, each one of them has a curiosity that is refreshing. I am asked questions all the time about the United States and my family. Some of the questions are funny ("do you know Will Smith? No? How about Michael Jordan? But you said you are from Chicago!") some are tragic ("are your parents still alive?" especially considering that the people who are asking are my age) some are in amazement ("Does it snow in the United States?"). I do my very best to explain why certain things are the way they are and I also find myself trying to dispel the myth that the United States is BETTER than Moçambique. They have been exposed to American movies and to music which portray a very glamorous picture. I want them to be able to see the good things that they have that, in the United States, I do not.

At one point, 2 of the students were asking me about the "stuff" that my parents have...TV, 2 cars, computers at home AND at work, phones. I tried my best to describe to them my parent's suburban town house and their lives. What I ended up telling them was that because of the computers and because of the phones and many other factors, of course, my parents did not know the people on either side of their townhouse. The students could not believe it. To them that is impossible. The cooking and laundry and socializing are all done outside here. It would be nearly impossible for them not to know their neighbors and to rely on those neighbors as well. There is a sense of community here that is certainly lacking from what I have seen in the States.

I often get questions about what I did before coming to Lamego. First off, the fact that I am 22 and work is odd. Most women of my age, especially those in the rural areas, are already married. The life of a woman here is filled with caring for children, cooking, cleaning, gathering firewood, fetching water....all very time consuming tasks. I again try my best to explain my work at the homeless shelters. The students here did not have any idea that a person could be considered "poor" in the United States. It is, obviously, a different kind of "poor" than effects people here. The poverty here is much more abject and widespread. But, nevertheless, there is tragic poverty in the United States. Even further, it baffles them that the adults with whom I worked often were ill, or illiterate, or even that they worked and could not afford an apartment.

I find myself appreciating parts of both cultures and both worlds. I only wish that everyone could appreciate the best of both...the community of Moçambique, the health of the United States, the spirit of Moçambique, the education of the United States....and on and on.