Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Watching ants eat a lizard is a wonderful pastime.

3 days later.

Somehow 2 years have come and gone in what feels like the blink of an eye. I am currently in Maputo doing all the paperwork/exams necessary to leave Peace Corps. Naturally, I have spent most of my time reflecting on everything that has happened during my service. Here is a list of things that stick out in my mind, both good and bad, as memorable moments:

• My first long distance trip, hitching in the back of a truck with the wind in my face, being in awe of how gorgeous Mozambique is.
• Being diagnosed with arthritis and put on bedrest for a month
• Bungee jumping
• Tutoring Mohammad, and slowly becoming a part of his family which led to spending my last week in Monapo at their mansion in Chocas (best beach EVER, eating the world’s best seafood)
• Living with Esther
• Doing nothing all day except collect rainwater and going to bed feeling accomplished
• Visits from home!!!! Mom, Marti, and Mich, love you guys.
• Receiving packages/letters from home
• Sitting in 4 hour long meetings at school that accomplish nothing
• Having a stack of 500+ exams to grade
• Catching kids cheating
• Teaching math basics during physics and feeling like I changed lives
• Pica Pau (restaurant) with the “real Monapo girls”
• Volleyball!!!!
• Hitching up and down the country (2x the length of California)
• Going to S. Africa and Malawi…the food, the views, the lake, the ocean, cliff jumping, drinking, the company, you name it.
• Sporting Monapo games (big soccer team in Monapo) and supporting my students that were on the team
• Going to the market every day to buy whatever I wanted to make for the day
• Amazing students. RIP Nelson Sabonete.

Clearly this is only the tip of the iceberg. Mozambique has been so good to me and will definitely be missed. One thing that eases the sadness of leaving Moz is knowing that I'm going home to family and friends. I'm so ready to see all of your beautiful faces. In 2 days I will be boarding the plane...brace yourself LA.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

New Things...

There was a giant millipede hiding in my running shoe, I forgot to bang it before putting it on, and stepped on it. I freaked out, took off my shoe and realized that the millipede stained my toe. It was like this for a couple of weeks. Seriously weird.

View from Cape McClear, Malawi. Great trip. Did you know you can get peanut M&Ms and Snicker bars there? Just about had a heart attack.

In general, I think people would say that hanging out with any group of Peace Corps Volunteers is BORING. I’m pretty sure it stems from that fact that all we do is talk about 2 things: 1. Crazy health problems that we have had happen to us and 2. The food from back home that we miss. Number one is just crazy and never really gets old (also, you’d be surprised/disgusted with some of the stories). Number two is probably the most popular topic. My guess is that it is because most PCVs eat really poorly their two years of service. I’m not too sure what it is like in other countries, but here in Moz, the standard foods are rice and beans or spaghetti. Somehow, I managed to hit the jackpot when I was assigned to have Esther Gweon as my roommate. She is known for a few things here, but she is most famous for being a PHENOMENAL cook. This means that while others are suffering, I’ve been living the high life and trying to rub it in as often as I can. Little did I know I was just storing up a bunch of bad karma. A couple of weeks ago, I took a trip without Esther and realized what it is really like to be a PCV in Mozambique.

I was headed to Mocimboa, a site so far north that I decided to layover in Chiure (about 4 hours from my house) with my friend Sam. Chiure is something else: no electricity, food is scarce, the school is falling down…pretty much as mato/bush as it gets. Well, come dinnertime, Sam and I had to figure out something to eat. He had messaged me a few days before my visit super excited because ‘rat season’ had just kicked off and some of his friends had caught 18 rats from their first burn. I sent back the standard ‘haha,’ which I’m pretty sure he took to mean that I was equally excited. Back to finding something to eat. We were hanging out in his yard when a neighbor came over to pick some plants from his yard to cook with. Sam took advantage of this and politely asked her to make enough for us too…perfect. We went for a walk while dinner was being cooked and came across his friends with the rats. I wasn’t paying too much attention, but either the friends or Sam insisted on us eating rat for dinner as well. I’m not one to say no without trying it, so that was it, rat for dinner. We went back to do dinner number 1 with the neighbors (I made it a point to get as full as possible), then headed back for our rat. The boys brought us out a metal bowl filled with 5 charred rats and another metal bowl FULL of xima (Esther describes xima as congealed grits…seriously gross). I had never seen anything less appetizing in my life. A little bit on the rats first. You eat them with the furry skin still on. At first, I thought that would be the worst part, but it wasn’t. The worst part was that you have to eat the bone too!!! Luckily, Sam set me up with the meatiest part of the rat, the hind leg. Not bad. At least that’s what I thought until I was done chewing and swallowing and found some rat bone hiding out between my cheek and gums =/. 20+ months in Mozambique and I’m still trying new things…pretty cool.

A quick update on everything else here in Monapo: life is GOOD. I had a chance to visit my college friend/roommate Jamie in much fun. Still playing volleyball every weekend with a great group of kids. Esther and I started an English Club with our standout students and it has been a huge hit. I’m really enjoying teaching just bio and physics this year (only complaint is that my biggest class has jumped to 130 students). We are in the home stretch, and my COS (close of service) date has been announced as December 16th. And last/most importantly, Michelle Diane Britten is coming to visit in just over a month!!!!!!!!!!!! Def can’t complain.

Important shoutouts: Happy early first birthday to Kellen Rece Verners and congratulations Nico and good luck in Boston!!!! Miss you Nic and can’t wait to meet you Kellen!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Here in Mozambique, I’m known as ‘the crazy water lady.’ I don’t think it is worth the time/effort going into why, but in the end this is what’s important: I LOVE COLLECTING RAINWATER. In all honesty, what’s not to love about it? The water is a million times cleaner/tastier, it’s easy, it’s something to do, and it takes minimal effort!!! Anyway, when I returned from vacation all anyone would talk about was the ‘falta de agua’ (aka NO water) that exists in Monapo. Not good news. I assumed that maybe they were all overreacting and went about life. The problem with trying to live life without water is that it’s impossible. If you walked around our town during the day, you’d see tons of people meandering with empty buckets trying to find a place they could get water. There was one place in town that you could get water, but the waiting line during peak hours topped 12 hours! There were tons of people and hundreds of buckets all queued waiting for water from 1 spigot. The price of water soared. A 15 liter bucket normally costs 1 Metical to fill and at the height of our problem it cost 15 Meticais. People were taking showers less often (really not good) and resorted to drinking very questionable water. This led to a cholera outbreak. Once, when I was at school, I saw a lady walking around with a bucket filling it from puddles on the ground (really hoping is was not to drink, and I have no idea how there was a puddle on the ground =/). Monapo has not had any water come out of the ground since before Christmas, and there are rumors that this will continue through sometime in March. To make matters worse, we were also going through some sort of drought! Well, I’d like to say it is because of the million rain dances I did, but we finally started getting some great storms. Now, all of our buckets are OVERFLOWING with clean water almost to the point where Esther and I complain about the burden of too much water…almost.

One Long Break = One Long Blog

'Jump' starting the new punny =)

Best bungy crew EVER.

Our wonderfully dangerous hike...cameras could not be reached during the life threatening moments...sorry.

The biggest thing that has happened since my last post is that school ended which meant one thing, VACATION!!! And boy, was I ready.

I consider myself very fortunate for everything I was able to do during the ≈2 months of ferias from school. A quick recap: back to Namaacha to help with training, Maputo (the capital of Moz), Ponta do Ouro (the southernmost tip of Moz), Ilha de Mocambique (an island very close to my site, the first capital of Moz before independence from Portugal), Cape Town, Kruger National Park!!!, more Maputo, Johannesburg (spent all Christmas day in the bus terminal, actually had a blast), Coffee Bay (wild coast, South Africa), Plettenberg Bay (Garden Route, SA), Jeffreys Bay (Garden Route, SA), Tofo (beach in southern Moz), Massinga (southern Moz and Mike’s site), Gorongosa (central Moz, where 2 sensational PCVs live), and back home to Monapo!!! Needless to say, I logged some kilometers. Now for a few of my favorite parts…

GETTING TO SEE MOM AND MARTI!!!! Unbelievable and so so so much fun. We had too many good times, but if I have to choose one specific event, it is definitely the fish market in Maputo. Our trip started in South Africa with Cape Town and then Kruger, and let me tell you, they loved “Africa.” From our lodge in Kruger, we were driven across the border to the lovely country of Mozambique. They quickly realized that what we had been vacationing in a beautiful bubble. Maputo is a typical African capital full of people, poverty, problems, and prawns. So, we took a visit to the fish market for lunch one afternoon. Upon entering the outdoor market, you find stand after stand full of prawns, fish, squid, lobster, etc. People are tugging on you from each direction guiding you to their seafood, which they demand, is the best seafood. Waiters from the restaurants behind the counters are also tugging, wanting you to get your fish cooked at their restaurant. The hustle and bustle of this market makes it notorious for pickpockets and petty crimes. Best place to take your family? Probably not, but hey, I wanted them to see what life here is really like. We bought a kilo of prawns and a kilo of grouper (4.4 pounds total) and headed to the back. There are a ton of tables set out encircled by about 7 different restaurants that cook your newly purchased fish. We picked one and sat down to relax. That’s when I got my first good look at my mom and Marti. They looked beat: sweat dripping, faces flush (whether it was from the insane heat or all the commotion, I’ll never know). We opted on the best remedy to relax, Mozambican beer sampling. After eating the delicious food and drinking Laurentina preta, Laurentina clara, and 2M (winner: Laurentina preta), we left that fish market in the highest spirits feeling accomplished. What an experience.

The Coffee Shack in Coffee Bay, South Africa. Talk about a backpackers that has customer service down. Quick example of how: we arrived on a Sunday to a complimentary drink and a memo that on Sundays they have a free, delicious, dinner for all guests. Not too bad. They also had these day trips planned that were relatively cheap that most guests took advantage of (beach day, hiking, cliff jumping, walk to hole in the wall, day with the locals, etc.). While relaxing the first night we kept hearing these stories about a tour guide that took people hiking insisting it was easy, when in reality it was far from it. One girl ranted about how her life was repeatedly in danger. I didn’t pay too much attention because I didn’t have any intentions of hiking while I was there, and, who knows, she was probably a bit crazy and overreacting. Well, on day three of our stay, the activity was a hike ending with a cliff jump. Esther, Diana and I were really interested because of the jump. The guide said it was an easy hike to the cliffs so we were in. Having forgotten her close-toed shoes, Esther was hesitant. The guide insisted that it was so easy she could go barefoot, so we signed up. Having no idea it was THAT guide, we laced up our shoes/took off our flip-flops and were off. My goodness, was it tough. We hiked along countless slate cliffs that dropped off to gigantic rocks and a tempestuous Indian Ocean. I can recall 3 times that I legitimately worried for my life. Being told “don’t step on the grass at the edge, it WILL fall away” isn’t exactly what you want to hear while walking on a foot wide ledge. In the end, we jumped off a 10-meter high cliff into the Indian, saw some of the most incredible views, got a great workout, and had a blast. Looking back, that hike was one of the most memorable parts of my whole trip. Worth risking my life? Yes, but I probably only think that because I survived =).

BUNGY JUMPING the world’s highest bungy bridge!!!! Insane. Half way between Plettenberg Bay and Jeffreys Bay lies the Bloukrans bridge, a whopping 215 meters high. You sign up, get strapped up, and make the walk out to the middle. The most energetic crew is out there to greet you, rocking out to some pump up music, ready to make your experience all it can be. We were 5 to jump and we all had one goal in mind- to have the best form when we jumped. Looking back, we all agree that was the best idea any of us had. Right after I jumped, with sensational form, was when I realized what I had done…thrown myself off of a bridge. Luckily, it was too late to freak out, all there was to do was enjoy it. With nothing to grab onto, I fell (they say it’s a 7 second freefall), bounced, fell again, bounced, and so on. What a rush! Definitely another unforgettable part of the trip, and a heck of a way to kick off 2011!

Getting back to Monapo was really something else after that long of a vacation. I got home and was back at school within the hour. This year, I will be teaching 9th grade physics, 11th grade biology, and 12th grade biology. I’m really excited about my schedule and have some grand plans for this second year. I feel like getting away was just what I needed to clear my head and get motivated for my second year.

I hope everyone had the best Christmas and New Year!!! I miss you all more than ever, and will see you this year!!!! Can you believe it? I can’t!

<3 Von

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Happy Halloween!!!!

At least once a day, Peace Corps Volunteers lament how glorious American food (used loosely) is. Pretty much anything can bring it up: watching a movie and seeing a Taco Bell in the background, attempting to make favorite foods from home, talking about the weather, etc. It’s crazy. My point from this is that we talk about some pretty ridiculous things, and by ridiculous, I mean ridiculously boring. This is important because a couple of days ago, I found myself talking to Megan, my sitemate, about something completely absurd. It was so silly it deserves a blog.

So deodorant here is precious. The only d.o. you can come by is that roll on stuff that has an insane scent and doesn’t work. You can buy sticks of deodorant at Shoprite, but it is super expensive and way far away. Anyway, I’ve made it a point to have my mom send me a stick anytime I find myself about ¾ way through mine. I still get paranoid that I will run out of deodorant before that lifesaver of a package gets here. So, I’ve just started extending the lifetime of my sticks. You know when you get to the bottom of a stick and you start rubbing that plastic thing on your pit? That’s when I know I have about one more month left of deodorant. I pop that plastic thing out, use a pen to push each section of d.o. out and rub some on each morning. It has definitely led to some funny looks from Esther. A couple of days ago, Megan was over and, for some reason, I felt compelled to tell her about my new method of conserving deodorant. Where anyone else would look at me like a crazy person, she just nodded her head and gave me the most sincere “nice.”

Enough about that. Life’s great out here! This week is the last week of school and doesn’t involve giving any real lessons. I’m headed to Savane (rumored to be one of the prettiest beaches in Moz) on Thursday with some friends to celebrate the world’s best holiday!!! Should be a blast. Then, I’m going to return home for a couple of weeks before setting out on about two months of travelling! Soooooo exciting. Some things I’ll be doing: returning to Namaacha for training, Maputo, Ilha de Moz, Massinga, Cape Town, Kruger, more Maputo, more S.Africa, and the southern coast of Moz before heading home.

Miss you all. Hope you guys are celebrating Halloween in a way that would make me proud!!!!

<3 Von

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bruised and Battered, Far From Broken

Seeing as how tomorrow is the one year mark in Mozambique, I guess it’s the perfect time for a little reflection. If you asked me what I expected out of my Peace Corps service before I left the United States, I’m pretty sure my answers would have been pretty typical: learn a new language, experience a new culture, make new friends, travel, learn to cook, read some books, change the world, and so on.

I’d say for the most part, I’m right on track. Portuguese (more or less), check. Learning about Mozambican culture, check. New friends (Mozambican, American, and more), check. Read books, check. Learn to cook…..ehhhh….

As far as travelling goes, I definitely feel like I have experienced Mozambique. Two weekends ago, I had a whole new adventure on my way to Ribaue. The easiest/cheapest way to get there is via train. There were two options for tickets: 2nd and 3rd class. I’m sure you’re all asking the same thing I did, what happened to 1st class? I never got to the bottom of that question, just that it definitely doesn’t exist and hasn’t existed for a while. Anyway, wanting the true experience (or 2nd class being sold out, I don’t really remember) I rode 3rd class. I didn’t have to sit by any goats or anything so it really wasn’t all that bad. I just spent all my time in the dining cart snacking. Paying 25 Meticais (about 70 cents) for one of the best egg sandwiches to secure a place to sit is a price I will happily pay. My only question is, since there is no 1st class, why not call each class one higher? Add it to the list of things that just don’t make any sense. I just can’t wait to explore S. Africa in December!!!!

Change the world. Hmm, I just think that one was just a bit too ambitious. I think I’ve changed Esther’s world, so that’s a success, right?

So, there are some things that have happened since I’ve been here that were completely unexpected. Being paired up with Esther has made “roughing it” in Mozambique a breeze. I honestly believe that if Peace Corps advertised our lives together absolutely everyone would join. Bad days are easy to weather when you’re in such great company. I also never thought I would be diagnosed with arthritis at the ripe age of 23. Shooting pain in my hips eventually made walking without a limp impossible. A couple of specialists and a cocktail of meds later I’m seeing some improvement. I’m even thinking about jumping on the exercise boat again. Don’t worry, Mom, I promise to ease back into it. Making new friends was a goal, but I don’t think anyone could anticipate meeting such winners. You know you’ve made some real friends when you’re willing to hitchhike 600km each way to spend a weekend celebrating someone’s birthday. And…becoming a godmother!!!! Woo hoo!!!! To my little (used loosely) Kellen Verners, I can’t wait for the second I get to squeeze those chubby chubby cheeks. Btw, I’m still waiting on that photoshopped pic Marti =).

The next class of Mozambique volunteers (Moz 15) arrived yesterday. They will be headed to Namaacha in a couple of days to start their three months of training. It’s so bizarre to think us 14ers are going to be the “experienced” ones here. Have we even learned that much? Could we possibly offer any good advice? I really hope the answer is yes. I’m heading down to training Thanksgiving week to help out and would really like to be able to offer some words of wisdom. Well, success or no success, at least we will all get to enjoy a delicious Thanksgiving meal together. =)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

All's well...

So, apparently I waited waaay too long to write this blog. I don’t even know where to start.

Science Fair. My school’s science fair came and went and was a complete success. I had 7 participants, 3 judges, 2 counterparts, and a lot of fun. All of the kids that participated really got into the spirit of science and exceeded my expectations. Some of their projects were: testing different soils, dissolving Styrofoam into different kinds of fuel to make glue, using citrus to power a lightbulb, making different kinds of ointments, learning how to emit radiowaves using local materials, and learning the best way to start a fire without using matches. I had two neighboring volunteers come in to guest judge as well as one of my school’s directors. Two of my students won (I had absolutely no say in that!!!) and we are in Nampula at regionals as you’re reading!!! Anyway, some things that I will work hard to improve next year are: increasing the number of participants and improving community involvement.

Travelling. Since I was fortunate enough to get placed in such a gorgeous country, this is ALWAYS a highlight. During the break between 2nd and 3rd trimesters, I had a chance to head to Ilha de Mozambique and Pemba. They are both insanely beautiful beaches, and paired together with great company, turned out to be one of the greatest times in my service so far. Being the only people on the beach as far as you can see each way, reading books, eating delicious seafood, cold beers…let me tell you, life in the Peace Corps is tough.

Esther. Esther had the nerve to leave me for 2 weeks so she could meet her sister in Barcelona. Seeing as how I have only cooked about 3 meals beginning to end, I was worried about how I might survive without her. Luckily, a lot of my travelling was during that time, so I really only spent 3 nights home by myself. After a disastrous first meal, I still don’t get how I messed up boiling eggs, I figured it couldn’t get any worse. I sucked it up and attempted to make Mexican rice and I succeeded!!! Okay, the texture wasn’t all that, but the flavor was definitely on point…Mom, you can be proud. Anyway, one important thing I did while I was in Pemba was pick Esther up from the airport. Her sister was nice enough to cart a million requests from LA to Barcelona, so saying Esther had tons of baggage to bring home is an understatement. Among all the goodies (countless tv shows, movies, snacks, etc.) was a new camera (loaded with pics from home), external hard drive and stick of deodorant for me, jackpot.

Volleyball. I remember writing a long time ago about getting staff volleyball games going…well, it is finally happening! I’m super excited, minus our practices are at 5am on Saturdays. Crazy people.

December. Not only does December mean that my first year of teaching is over as well as half of my Peace Corps service, December means I get to see my Mom and Marti!!!! Wooo hooo!!!! They have booked their tickets and are my inspiration for pushing through the hard work.

Rats/Bats. Esther and I always knew we had a rat, but after our first big catch we figured our problem was over…so wrong. We have now caught 5 rats, and aren’t seeing an end in sight. Not good. We also used to get about 1 bat in the house each week, but then it kind of slowed down. Well, I’ve been waking up the past few nights hearing and seeing them flying around. I can’t tell if it’s a hallucination or not (side effect of the malaria meds), but I swear one is living under my bed. Also, not good.

Anyway, life is great over here in Moz, just miss the heck out of you all back home. Hope everything is amazing. Keep the emails coming, they are always highlights of my days.

<3 Von