Thursday, May 5, 2011

Learning How to Teach

Examples of mixtures: sugar; sugar cane; rice; charcoal… (is this a list of things he found in his kitchen? I was really hoping to see mixures with at least two parts)
Examples of mixtures: wine and water; rum and coke; maheu; beer and water; juice and sugar (we got a drinker, four points)
Examples of mixtures: sugar water (one point), ocean water (one point), peepee and water (hmmm…okay guess that counts too, one point), blood and tears (…..ah….. what the….???sangue e lagrimas?!... who’s homework is this anyways).

::The Facilities::
It’s hard to explain teaching here at the secondary school, but it’s harder to explain why I like it or even why I like it more than teaching at the university. Frankly it probably sounds like a nightmare: classes of 40 students ranging from 10 to 27 years old (yes all crammed into the same room), some literate ….and some not so literate, curriculum that would be appropriate for an AP 12th grade class in the states but maybe not the best choice for 8th graders, very few textbooks/resources, etc. To be fair the school I’m teaching at is a dream compared to most schools here in moz, at least we have some textbooks, electricity, glass on the windows, classes are capped (compared to the 100+ student classes found elsewhere), flowering plants around the buildings, concrete floors, not corrupt administration….but it is still nothing compared to the education I was lucky enough to receive.

Examples of mixures: sardines (underline response… well, on second thought he probably means the canned sardines in tomato sauce you get at the market, rather than just plain fish… right?!… sardines plus tomatoes, whatever it’s two things I’ll give him a point).
“Professora, why didn’t you like my example of sardines?” I’m in the middle of lecture, the student is clearly distressed seeing the red mark by sardinhas.

::Technical Skills::
There are some definite perks to working at a technical school, and a technical school with resources at that. Students may choose from 8 concentrations: reception, table/bar, cooking, electrician, metal smith/mechanic, accounting, tailor, and carpentry. This means that once a week I spring $4 for a student cooked meal (their practical work) for lunch. Today I had chicken with creamy potato, mozarella-basil-tomato salad, and orange pudding for dessert (!)… yep, life is rough in Peace Corps.

There are some downsides though. A design oversight unfortunately resulted in a metalsmith workshop right next to a block of classrooms, as in feet away. And if you didn’t know already working with metal is loud. Really really loud. “A homogeneous mixture…..” * ping * ping * ping * zsheeeerooooooooooom zsheeeerooooooom * clank * clink * clonk * “A HOMOGENEOUS MIXTURE…”. It’s like this every day, me versus hammers and saws.

Where are the protons located in the atom: Maputo(…..well all things can be found in Maputo, he does have a point…)
Where are the electrons located in the atom: Gaza(….err…)
Where are neutron located in the atom: Lithosphere (…shit I don’t even know where the lithosphere is, atmosphere or perhaps the earth’s crust, maybe I should give credit for knowing a big new word)

::The Uniforms::
It is fun trying to guess the trends by what flair they’ve added to their school uniforms. All schools have uniforms but my school has very…unique…uniforms. All primary school uniforms are powder blue shirts with navy blue skirts or pants, secondary schools usually have white tops and black bottoms with ties though at Meagan’s school they upped the style a bit with the addition of a bow tie, personally I think it makes the students look like waiters. My school has the distinct vibrant green pants with highlighter yellow shirts (kind of like UO colors---woot woot); it is by far the most festive color scheme I have seen yet in terms of school uniforms.

The school is rather strict on the uniforms. Shirts must be tucked in. No entering the classroom without a tie. No hair extensions (so no long braids…though some girls who feel uncomfortable with their natural hair put on these rather heinous wigs). The girls add big earrings and big fashion belts (is that a cumberbund? asks Colin), or shiny plastic-y shoes made in china, sometimes the rich girls wear pumps. Both girls and boys stitch and write words or names into their ties or onto the pockets of their shirts. Boys add big 80s tennis shoes you can find in the market and tuck the bottoms of their pants in. Since zippers are crap here and break easily, half the time the uniform pants are haphazardly pinned together in the front.

When controlling a test last week a student tried to sneak a notebook in by tucking it under his pants and shirt, unfortunately the crotch of his uniform was falling apart so a corner of the notebook stuck out when he sat down. “Professora I don’t have anything!!!” ah…. “Well I’m not going to take your pants off….”

“Professora, he doesn’t have a tie!! He can’t come into the room!!!” …. I should care more about this whole tie thing but I’m just glad he is here on time.
“Professora, may I touch your hair?”
“Professora, do role call in English!!”
“Professora, do you know Obama?”

::The Calm Spot::
Every PCV deals with classroom management differently. I am not a disciplinarian but I am strict. No messing with me. I laugh and joke around with the turmas that can handle it and stay serious with others. What do I do when things get out of control? I just stop teaching. I could yell at them I guess… but it just seems so counterproductive. I choose to stand to the side and tell them that when they are ready to learn I will continue to teach. At first this creates more mayhem but after a minute of increased yelling, everyone trying to blame everyone else for being so naughty (“you made the Professora stop teaching” “Professora we are ready to learn but they aren’t” “you are so indisciplinado!!!” “Professora he stole my notebook”), it eventually dies down to complete silence and calm. If I’m calm, they are calm.

This calmness, this zen spot is the special spot I go to when they are naughty, or too boisterous, or for whatever reason things aren’t clicking. An Italian who has been tutoring at the school the last few months asked how we do it. She had spent a few hours explaining basic division to a 15-year-old (“Okay, we have 6 cakes and there are two of us, how many cakes would we each get?”); his homework was something far more advanced but since the System is the way it is him (and many others ) made it to 8th grade without knowing simple mathematics. “Okay 6 divided by 1 is 6; 8 divided by 1 is 8….so 4 divided by 1 is...?” long blank stare. Don’t get frustrated, don’t start banging your head against the wall, just go to your calm spot, there is no other way….

The hardest is when I walk around the room and some students have drawn things that look like letters-ish on their notebooks because they can’t recognize a letter or word for what it is, the way 4-year-olds do when they are learning to write letters, except these are teenagers that have somehow passed primary school without being able to read or write. I just don’t know how to help at that point, it’s really heartbreaking.

“Professora, there is an illness going around the classroom. The boys see stars in their eyes when certain people walk in the room…” Is this some kind of weird pick up line? I’m in the middle of lecturing 40 boys (well 10 large men and 30 small boys) and 2 girls, he has interrupted me and is standing up to tell me this. “I am so sorry to hear. I really hope they feel better,” I am sure that this is not the response he expected. I say this even faced, no frown, and no smile. I know he is looking for a blush or girlish response or anything to cause disruption, anything so the other boys in the class will hoot and holler. Long painful pause. How long will he stay standing? Long pause continues. How long can I keep from smiling? “Oh… ahhhh…okay….Professora” and he sits down awkwardly. This is when I smile… stars in their eyes….haha what a goober!

My students are, for the most part, smart, witty, and intelligent. They are excited about school and doing well in school. A student received a high note on a test and wanted me to write the number super clear so that he could hang it up at home, later he won a sticker during lecture for helping answer a question and he promptly stuck it next to the grade. But for me it’s not the grade that really matters, I just like when they can connect the dots and pushing their limits. I like that at the beginning of the semester they would freak out when I asked “why do you think that?” whenever they responded to a question but now they feel confident telling me WHY even if they aren’t right. I like seeing them get excited about activities. I like their sassiness. I like that they are patient with my Portuguese. I like their clever jokes. I like that I laugh every day when I teach. I like when they come by the house for help on homework. I like meeting their families and being invited into their homes. I like how they take care of each other and support each other. I weirdly enough like teaching here.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Summer Break 2010/Christmas Holidays

I have not dropped off the end of the earth. Still here. Still healthy, no signs of malaria.

I finished up my semester at UCM and headed on my Summer holidays before moving down to site three in Inhanbane. While teaching at the university was an unbelievable opportunity, I decided that for my second year I still wanted to have the experience of teaching at a secondary school, hence the move. I was by no means the best professor and there were plenty of areas for improvement, but I did the best I could and worked hard. I feel like the curriculum that I developed was updated, I am really happy that I was able to work things out between UCM and Computer Aid International for a shipment of 10 computers. The facilities had pretty good wireless but only three large dinosaur computers (called latas or cans by the students, which was a pretty apt description) that were not really great, I think these computers will make a huge difference on the quality of education and am excited to go visit when they are up and running. Also science textbooks will be coming in from Book Aid and International Book Project to help bulk up the library for the Department of Engineers at UCM.

My new school is an industrial school, students enter here as an alternative to traditional secondary school. They choose from a number of tracks (like reception, cooking, bar, sewing, electrician, mechanics, accounting, etc.) and study for a few years. They will graduate with the skills to jump into the job market. The school is really beautiful, I have so far been really impressed with the faculty. It will be completely different than last year but I’m up for the new challenges. I will be living on a mission about three blocks down the road from the school and a few blocks up from the beach. The village is small, calm, with some resorts but not quite as touristy as other places.

So the winter break…. You might have noticed I was not home. Since I’ve gotten a lot of inquisitive emails lately I thought I’d post a summary of more or less what we did. Apologies if it turns into one of those rambley and slightly irritating travel blogs.

Overall the trip was a huge success. I traveled mostly with Rebecca and she was a wonderful travel buddy!

Here are some snippets from the trip:

The bus may have been called express but it was not express, and we probably should have figured that beforehand. The Nampula Express was a cheaper alternative to the TCO, which is the fancy bus service that provides snack (with real juice) during the trip. The Nampula Express should have really been called the Nampula-Sluggish-with-Long-Stopover-in-Quelimane. I’m not sure why it took so long, not counting our unannounced side trip to Quelimane, which is not on the main road. My main theory involves the driver’s steering technique which would best be described as: squiggly. Physically he looked like my old drunk guard (other PCVs noticed the resemblence), and he hunched over the steering wheel in would jiggle it left-right-left-right like some kind trick car so even when the road was straight we weren’t ever really moving in a straight line. A trip that should have lasted a day turned into a roadside nighttime overnighter just outside of Nampula because the police told us it was too late to continue on. It was hot and buggy on the bus so I slept on the side of the road for a little bit while the boys drank box wine and played cards.
Since the bus ride was so dang long we had plenty of time to play a number of quality roadtrip games but since Pete is English there were some discrepancies that turned these normally simple games into confusion. During the “Name that Jingle” I learned that Lays chips are called Walkers, the Milky Way UK jingle involves some race between a blue car and a red car, and Club Bar sells itself by asking buyers if they want “a lot of chocolate on your biscuit” which sounds more perverse than appetizing to me. We switched games to a word game but all of us Americans were stumped with a word that starts with T-R-O and is something you use in a supermarket (the correct word was “trolley” in case you were wondering).

Nampula-->Monapo-->Ilha de Mocambique-->Carushka
Ilha: timewarp other-worldly and eerie, narrow streets of abandoned whitewash buildings, and a massive fort that shocked me with the scale and horror of slave trade. I swam in a real swimming pool, it wasn’t light green or murky.
Carushka: Paradise. Period.

Rebecca and I took the Nampula-Cuamba train, an all day trip through jaw dropping stunning landscape: huge granite (or granite looking, I’m not the geologist in the family, you’ll have to direct those questions to Ryan) mountains in flat lush green valleys. The train chugs straight through villages and all the kids come out to wave at the train, it’s the big event of the day. Rebecca and I splurged on 2nd class tickets, meaning we shared a cabin with four others. Each side of the little cabin had three bunk beds, the middle one could be unlatched and swung down to form a bench. Our cabinmates shared chicken hotdogs with us and asked about what it was like to live in Moz. One of them was an older lady who was born on Ilha, she lamented how dirty and run down it had gotten since the independence. She was old-school and reminded me of the sassy card playing great-aunts of one of my host families in Ecuador, tightly curled hair and loose floral blouse. Under her bench she had a box with holes cut into the lid that kept scootching around, we eventually found out it was holding a big fluffy white rabbit, she would pull it out and talk to it. She was well prepared for the train: bringing out delicious foods (french fries, chicken, salads) from her cooler and knowing all the right spots to buy grapes, mangoes, lettuce, small fuzzy peach looking fruits from the window of our cabin. She explained to us how to make fried sweet potato cakes and talked about her daughter who had given her the rabbit.
Besides the second and third class cars the train had a dining car. Other PCVs recommend getting 3rd class tickets and then camping out in the dining car the whole time, we decided just to go for a little snack. All of the food in the kitchen, which is a small closet within the dining car, is cooked over huge coal fires in big stoves: a long table with grates for the pots, pans, kettles, meats, etc. and a shelf to fill with coal. The dining car itself was probably once very fancy, but had not aged well. This is not to say it was ugly, I actually liked its funkiness. The windows were jammed down crookedly, the plastic decorative coating on the tables was peeled up, and the wooden floor was broken in certain areas and you could see the tracks whiz past through the holes. We ate shamuses and very very sweet tea, but chicken lunches, potatoes, rice, and sandwiches were also options. Some (presumably intoxicated) men tried to flirt but all I wanted was my crispy shamusa, and we headed back to our car. The train didn’t have the enclosed car junctions like amtrack, it’s open with a little foot pad to step on to move to the next car.

Cuamba-->Entre Lagos-->Liwonde
Cuamba is in Niassa province, any tour book will tell you it has a last frontier feeling, and it really does. It feels forgotten, rural, and rugged. A new volunteer generously opened her home to us and we went out early the next morning to cross the border. Here is my advice: don’t cross into Malawi in Entre Lagos. Supposedly the roads are better than the other crossing but transport was complicated. To begin with our chapa/truck kept overheating and loosing the entire way out of Cuamba, the driver decided that his last stop would be a little town some 30 minutes away from the border, which was only a problem for Rebecca and I since we were the only ones needing to get to the border. There was no more transport. No cars heading out. No nothing. Just a meticulously dressed man with a big silver buckle and jeans who walked with us to the crossroads and asked if he could shows us his “big brilliant blue and red stones” so that we could help him develop international business connections for selling them. We declined.
We waited for eternity for a ride in probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to in Moz. A big open valley with tall grasses and cattails, grey mountains on the horizon. The grasses were so tall that all you could see of the kids playing were brief glimpses of the fluffy dark tops of their heads and the sway of green.
A number of offers from motorcyclists were made to us, each claiming his bike was strong enough to carry two people and all of our luggage. I asked if we were going to die and they thought it was funny, I wasn’t trying to be funny I really thought we would die. Right when it looked like we were going to have to go back to Cuamba a nun came by in a pick up…. Sigh of relief.
Before the trip I had been a bit stressed about crossing the border, mostly because the only documentation I currently have of my resident visa (my one from last year expired in October) is a letter of “permission of exit” (saying I can travel out of moz) that was typed on tissue paper and a receipt of payment that looks more like a scrap of paper that I printed from my home computer. The “date of pickup” for my document had already passed and of course the real document wasn’t ready by the said date so it looked like an expired receipt. I had gone to immigration and explained I was worried about getting hassled (actually I had already gotten hassled and that was before the expiration date) and, after jokingly asking about all the Mozambican men I’ve been with during my first year and if I’d take him to America, the officer kindly wrote a new more recent date on the back of the receipt with blue ink pen and stamped it. It looks moderately official, but you never know with rural crossings. Luckily nobody batted an eye, I think the officers were so bored out there they were just happy to see someone different crossing.
Unfortunately we were stuck, again, when we crossed the border into Malawi. There were no cars, one of the cars that normally ran had broken down and the other was out of gas. The border officers invited us to lunch. When they initially asked, Rebecca and I had different understandings of what they were asking, I figured they wanted to go to a food stall (not that I saw one but there had to be one somewhere, right?) and I’m not sure what Rebecca thought but one thing is for certain that neither of us really expected to end up at their house. We ate sardines, a quarter of a sausage, and nsima and they talked about how important it was to them as Malawians to be good hosts, which they were, they talked about their job, about living in the rural town, and asked about Mozambique. They were so worried about us feeling comfortable and not sketched out, I was apprehensive but when it came down to it they were just looking for good conversation and good food.
We sat at the border until the late afternoon, waiting waiting waiting. Finally a car came, we split the cost of the ride with a salt vendor from Moz to get to the main road where we could catch a ride at least to Liwonde. At one point we crossed over a wooden bridge that was 75% collapsed, as we pulled up to it I thought that it was something that had happened that very day because it looked completely impassable, but apparently people had been using it the previous 6 months because authorities were waiting for the money to build an expensive cement bridge rather than spend any money to fix the remains of the existing one. What was left of the bridge was a jagged tetris piece, on one end the leftside didn’t exist and about half way into the bridge the leftside was still standing but the right side had given way. We got out, crossed by foot on splintered planks and waited on the other side while the car tediously maneuvered a space more narrow than it.

Liwonde-->Zomba Plateau
Nobody wanted to change our metacais for kwatcha. At the border we had gotten an outrageous exchange from the one money changer and I figured we could wait until the Malawi side (at the Zobue crossing there are money changers EVERYWHERE), but there wasn’t weirdly enough anybody there. The salt vendor switched out a little of our money so we could get to Liwonde, but in Liwonde all of the ATMs were either down or did not accept our cards. We were about to spend the day at the gas station hunting down truckers heading to Moz to see if they would switch out our money, when a curious Australian-born/Zambian-raised man doing mission work and distributing solar lanterns came up to us, asked where we were from. Coincidently he happened to be heading to Moz via Zobue the following week and willingly bought our mets. He said he had three daughters about our age and would like to think if they were in our position someone would be there for them too. Seriously a guardian angel, without him we would have been stuck in Liwonde forever! What are the odds, with him coming up to us and everything.
Zomba Plateau: log cabin, birthday celebration, kebabs and s’mores (not a big hit with the Englishboys they said it was something like a so called wagonwheel, they clearly don’t understand American cuisine… but also it may have been because we had to use digestive crackers instead of honey grahams), the plateau smelled and looked like Eastern Oregon forest but you could hear monkeys.

Zomba Plateau-->Mt. Mulanje
Rebecca and I were on the hunt for Christmas presents, nice Mt. Mulanje tea seemed like a good idea and the gentleman running the town’s tour office recommended the tea factory down the road as the place to go. I’m not sure that the factory gets too many random tourist guests, they were surprised when we showed up, they definitely didn’t sell tea locally (it’s apparently export only), and security was tight, but the manager invited us to his office, served us a proper tea and explained history, cultivation, culture, etc. of tea. “Tea is like a good friend, there is nothing between you and the plant” I learned more about tea than ever before. He generously gave us a couple boxes of tea and offered to make tea with us in the factory, from start to finish, the next day but we had to head out but maybe someday….

Mt. Mulanje-->Blantyre-->Cape Maclear
Cape Maclear: got sick and sat in my mosquito net quarantine feeling sorry for myself while everyone else went kayaking. At least I had already done this during my Malawi/Zambia trip in July, I couldn’t really complain.
The boys played volleyball with some volunteers from Japan, though conversation got awkward when one of the girls mentioned she was from Hiroshima and asked if the PCV had heard of it before, the PCV wasn’t really sure how to respond.
I managed to avoid the Worst Restaurant in the World. Last July the girls and I went for lunch, and despite ordering very different foods everything came out as different arrangements/rearrangements of curry, peas, and carrots: the veggie burger was curry/pea/carrot mixture between hamburger buns, the chinese noodles was curry/pea/carrot mixture over spaghetti, the indian rice was curry/pea/carrot mixture over something that was supposed to be chipati, and the chinese rice was curry/pea/carrot mixture over white rice and then re-fried.
Met a Malawian that worked in the refuge camps for Mozambicans who fled to Malawi during the civil war. Mozambicans don’t talk about the civil war and I don’t ask, it was horrific and I’m not sure I want to know. I’ve heard about mine removal efforts, an urban legend about a one breasted woman who would seduce men from one side and then kill them, people talk about how they played guitar and chess to pass time. The Malawian talked about how traumatized everyone was; how some fell in love with Malawians, had kids but then left their kids and wives when the war ended; others stayed and there are Mozambican neighborhoods for those that decided to stay.

Cape Maclear-->Lilongwe-->Gabarone
Immigration called Julian to verify that he knew that at least one American girl was coming to stay at his house. I was just trying to get my passport stamped and the woman doubted that he existed and if he did she doubted he was even going to come to pick us up because I only had a phone number and not his house address handy. I am glad she was wrong, we had a really wonderful time with Julian’s family and were so thankful to have such a comfortable homey place, fantastic food (still have to get that recipe for the sweet potato bake) and good company over the holidays… though I’m not sure I could ever fully adjust to eating summer cold foods during Christmas.

Maun is the jumping off spot for all the major safaris in Bots. A cute town with a pretty river, really nice people, saturated with alcohol, and filled with pilots hoping for work (one of the ways you can get hours as a commercial pilot is flying for tourist companies, a scenic flight was not in our budget but the pictures we saw of it did look nice). We did what we could afford while in Maun, this was not any of the lodges which were on average $300-$400 a day, not including your charter flight out to wherever the place was. We went camping on the delta in mokoros, did a safari though the game park, boated on the river, and played lots of bananagrams/cards/uno (even if it did make us look reportedly nerdy).
We were lucky on our mokoro trip on the Delta (three days, a few canoes, tents), most people don’t see much. I think our guides were good, but it could have been because we were with three athletic South African guys so perhaps the guides just tried to push us a bit more. We hiked for hours, passed other exhausted groups going back to their camps, but came up on zebras, giraffe, elephant, buffalo, crane, monkey, etc.… it was much more epic than the car safari, it’s just you and the grasslands and the animals, and as you walk you can quickly go from not seeing anything to coming upon a huge oasis of wildlife.
The south africans were far more prepared than we were, their canoe was like the Mary Poppins handbag, I’m not sure where all the stuff came from but their camp was palacial: tent with pourch and windows, large gas stove, beer and wine, fine foods, etc. Rebecca and I on the otherhand might have come off as hobos. Our tent was cozy (you guys will both fit in there with your stuff?.... we did), we ate soya mince (well we ate other things too, but certain items were indicative of PCV status), and the equipment that we rented for the trip was not quite what we expected: 10 spoons but no forks, 1 knife, no stove but one pot, 2 mugs… at least we had matches.

Air Botswana’s computers were down, as they had been for every other flight we had had with them.
I’m glad to be in one place for a little bit. Phew.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


The pilgrims arriving in America would be like if the Kardashians were dropped off in Africa, they didn’t know what the heck they were doing--- this was Tim F, and this was the start to his Thanksgiving story. The day before the Alexandra Thanksgiving story ended up being a bit of a disaster, somehow resulting in some confusion about whether it should be a British or American holiday, so Tim told his story to clarify the misunderstanding. He continued (though my summary doesn’t really do it justice): Squanto wanted to usurp power over his tribe and was hoping to use the pilgrims for his grand plan….Squanto may have been the only Indian present during the so called Thanksgiving dinner…. and there probably hadn’t been any turkey but just some salted dried fish and corn porridge (what we call here in Mozambique: xima; Malawi: nsima; South Africa: pap; and Italy: polenta…well polenta without milk, cream, cheese, and salt and made with feedcorn not sweet corn). I couldn’t help but try to imagine the picture book that would go alongside the Tim F Thanksgiving Story, it would have a small insert at the end of the book explaining what happened the years following the infamous meal with a watercolor picture of cholera infections, displacement, and starvation. Once during a lecture at UCM a student asked me what our dialects were like in America and I told her that we don’t really have dialects like Moz because the colonists managed to decimate most of the natives so few people were left to speak dialect…. She was horrified.

Regardless of these uncomfortable renditions of the American story, Thanksgiving is one of my top favorite holidays, and I have so many things to be grateful for this year. We showed up to Gorangosa with apple pies, unfortunately arriving after the aptly named turkey had been unsuccessfully intoxicated and then slaughtered. I have to give Jordan and her parents props and then some for putting on a fantastic meal…. All cooked on charcoal because the electricity was out all day long. Truly unbelievable and all their hard work paid off: pies, stuffing, fruit salad, garlic mashed potatoes, gravy, etc. etc. 5 star!!!!

This year I am so thankful for getting to live in Africa and Mozambique, for meeting all the wonderful people I have met, for having such an empowering support base back home, and for being from a culture that values expressions of gratitude and love, even if the national history doesn’t always reflect it.

He is My Hero

He was half a man. I don’t mean this as a philosophical judgment, just pure physical observation. His torso seem shrunken in at the middle, his limbs half formed and twisted, his legs small and eternally folded, his arms pulled and buckled at the elbows and wrists. When I caught a brief look of him around the corner, pulling himself up the stairs with his elbows and dragging his leg stubs, I immediately assumed an awkward situation was soon to follow. He would probably want money, or would get stuck upstairs in the university hall and someone would have to carry him out, or he would cause a scene… this has happened before with other people wandering in: street boys coming into my lecture pedir-ing for candies and monies, a crazy drunk man who claimed to be some father figure of mine, school kids shrieking and running down the hall…oh the thrill of stealing erasers from the university classrooms (!), other school kids sneaking up to sometimes use the bathrooms or more frequently to play and pee on things that are not the urinals (two bathrooms for 1 primary school, 1 secondary school, 1 industrial school, 1 teacher training school, and 1 university… except the bathroom is on university part of the facilities), full grown men asking for any odd jobs…. It really isn’t unusual to see interesting characters, though less so now that we have a guard.

The lady walking up the stairs with me maybe was thinking the same thing, as we passed him, when she asked him nicely, politely: “What are you doing up here?”
“I’m here to matriculate.”
“… At UCM….?”
“Yes, I am here to matriculate at UCM.”
He was articulate, un-offended, professional, and as we came up on him I could see he was holding a document pouch, he was ready, prepared, and just like any other student. It was just a bit harder for him to get upstairs to the offices.

It made me think of an interaction I had a couple weeks ago. An American entrepreneur generously showed me his community health project that he has been developing, it was really interesting to see … I wouldn’t even know where to start if I wanted to start something like that and they have accomplished an incredible amount of work in a short amount of time. When I was there, I went with them to deliver clothes to a man with paralyzed legs living in the bairro. This man lives alone, in a mud hut off the main road. His yard was neatly swept but the inside of his house was humbling.

As we were leaving, I asked something along the lines of does he get out often, or what does he do. My question was answered with surprise/shock: He’s paralyzed, he can’t go anywhere. I felt a bit bad. Oh yeah, of course, how could I ask such an insensitive and thoughtless question.

. .. but wait … maybe my question wasn’t so thoughtless but in more of a subconscious way. I absolutely say this not to demean the challenges facing people in any way (this is an uncomfortable topic but I’m not that insensitive), but every day when I go to work I see people around town, mobile despite predisposition for immobility: scooting on cardboard, or being carried to the spot where they shine and repair shoes, or making a daily journey from downtown to outside Shoprite and back again by crawling, or that man literally pulling himself up a flight of stairs to register for classes at the university.

Certain norms that I might have unconsciously had about capability and resiliency have shifted: a lesson for me in being supportive and sensitive of challenges but not being too presumptuous about limitations.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Computer virus. This is my number one virus concern in Africa, after the HIV (of course). The main difference being a computer virus is 100% manmade---- there is no spontaneous encapsulation of nucleic acid, there is no ecology to it, no retroviral induced mutations, just some jerk sitting somewhere undoubtedly dark and windowless typing 1’s and 0’s down, and he is probably thinking that he is helping take down the Man, bringing down the Industrial Machine, or something…. Well let me tell you right now, he is not taking down the Man, he is just bringing down Africa… because this is the hotbed of computer viruses… all viruses come to Mozambique and stay in Mozambique. And flash drives (aka “memory sticks” for the technically challenged such as myself---yep, recently realized I may be the only one using that terminology) are the main vectors, they are the festering infectors, teaming with viruses.


In the mornings, on my ride to work, we listen to the radio, on good days it is BBC news coverage and I can feel somewhat classy, but on the other days we listen to local coverage. Sometimes it is a DJ taking in calls, most of the calls are dropped, in which case the DJ makes a quick transition with a laser sound effect (“hello…. hello…?” **pew-pew-pew**). Sometimes it is this music from Zim (I think it sounds like amped circus music, friends are trying to convince me otherwise and I’m open to conversion because it is played all through the night), this is also interrupted with the laser sound effect **pew-pew-pew** repeatedly and erratically, keeping **pew-pew-pew** a sort of anti-beat through **pew-pew-pew** seemingly random parts of **pew-pew-pew** the tune (I’m probably not Hip enough to get the musical sophistication of this “re-mix”, if this were Portland I’d put on my black rim glasses and grow a mustache at least to make it look like I get it). Sometimes it is national news, which I like because the Portuguese in Maputo sounds exotic. And sometimes it is local news, which I usually don’t like because it frequently is about some shock-and-awe story that is uncomfortably close to home: some guys cutting the hearts and lungs out of his relatives, or some guy who did a self-castration (this one apparently made national news because a friend in the south asked me about this, and for the record these are not exemplary stories of Mozambican culture but rather Mozambican news coverage). The laser sound effect makes an appearance for the local news too **pew-pew-pew**. There are actually three or so versions of the laser sound effect, apparently nothing else, and those buttons are well used.

By far my favorite radio moment is a public service announcement targeting teens and pre-teens to stop downloading music. I think the ad is targeted for Moz but they just say Africa in general. This is different from the ads back home, no scary aggressive voice calling you a thief, no screenshots of musicians talking about their feelings about illegal downloads. Instead it is a scripted dialogue with a schoolboy who is told that Africa/Mozambique is not as developed as everywhere else and does not have the same internet capacity, that when he downloads music he blocks up the system for everyone else----something along the lines of: by downloading music you, personally, are slowing down the Development of Africa, and most of the stuff downloaded is full of viruses anyways and viruses are messing up everything for everybody. The announcement also includes a list of appropriate uses of the internet in Mozambique: mostly just email (sans attachments).

Here is my plea: Dearest Computer Virus Writers: You make it so my students can’t put digital copies of their homework on my computer (that flash ain’t going nowhere near my machine), you make the computers too slow for students to learn how to do research or type out a paper, you make it so little Joao or little Fatima can’t download the latest Akon or Shakira hit. Please find a new hobby. My personal suggestion: eradicating the laser sound effect. Sincerely, Alexandra.

A Special Performance

When I was six or so Mom and Auntie Clay took me to The City to see The Nutcracker. I was ecstatic: ballerinas. That’s all I wanted to be: one of those oh-so-beautiful ballerinas with something tinselly bunched around my waist and ribbons cris-crossed from the point shoes up the entire length of my legs. However, Mom forcibly evicted Ballerina from my Things-I-Want-to-be-When-I Grow-Up list with a big NO to ballet classes--- something about me having lasting body image problems. She did concede, slightly, with a tutu and, later, tickets to The San Francisco Nutcracker—possibly after seeing my dedication to the Ballerina idea through hours of untrained versions of the pirouette in the living room (well documented in Grandpa’s homevideos). It was a big day, just us three ladies. Mom sewed me little green chiffon/black velvet dress for the theater (man was I spoiled). It really was beautiful and hung up in my room for days before, taunting, teasing, but I had to wait for the big day. Of the performance itself I don’t actually remember that much, just walking in the City in my brand new dress, Auntie Clay piling her fur lined jacket on the chair to prop me up because I was too little to see the stage, and that one scene with children coming out from the bottom of a man’s hoop skirt. Guess it wasn’t really the show itself that was so memorable, but rather getting to do something special with mom and Auntie Clay: a Special Treat.

I thought about my day at the Theater when I asked the neighborhood girls who play at my house if they wanted to go to English Theater: Hours of short skits put on by regional secondary schools, all in English and with the theme Be the Change (and some kind of HIV/AIDS tidbit, because that is how these events are funded…. Don’t sleep with your teachers kids! Use a condom!). It was a gamble, either the girls would love it or they would be bored to tears. “Ask your parents….” And Claire was quick to point out: “You are so American.” She was right, parents just kind of let their kids run free, parental permission: pssh---as if!! Half the time these little girls show up to my house with a baby cousin or brother or sister or neighbor strapped on their back, babies holding babies, babies caring for babies.

Would they show up? Would they even want to go?

Saturday rolled around and there was a “Dona Alexandra, Dona Alexandra!” at the gate. Two of them showed up, early (!) and in their fanciest dresses and a Strawberry Shortcake plastic handbag. The mom of one of the girls had even rubbed her daughter’s shoulders and back with body oil. I’m sure we were quite the spectacle, these two little girls in their dresses with these two Americans walking through town, through the market area, and the main intersection to get to the Theater.

We watched the performances. Ate some crackers I brought. They would lean over to tell me little tidbits they were understanding in English “he just said ‘goodbye’”; “she just asked ‘how are you?’ ” They stored cookies (leftover snacks for the performing students) the coordinator of English Theater generously gave them in the little pink plastic handbag, taking them out one by one slowly munching and savoring, even when we walked home during the lunch break, they kept pulling the contents of the handbag out and stuffing it back in… just to check on it.

English Theater is a daylong event. Honestly I figured we would go for an hour tops then head home, they’d get bored, right? But they wanted to stay on. We left during the lunch break, parted ways in Bairro Quatro, but 20 minutes later they were back at my house “Dona Alexandra….” I was flopped on my bed, hot and tired (and need I say sunburned?) but they were super excited about going back, to see the last couple performances, to see who got the 1st place award. How could I say no? We trucked back into town, back to the theater to finish out the very special day, to watch every single skit. It wasn’t really about being able to understand the performances, or even the quality of the performances, it was just the excitement about getting to be there, to do something “special”.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Classroom Correspondence

The three goals of Peace Corps Mission are:
1)Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2)Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3)Helping promote a better understanding of other people on the part of Americans.

Of these three points I especially value the second two, cross-cultural dialogue can be extremely illuminating and I personally feel like I have learned sooooo much. Though truthfully, sometimes "cross-cultural dialogue" can be frustrating, especially with the tired conversation of "I want an American girlfriend/wife". And for whatever reason it is impossibly hard for me to redirect the conversation here once it enters the Red Zone (maybe other PCVs have better luck? any tips guys?), and my tolerence in recent weeks has waned to a point of an emotional allergic reaction in the form of impatience and bitchiness (hmm... I don't think this is the PC way) when the "Are you married?/I've always wanted to be with an American" comes up. Thankfully not everyone is like that and everyday I am around students, colleagues, etc. who continue to engage and teach me, so I always have a positive interaction to focus on.

One of the ways PC helps facilitate Goal #3 is through classroom correspondence. I thought I'd post the first couple letters I wrote to a 5th grade class that I have been paired with in Salem, OR. Not sure if it is of interest, but maybe I talk about things here that don't usually show up in this blog.

Email #1:
Hello Ms. D.'s 5th grade class!

I'm excited to hear from you guys and be your penpal! I am also from Oregon, I grew up in Portland (I went to Chapman Elementary School)and then studied Marine Biology at the University of Oregon. I miss Oregon a lot but I'm learning so much here in Mozambique.

I live in a city in central Mozambique, it is about the size of Salem more or less and I teach biology at a University. Before I came to teach at the university, I taught 8th grade biology in a very small village in the north called Ile (or Errego). Next
year I am going to move back to a village to teach high school biology at a vocational school.

I'll try to answer all of your questions!!!

Mozambique is very very beautiful (I feel so lucky to be here), and HUGE!!!! In the south there are dry, flat sandy palm grooves, in the central part of the country it is more green and lush with less palm trees, and in the north it is more rocky (they have these big granite
rock formations that everybody says look like sleeping dinosaurs). The beaches have brilliant turquoise waters and you can buy fresh fish and squid for dinner from fishermen right on the beach when they come in at the end of the day.

The culture here is agriculture based, most people have land that they farm through the year, which are called machambas. So even though most people don't have jobs and cannot earn a lot of money they are able to provide food for their families and live a good life. Things that they farm: corn (maca roca), couve (a big leafy green... it is like chard), sweet potatoes, yucca/mandioca, lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, and other things. Most people have chickens, and a few people keep goats too. A lot of what they can grow depends where in the country they live because the environment varies a lot.

Soccer is very very popular here. During the World Cup, everyone was getting together all the time to watch the games. Mozambicans were especially proud because it was being held in South Africa, just south of us, and is one of the first major world sporting events to be held in Africa. People play soccer all the time, every weekend there is day long tournaments that everybody goes to watch. Most of the soccer fields are dirt fields, which get really really muddy during the rainy season.... but that doesn't stop anybody!

I haven't seen too many predators here yet! A lot of the big game animals were killed during the civil war because it was the only food people could find. Now that Mozambique is not in a civil war people are trying to do things to protect the animals. I have seen lots of
baboons (they are kind of scary and pretty aggressive..... once I was eating peanuts with a friend and one charged at us... we had to toss our peanuts so he wouldn't come up on us.....needless to say that is how I learned not to snack around monkeys), some smaller tree monkeys,and hippos. Last week I saw a secretary bird, which is very large and looks almost prehistoric, it eats snakes. There are big snakes in the region where I live (black mambas!!!) but haven't seen one yet, I don't mind snakes back home but they get really big here, so I'm okay not seeing one. A friend found one in his outhouse and another one
found one on his porch (it was so big that it sat up and looked at him).

I think the most difficult thing for Mozambicans is the school system, it is very hard to get a good education here. A 5th grade class has 60-110 students, there are no books or anything to use. Even if a student is really really motivated they don't always get the education they deserve. But I can talk more about the schools some other time if
you are interested.

The best part about living here is the food. The food is influenced by India, Portugal, and China and the result is....YUM! Coconut-bbq-chicken (called: frango zambeziano), garlic sweet potato fries (called batatas fritas), regular french fries, rissois (little shrimp stuffed morsels), matapa (green leaves cooked in coconut milk with peanut flour), feijoada (a bean stew with peppers), and piripiri(hot pepper sauce to put on pretty much everything). Plus papayas, mangos, pineapple, guava, passion fruit, lichi, when they are in season.

I could keep on going but I'll end it here before I start to ramble!!! :) Eat lots of apples for me because the apples here are expensive and no good!

Paz e amor! Ciao e ate proximo!


Email #2:

Hello Ms. D's 5th grade class!!!
It was in Portuguese (it said: peace and love, bye and until next time), Mozambique was a Portuguese colony so I speak Portuguese here. They got their independence in 1975 but then had a civil war, which ended in the mid 1990s. There are also a lot of local dialects! People who speak dialects from the south can't always understand people who speak dialects from the north (it would be like if you had a special language with everyone from Salem but couldn't use that language to communicate outside of Salem, or understand the special
language from other places like Portland or San Francisco), so they use Portuguese. Since I teach my classes in Portuguese I just have been focusing on learning Portuguese (I didn't know it before I came, but I used to speak Spanish which has helped me learn Portuguese), but
I hope next year to learn more local dialect (I'm not sure which one yet). Some names of the dialects are: Shona, Sena, Macua, Lomwe, Xitsua,and many many more.

Here are some fun things to say in Mozambican Portuguese:
--Fafoca: these means gossip, people love to gossip here so it is a
good word to know
--Ate logo: means until next time, it's a lot like "hasta luego" in Spanish
--Mato: the bush, or the country; to say the word "shortcut" you say "cortamato" which roughly means cutting through the bush
--Mangueira: mango tree, it is almost mango season, I am very excited.
--Amor: love
--Catana: machete

I have not seen any ostriches, unfortunately, but I have seen many baboons... probably 70-100at this point, they aren't that common but I do see them frequently. I see them on the roads and sometimes on the outskirts of little towns but they can be pretty aggressive so I
try to avoid them. I think baboons are more common outside of Mozambique because I saw more baboons in Zambia and Malawi when I was traveling there for my summer vacation. I'm not sure how many big game animals are still around, I have not seen any. There is a big
national park (called Gorangosa) near where I live where they have some elephants and lions, but most of the animals hide away from people and sometimes people will go to the park for a week and still not see anything because the animals are so shy. Some times people get lucky though, my co-worker was at the national park last weekend and saw 40 elephants!!! I am very jealous and wish I had been there!

I got so hungry reading about your favorite foods! Even though I get good food here I still miss food from back home.

I haven't heard of people learning out on boats here in Mozambique, but they do have little wooden boats on the coast that are called dhows that they use for fishing.

A vocational school is for students who are going to go on to a trade like becoming an electrician, or a plumber, or something like that. Instead of going to a normal secondary school (grades 8, 9, and 10)they go to a vocational school that will teach them the same thing as a secondary school (Portuguese, Math, etc.) but also things for their profession. A lot of students prefer vocational schools because they will have a skill that will possibly get them a job after their studies. Here in Mozambique it is a very big deal if a student finishes 10th grade, many do not make it that far. Some don't continue because they don't want to, other can't continue because they have too many responsibilities at home (working in the fields, taking care of siblings, or even starting their own families).

Well.... I live in a city so it is pretty hard for me to know everybody, I am still making friends. People are very friendly and because I work for a well-known university often times they know who I am before I know how they are. They like coming up to me to ask me
questions about life in America. Lots of people want to learn English too, so they like to try to speak English with me for practice.

I am in Mozambique for 27 months, that is how long the Peace Corps service is. I started about 1 year ago and my service will be ending in December 2011.

It was wonderful to hear from you guys. What are you guys going to be for Halloween? We don't have Halloween here, unfortunately. I sure wish we did! We have other holidays though for different historical days, like Mozambique Independence Day. During these holidays people like to play loud music and dance, Mozambicans are very very good dancers.

Hope to hear from you soon.