Tuesday, 25 September 2012


This fountain is the bane of my existence and the embodiment of everything that is wrong in Mozambique.
It is a moldy, stagnant, bacteria-and-malaria-breeding eyesore in the midst of a lovely grove of trees. But that’s not the problem.

I walk by this festering fount daily. One day a few months back, however, I noticed as I passed that it had been drained. Finally! I thought, no more disease-ridden water reserve. It’s about time.

When I passed a day later, city workers were painting the inside of the fountain blue. That’s nice, I thought, people won’t even notice the lack of water.

The next day, the faucet was on and the fountain was filling up. Ever the optimist, I thought, well, maybe somebody finally decided it’s worth the upkeep and will actually maintain it for a while.

The fourth day, President Guebuza came to town. His caravan of tinted, black SUVs passed rows of cheering citizens and a beautiful, sanitary, fully-functional fountain.

The following day, President Guebuza and his troop of important government officials left. The fountain was turned off. With the exception of cigarette butts, doomed insects, empty plastic bottles and malaria-laden mosquitoes, it hasn’t been touched since. It has returned to its original state.

Unfortunately, this is what I see as one of the biggest flaws in the Mozambican culture – the obsession with empty appearances.

It is the reason why my school has sanitary hands-free automatic soap dispensers mounted on the walls that have never once held soap.

It is the reason why people will eagerly agree to attend a meeting set for Tuesday though they know they’re going out of town for a week on Monday.

It is the reason why school directors will give speeches on women’s rights but turn a blind eye when teachers blatantly sleep with their students.

It is the reason why the government education department shows glowing grade reports to international donors, after local teachers have spent the past week adding points to tests so 80% of their students don’t fail as they should.

It is the reason why so many people die of “an illness” rather than the super-taboo HIV/AIDS.

It is the reason why nothing ever changes – because it’s so much more pleasant to make things appear better to those outside than to do the work to actually correct it on the inside.

It's certainly not a problem unique to Mozambique. But it is something I pointed out to my journalism students. Maybe someday they'll start asking questions and someone will realize the regular people who see and live next to it on a daily basis are much more important than the big-wigs that occassionally pass by.

Friday, 7 September 2012

The Other 90 Percent of the PC Experience.

This is primarily to reassure my parents that there is more to my life than hitch-hiking around Africa, weekends at the beach and hosting traveling PCVs at my home.

I like to work. A lot. Always have. To the extent that if I did not have friends around, I would only work and thereby be the most boring person on earth. But here I wouldn’t notice because what I do – for the most part – makes me happy.

At the Universidade Católica de Moçambique, through one of those bizarre-but-oh-so-blessed twists of fate (original coordinator fled back to Italy), I am the Director of the Communications for Development program. I had very little idea what this meant originally (else I might have fled to Italy, too). I spend a depressing amount of my day right here, in the office I share with the head of the food engineering department:

As the “coordenadora,” I keep the department running. I decide what classes they take. I find the professors to fill those classes and submit their payroll. I propose the budget. I am in charge of ALL of my students’ grades – which includes getting the class grades from the professors, calculating the averages, posting them for the students, dealing with the backlash. During exam time (also known as "Avoid Val Week"), I’m responsible for determining who has an average too low to even take the exam, writing the exams, making sure professors are always there to proctor the exams (which means being there for every exam), coding the exams so the professors grading the tests don’t know whose test it is (yay corruption-fighting methods), posting results…and then doing it all over again for the “second chance” exams the following week. Any issues that the professors have, any concerns that the students have, any administrative issues in the communication program…that’s my job. Oh, and to attend two two-hour meetings a week. I am always at school by 8 and sometimes don’t leave (except to buy peanuts from Mana Elisa on the corner around 10:30) until my last night class is over – at 9 pm. It is a daily lesson in time and chaos management.

But that’s all okay. Because I also get to teach.

Perhaps it’s only because I spent the past two years teaching whiny high-schoolers a discipline they (and sometimes I) could care less about and so I therefore have low standards – but I enjoy teaching. The first semester, I taught Introduction to Communication, which included the history, theories and means of media and communication throughout the world, as well as random trivia about everything from Sesame Street to Bob Schieffer. This semester (because I’m the coordinator and decide who teaches what), I’m teaching a Techniques in Writing class which focuses on practicing different writing styles and (yay!) grammar. After recieving entire compositions without a single punctuation point and having to continually correct glaring spelling errors (in Portuguese...), there was no doubt I could not rest until I had tackled this course.
Here's a lovely sample of what I subject my students to daily:
EE2 - Jornalismo

In case you missed it, I’m a huge nerd. Which is why I’m so stoked about teaching things like proper spelling, nouns and verbs, editing marks, logical organization, etc. That and this is all COMPLETELY new to my students, so they don’t even realize how much they’re supposed to hate it yet. The resources – PowerPoint, projectors, the Internet with a Portuguese writing style guide, etc. – also make it a bit more manageable and therefore enjoyable.

But the actual writing is where I feel the most need and the most useful. There’s simply not the same culture of reading and writing. Creative writing, poetry, prose that’s as good as poetry, writing concisely and directly…don’t care who you are, this is exciting.

It also helps that I have a great group of students. They take pride in being future “communicadores.” I didn’t even realize til what extent until I was invited to the 50th birthday party of one of my students and found so many of my other students there, and then was asked to give a speech (it happens at parties…think Hobbits) about the birthday student, the whole class and communication in general. Here’s one of the countless communicadores photos we took that night:

Pursuing higher education, and particularly at the second-ranked university in the country (doesn’t matter if there’s only three), is a defining point for them. And this is why I can’t complain too much when one asks for the bizillionth time in one day when their grades are going to be posted.

I also teach five classes of English a week. Which is what I was originally brought here to do. And I do it. Just perhaps with a bit less gusto.

Having colleagues who are just as enthusiastic and don’t let my age deter them from showing me the utmost respect is also a huge perk. My fellow American and director of civil engineering, Hoang, is especially good at keeping me sane and we inevitably end up in each others’ office a fair share for therapeutic venting. Other professors are from Poland, Togo, Zimbabwe, Cuba, and at least a couple got their PhDs in the States. Their work ethic only encourages my own. It's a great feeling. 

But hey, it's still Mozambique. We still know how to have a good time. 

Francisco and Hoang on Dia de Santo Agostinho

Francisco and Filomena in the obligatory Congo line at the UCM graduation.

UCM at the Dia de Trabalhadores parade

The ever-eloquent Mr. Phiri and Texas A&M alum Dr. Ferrao