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May 30, 2005

Perspective

During my year here, my perspective on the world and especially on my place in the world changed dramatically.  I came to realize that my daily decisions make an impact that is greater than I probably can imagine.  Unfortunately, after some time in the United States, my newfound perspective began to fade mostly due to convenience rather than a change in my ethical codes.  Now that I am back, I have already been re-examining some of the lessons I learned and re-viewing some of the perspective forming moments.

Somewhere along the way someone told me that she writes a list of five things that she is thankful for in her journal each day.  As such, even at the end of a difficult day, it can be noted that there is still much to be thankful for.  I have been trying to follow suit while here.  I would like to share some of the highlights.

  1. One of the first things that I noticed when I got here, oddly, was that Emilia, the housekeeper at the volunteer house, was wearing the shoes that I left here two years ago.  I remember leaving them here because they were quite worn on the inside and had gotten stretched out.  And, truth be told, they were more than just a little bit stinky.  I barely even thought about leaving them; I bought them for $10 or so at Target long before I even got to Africa.  And yet, two years later, they are still Emilia's daily shoes.  Just seeing that made me remember just how privileged we are in the United States.  In comparison to Emilia (who is quite well paid, mind you), I have so much money and material wealth and I live in a country with a consumer driven economy where debt and over-spending is a way of life.  I am not saying that we should try to revert back to a Mozambican lifestyle.  But, it is important for me to be more mindful of what I do have, to value what I am lucky enough to have, and more conscientious about how I spend my money.
  2.   Ironically, one of the things I am most thankful for is that Atanasio is not dead.  Seems like a very peculiar thing to write.  During my two years away from Lamego, I heard through the grapevine that Atanasio, my co-teacher, had died.  When I left, Atanasio was so ill that he had to leave the school to recover.  He had a serious case of TB and because of the close link between TB and AIDS here I assumed that when he died that he died of AIDS.  Atanasio is a remarkable, inspired teacher.  He manages to captivate the students in a way that stimulated to think independently and to want to learn even more!  When I heard that died, I felt such sorrow for Mozambique as a whole.  Atanasio symbolized hope for Mozambique for me.  His death made me wonder and wonder and wonder about the future for Mozambique.  He was just 25 and his life, I thought, was robbed from him.  Just the other day, though, one of the vocational school staff came up to me to chat for the first time.  He said, very nonchalantly, that Atanasio had been by to visit.  I asked him what Atanasio he was talking about.  He said, "You remember, he was your co-teacher!"" I burst out with "But I thought he DIED!" and burst into tears, too.  The teachers who heard me say this all started laughing at my confusion and at my tears.  With this news, though, some of my hope for the future has been restored.  Atanasio is teaching near the capital city, Maputo.  Surely, he is continuing to inspire students, too.
  3. I feel quite fortunate that I have been welcomed back with such warmth.  With "open hands" as they say here.  The vocational school teachers even celebrated my arrival with a welcome dinner at the restaurant in the village.  They have allowed me to return, even for this short period of time, without having to prove myself again.  They have made me feel as if I am an equal member of the teacher's council again. 
  4. I am very thankful for the pace of life here.  It has allowed me a chance to think, to relax, to read for pleasure, to just talk with the students without thinking about the millions of things that I should be doing.  This drastic change in the pace of my life has made me realize just how hectic I allowed my life in Philadelphia to get.  Balance is a difficult thing to achieve in life.  Being here makes it much easier to maintain that balance and to feel a sense of purpose in everything.
  5. Once again, the fragility of life here is right in front of me.  The daily notes on the blackboard in the teacher's office from one teacher or another informing us of his trip to the hospital.  Students who go home for funerals of loved ones or to care for someone who is ill.  Sickness, death, crop failure, dirty water, no water, lack of money, roads in ruins that always cause accidents, lack of resources including hospitals and health centers, schools and community centers are all just at the top of a very long list of what ails this community.  But, somehow there is hope even still.  Since I have been gone, the community health center can now (finally) test for malaria and HIV/AIDS.  Since I have been gone, there is another pipeline project in the works to get clean water to areas that most need it.  Since I have been gone, new HIV education projects have sprung up to reach the most rural and vulnerable populations.  There is so much hope.  But there is also the reminder to be careful with my own life.  We have such a tendency in the United States to not care for our lives.  We eat too much, we drink too much, we sleep too little, and we carry too much stress with us.  And somehow we think that we are still invincible.