Sunday, 8 April 2012

I’d really like to be able to give you crazy stories about lions and chickens and funny natives and whatnot…but I really don’t have any right now.

Teaching at the Universidade Católica de Moçambique is another world. I have a desk in an office I share with Dércia, the director of psicopedogogia (I have no idea how you say that in English); Francisco, the director of public relations; six crucifixes and eight Virgin Marys. I use PowerPoint presentations and a projector for most of my lessons. This week we had an all-staff training on how to use new software to access thousands of scholarly journals. I have a logo polo – white and blue, for the communications department. There are at least two meetings every week that I use to catch up on the New York Times on my phone. I have a three-minute walk to the school from my house along a tree-lined sidewalk and take the university’s shuttle back when it’s dark after night classes.

Aside from regular power outages and the fact that you still have to bring your own toilet paper to the casa de banho, it’s just like being back in the developed world.

Granted, I certainly wouldn’t put it up next to my university experience at TCU. The fact that I’m directing the entire communications department and don’t yet have my master’s degree makes that pretty clear.

But I’m teaching something I enjoy and am completely comfortable with – and that makes a big difference. The Press Freedom Index. The Inverted Pyramid. Nellie Bly. Watergate. Hemingway-esque prose. Even KONY 2012. Writing lesson plans is – dare I say it? – fun. Countless times, I’ve gotten sidetracked because I started researching something simple on the Portuguese Wikipedia and then became too engrossed in it to stop - though aware that I’ll never have the time to convey it all to my students.

The students themselves are on another level than I’m accustomed to. They’re paying money, they’re working in a field they’re interested in, and they know having a degree will give them a huge advantage once they graduate. In short, they want to be there, and it drives me to do even more to make it worth their while. Though I nearly had a stroke while reading their first compositions (“Staying informed on world news is important because it’s good to know what’s going on in the world. I like to stay informed. I use the internet. Everyone should stay informed. It’s very nice.”), it’s reassuring to know I have my work cut out for me. They know I have an open-door policy when I’m in the office and make use of it, they text me when one of their teachers for another discipline doesn’t show up, they are patient when it’s late and I can’t find the Portuguese to explain myself, and many of the older ones (most of them are) end up teaching me things about the state of journalism in Mozambique.

In my Introduction to Communication class, I have a different student present national and international news and another one do a presentation about a different country in the news every day before I start my lesson. They write in journals on a daily basis with critical thinking-style topics I assign and classes include a lot of debates. I pretty much dug up everything that I loved about my journalism classes from TCU and tried to replicate it. I have never been more appreciative of the incredible journalism and English teachers I’ve had since high school – oh, and Uncle Bob. The students are already quite familiar with the namesake of the Schieffer School of Journalism.

Next on the agenda, I’m working with Francisco on starting a student-run newspaper. Woo!

But let me assure you, outside the walls of my little haven of a university, Mozambican life continues unchanged. There are still random chickens in my yard that eat all the guava that falls off my trees. I still resort to bucket baths when it’s just too cold for the running water in the shower. I am still greeted with “mzungo!” (“white person!” in Shona, the local dialect) everywhere I go. And I’m always on the prowl for whatever next excitement comes along. But for now, I’m just reveling in normalcy. I can't tell you how excited I was simply to have a desk again. Ahhhhhhh...

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