(Fine, I'll admit it... this blog is driven 90% by fun titles.)
For the last few days I've been traveling up to Vilankulos, the town in Mozambique which I called home for two years. I was happy to come home to the States after my service ended, but ever since coming back here I've been dying to get back there.
I knew there would be some changes: about 6 months after I left, Vilankulos was hit by a devastating cyclone. The pictures my friends sent me almost drove me to tears, and probably would have, if they weren't accompanied by words representing the characteristic Mozambican attitude of, "Eh, we've been through worse and we'll get over this too". It's easy to underestimate this Mozambican resilience, especially before hearing the stories -- everyone has one -- from the civil war. But that's for another day.
In Vilankulos, there were indeed signs of the cyclone, even more disturbing because it is now a year-and-a-half later. The brand-new marketplace, almost finished when I left and functional for only a few months, was still roofless and empty. The hospital buildings that my organization worked hard to help the Ministry of Health erect also showed signs of enduring damage, and also weren't functioning normally. And, unrelated to the cyclone, the high school was holding classes in tents, because the public university had taken over half of the beautiful, new, World Bank-built structure that was supposed to be Vilankulos's new high school. I wondered, could someone just call the World Bank and let them know that their project was being so misused? Could I? "Hello, uh, World Bank...?"
Good things were apparent, too. A new bank and a cell phone store had sprung up near the center of town. A new market in one of the outer neighborhoods. New paint jobs, mostly the yellows and blues of the two leading cell phone companies, shined in the brutal midday sun of the tropics. But mostly, there was just the sense that people were continuing to live their lives. The buzz of the central market and the shuffle of the feet of women wearing colorful wrap skirts as they carried baskets on their heads and babies on their backs.
And for me, this was the saddest part. Life had moved on past me. My former colleagues greeted me with smiles, and we exchanged pleasantries and enquired about family members, before they moved on to their tasks at hand. Two new volunteers have replaced my sitemate and I, and their house has a familiar Peace-Corps-volunteers-live-here comfort. There are new babies, new relationships made, old ones broken. Life has moved on.
When I left Vilankulos this time around, yesterday, I didn't know if I'd ever return. I love the place. But what was once home no longer is; the home I have in my mind is not a place but a spot in time -- a time now past. I don't think I believed it before now, but you really can't go home again.