Testing Positive


My day begins between 6 and 6:30am, just as the women in my area begin sweeping their yards with tethered bundles of sticks and the booming bass of music begins blaring from houses near and far. Instead of the call of roosters I hear donkeys and the rumble of semi trucks as they make their way down the main ‘estrada’ that cuts through Changara. I boil water for coffee, sweep the house and veranda, take a bucket bath and am off to work around 7:50am. Towards the end of August I began my work at the hospital, and now make my way to the HIV/AIDS ward, or ATS (Acontecimiento e Testagem de Saúde), where we test and counsel patients. 

HIV/AIDS is a very real and ever growing issue here. Of the 1.6 million people living in Mozambique, about one-third are living with HIV/AIDS, more than 90,000 of them are children under the age of 15. Of this one-third living with HIV/AIDS, 5% (roughly 26,600 people) live in Tete Province. But the numbers, data and facts never prepared me for my first week in the hospital and before I knew it, in the midst of the life altering moments of complete strangers, I was having my own life altering moments. I arrived at the ATS ward and wandered into a room where our activists and counselors were preparing for the day in the field, putting together their backpacks of HIV tests, cotton swabs and paperwork. I said my greetings and I sat quietly in the corner waiting for someone to ask me to do something. Eventually everyone left and still unsure of what I was supposed to be doing, I continued to sit and wait. After about a half an hour our counselor appeared in the doorway with an older woman, frail and weathered looking. I quickly realized this was a patient and I asked if should leave, but she insists, “No, stay! Stay!”. The patient sits next to me, coughing and groaning. They’re speaking Nyungue, the local Bantu language, so I understand none of what’s being said but watch as our counselor puts on rubber gloves and points to the various posters on the wall that illustrate how HIV attacks the human body.

I’m going to watch this woman test for HIV.

I observe as her finger is pricked, her blood is tested, and two little red lines appear on the testing strip.

She’s positive.

I’ve never seen anyone tested for HIV, let alone test positive. This is such a life changing moment, all I want to do is leave the room. I don’t belong here and I can’t imagine that this woman appreciates having a strange white woman sitting next to her during such an intimate moment. The counselor slips out of the room, leaving us in the room together side-by-side. I don’t know where to look or if I should say something to console her, but I hear a sniffling, look over, and realize she’s weeping into her hands. I can feel my face getting hot and the pressure building in my chest as I choke back tears. Not before long our counselor arrives, fills out paperwork and sends the patient on her way. Before I can process what just happened or get my stuff together to get out of that room, she’s escorting in a mother and two little girls, each clutching a Hannah Montana purse and fried sweet bread. They’re each tested in just the same way. One of the little girls tests positive. I watch her swing her feet and munch innocently on her bread as her mom receives the news, knowing this little girls life just changed forever. She can’t be more than 11 years old. But they seem fine, laughing even. They leave and I can hear more laughter and music coming from the main entrance.

I ask our counselor if this work is hard for her, doesn’t she want to cry, too? She replies with a snort and a smile and says, “Nada”. I’m not sure if they’re laughing to cover up for grief and nervousness or if discovering you’re HIV+ is so common it’s not worth tears, but one thing is clear: my own perception of HIV/AIDS is very much different than theirs. On one hand this is extremely frustrating, how can they act so nonchalant about something so serious? On the other hand this is comforting, they know their status, can begin treatment and continue with their lives.

Our next patient to enter is a young woman with her two year old tied to her back. The baby just tested positive in pediatrics and the mother wants a test as well. The baby’s cooing and the mother adjusts her capulana as they wait for the test results. I watch as two little red lines appear on her test strip.

She’s tested positive, too.

It’s not even 1:00pm yet. 

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The preparations for drinking “stone ground” kava in Lekavatmel Village, Central Pentecost island, Vanuatu.

There are several different ways to prepare kava, many places simply use a Chinese made meat grinder.  The grinder is very efficient but lacks any “character”.  Stone ground kava is much more labor intensive, makes less kava to drink but the shells served with ground and hand mashed has a different flavor, and a much thicker constancy.  This combined with the freshly pulled kava from Pentecost created a great kava high when drunk.

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All moved in!


Wow, so its been over a month since i last updated you on my life here in China and SO much has happened since!

So, since my last post i have…

Been a brides maid in a Chinese wedding.

Had many nights of singing karaoke with my friends at our training site.

Learned how to play Mahjong (an extremely popular Chinese game).

Climbed up a famous mountain outside of Chengdu. Four hours up and two hours down.

Grew very close to the 20 people at my training site.

Watch my host family go to America for two weeks.

Ate pizza which did not compare to American pizza in the slightest.

Went ice skating with my host cousin.

Found out and visited my permanent site placement in Tongren, Guizhou, China. 

Met my counterpart; a Chinese English teacher who is a colleague, friend, and support system here for me for the next two years.

Depart my host families house in Chengdu to meet up with the rest of the volunteers for four days in a hotel of more training before our departure to site.

Found out my Chinese language level. Novice-Mid which is what i expected and am happy with but Peace Corps was hoping we get Novice high, one step up.

Swore in as an official Peace Corps China Volunteer

Said many hard goodbyes to close friend, some of whom i wont see for several months. That probably doesn’t sound that bad but when you are forced to see 20 people every single day and go through something so foreign to us all for two months you grow incredibly close.

Got sick the night before my departure to Tongren. I’m pretty sure it was food poisoning and was hooked up to an IV for the day to hydrate me from the continuous throwing up that happened the night before. 

Took the 12 hour train ride from Chengdu to Tongren.

Tongren, i am here for good now! ive moved everything into my new apartment, which is actually very very old. I feel like i am living in a log cabin on the inside. So to give you a tour of my new home, as you walk through the front door there is the kitchen table to the right, bathroom straight ahead which is basically i closet with a shower head, a hole in the ground for my toilet (squatter), a mirror and a hose that is used to fill the manual washing machine that sits right outside the bathroom door. I have a small kitchen with the only sink in the house. i have a little stove top, a rice cooker, and a water heater in there as well. Next is the living room with a couch that probably 100 years old so i am in the process of getting a couch cover so i can sit down. then there are two rooms, one i keep closed because it has a bunch of junk stored in there either from previous volunteers or the home owner. Room number two is my bedroom consisting of a bed, closet, mirror and a few shelves. I have one set of windows at the front of my apartment and they are always kept open.

I arrived here Sunday night and that is when i found out my teaching schedule. I would be teaching that Tuesday and have 6 classes a week. The college classes here in China consist of two 45 minute periods with a ten minutes break in between. I have three classes of sophomores and 3 classes of freshman with Mondays off. The freshman in China start about a month later than the rest of the college because they go to military training which pretty much just prepares mentally prepares them for life in college. They do wear camo though. So as of now i only have 3 classes to worry about. 

Tuesday i had class at 8am and i was extremely nervous! I prepared some introduction activities so that the class could get to know me and i could get to know them. After starting class and the students giving me strange looks i realized they could barely understand me. i laer learned through the activities that this class is at a very low level of English. One activity took basically the whole class and the other activity i had to ditch because there is no way they would be able to understand the directions. The class had almost 50 students so it was hard to keep them quite especially when other students were speaking. Wednesday was my second class, i think i was more nervous for this class but it went so much better. The students were wanting to participate and were at a high level so class moved faster. Tomorrow is my last class of the week and i will be going over the same introductions but depending on their level we will see how much we can do. I am still worried about lesson planning so i hope my confidence and knowledge of being a teacher will grow over time.

Today i did not teach so i slept in till about ten, made some oatmeal with bananas and met my city mate named Leah. We ventured up a small mountain with an amazing view at the top. I’m still so amazed whenever i see mountains, they are like some mystic made up landscape out of the movies, but now i am surrounded by them and i love it! After our hike we got some ice cream at a bakery and ran into two foreigners which is strange for the “small” city of Tongren. We then made our way over to a huge open market full of anything from car seats to shampoo to bikes and everything was extremely cheap. I bought two pillows a small rug and towel; and bargained for them all!  

So as of now i am adjusting to being a teacher, living on my own, feeling lonely, and finding my place here. My emotions have been up and down moving faster than a roller coaster these past few days. I am often questioning if i can do this, but in the back of my mind i know i can. Its not in me to give up and that’s what pushes me. But on the other hand i miss America so damn much! Its all the little things that make it so hard. 

I plan to make friends, integrate into the community, and pick up hobbies here that i will enjoy and that will distract me for now until i grow to love this place and what i do. Im staying hopeful and positive over here and it definitely helps when i hear from all of you that i love and miss so much Your support is still as strong on the other side of the world. 

That is it for now. I’m going to enjoy my first rainfall in Tongren while watching a movie. 



The best training group!! 


"living room"









The symbol of Tongren. This stone is at the top of a mountain.image


My counterpart April. image

My counterpart took me to her hometown in the province next to us called Hunan. image

Beautiful Ancient cityimage

Peace Corps volunteer 19 and 20 groups of Guizhou. Im on the far right.image

My training group at swear in. Some of the girls got traditional Chinese dresses made.image

My language class.


Saying goodbye for now to my wonderful host mom.

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Food Fridays: Mafe (Senegal)



This delicious recipe for lamb and peanut stew comes from Amber Patterson in Massachusetts:



  • Cooking oil
  • 1-2 lbs. lamb
  • 1 C peanut butter
  • 1-2 C water or beef broth
  • 1 Maggi cube (chicken bouillon also works)
  • 1-2 onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2-4 tomatoes, cut into sections
  • 1 hot chile pepper
  • 1 or more chopped vegetables: cabbage, carrots; eggplant, potatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, or turnips are commonly used
  • Salt & black pepper (to taste)


  1. Heat oil in a large pot. Sauté meat & onions over high heat.
  2. Reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes.
  3. Add all of the remaining ingredients except for the peanut butter & water. Simmer for about 30 minutes until all ingredients are tender.
  4. Reduce heat and add peanut butter. Stir.
  5. Add water or broth as needed to make a smooth sauce.
  6. Serve over rice.

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One day a GIANT stick bug fell out of my roof. How cool is that?! It climbed right back up the wall, except for a brief stint where I tried to pick it up. Did you know stick bugs have wings? I did not, and it sure did give me a start! They can’t really fly as their wings are disproportionately small to their bodies but it does let them glide or rather fall gracefully from predators or overly curious Peace Corps volunteers. After that I left it alone and it is probably still living in my roof. I mean, I can’t tell since it’s a stick bug and my roof is made of sticks but I don’t see why it would want to leave.


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A group of second-year volunteers have been working on a project to bring indestructible soccer balls to Togo to use for HIV/AIDS and malaria educational projects. This spring, a whole lot of these balls arrived in Togo - and last week, they arrived in Datcha. Each volunteer could request balls to use for sensibilisations in their village, so of course I requested some for my girls’ soccer team. We talked about malaria, from transmission to prevention and treatment - sleep under bed nets! Go the dispensaire and get tested! And then we played.

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Tuma Sala- First Amerindian Resturant in Georgetown


imageimageOur interview with a local Native Guyanese, Angela is of the Patumunu tribe. One of nine Native tribes of Guyana! She was open to share her knowledge and show us how to cook one of her amazing dishes served in her restaurant Tuma Sala which is an authentic Amerindian cuisine located in Georgetown. We were thrilled to be able to interview her and get an insiders perspective of Guyana culture!imageimageimageimage

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Ginger Does the Campo: Round 1

My mom came to El Salvador with few expectations, not knowing what to expect and using my blog (and Facebook posts about tarantulas) as her guide to life in El Salvador. Her final impression- words and photos can only do so much justice to the life of a PCV and the reality of the communities we work in. I tried to ease her into the impending culture shock; we spent her first night in a hotel, enjoyed take-out with my two PCV soul sisters Aisha and Emily and lounged in the air conditioning. Her first night impression: This isn’t so bad.

We hit the road the next morning, leaving behind the hot water and Wi-Fi for bucket baths and Spanish. Our first stop was 7 de Marzo, the community where I lived during our 10 week training, to see my first host family and the puppy I had left behind. For those of you who have never traveled to Nuevo Cuscatlán let me set the scene. The drive up is lined with gated communities, beautiful houses in the hills guarded by machine guns and barbed wire. Shopping centers, nice cars, and the newly designed, very modern Nuevo Cuscatlán logo line the streets. It is a very deceptive image. My mom later told me, the whole way she was thinking “this isn’t so bad, what was Catherine complaining about”. Then you hit the pueblo, and the view changes dramatically. You are hit with a wave of stray dogs, bollos, street food and barred windows. Graffiti, loud music and trash; tin roofs, adobe houses and dirt roads. Too me, these sites were all a welcome home, I recognized the people, spotted my favorite tienda, but to my mom, the separation between the rich and the rest was immediately apparent. My mom was sitting silently in shock as we pulled up to my training site. Too me it was all the same, the only noticeable difference was that my puppy was now the size of a small horse. With no Spanish language skills, she put on the best Iamnotscaredoutofmymind smile and hugged all the family members and neighbors who were gawking at us, stepped into the compound and just like that her adventure had begun.  

If you can remember the stories and pictures from my first months here, you will recall that I was not living in luxury. I was a scared, non-Spanish speaking gringa thrown into a house with a bunch of curious, non-English speaking Salvadorans. My mom was in the same boat. She had me, but, after 7 months, my host mom was not giving me much opportunity to speak English. I wasn’t doing her much good. She sat, smiled and responded to every jumble of Spanish with a smile and “Si”, just as I had done so many months prior. We sat outside and watched the boys play guitar, ate, snacked and ate again (food is love in El Salvador) while Christina and I caught up on all the chambre and she filled me in on all the new merchandise in the tienda. It was if nothing had changed, besides the fact that we could actually communicate. If anyone is looking for a boost in your secondary language ego, I recommend a trip home to your training community, where everyone will “ohhh” and “ahhh” over the fact that you are no longer speaking at a second grade level. It was a strange feeling to be in the house and not be the one completely lost in the translation. My mom had the opportunity to understand what my first weeks in country were like. Christina, being the chatterbox that she is, assumed that the more activities and conversation there was, the faster my mom would learn. I must applaud her efforts, and now understand why I learned so much Spanish in her house. She wants to know where you where, who you saw, what you did, ALL THE TIME. She wants the scoop and she will patiently sit through broken Spanish to get the story. Who knew all those hours spent at her table with pan dulce and coffee was actually Spanish Class Round 2.

Along with the culture shock, 7 de Marzo provided my mom with her introduction to platos tipicos from El Salvador. After her first sleepless night she woke up bright and early to prepare and enjoy pupusas. Pupusas, the pride and joy of Salvadoran cuisine, are, in simple terms, a tortilla filed with cheese, beans, chicken, garlic, etc. Best eaten with cortido and salsa negro, they can be enjoyed morning or night, with a cold beer or a cup of coffee. There is even a song dedicated to the pupusas and how much we all love them. My mom gave them 1.5 out of 5 stars. We were off to a rocky start. That afternoon, while I suffered through a parasite, she was left to fend for herself, and tasted Christina’s chicken soup (3 stars) tortillas (negative 5 stars) and tamales (4 stars). Needless to say, she was looking forward to a change in the menu, and hoping to never see a tortilla again.

My mom was a real trooper, she adopted the attitude that got me through training, which is forcing yourself to laugh at the bad, because you cant change it. Cockroaches covering the latrine, pee outside. Don’t understand anything that is going on, smile and nod. She did a great job pretending to like all the food she was given, and ignore the giant beetles and bird poop.

After her first nights in the campo, the Final Verdict was : I give you all the credit in the world.  

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