Friday, 26 February 2010

Hello all!

Just a brief update until I can do some real damage online. Classes have (finally!) started and I think the schedule has changed for the last time. I’m teaching two classes of English and one of computers, which, at first, I didn’t think I was qualified for. I quickly realized otherwise. (Lesson one: This is a mouse. It has buttons and moves the little arrow on the screen. Lesson two: This is a keyboard. When you hit a button here, it magically appears on the screen!). It´s especially fun because all the computers are in English. :) I’m also continuing a peer tutoring project started by the previous PCV English teacher (Andrea, you’re amazing!) and am starting a theater group with an HIV/AIDS prevention education focus.
It’s been fun.
The students, for the most part, are incredible – super-motivated to learn English, they love to be involved, and they have more ideas than I could possibly hope to tackle in the next two years.
The administration, not so much…

I’m also helping out weekly at the primary school next door (see previous entry). Originally, I wanted to do a sort of storytime for the students. Then I realized: there are no children’s books. Oh yes, I have Dr. Seuss. And I have resources for all kinds of English book donations. But these kids are still learning Portuguese. Much like me.

My Portuguese at this point can probably be best described as “conversational,” with occasional moments of insight with more complicated conjugations. I just about did a dance when I discovered Lois Lowry’s The Giver in Portuguese at the local library. They have about three actual novels, and this is a real gem.

Any ideas are welcome! I’m currently researching methods for acquiring children’s literature in Portuguese. For the theater group, are there any theater junkies out there who know where I can find a list of improv practices or other theater activities I can teach at rehearsals? Anything is appreciated. (“You know you need unique New York” doesn’t translate well…)

I managed to get some more photos on facebook. Keep the letters coming. If you´re reading this, I feel I can safely say I love and miss you very much. Tchau!

Monday, 8 February 2010

Bits and Pieces

My life is a little different here…
- The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is open both doors to let in a breeze, then get a kettle of water boiling. Not for tea, but so I can run it through the filter afterward and have drinking water. I do this about three times a day.
- I walk a half-hour into town to buy groceries about every other day. Sometimes if it’s too hot, I can hop a boleia (car, pick-up truck, tractor, someone’s bike handlebars) into town. Often ten other people are hopping the same boleia. It’s a great way to meet people and get up close and personal quite quickly.
- On these same walks, I walk along a road that looks like it was plucked from civilization and stuck in the wilderness. Corn, tomatoes, papaya, bananas, go off in every direction until the earth drops off. You pass people going to and from the fields along the road, usually women, anywhere from age five to what looks like 75. Sometimes they´ll be riding in carts behind oxen. Sometimes you’ll see them in the field less than fully clothed, Native American-style. They always, always, great you with either a “bom dia” in Portuguese, or a “dixile” in Xangana, the native language here in most of Gaza.
- I walk 45 minutes to church with my neighbor on Sundays. I used to balk at the idea of driving that long to attend my home church in Azle while in college. In an air conditioned car. With a radio. I don’t mind this walk at all.
- Lizards, chickens, cats, dogs, goats, kids and cows all peacefully co-exist in my front yard. And sometimes on my patio. I don’t mind the dogs because at least you can shoo them away. The kids don’t listen.
- The part of my day I probably look forward to the most is getting to dump cold cupfuls of water over my head for a shower. I’m fairly certain it’s the only time of day – and night – that I’m not sweating.
- My roommate and I usually spend about an hour making dinner every night. I thought I cooked from scratch back home. Then I started buying things like yeast and whole coconuts and rice that I passed on the way to school that morning. I have chopped up an onion almost every day since arriving in Chokwe. I wear sunglasses because I discovered I’m uber-sensitive and end up bawling halfway through the first one if I don’t. Much to my roommate’s amusement.
- I speak English with my roommate, the other volunteers, and the ten people that stop me along the road to try out their English and ask me to teach them more. Other than that, it’s Portuguese or a sad attempt at Xangana.
- I was just interrupted by my neighbor, who was outside the front door frantically beating a log against the side of my house. Thankfully, the snake was dead before it made it to the patio. I love my neighbors.
- Around noon, everyone in my bairro whips out an esteira (sort of like a tatami mat), lays it in the shade and doesn’t move until three. During this time, they might munch on mangoes, work on homework, gossip with neighboring esteira-dwellers, or just let their minds wander. It’s brilliant.

Looking for a Job?

This whole Peace Corps concept is brilliant. They say, “Don’t worry about food, don’t worry about shelter, don’t worry about money (in fact, you’re not allowed to make any money while here – any freelancing you do will truly be that: free), just worry about making a difference while you’re here and we’ll take care of the rest.”
Which allows us to do some crazy things.
For example:
A week before classes started, my roommate, Clancy, was told by students that Biology wouldn’t be taught until fall due to a change in the school calendar. She confronted the director and he confirmed it – she was out of a job for the next seven months.
A vital attribute of Peace Corps Volunteers is adaptability. Monday morning was the first day of classes for the secondary school in a village down the road, Guijà. Clancy went to the school that morning to talk with the director.
She explained that she had never taught before, did not have a degree in English, and her only real qualifications were that she spoke English, had attended American schools and had three months of training in teaching and Portuguese. Oh, but she didn’t need to be paid.
The director’s response was to praise God that their prayers had been answered and now one person wouldn’t have to teach both 11th and 12th grade.
The next morning, Clancy taught her first English class to 11th graders at Escola Secundària de Guijà.
No questions. No resume. No interview. No contract. No problem.
Down the road in Howkè, my friend Anna is up in front of students without a break from noon to nine at night some days, because there are only two English teachers for four grades.
Two days ago, I was reading in the park and got to chatting with a girl in town to take a test at the local instituto superior. She told me she had just taken a test in Maputo to enter a journalism school there. She told me how crucial it was to speak English to get the job. Then she told me, in broken English about Susie, her Peace Corps English teacher in the 10th grade.
I´m typing this on a brand-new computer, complete with Office 2007 and Windows Vista. Prior to this, two of my colleagues were practically fighting over me because they both had written pages to type up, and neither knew how to use Word...or what Word actually is. They were absolutely flabbergasted that I was looking at the page and typing instead of looking at the keyboard. Suffice it to say, Clancy and I are currently working out a computer class for the professors.
Moçambique is hot. It’s inconvenient. It’s hard at times. But, dang, I have never felt so useful.

My Teaching Debut, or How I Discovered I Am Not Meant to Teach First Grade

I have a knack for getting myself into ridiculous situations. But it’s okay, because usually ridiculous situations have a knack for turning out okay anyway.
This particular situation is ironic because
1) I taught a class in Portuguese.
2) I’m still learning Portuguese.
3) The students don’t speak Portuguese.

This is how I came to teach at the primary school of bairro B in Chokwe:
After receiving my teaching schedule for Instituto Agrario (Each class only has two hours of English a week! I only teach Mondays! Whose idea was this?!), I realized I would drive myself nuts if I didn’t have something else to do the rest of the week. So, I wandered next door to talk to the directora at Escola Primaria do Bairro B, a electricity-less, four-room (well, three rooms and one mud hut) school house for grades 1-6.
The previous volunteers had volunteers in various ways – art classes, PE, music, etc., and said they had greatly enjoyed it. I explained to the directora how I’d like to volunteer to read or write with the kids, maybe tutor a few, generally help out however I could.
Perhaps that was my first mistake.
She asked if I would like to sit in on one of her lessons that afternoon, and I got a good feel for her approach in working with students (lots of repetition, lots of interaction, lots of whacking kids across the back of the head with a stick, though I didn’t quite see myself adopting that particular method). I sat quietly through the lesson, helped with the grading, tried to ignore the kid behind me who kept touching the back of my arm to see if the white came off, and generally had a very pleasant afternoon.
She asked if I’d like to try my hand at teaching the following day, for second grade at 7, and then for first grade at 12:30. I looked at her book, got some ideas, made some plans, and arrived promptly the next morning.
The teacher, however, did not. And I have no doubt that was premeditated.
There I stood, 30 pairs of fascinated and expectant eyes on me, armed with English alphabet flashcards, a hastily translated “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish” (doesn’t have quite the effect in other languages….) and second grade Portuguese and math books. And I taught the second grade in Portuguese.
Afterward, I felt happily accomplished and ready to take on the first grade in another hour and a half. This time, at least, I knew I was on my own from the very beginning.
That still didn’t save me.
I arrived even more prepared to the first grade class – with a few more students than the first one – at 12:30. I proudly introduced myself in slow, loud Portuguese, and told them I was going to be their teacher for the day, and asked them to tell me their names.
One nodded. The rest didn’t move.
I went to the first student and asked her name in Portuguese.
She smiled and said “sim” – yes in Portuguese.
I asked if she had understood what I had said. She smiled and said “sim.” I asked if everyone in the class spoke Portuguese. She smiled and said “sim.” I asked if she could say anything other than “sim.” She smiled and said “sim.” I asked her to if she would please go outside and tell the third grader gawking at me through the window at the back of the room to go climb the nearest papaya tree. She smiled and said “sim.”
And that’s when I remembered…
Portuguese is the second language for everyone in this country. They do an incredible job of teaching Portuguese by immersion when they enter school, as evidenced by the second graders I’d watched and taught. But these guys had been in school for one week. They knew how to greet the teacher and ask to go to the bathroom. That was it.
And so, for the next three and a half hours, I gestured, drew, gesticulated, and did everything in my power to get them to understand colors, numbers, letters, anything at all in Portuguese, while trying to keep 50 kids in their seats, quiet and paying attention, without resorting to beating them over the head with the teacher’s stick. I won’t lie, it was awfully tempting.
I let them go a half hour early. They didn’t seem to mind. I was still sane. And I hadn’t had to beat anyone.
When walking home, a group of girls who live in the same bairro walked with me. They hadn’t understood a word I’d said, but they smiled, two held my hands, and they chanted “un, dois, três, quatro, cinco!” all the way to my front door.
They’re darn cute. But I think I’ll stick with secondary school. And, if not English, at least Portuguese.

The Namaacha Files

From the Namaacha Files: My first experience with agua
I was feeling particularly gluttonous one evening after a meal of deep fried potatoes, deep fried fish (heads and all), with a side of deep fried rice, and was debating going for a walk or pursuing some other form of exercise that evening.
Mama Celeste suddenly enters the room in a hurry, and all I catch is something about washing clothes the next morning. (Yay! Finally!, I think to myself. I wasn’t sure why we hadn’t done it before, as I was getting pretty desperate. )
Confused but curious, I follow her to the kitchen, where she’s excitedly emptying buckets and jugs into other buckets and jugs and pots and anything else that has the capacity to hold water (Soup bowl? It’ll work for now. Xi-xi bucket? No problem.). Afterward, I silently congratulate myself – I’m wearing my khakis, maroon polo and TCU hoodie from class earlier that day, and I haven’t gotten a drop of (pretty disgusting) water on me.
Then Mama C picks up three of the jugs, motions for me to pick up the other two, and exits the kitchen.
The only problem? She’s not headed for the front door.
In fact, I have no idea where she – now we – are headed. By the time I do realize what’s going on, it’s too late: The first water jug is full, and I help Mama C place it on her head. And the second one? Yep, that’s where I come in.
And so I double over, bear hug the 25 liter jug that’s about the size of my torso, and start toward the house.
Mama C doesn’t spill a drop from the jug on her head. I take a step, wait for the water to stop sloshing, take another step, wait for the water to stop sloshing, and continue in this fashion back to the house.
I can feel the water drip onto my leg first, then, after another few sloshes, it begins to run down my leg, and before long my khakis are so drenched they’re sticking to my legs.
Two houses away, it begins to slip…
I stop, put it down and rearrange, have to concentrate to unwrap my digits from their death grip on the underside of the jug, and hoist it up again.
What on a casual walk takes three minutes took around 15.
I realize as I approach the house that my adopted brothers will get a kick out of my awkward state of wetness, as I imagine it looks like I xi-xi-ed my pants. I finally drop the jug in the kitchen (now missing about a third of the water) and have a chance to survey the damage. No, it does not look like I xi-xi-ed my pants. It looks like I did much more than xi-xi my pants and proceeded to roll in it. The dirt from the bottom of the jug had mixed with the water sloshing everywhere and turned my khakis a lovely shade of mud.
Mama C has already gone back to the pump.
I run in the house, change pants, grab my trusty capulana, and follow after her.
At this point, it’s pitch black (and of course there are no street lights…cause there’d have to be streets…) and I have the added fun of trying to figure out where to step without twisting an ankle or angering a black mamba. Not that I could see my feet over the jug in the first place.
After the second jug, I don’t think there’s any way my arms and back will allow me to carry, let alone pick up, another. I head back to the pump, but am genuinely uncertain of what I really hope to accomplish. Mama C has her final jug on her head, I bend down to pick up the last one, and I hover there a moment, trying to trick my arms into thinking they can hoist up just one more jug…
But wait, what’s this?! A person is approaching! A man, at that! And a man Mama C apparently knows! She calls out to the dark figure approaching us. He says he’s headed to our house! Mama C motions to me, says something along the lines of “fraco” (weak) and motions again towards the house. I’m saved!
My mysterious savior bends over the jug, hoists it up as though it were empty, and says something to me.
I’m so thrilled at his assistance that it takes me a little to realize what he’s saying…something about my head?
And then I remember: oh yeah. I’m in Mocambique. Men here are only good for the consumption of food and alcohol, the spreading of AIDS and the creation of more little women to do all the work for them.
“Não posso a cabeça,” I tell him. I can’t carry it on my head.
Fueled by my sudden rage at his entire species, I’m able to bear hug the proffered jug and trudge after Mama C. The man follows us right back to the kitchen, waits patiently for us to sort out the water situation, then joins my brothers on the couch in front of the TV as Mama C serves them dinner.

I am not a raging feminist. But at that moment, I came pretty darn close.