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June 03, 2003

'The End'

The following is written by my friend and Team-mate, Shannon, worked for the year near Maputo, the capital of Moçambique. She worked on an HIV/AIDS education and prevention campaign. (We first heard from Shannon on 2002-08-17.)

Shannon writes:

ShannonWell as some of you may know or may have figured out, I have returned. That's right these two feet have set foot on my native soil and have since done some significant walking upon that soil. My return found me seeking anonymity in NYC of all places, which is actually great for remaining anonymous. New York served quite well for breaking in my new cultural experience. I was successful in secluding myself away in my brother's apartment for about a week only leaving the apartment for about an hour each day and when my brother returned home. His gracious hospitality aided me greatly. I knew that my return was going to be a 'shock', as it's so commonly referred to, no matter where I was. NYC seemed to be the very best place to experience. I had time to adjust without anyone recognizing me and asking questions I wasn't prepared to answer without a stream of tears as well as many things to divert my attention should the overwhelming longing grow desperate. I have since returned to Ohio to visit with my whole family, a wonderfully integrating experience, and have moved to Maryland. Don't worry you're not going to receive emails every three months about my life trials and challenges here in the United States. I just thought it might be helpful to know where I am.

Many things have struck me since my return: reality T.V., enormous portions of food for exorbitant prices, having to drive everywhere in order to do anything, dogs that don't growl and bite humans, freezing cold weather, 9-11 jargon - for example Orange Alert. I thought this referred to a devastating freeze in Florida, which killed a large portion of the orange crop. I didn't realize it was referring to my safety within the 'homeland'. What have struck me most though are the things I miss. Before I left I intended to send all of you a letter about my final thoughts. I never finished the letter. The thought of leaving was too difficult to ponder and so it went unfinished. What I did write is worth inserting here because it is a good representation of some of the small and large differences in my lifestyle.

Always as I sit down to write, in those final moments when the computer is booting up, I become filled with anxiety as if what I've been thinking, all that I want to say, will not spill upon the screen before me. So much influences my life here. So much strikes me that if I had some device to record my mental functionings, my observant interpretations of all that goes on around me, my pre-writing anxiety would be overcome. This morning while riding in the chapa with at least 30 other individuals my mind was reeling. I soon will be leaving the life I have come to love and adore. While others within the chapa were doing the normal screaming and complaining that the chapa was too full, was too slow, and that the driver and cubrador (the man or boy who mans the door) were overall incompetent, I was overwhelmed that this - this normality in chaos - I will soon long for. Where in the U.S. will I have the opportunity to sit skin to skin with another individual exchanging our sweat? Where will I, in the next year, get to listen to obnoxious Brazilian musicians whine about love lost at decibels well above what is recommended, in my opinion, for listening to music while slowly driving through the Mozambican countryside? Where else will I have the opportunity to smell the acrid smell of traditional alcohol leaking out of a huge 5 gallon bucket or have some drunk young man sit behind me and shout in my ear for the next two hours "Hello, baby! Hey, baby, I'm talk to you! Baby, no do this!" or realize that a car full of 20 individuals who are all shouting in native dialect are staring at me - the only word that I am able to understand being "mulungu" (white person) - and realizing that they are discussing some aspect of my existence? When will I succeed in amusing a whole carload of individuals when the chicken sitting on the floor next to me in a plastic bag escapes and I in my attempt to avoid it's flapping arms and what suddenly appears to be a menacing beak, shriek and put both feet up on the chair? When will I get the chance to bargain out the window for a pen, mints, or an ice pop? So many days after a trying day, week, or month at work, I have dreaded these rides, choosing my seat carefully where not so many people will crowd next to it and where I will be able to avoid the sun for the duration of the ride. But, today I fell in love with it again as I had when I first experienced the wild reality of Mozambican transport.

As I sat in the chapa today looking around me, I realized that I soon will long for the solemn faces of the women who always appear to be in deep contemplation of their lives - staring at me with wild curiosity just as I stare back at them wanting to know everything about their lives. I too will miss the ability to openly, without embarrassment, stare at individuals. I imagine that my arrival into American culture will not only be a shock for me but for those around me as well as I have become quite accustomed to the customs here. Where in small-town Ohio will I witness multitudes of girl - teenagers to children - caring for her brothers and sisters with the love and nurturing gentleness of a mother? Where amidst corporate run mainstream media will I be challenged to contemplate suffering? Or be forced to ponder that all the truths that I have been taught within my society and culture are mere definitions or justifications of why we, the people of the United States of America, live the way that we do? I have found so often that my ability to be effective or innovative within the culture of Mozambique has been severely stunted by the convenience so prevalent in the U.S. For example the young girls who live next door who amidst their play decided to take a liter water bottle, a stick, a used can of tuna, and fishing line to make a guitar. It not only looks like a guitar but sounds like one. You can put your fingers on the cords and make different notes. When I was a child I would have had to been given the inspiration to do this. I never would have thought of it on my own. Even so, these aren't just one or two talented girls. Children everywhere go through the trash picking out a variety of different materials to make all sorts of toys - kites, soccer balls, toy trucks, fake glasses, fake headphones. Where will I get a heaping plate of rice covered in peanut sauce and whatever meat or foliage is of the day while tucked away in an open-air market? Perhaps I can visit the trendy Thai restaurant where I can barely afford a meal or the Indian restaurant with the all-you-can-eat buffet amidst the record and stationary stores in the concrete comfort of a strip mall. I will miss the dirt and grime. I will miss the waitress bringing a bucket of water to wash your hands because even in the middle of the capital city there is no running water in the bathroom. I will miss the heat and sweat. Granted, in the United States we have the wonderfully luxury of diversity of culture and geography alike. But so often this becomes a commodity - a trend. These things cost money. They no longer are just the way things are but more so the way things used to be for some culture or some piece of land. Or perhaps they've been squeezed into a practical form for American culture. It's hard to survive if it's not consumable. Maybe if I am lucky I can visit one of the many metropolis centers of the US and encounter the roots of this diversity - somewhere where the culture still exists for the sake of existing not for the sake of consumption. There are a few places within the U.S. that I can still visit where the land resembles somewhat what it used to be, although the ecological effects of human infestation have virtually affected even the most preserved areas. I will miss the novelty of being different. I'm not just one among the crowd here. Everything about me is strange regardless if I dress in traditional dress or not. I will miss the warm welcoming curiosity of a population. I will miss communality and will fear individuality.

This is not to say I don't have my list of foods and conveniences that I will gluttonously partake in when I set foot on the continent. But I wonder how long I will enjoy these conveniences. This life, the one I am living is not for everyone, and I mean not to say that it is. Among these things that I recount there is much pain and suffering - cholera, AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, loss of loved ones, hunger, and various other problems. I will not miss coming face to face with mortality. I will not miss the rancid smell of death. I will not miss the visits to the hospital although I will miss the people that I visit. I will miss being there for them. I will not miss thinking "If only we had access to..." The life here isn't easy and it's definitely not glamorous. I fear that the interpretation of what I've been doing for the past year will be interpreted as some glamorous adventure - as if I were some participant on 'Survivor'. I am and will be the first to tell you that it has been anything but glamorous. I could tell you any number of situations in which glamour would be the last word to come to mind but I will leave those to your imagination and spare you the embarrassment and details.

Regardless of these difficulties and trials, I will miss the challenge. I will long for the frustration. I will crave exhaustion and the weariness that follow a trying day and the challenge that accompanies fitting all of your emotions into the few small words that you know. I will miss the satisfaction when you know that your friend truly understands what it is that you needed to express. I will desire a life that is tangible, visible, vivid, and challenging. I will miss watching the flow of life around me as if the Creator of this life were composing some great jazz composition.

Despite my feelings I am leaving and am returning to the land I fear. Perhaps upon my arrival, I'll find the challenge that I'm looking for. Maybe I'll realize that I missed more than I thought of. Maybe I'll be relieved to be surrounded in convenience. Time will tell.

Who knows what interrupted me at this point but it seems to me it was quite the appropriate point to stop. And I still agree. Time will tell how well I will adjust to the convenient lifestyle, which seems to be utterly inconvenient for me. Who would have ever guessed that a shower could be so difficult after becoming accustomed to taking bucket showers, that I would wait a week to do laundry because the sun wasn't shining not realizing that I could use the dryer, or that my intestinal system would so quickly become accustomed to my diet of foliage and rice. Alas, it has. I find reminders of Mozambique in everything - sometimes it brings a smile to my face other times tears to my eyes but I love it nonetheless. This experience that I've had this past year - this adventure that you have supported me in - has changed me eternally. I'm sure I've hardened in some ways but I truly feel as though in some way I have become more compassionate for individuals in difficult situations. My patience has been tried so often in Mozambique by the population and I always had to search for why people act the way that they do. I always have come to the same conclusion that I would never be able to empathize or feel what it would be like to live the life of a born and raised Mozambican. Nonetheless I am determined to understand it as best as I possibly can. My plans are to return within the next 12 months. I will be returning to work independently with income generation. I have collaborated with a colleague to return and work within the community that he lives in. He for years has had a plan of how to help his community and this has been stemmed in sustainable economic stimulation. We together have started various projects already within his community and have actually started the projects more as micro financing so that the loans have been returned to begin other projects. Upon my return, we hope to continue the projects within his community and perhaps branch out into neighboring communities. In the meantime I will look for more permanent work within other non-governmental organizations within Mozambique. This is the effect you have had on my life. You have helped me cross an ocean and a continent to find my new home, at least for a little while, and in turn you have, hopefully, helped at least one community. Thank you doesn't even begin to describe my gratitude. Without your support, my life would be completely different now and, while the difficulties of understanding my native culture are overwhelmingly difficult, I am deeply satisfied that it has taken the path that it has. Thank you all again. Until the next endeavor.


Shannon Brode

Shannon may be reached by e-mail at: (Copy & Paste)

Shannon asked that a PDF of her entry be made available for download. You can get it right clicking on this link and choosing 'Save Target As': theend.pdf:~76k
If you don't have Adobe's Acrobat Reader you can get it here: Adobe Acrobat Reader