Sunday, December 7, 2008

Back in the USA

So I'm back in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, until January 8th. The first day was a bit of a shock to the system. It took a while to get off of Mozambican time and I hadn't managed to catch a wink of sleep on the 18 hour flight. As soon as I reached South Africa and everyone was speaking English, it felt like an alternate universe. People would say something and I would still be thinking of how I would respond in Portuguese. Hopefully I don't lose that in a month and a half. JFK was a good place to transition to American life. I bought myself a peppermint mocha chiller in the airport and thought to myself "welcome to America" while watching children with light-up tennis shoes and business men on cell phones. Only one word can sum it up - weird. I knew I was home though when I couldn't feel my face walking outside into the airport parking garage and I didn't have to sit above a herd of chickens on the drive to Wisconsin.

I had good news before I left Mozambique. I got my library grant proposal passed. This means that when I get back to Monapo in the middle of January, I need to start getting the secondary school library ready for renovation. We will be getting new bookshelves, desks, chairs, books, maps, a bulletin board, a filing cabinet, an HIV/AIDS mural and other security-enhancing features. Hopefully we can set the library up so that it's easier to research topics and have more space for the materials. Right now they have textbooks but not a lot more than that. I'm pretty excited to get that project started. It will be a lot of work but it'll be great to provide students with more resources and a better environment to study in.

I'm pretty excited about next year's projects and have been looking into getting material while I'm here in the U.S. I got a self-defense book to teach to my REDES girls - which is sure to produce quality stories in the future. I think they'll really be into it though and who knows when they'll need it. I am also going to try to get soccer balls, art supplies and just use the internet til my fingertips are sore.

Besides doing a bit of work though, it's amazing to be home for Christmas with friends and family. Both a lot and a few things change in one year. People look different, new buildings and businesses have sprouted in the city, a new president has been elected, new musicians and movies are all the rage. I still don't know what this Twilight and Robert Pattinson deal is all about. I love listening to the Christmas music, decorating the tree, putting up the lights and wrapping gifts. I really missed those things last year and realized how much I took the holidays for granted before. But this year, it's "A Lynum Christmas, Double Time." We are going on a family trip to DisneyWorld (I know) in January. We haven't taken a family trip for about eight or nine years so it should be interesting to see how the four of us coexist in a hotel room - which I'm thinking might be far more entertaining than anything Walt Disney could have thrown at a person. I just want to go on the Pirates of the Carribean ride. The trip promises to be anything but dull - especially since my sister gained my agreement to the trip by promising to tackle the Disney character of my choice.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hand-saw, meet blisters. Blisters, meet hand-saw.

Now that school is done, I can focus my attention on an important secondary project: building a doghouse. It’s not going to be too stunning but anything is better than stuffing the dog like a sausage into its casing when it’s time for him to go in his kennel. I never realized how hard a hand-saw is to use. It’s a workout in itself trying to saw through the board. Sometimes, I feel like it might just be easier to use my teeth or jump on the board to try to break it in half. It definitely makes me respect all the woodworking machinery my dad uses. At 5:30 this morning, I had never wanted a planer and electric saw more in my life (a blister away from putting it on my christmas list, in fact). It’s not that an electric saw doesn’t exist here in the community. It would just be really heavy to carry the wood to the carpenter and not to mention, I would get about a million comments and laughs from staring people. Besides, there’s the glory of saying I did the job myself. Or I might end up in complete, embarrassed denial.

My bigger, more important secondary project is working on and updating the REDES curriculum manual. REDES is the girls’ group I work with. Right now, the manual is good. It has information about HIV/AIDS, the human body and puberty, rights, nutrition and hygiene, job opportunities, etc. Like I said, it’s good but the problem is that the activities aren’t that concrete. The girls have rarely been learning any new skills but are expected to discuss what they think about issues. Don’t get me wrong; them talking about important issues facing women is paramount but it would be good to give them skills that they can carry with them the rest of their lives while holding the discussion.

So here’s my vision. There will be four topic areas for REDES groups across Mozambique to choose from. The ones I’ve come up with so far are 1) Culture, Arts, and Sports, 2) Volunteerism and Community Action, 3) Career Preparation and Technology, and 4) Income and Agricultural Production. Each group will pick one of these categories to focus on and do activities from the manual that go along that line. For example, in Volunteerism and Community Action, the girls will become active through literacy programs, garbage collection, a big sisters’ club, etc. In Career Preparation and Technology, geared more towards older members, the girls learn how to write a resume, how to open a bank account, the etiquette of professionalism, computer skills and typing, etc. Income and Agricultural Production, the girls learn how to start and maintain a machamba (large garden/crops), create quality goods to sell and how to budget their money. Culture, Arts, and Sports is exactly what it sounds like. The girls sing, dance, paint murals, hold soccer and basketball tournaments or leagues, stage theater performances about women’s issues, among other things. We are having a meeting in Maputo before I head home and this is on the agenda so hopefully we can come up with concrete ideas of topic areas then. Until then, I’m just throwing ideas around.

The problem with working on the manual is that it requires a lot of internet research, something I’m not capable of here. So when I’m back in the states in less than a month for Christmas break (*pumping my fist in the air*), that’s what I’ll be doing on my parents’ internet while watching Conan O’Brian at night. Hopefully, we will get help from an NGO or two in the structure of the manual and ideas for projects and activities. There is also the matter of translating the manual to Portuguese – no small task. But right now the manual only exists in Portuguese and I remember when I first got to site and my Portuguese was still at the same level as a toddler – so, needless to say, it will be nice to have in both languages.

I still can’t believe I go home to the U.S. in four weeks. It will be a culture shock. Friends of mine who have already gone back for weddings or family events said that it’s a shock the first day and then it’s back to normal again. It will be weird to have so many options. You want peanut butter? Okay, there’s a sale on it, aisle five. You want to watch the news in English? No problem, every channel is in English and your parents have upgraded to 20 channels since you’ve left. You want to take a shower? Go ahead there, buddy. You get two choices – hot OR cold! Honestly though, since I haven’t lived with that stuff for over a year now, I don’t feel a desperate longing for them. You start to feel kind of detached from it. Sure, you enjoy it when you have it but you can do without. You put butter between your bread. You listen to your iPod instead of watch TV (since I don’t have a TV). You stop heating water for your bucket bath and just deal with the cold shock to the system every day.

Sometimes I imagine what my students would think if they saw the United States. I constantly hear “if I go to America, I will never come back to Mozambique.” It's sad when they say that because besides the poverty, disease and lack of job opportunities here, this country is remarkably beautiful in so many ways. People here live in the most difficult of circumstances and yet they have a smile on their face every day. They are the ones who really know how to live. Not us. They aren’t tied to their electronic knick-knacks or credit cards. They are tied to their families and their culture. Children wake up at 5:00 in the morning to walk with their big brothers or sisters to go cart water. Everyone sings loudly, not caring what they sound like, and everyone dances like no one’s watching. Men sit around drinking maheu (this nonalcoholic drink – I don’t even know how to describe the taste), playing a game similar to Mancala in the market, just for the sake of enjoying each others’ company. Little children cling to the brilliantly colored capulanas their mothers are wearing and yell “da-da!” to acknowledge passers-by. Women pound cassava or peanuts outside their homes by the light of a candle, their family or neighbors sitting with them to chat. That sense of community is beautiful and something I feel privileged to have seen first-hand.

Friday, October 3, 2008

No more teachers, no more books...wait a second

School is done! I just have tests next week and then hand back the tests and I'm home-free for the year for the most part. I played a game with my students. It was just basic trivia of geography and English practice and I divided them into groups - stole the idea from my roommate. I made them each come up with names for their groups and they were quite creative. Superman. Batman. Underwear. Akon. G-Unit. Rice. Eggs. And my own personal creation for a team that couldn't think of one - I don't know. The game was going very well despite the kids not knowing basic facts - like what is the capital of South Africa or successfully managing to name the 10 provinces of Mozambique. It got out of hand a few times. They were supposed to write down the answers in their groups and then run up to me to hand them over to read. The winners would get candy. It became an all-out scrap. One boy got his shirt ripped. When they all ran up to hand me the sheets, they'd thrust them in my face and literally take my hand and place their papers in it. Imagine having 15 students surrounding you, pushing each other. I feared for my life. And laughed a lot. So when it got too out of hand with some classes, I did what any sane teacher would do. I erased all their names off the board, wrote myself as the winner and took a piece of candy, ripped it open and popped it in my mouth, declaring it to be delicious and savory. And then I left.

I was walking to visit friends today and a man was walking behind me. I said my usual 'bom dia' and kept walking at my speedy American pace. Well, he took that as a sign to continue the conversation. He asked what I knew in Macua and I told him I knew how to say 'I'm not your wife.' So what does the intelligent young man say? 'You don't want to marry a Mozambican?' I told him that I don't want to marry anyone right now. So he said 'I would really like to see the United States.' Haha! Smooth. So he was basically saying marrying an American was only for traveling and living in the United States. Be still, my heart.

I let a girl take a test this morning because she missed it. She showed me the evidence of hospital receipts and then I let her take a seat and do the test. Well, she couldn't think of some of the words and asked me for help. I told her she just needed to translate them. I went back in the house and was standing at the kitchen window to see a couple of seventh-grade girls smuggling in an english book for her to look up the words! Obviously, I went out and confiscated it. Seriously? I gave another girl a falta vermelha for sassing me in class. I told her she had a bad attitude. When I told her to leave, she just moved to another spot, thinking I wouldn't remember her. I told her 'I wasn't born yesterday and I'm not stupid. But you are if you think I don't know who you are.' So she got up and a painstaking swagger, laughing and chatting with her friends on the way out. She even gave me the grand finale of a sarcastic sneer walking out. I got the last sarcastic sneer though when I borrowed a red pen to write down her number. That's the worst discipline you can give a student. She deserved it for being disrespectful but I doubt she really cares. I can guarantee you that she wouldn't behave that way for a Mozambican teacher.

But...I have now been in Mozambique for one year! Holla! It's been a lesson thus far and I'm sure I'll just keep learning new things - good and bad - for the next 14 months.

Hope all's well with everyone! Enjoy the apple orchards and fall weather! It's getting hotter here. I am starting to sit in one place now. In front of my fan.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Stressed Out

Oh, where to begin with this week?! We'll go in chronological order. Thursday morning I fired our empregada, Lucrecia. She had just gotten too comfortable and we suspected her of stealing a few things. She didn't even deny anything but accepted the pay I gave her for a third of the month, said thank you and walked out the door. It was actually a startlingly easy firing. The bad part about having fired her is that now I need to find someone to take care of the dog while I'm home over christmas. That is not an easy task to find someone you can trust enough to give the keys to your house or to ensure that they are going to do the job correctly.

That same day, I had to give my second exam of the trimester to students. I made three students cry when I gave them a zero for cheating. They are just absolutely ridiculous. I don't know why, but before, I used to have pity for them. That's why I let them use their notebooks. I've grown tired of that now and am giving them a lesson from the school of hard knocks. If you don't study, you don't pass. It's as simple as that. The students don't see why cheating is bad. They think talking during tests is okay and that sitting on your notebook to conceal it is standard as well. I wore the dark sunglasses but it didn't help that much. When you are one side of the room, the other side is cheating and vice versa. The hardest part is that any kind of study habits you try to teach the students is undone by Mozambican teachers because they permit cheating and will likely just raise the grades anyway to let the students pass. It frustrates me to no end. The system just seems to be going through the motions, without educating a single child properly. It's something I'll never get used to.

Just yesterday, I was about to leave our house when one of the winners of our FBLM (Future Business Leaders of Mozambique) competition came to speak with me. He and his partner had a plan to build a lunchonette close to the chapa stop in our town. There had originally been three people in the group. The girl rarely came to meetings and when she did, she just sat there and said nothing. After the group won, we found out she wasn't in the right grade to participate and she was only in the group because she was Felix's girlfriend, a member of the group. So, we kicked her out. Well, the other member left in the two person group came to me and told me that Felix had used some of the money we had distributed to them to start a business ($1,000) and gave 3,000 meticais ($120) to his girlfriend. He also used some of the money to start his own little reed bar where he just sells cabanga - homemade booze. He did all of this, careless of what his partner thought. His partner (the one who came to me) wanted to stick with the plan. So I went to the bar and told him that he needed to correct what he had done wrong and how it wasn't fair to his friend to be doing this to him. I also told him that money from FBLM is not for starting a bar so that men can get drunk and go home and beat their wives and children. I was so angry that I had to just walk away from him but I think I succeeded in making him feel bad. I never thought he'd turn out to be such a little punk. It's really disheartening that someone would do that with money that was supposed to help them lead a successful life - not destroy a friendship and become corrupt. They're both coming to our house tomorrow for some kind of mediation over this problem.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Chalkboard Riots and a Dramatic Escape

Whenever I hand out my visual aids to students when I am done with them, it is a free-for-all. We’re talking about hands grabbing, elbows shoving and kids boxing out like its fifth grade basketball. One of these days, one of my students is going to get a concussion for a magazine cut-out of Roger Federer playing tennis. They are just as enthusiastic when I let them fill out exercises on the board with chalk. In one of my classes, I have a really small student. Picture the size of a second-grader. He’s particularly adorable because he dons high-water pants with a tucked-in shirt. He is intelligent though and always races to the front to get the chalk before anyone else can. I admire his audacity. Well, this last week, as usual, he got to the chalk before everyone else. However, once everyone else got up there, they mobbed him and he was practically impaled on the chalk ledge. I envision his face was smooshed up against the board much like that deer I hit with my learner’s permit’s face was smooshed up against my driver’s side window.

He is funny though because as a tall person, I am capable of using the entire board quite easily. As a result, I write exercises at the top of the board as well. One day he really wanted to complete the exercises but he was too short. One of my older students marched up to the front of the room, grabbed the little one around the waist and hoisted him up to write at the top of the board. When he was done, the little boy dusted the chalk off of his hands and announced “chega.” “Enough.” And the bigger boy put him down. Gotta love teaching some days.
I was sitting at school the other day and a little girl was getting water at the spigot in the schoolyard. Kids here, as soon as they can walk, are expected to do most chores at home. And they do. There’s no such thing as talking back to your parents here. At five am, walking on the road, you can easily find young children yawning and sweeping the front yard with branches. This girl was probably about that age. When people here carry things on their heads, especially water, they usually put a capulana coil between their heads and the thing they are carrying because it eases the pain of carrying a heavy load. This little girl would put the capulana coil on her head and reach down to pick up the jug of water. As soon as she would get the jug of water almost on her head, the coil would slip off. So she stood there with the jug on her head and the coil on the ground, looking as though she was trying to figure out how to make it work. I went over and picked up the coil, lifted the jug off her head and placed the coil under the jug on her head. She just smiled at me, grabbed a hold of the water jug with one arm and headed for her house. Moments like that make my days.
I had an interesting encounter with a colleague. I was at our house with my REDES girls when he came to the gate and stood there. When I noticed him, I said “yes?” and he was like “well, can’t I come in?” I agreed and let him come in. The first words out of his mouth were “do you have any whiskey?” I told him no. “Okay, beer.” I told him no. “All right then. A soda.” I said no and that we only had water. So he agreed, making me serve him in my own house when we have never been friends. I have no problem with hospitality. I DO have a problem with hospitality that’s forced upon me by disrespectful people. So I got him his water and while he waited out front, he proceeded to flirt with my 13 or 14 year-old REDES girls. He was completely inappropriate and I could smell the alcohol on him – at eight o’clock in the morning. He finally left and I saw him later at school and decided to say something. I told him that we didn’t want him coming to our house, asking for alcohol, especially when we had students there, and that we don’t drink and we don’t want students to think that we do. He nodded and said OK. But then two seconds later, he said “what would you like then?” It made me want to pull my hair out. It’s difficult to deal with someone who doesn’t see their behavior as a bad example or just plain doesn’t care about how inappropriate they appear.
Right now it’s Ramadan. That means that half of my students who are Muslin are fasting from five in the morning until 5:30 at night. They can’t eat or drink water. They can’t even chew on a pencil, according to my students. I couldn’t imagine fasting here. The sun is brutal. Some kids have to walk 45 minutes to get to school when the sun is at its hottest. Not to mention, the kids have to do manual labor at home, carting water and doing normal chores. I can’t even go half an hour without drinking water. As a result of bellies with even less food in them, my students are crankier than ever. I always bring water with me to school because I talk so much and I now feel required to take swigs on the sly. No one wants to be there during the last time of school because they want to be home with food in front of them when 5:30 rolls around. School ends at 5:35 – if students stay that long, which rarely happens.

I went and sat outside Nia’s class last week, waiting for her to get done with classes. She wouldn’t let her students leave until they’d shown her that they had written their work down in their notebooks. Some students hadn’t and with her blocking the door, they were trying to sweet-talk their way out. One of them, a fasting girl, started crying and to avoid having to do the work in order to leave, escaped out a window. She’s quite the drama queen. She told me that she aspires to be a flight attendant because, according to her, flight attendants are multi-lingual and very worldly. And she also told me, in her throaty voice that sounds like she smokes a couple packs a day, that I should adopt her. I just laughed and shook my head.
And now for some pictures of my bacterial throat abcess from back in February. Was not fun at all then but now whenever I look at these pics, I can't help but have a hearty laugh.



Thursday, August 14, 2008

jump to conclusions mat

I walked into Oitava 2 on Monday, ready to do battle and was surprised to find 90 perfect angels staring back at me. At first I thought that it must have been my stellar teaching style but after a few seconds of thought, I realized there had to be something more to it. I went and talked to the teacher filling in as pedagogical director and my dreams had come true: he had yelled at them. Erin: 1. Unruly students: 0. It was honestly the most perfect class session in the world. I also found out the name and number of the student who had 'sassed' me and gave him a falta vermelha. I made a big show of it too by pulling him out in front of all the other students and marching him to the school office, borrowing someone's red pen and writing down his number and a big falta vermelha next to it in front of him. It wasn't hard at all to find out that it was him. I had already thought it was him and all the other students ratted him out. He had come late to school and his fellow classmates had even come specifically to find me to tell me that he was now at school and I could take action. I know that they only did it because they love to see drama. The student wasn't happy with me but I didn't care at that point.

I have found that I have a temper. I've never had any patience to begin with (for example, I was almost born in the car on the way to the hospital) and living here in Mozambique has been a good test of my patience or lack thereof. Nia and I submitted a pedido (a request) to the local government building to use the community stage for our Future Business Leaders competition on Saturday. I went and checked on it because it was taking forever to pass and surprise, surprise, they had lost it. Shocking. To make matters worse, when the man I was talking to called to check on it, he had a question for me and addressed me as 'menina.' Girl. At that point, I was so over talking with him. When we were done talking, I just mumbled 'obrigada!' in a very ungrateful way and traipsed out of the office. Passive aggression is my middle name. That's the second time they have lost a pedido. They lost Nia's when she was asking to paint a mural on a wall in the Vila for her JOMA group. I don't understand what's so difficult there.

I went to the Centro de Recursos (like a public library) to use their computer to print off certificates for the participants in our FBLM competition. I made the certificate and asked the lady for paper to print, giving her 5 mt to pay for it. I went to print it off and it didn't work because there is no ink. I then went and asked the exact same lady I gave the money to to print and she said 'yeah, there's no ink.' Why in the world would you give someone paper to print something off when there is no ink?! And when the other lady working saw that the printer wasn't working, she said 'oh, it's the cables. I don't want to mess with them. They confuse me.' I was like 'it's not the cables. You don't have any ink. Can I have my 5 mt back?' I asked that about 5 times and never got it back, so I just gave up. And then they said maybe it would print off if I used color. This one guy wanted to show his computer skills and took the keyboard and mouse away from me to make everything purple. I snatched it back from him and said I could do it myself. Even then it didn't work.

Planning anything here is frustrating about 90 percent of the time. We are figuring that out right now with this competition. People don't seem to realize that the money we are giving to the winning group to start a business is not our own money but the money from PEPFAR (the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief). One girl came to the house today and talked to Nia. She told Nia that someone had told her that the two American teachers have a lot of money and they are just giving it away. So apparently she thought that if she came to our house and asked, we would give her money. I was working with my REDES girls on making the capulana bags at our house Tuesday and a student told Nia 'wow, Professora Erin has a lot of money. She can buy all those capulanas!' Nia stressed to him that it wasn't my money but money from our organization. If the jump to conclusions mat from Office Space actually existed, people here would be professionals at that game. Example, if you are walking down the street with a male colleague, people automatically assume that you are dating and are doing more than just chatting. It makes me wanna pull my hair out sometimes.

I think we may have finally encountered the crazy man we had been warned about by our predecessors. I was alone at the house last week and this dirty man with no shoes entered the fence without asking first. That's a first clue that he's up to no good. And then when I noticed him and asked him what he wanted, he approached me quickly with a bag of leaves, asking if I wanted to buy them. No one approaches the doorway of a person's house. It just seems threatening to me now and against custom. He kept looking through the doorway into the house. I was pretty happy to have Timba there with me. I went into the house and shut the iron bars and told him I didn't want anything and that he could leave. The man didn't blink either, intensifying his creepy factor. Then, the other day, I was walking through the market with a bag of bread I just bought and he would not leave me alone, following me and begging for bread. He got to be a nuisance so then I turned to him and forcefully said 'DEIXA-ME!' and he left me alone. Yesterday, he was standing at the opening to our fence and I saw him first through my bedroom window. He just stood there, staring. Nia saw him and went out, telling him to go away. All he said was 'give me 10 meticais!' She shut the fence gate on him. If he comes again, I am going to tell him we are going to tell the police. I was talking to our embrigada and she said that he smokes something that makes him crazy. With the last volunteers, he asked for water and when the volunteer went to get it, he snuck in behind her and grabbed something from the house. So weird. I don't think he's harmful, just creepy and insane.

Our FBLM competition is Saturday and we are having the groups present their ideas to three local judges and then we also have performances of a couple music groups and a theater group on AIDS. It should be fun/stressful. We're both pretty excited to see it all through though. And then we are off to Ilha for the night to celebrate a fellow PCV's birthday. I'll post pictures next week of the competition for all to see!

Friday, August 8, 2008

yes, but a person who hunts hippos?

I have had a bad week of teaching. One of my classes is turning into demons. They are ridiculous! I do this thing where I try to get everyone to talk, in an orderly fashion, in english. Apparently, Oitava 2 is incapable of such lofty expectations. I had people standing up just to say 'When I grow up, I am going to be a such-n-such.' Well, of course everyone was chatting when students were trying to say what they wanted to be. I tried to remedy the problem by throwing kids out left and right. It got so bad that I threatened the falta collectiva...again. So I gave it...again. They are only allowed 7 absences from school in the year in order to remain in school. And then one kid said 'obrigado!' which means 'thank you!' Once I find out what his number is, he's getting a falta vermelha, which is pretty bad. I was ready to cry at that point but I didn't because you can't lose your cool in front of them. And plus that means they've won. So after class, I marched myself over to the pedagogical director's office and did what any self-respecting, frustrated teacher would do. I tattled on them. I talked to a head teacher and am currently arranging for a mozambican teacher to yell at them. They don't behave like this with mozambican teachers and that's what really frustrates me. Then again, they are usually afraid and timid in front of Mozambican teachers. Mozambican teachers, as a result of being overworked and never taught to make innovative lesson plans, usually just come to school with basic lessons that the students just copy and repeat like robots. If I were a student, I feel like I would appreciate a teacher who actually put effort and thought into lessons. Maybe that's just me. But all I know is that I've never wanted to turn around and flick them all off as much as I did yesterday.

I have been teaching them professions lately and that's been a trip. I gave them a list of possible jobs they might be interested in (electrician, teacher, doctor, nurse, driver, store owner, etc.) and then asked if they had any more titles they wanted to know the english name of.

This is how that conversation went.

Them: 'Pescador!'
Me: Fisherman
Them: 'Camponese!'
Me: Farmer
Them: 'Hippo!'
Me: Huh?
Them: Hippo!
Me: (in Portuguese) That's an animal.
Them: (in Portuguese) Yes, but a person who hunts hippos?
Me: (in Portuguese) You don't even have hippos here.
Them: (Shrug)

And then when I was going around the room and asking each student what they wanted to be, one of my students was just like 'CARRRRRRRRRR!' When I asked him to repeat it, once again, he just went 'CARRRRRRRRRR!' Oh, a driver? Yes. And then when I tried to get him to say 'I want to be a driver' I had to go over it syllable by syllable with him to get him to say it. And even then, he whispered. I dunno about that kid. Every time I look at him, he's picking his nose.

This is the board game that I made for students to practice their english. It has a bunch of Monapo landmarks and is appropriately titled English in Monapo. There's the Monapo Rio, the Mosque and Catholic Church, a herd of goats, women carrying a lot of stuff, a kid rolling a wheel and my personal favorite, a stuffed beyond capacity chapa at the chapa stop. The kids really seem to enjoy it, especially since the game pieces are pieces of candy. The winner takes all.

Here's an example of the bag that my REDES girls are going to start making. We will sell them for 50 MT, which is 2 dollars and then the girls can use 25 MT to buy another meter of material and the other 25 as profit. It sounds like women here will buy these so I'm interested to see where this leads. I am trying to get more and more ideas of things they could make that people here would use and buy.

And I also threw in this random picture of the market in Monapo. It's dead at the time in the photo but come dusk and the fisherman returning from the ocean, you've got yourself one bustling market.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

I've got a fever...and the only cure is more duct tape

I have this problem of Timba always jumping on me and then snagging my clothes with his nails. One would think that I would be an expert at patching holes by now, but no. Instead, I've taken a liking to duct-taping my clothes. I feel that there are two plus-sides to duct-taping clothing. First, it mends the problem (no longer exposing any thigh in a culture where that's unacceptable unless you're a lady of the night) and second, it gives you that ragged, rugged look that screams 'Don't ask me for money! Look, tape is holding my clothes together!' I also don't wash my tennis shoes for the reason that I'll get asked for them and they're brown. Effective, yet brown.

I have been going jogging with Timba every morning lately. Know what's crazier than seeing a white person around here? Seeing a white person running with a dog on a leash. When people see me approaching, they stop what they're doing, face me completely and stare, mouths open. When I see children doing it, I stare back at them with my mouth open and that usually gets them to laugh. I can hear them saying things in Makua but I have my iPod on so it drowns out their comments and laugher; not to mention, my out-of-shape gasping for breath. Mozambicans love it when I punish my dog too. He does his jump and leap against me and I'm trying to break this clothes-destroying habit of his, so I knee him. Hard. He usually falls down in a pile on the ground and learns his lesson for about a minute. I did this yesterday morning and a man was laughing so hard!

This morning, I was walking back toward our house when all of a sudden a gang of dogs from a house came up on Timba and me. They were all growling at him and seemed ready to rumble, drawing a crowd of Mozambicans who stood there, just watching. I picked Timba up so they wouldn't try to fight him and kept walking. At that moment, I found out what was funnier than a white girl running with a dog on a leash. A white girl carrying a dog. They started laughing SO hard. I felt like the Paris Hilton of Monapo. I really want to take the dog to the market one day, wrapped across my back like a small child in a capulana, to see how everyone reacts to it. I already tell students that he's my son.

Students here believe anything you tell them. Nia told a bunch of students Arnold Schwarzenegger is her uncle and is coming to visit next year. Apparently, they got pretty excited. I told some students that Jean Claude Van Damme is my embrigado and it took 'em a minute to process what I'd said. Nia and I got a few students to believe that white people only bathe once a month. They're extremely gullible, which makes it fun to play with their minds sometimes. One student always draws pictures for Nia. He's pretty good at drawing and he came to the house the other day with a picture of me with Timba. He drew me with cut-off jean shorts, a catana (a sharp sword-like knife) and what appeared to be a powdered wig on. All that was missing what a coonskin cap and a burned out trailer behind me. Needless to say, he captured me perfectly.

I have had SO many people ask me lately why I'm not married. They are like 'how old are you?' When I tell them I'm 24, they don't believe me and think I'm older. 'But you are tall!' Tall equals old here. I have no idea where they got that from. I tell them I don't plan on getting married or having kids for a long time and that completely rocks their world. Why would someone DO that? When they ask me why I'm not married, I tell them a husband equals more problems. It's actually partially true if you think about it. I was reading a Reader's Digest my dad sent me and there was a fact in there from the University of Michigan that said that a husband creates seven more hours of housework for a wife each week. No, thank you.

I bought capulanas (the traditional cloth for women in Mozambique) for my REDES girls for a solidarity thing. They were pretty fond of the idea and when we walked out in the community with them on, everyone got really curious about what we were doing. We went to the market to buy more capulanas to start making more things to sell. They're pretty stoked about that idea. There's such a lack of innovation here and I would love to get them thinking of things they could make here that people would be interested in buying - something that doesn't already exist in seven other stores. My dream or big goal is to get them creating items that produce income and something that can provide money for them to continue their education or at least lead good lives. It's so hard to get them to think of new things! That's one of my biggest challenges with teaching and being a leader of this girls' group.

That's it for this week. I'll end on this quote I read in that Reader's Digest my dad sent and it gave me a chuckle.

'At what age do you think they tell a highway it's adopted?' - Zach Galifianakis

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

sticky fingers

And so it has begun - the final trimester of the year. I started off on a bit of a sour note with one of my turmas yesterday. I had made these verb strips for them to find the other people in their verb groups and at the end of the activity, four verb strips were missing. We have a problem here of people just taking things because they can. It's not even something that's worth anything - I mean, who wants a piece of paper that just says 'sat' on it? Not I. So after asking and asking and asking for the 4 missing strips of paper, no one was turning it in. It's not that I was upset about losing the paper, but that these kids don't have respect for the material and have no problem with dishonesty. The chefe of the turma started walking around and searching people's bags for the strips but nothing turned up. I even threatened a falta vermelha (the worst kind of indisciplinado there is - even written in, gasp, red pen) and then a falta collectiva (the whole class is considered absent) but no one fessed up. So I gave them a falta collectiva. One girl finally gave up a verb strip. I was just going to let it slide without a fuss but then I saw her laughing about it. That's when I told her to get out, throwing her notebooks out the door in front of her. It's so frustrating. I was talking to students about it and I told them that if one person takes things that aren't theirs, they are slowing the development and achievements of other people as well. That turma has a lesson on corruption coming their way that involves beans.

Otherwise, my time in Maputo was just what I needed. Maputo was brilliant. I got to eat a lot of junk food and watch a movie in a theater. My portuguese is suffering as a result now. I basically only spoke in english for an entire week, being around only americans. So now I stumble when I talk and get weird looks from my students. Oh well. It'll come back around.

I got a bunch of ideas for my REDES group during the meeting. We are going to learn how to open a bank account this next week. I'm also trying to organize for a local female doctor to come to talk to them and possibly do some HIV testing. I'm also excited to start planning the northern regional conference for next April. I think I may already have one facilitator lined up and a possible counterpart for here in Monapo. She's a primary school teacher with an embroidering group and it'd be a good way to get my older girls working with younger girls. For the conference, it'd be wonderful to find a woman who works at the university to come and talk to the girls about their options. This will require some more investigation on my part too. So many possibilities!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

shredded lettuce, but not the fancy kind in the bag

I think our DVD player is now broken...and so is my heart. Maybe it's a good thing that it broke because it forces me to read more. It's nice at the end of the day to sit down and numb my mind for a couple hours. I'm not going to lie.

My friend and I were just on Ilha for a few days, visiting with three other volunteers. It was a good time all around, full of pasta salad, hummus, fried calamari and real coffee. Whenever I have access to nicer food, I never know how to pace myself and then I regret it about two hours later. I was in a permanent state of fullness all weekend and I didn't know how to handle it. Food and I have a turbulent relationship at times these days. I am pretty fond of Ilha though. The dusty ancient streets, the beautiful capulanas and the history. I want to buy a book on the old slave trade from Nampula's coast from an Ilha bookstore when I have enough money.

Timba stayed in Monapo, of course. I left him under the care of our embrigada and she does a pretty good job with him. I usually will give her extra money - half beforehand and half afterwards when I come back and he has a pulse. The funny part is that I walked into the kitchen and our fridge was completely empty and open. While I was gone, he had succeeded in opening the fridge and pulling out all of its contents, strewing them across the kitchen floor. My embrigada explained it all to me this morning with a lot of sighing and eye-rolling. I guess he got into some jam, shredded up some lettuce and chewed the end off of a spoon. He's got mad skills when it comes to destruction. I am not looking forward to the state of our kitchen when I return from Maputo.

We also talked with the school to have a guard watch our house at night while we are away. We have iron bars on our windows and doors but that doesn't automatically make them give up. I talked with the guard last night and it is funny how he started out the conversation with 'I slept here the other night.' He didn't even say 'I was the guard here the other night.' He's not as snazzy as our last guard. He doesn't have a slingshot. Oh well, we'll take him. Usually, as long as someone is present, no one will mess with the house. I don't tell anyone I'm leaving because then word spreads and everyone knows no one is home. I am telling everyone that I'm staying for all of break but I'll leave at 5 tomorrow morning when it's still dark and no one sees me. Very cloak of darkness and everything but it's the best deterent for theft.

I am heading down to Maputo tomorrow for our REDES planning meeting and I come back on Sunday. REDES is our girls' group that a bunch of PCVs and counterparts have across the nation. We are planning for next year's conference and what that holds in store. I think we are still uncertain as to whether it will be three separate regional conferences (south, central, north) or one main, national conference. They both have pros and cons in terms of transportation, cost and planning. It'll be nice to hear what other groups are doing to get more ideas for my girls and to see friends from other provinces. Another plus is that it is in Maputo, the land of western food options, so my turbulent relationship with food is likely to continue on through the week.

School starts on Monday and I have yet to plan out what the last trimester holds in store. I have a feeling it will fly by, much like the two other trimesters. School will be done by the end of October and then break is until the beginning of February. I'll be back in the states for a visit for all of December and a little bit of January - something I'm extremely excited about and look forward to. That's only a little over four months away now. This month is our tenth month in Mozambique and it's gone by quickly. I'll be home in no time to rejuvenate for my second year. I already have a list of food I plan to eat. The first on my list is, of course, cheese curds.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pictures! Pictures! Pictures!

I love this picture. My students saw I had the camera and they were like 'take our picture!' and then immediately hopped on a teacher's bike and put on sunglasses. The boy in the front is holding up a plastic rose. They look like a boyband.

Here's Timba - the devil incarnate, striking fear into the hearts of Mozambicans everywhere.

Me and the REDES girls in front of our display in the library. They designed what they wanted to be after school and behind them, the sign says 'I am a girl. My future is bright!'

Girls in my REDES group working on their embroidering.

A small group of my students during supermodel documentary hour. They love posing for the camera.

The REDES conference in Chimoio last April. It was a lot of fun and gave girls from all over Mozambique a chance to meet each other and learn about different things, such as health, women's rights, income-producing projects and an opportunity to take part in fun activities.

Our house in Monapo. It's pretty comfortable and 80% cement, 20% zinc roof and 100% awesome (which I suppose equals 200% but I'm no math teacher). Makes it difficult to hear when it rains though. We have our two bedrooms on the left side of the house and then the front porch, kitchen and backroom on the right-hand side. We have a fence surrounding our house, giving us some privacy. Our yard can get very matu (bush) pretty quickly.

And I promise to add more soon! Best wishes to everyone!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed

I have had several people ask me if there is anything that I could really use here, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to blog about it. Why not. Can't hurt.

We could use:
- old reading glasses (people can't afford them but need them here - some students can't see the board)
- school backpacks
- ESL workbooks, simple english books
- small, simple calculators
- dictionaries (portuguese-english, english-portuguese)
- rulers (kids here, if they have them, don't leave home without them because goodness knows what will happen if you actually freehand something)
- construction paper or colorful paper (hard to come by here)
- watercolor sets
- sewing and embroidery materials (hoops, thread, sequins, beads, ribbon, buttons - you name it, my REDES group will use it)
- learn to draw or watercolor books for Nia's art group
- patterns for basic clothing for young adults
- baseball hats (it's a hot hot sun out there)
- scissors (quality hard to come by, for the REDES group)
- thick crayola markers (good for visual aids for classroom materials and for group projects - the kids love it)
- colorful yarn
- jigsaw puzzles
- stamps and ink pads (saves on the use of stickers and a good way of marking if people did their homework or not)
- index cards

Now that school supply season is quickly approaching in the US, many of these supplies are much cheaper than usual. A lot of this stuff is hard to come by and when you do find it, it is poor quality.

My address is:

Erin Lynum, PCV
Corpo da Paz
Rua dos Continuadores No. 24-A
Caixa Postal 526
Cidade de Nampula, Nampula

If you do send anything, you can disguise it from people who like to steal packages by putting 'Jesus saves!' or some religious stickers on it. People don't usually mess with religious things.

Any supplies would be appreciated! So if you are stopping by garage sales this summer, keep an eye out for me! Thank you so much!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Trickle, Trickle, Trickle

The ACPs have come and gone now. I controled eighth grade and tenth grade exams and I was harsh - and I liked it. I got boos and hisses when I walked into the room and it thrilled me. That means I am doing something right. They even tried to complain to their teacher about me and he backed me up. Suckers. They think they can get around my method of controling tests but I try to beat them at their own game. It´s gotten to the point where I write down their name if they are caught cheating so they can´t just throw away the copy I wrote that they cheated on and write out a new test. They are so sly though. They won´t write down their names until after they are done with the test and I haven´t caught them. Do you know how hard it is to try and pry a kid´s name out of him when he knows you are just going to give him a zero? When he waits for about fifteen seconds with a pen to his lips in deep thought and then writes, you are going to second-guess whether Espacio Vicente is his real name. So I had to keep an even closer eye on those young´ns and it just drains you. After an afternoon of watching to see if anyone had anything up their sleeve or were sitting on their notebooks, I was ready to pull out the old dentures and call er a night at seven o´clock.

It was a great weekend though, I must say. Nia and I went with our Zimbabwean friends to Chocas Mar, a beautiful beach north of Ilha de Mocambique for one of their birthdays. It was so much fun and so beautiful. After a stressful week of controling and grading in Monapo, it was great to kick back, play a rousing game of musical chairs and go swimming in the ocean. We swear we saw some big fish or dolphins jumping in the water. There is such a variety of seafood here and I never realized how much I like it until now. I love calamari and shrimp and depending on how it´s prepared, fish. There´s such an abundance here and you might as well eat it to get your protein for the day. And there was chocolate cake with pudding. I ate my weight in it, needless to say.

This week is the Mozambican Independence Day. Tomorrow to be exact. I doubt there are fireworks or barbeques but it promises to be interesting. It seems like on every national holiday there is always some group of people riding around on the back of a truck, singing loudly. It´s always interesting to see. I never was a big fourth of July person in the states but now that I don´t have it, I miss it. There won´t be corn on the cob or fireworks. Kind of sad but I´ll cope somehow. Maybe I´ll go gnaw on a piece of sugar cane or something. They always cancel everything when there is a holiday even somewhat close. For example, today we didn´t have school because there was a ceremony of some kind. Tomorrow we have no school and we aren´t banking much on thursday or friday either. You can pretty much call the whole week a bust in the work department. Oh well. You get used to it.

Something creepy happened to Nia and I when we were walking home from the market the other day. It was dark out except for the light of the moon and a streetlight. We were approaching the fence of our house and we could clearly see our own shadows on the fence as we were walking toward it. To the left, we suddenly could see the shadow of a child running quickly past us but when we turned to look, no one was there. Nia saw it too and there was no one around us. We freaked ourselves out a bit and then went into the house. While we were sitting at the table eating dinner, we heard a scratching at the door. We asked our embrigada about ghosts and she said that they exist and she wouldn´t be surprised because other neighborhoods around here have reports of them. And apparently we live really close to a cemetary. A student told me that when thieves in the jail die, they just bury them right behind the jail, which we live right next to. Creepy. The kid could be lying too. Who knows. I do know that I believe in ghosts though and it was an interesting encounter if you could call it that.

Nia and Timba still hate each other. My dog is the bain of her existence. I think they thrive off of each other´s negative energy. I guess that last night Nia couldn´t sleep because it was her night to take her larium medication. Well, it was about midnight and she heard a "trickle, trickle, trickle." She looked over at her bedroom door and saw a steady stream of urine seeping under it. My dog purposely urinates on her door at night, even though my door is closer and he has a large circumference with his leash length to reach a large portion of the kitchen. And he definitely smiles as he does it. I can´t help but laugh at it. He seems to enjoy taunting her and it´s pretty genius for a 6-month old dog. He´s not as stupid as he looks. I would call it a love-hate relationship between those two but it is definitely a hate-hate. I keep trying to reassure her that he will eventually improve. He doesn´t behave like that towards me. I think they need counseling. Where´s Dr. Phil when you need him?

Friday, May 30, 2008

There´s a bat in our basket, dear Liza.

If you ever decide you want/like sincere criticism, you should come to visit me. Mozambicans will tell you exactly what is wrong with you. Student will stare directly at your acne and openly question it. They´ll say "teacha, you´re fat today!" And you are supposed to take it as a compliment. "Teacha, you can´t speak portuguese!" It´s so hard as an American to not take it personally and say "oh yeah? Well, I wouldn´t exactly consider you as fluent in English with your meager ´hello, how are you? I am fine and you?" They just call it like it is. I had one colleague tell me that people are scared of me because I´m big. I´m SO tall in comparison with everyone here and I have meat on my bones - so yes, that qualifies me as big. It´s not like I glower at everyone or make slicing motions across my throat at people with a maniacial grin. It´s a real blow to your ego as you´re trying to settle into a new culture. I´ve just had to realize that yes, I occasionally get acne (but tell people "ai, those mosquitos really love me!"); yes, I am bigger than most people here but I´m not fat; and yes, I´m still learning my way with portuguese. I had students laugh at me during class the other day when I said something wrong in portuguese and I usually take it in stride but I couldn´t handle it that day. So when they said something wrong in English, I hooted and hollered at them. They got the point.

You do get those rock star moments too. "Teacha! You´re pretty today!" (A+ for you, my friend) "You speak portuguese really well. Are you from Brazil?" Or it´s great when I hold a lengthy conversation with someone and totally get the jist of the entire conversation. That´s what really fuels me. Not the flattery but the language comprehension. But flattery doesn´t hurt. On a side note, I was talking to one of my students about how often people take baths here and she said she takes 3 a day. I told her Americans only take one a day. She looked horrified, like I had just smeared mud all over myself and eaten off the ground. I didn´t have the heart to tell her that sometimes I only bathe every other day. Scandalous. But then again, I, and the majority of Americans in general, use deoderant (in case you all wanted to know that).

We´re having embrigada issues again. We´re fairly certain she stole about 200 mt from Nia´s purse sitting in the kitchen. There´s just no way of proving it so we´re considering setting her up and seeing if she takes the bait. This whole thing makes me quite disappointed in and annoyed by her because we are nice to her. I just gave her a phone and reading glasses. Her job is not that difficult. She comes four days a week and only works for a couple of hours. Other embrigadas have to come all day, every day and cook for their employer. We are respectful and not demanding in comparison with how I have seen other people treat their embrigadas. I abhor sticky fingers and people who steal with a smile on their face seem even worse. We can´t have someone in our house who steals, even if she is a hard worker. We don´t want to feel uncomfortable in our own house so we will see where this leads.

Everything is running smoothly at school. We have been having our future business leaders meetings each weekend. We have our five groups and their ideas (a couple snack stands, a papelaria, a meat vendor). Now it´s just a matter of getting them to try to turn up on time. I am working on writing a grant for our school library as well. It´s in tough shape. The desks are all delapidated and the books are all textbooks. Students can´t check books out from the library because they can´t be trusted to return them, much less return them in the condition they left in. I want to build more bookshelves and more tables and chairs. The kids are in sore need of better reading material so I would like to get them non-fiction, fiction and geography materials (maps and globes). They don´t have any quality books for research. No encyclopedias. All english dictionaries are english dictionaries. There is no portuguese in them. What´s the point then? They don´t know what they are reading if it is all in English. So I have to check into prices and numbers and see if I can help them out at all. It would be great to get my girls group involved and Nia´s art group to do a mural on a wall of the building. My girls group is going to start an embroidering project this saturday and I am looking into getting them active in the community somehow, maybe a big sister program.

The other night Nia and I were eating in kitchen and I got up to get something from our fruit basket on the wall. I reached out my hand and almost touched what I thought was a rotten banana peel. But last I checked, rotten banana peels didn´t have hair and lack the ability to voluntarily move. So we screamed and ran into my bedroom (her bedroom was closer to the moving, hairy banana peel). I gathered the courage to nudge it with a broom handle and yep, it was a bat. So Nia stayed in my bedroom with the door closed while I got it to cling to the broom handle and set it outside. I think it was stunned and that´s why it didn´t fly away. But flying rodents are disgusting all the same.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Crazy Times at Monapo High

I had my first student fight to break up. I was at the front of the classroom, packing my bag, when my students started shouting. I turned around to find one of my students with one of my smallest students in a headlock. As soon as they saw me rushing toward them, the big one released the choke-hold on the little one. I told them to follow me outside because I wanted to talk to them. Meanwhile, a large crowd of students had heard the commotion and had gathered at the door to watch. I waited for the students outside and thought about how I could handle it. This isn’t the United States. We just hand kids over to other people in the United States. Here, I feel like you are kind of on your own. It turned out I didn’t even have a chance to talk to both of them because the big one ran off, which in my opinion, immediately incriminates him. I talked to the little one and as I tried to talk with him a large circle of students gathered around us. Kids here LOVE controversy. They would be excellent paparazzi because they would not let me stand at a distance with the kid to hear his side of the story. He had tears all over his face (usually kids don’t cry here – they tell you to knock that off, grin and bear it once you’re able to walk). Apparently, the big kid wrote on his school shirt, which was being held together by a safety pin and he retaliated by hitting him and then they fought. Making someone dirty here is bad. It’s a big no-no, especially when people already have nothing. What they do have, they keep in top form, clean and ironed. I gave the students` names to their director of turma but I made a point to talk to them in class the next time. They were fine with each other when I had them both together. It amazes me how kids here don’t hold grudges. If this were the U.S., these two kids would probably be sworn enemies for the rest of high school. I asked them how many uniforms they each had, with the obvious response of “just one.” I told them they need to respect each other and their uniforms and not fight in my class. They just nodded and said “okay” and that was that. I didn´t have to Michelle Pfeiffer Dangerous Minds or Jaime Escalante Stand and Deliver them or nothing.

But speaking of making people dirty, I admit that I am guilty of the same charge, in a nonviolent manner. I’ve had a real problem with my students not doing their homework, so I thought I’d teach them a lesson. At the beginning of class Friday, I gave a sticker to everyone who’d done their homework and made them stand at the front of the classroom. Once they were all up there I told the rest of the class “why didn’t you do you homework? You aren’t students. You are spectators. Do you know where spectators sit?” “No, teacha.” So I showed them. I plopped down onto the dusty concrete floor. “NO, TEACHA!” Oh, the horror! I then had the students who did their homework sit in the desks. I spent the rest of the class sending students back to the floor who would try to sneak into a desk. Some didn’t want to dirty their clothes so bad that they opted to squat on their feet for 45 minutes. Looked painful. I hope they do their homework after that. Or at least copy someone else’s furiously when I ask them if they did it for fear of the concrete floor. I think they should put forth a little effort since I am. I don´t think it´s too much to ask. Some kids got pretty innovative. One kid had something on his shirt and I walked closer because it didn´t look like a sticker I´d handed out. The kid had ripped off a corner of a colorful folder and just placed it strategically on his shoulder to make it look like a sticker, so I said "hey you, you´ve got something on your shoulder. Yeah, I think it´s garbage." And then I pointed to the floor and the class laughed at him. He´s the same kid who just drew a huge penis on the board instead of the verb "walk" during our game of pictionary. Never a dull moment with that one.

During class I gave my first condom demonstration and it went well. I pulled out a condom and the entire class started laughing. I was teaching the cardinal numbers that day so I went through all the steps. First, go to the hospital and get condoms. Second, check the expiration date. Third, carefully open the package. Fourth, put the condom on, leaving space at the tip (laughter and applause as a I pull out a wooden stick and put the condom on it). Fifth, use the condom. Sixth, carefully remove the condom. Seventh, tie the condom shut. Eigth, burn the condom with your trash (environmentalists´worst nighmare but that´s how we roll in the Naps. We burn trash and we don´t recycle - unless you count the children who dig through trash to make toy cars). And then some students asked me for the condom I´d given the demo with and I refused. Weirdos. I probably couldn´t have ever done that demo with 8th graders in the U.S. because their parents would have screamed bloody murder. Here, my students range from 13 to 18 and they sometimes sleep in the same room as their parents. They are very much in the know when it comes to sex, just not protection. I plan to do more in class with HIV/AIDS, nutrition and hygiene. I´m going to teach my students that it is not okay to pee on the side of the road. Do you know how awkward it is to walk past a man peeing openly on the side of the road? Very. Happens at least once a day.

Overall, my students have made this trimester enjoyable. I get excited to go to school because they´re hilarious and they always have a smile on their faces. I went and played soccer at the field during their gym class. I sat down in the stands to wait with about 200 kids and the girls were banging on empty plastic cannisters and singing. Kids sitting with me asked me if I like to dance and I said yes. Of course, they needed a demonstration. "Danca-la!" So I danced for them for 5 seconds. It got such rowdy applause and cheers from the students. Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by students and they wanted me to dance more with a capulana wrapped around my waist, a traditional way to dance in Nampula. I put my foot down though and I was saved by the whistle. We got called to the field to play. Every time I touched the ball or ran, the kids went crazy. I thought to myself "I am the best soccer" Now the girls keep asking me if I´ll play with them. I dunno. 5:00 on Saturday mornings is about as appealing to me as eating the goat´s head with flies on it that´s always sitting out at the market.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Dry Spell and a Dancing Banker

We ran out of gas for cooking for a couple days and water for a good solid 12 hours and the world officially ended. You don´t realize how much you appreciate those things until you are trying to smash charcoal into small bits and to give yourself a "bath" with a cup of water. The water wasn´t running where we normally get it from (the bar next door) and our housekeeper was sick. She may steal a bit of charcoal from us, but I´ll overlook it any day if it means we don´t have to cart water or wash dishes/clothes. The energy has been inconsistent the past few days too. Call me lazy...and you´d be right. It´s harder work here to do household chores here. You have no machines or modern conveniences, like running water or kitchen counters.

I´m considering the idea of building kitchen counters in our house. It´s just so annoying that our furniture in our kitchen, beside our table and chairs for eating, are a couple of old desks from the school that have been converted into a stand for our stove. I have made a list of possible improvements: a bench on our front porch, coconut candle holders for our walls when our electricity decides to go on the fritz, a shoe rack (frivolous, I know), maybe some shelves in our kitchen and possibly a bar to hang my clothes on. It´s all just talk and it will likely remain just that.

I had a chance to spend a couple of nights in Ilha last week and it was great. The place is just steeped in history so I love it. The buildings are still all there from the old days and there is, as Katie, the PCV on the island, puts it, a "Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" type of effect. You look through a doorway expecting to see a house or some kind of family set-up, but the building is in such a state of decay, that you can look straight through it into the ocean and there are trees and grass inside. She said she went to go visit a friend of hers and she walked through the door and there were huts set up inside. While I was there, I went to one of Katie´s friend´s birthday parties and I went to a beauty pageant on the island. I use "went" loosely because it was supposed to start at 8 and it was 9:30 or so when we decided to leave and nothing had really happened. Imagine that. Something not starting on time. Shocking. I did get to see my banker from Monapo at the pageant shaking it on the dance floor though. He´s an excellent dancer. During the dance break, he even managed to inform me that my debit card is now fully functioning and I can take out money from the ATM whenever I please. Good to know. The machine in Monapo ate my card 4 times, much to the chagrin of the large line of people waiting behind me to take out their money each time.

In other news, I´m starting to learn Makua more now. I can tell children to go away. I can say "where are you going?" and "I am going to the market." There´s also "dog" and "liar." It´s definitely not in the same realm of portuguese in language learning so it´s difficult but the locals love it when you try. My students are so excited to teach it to me, even though I think the school might not allow them to speak it. I´ve never really been clear on that rule. They call out "ehali?" and you call back "salaama!" and they explode in laughter. People constantly laugh at the little things we say so that we feel extraordinarily funny. We will surely be let down when we get back to the US and discover that this is not the case. I told a colleague that my dog won´t behave and I said "I´m going to kill him." I got a really concerned, solemn look from him. "Irene, don´t do that." Apparently, some phrases we throw around in the US just don´t translate. But now our colleague gets it when we joke that we had "Timba Frita" (fried Timba) last night for dinner.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

dog frustrations

I had a student after class yesterday ask me "Teacha, what is the significance of 'damnit'?" I really didn't know what to say so I ended up saying "well, if you are really religious you don't usually say it but it's something like 'I am really frustrated!'" Such a bad translation, but I was at a loss for words. I don't really want to teach my kids bad phrases but they're curious from hearing them in American rap songs and it's so funny hearing them say that stuff so who am I to stop them from the learning process? Their pronunciation of english phrases is pretty hilarious sometimes. We have had several students say "Do you want some peanuts?" But "peanuts" sounds like "penis." It doesn't help when as they are saying it they are reaching into their pocket. Creeped Nia and me out until we understood what they were actually saying.

My dog is getting more and more intolerable each day. I am at my wit's end with picking up after him and him thinking that Nia's room is his own personal bathroom. I tie him up outside but then he cries and whines like I'm torturing him. He ruined a pair of my shoes. He tipped over a food stand and ate raw fish and uncooked rice even though I feed him tons of food. And he wandered over to the neighbor's house and just squatted and went to the bathroom right in front of their house. I think he may have smiled too. I am waiting for the day when he breaks into that bag of cement sitting in our kitchen. A friend is sending me an ebook on dog training so I am excited to see that. I am going to get him to beg when I say "estou pedir" because that's what people say when they beg from us in town on a daily basis. Should be entertaining.

Saturday, I plan to dig a trash pit and there will be cement involved somehow. I don't know how I am going to do it and I am going to use cement. I don't know what the right water to cement ratio is so this should be a laugh and a half. At least this will keep Timba from eating our garbage. He'll have to rappel down the side of the pit if he wants the garbage that bad.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

meus deus! (said with dramatic flair)

So...the REDES conference. It started off on Sunday when we had to start traveling to Nampula city where we would catch a flight to Beira. I brought the girls, who were 45 minutes late to begin with, to the city with me and we caught breakfast and met up with another group of girls. One of my girls didn't have her ID on her because she had left it with extended family in the city. She insisted that their house was really close to the little cafe we were sitting in, so I let her go to get it while I would wait. Well, a quick trip to get her ID turned into a four hour ordeal. I paced that city for three hours looking for them, getting so frustrated I was ready to cry and glared at every man who tried to speak to me in English. I think I may have looked insane. So after the other group I was waiting around with left for the airport, I started to have a slight nervous breakdown. First of all I was worried that something happened to them and second of all, I was angry that they hadn't listened to me. And to top it all off, my cell phone isn't working for me to call any PC people for help. So just as I am about to call it a bust and walk to get help from some people I know in the city, who should come lollygagging up (yes, I am 70 years old for using that term) but my two girls and two of their relatives. They explained that they were at a ceremony and were busy. I just growled that we had to leave and that I was not pleased with them. We had to take a taxi at this point and I have to pay for it out of my own pocket. I tell the girls to hop in and I tell the taxi driver where to go. Who should go and try to squeeze themselves into the taxi as well, but the relatives. Of course, I have to pay 50 more to have two extra people in the backseat. I am about ready to combust in the front seat in all my anger.

The conference went well for the most part. The girls really responded to a lot of the activities we had planned. The only frustrating thing was that people started to think of it more as a money-making event, rather than as a chance for girls to get to meet other girls and learn important information. Girls and counterparts started to complain about how much money they should be receiving, how they needed medicine because they were 'sick' (which would mean it was epidemic proportions because everyone was sick) and everyone was hoarding food from snack time and feminine pads. Girls would walk up and just stick out their hand to the girl in charge of medical supplies, demanding pads. When she would give them one, they would say 'only one!?' When you see people behaving in this manner, you feel less benevolent and more pessimistc about human nature than anything. On a funny note, the girls didn't really know how to use the hygiene products we gave them. One girl put deoderant on her feet. Girls used the bathroom without shutting the door. A couple were spotted not even using the bathroom but going to the bathroom in the bushes, like they would at home. And this was on the grounds of a Red Cross facility. They didn't understand the importance of flushing the toilet. Or that the soap dispensers were, well, soap dispensers and that there is such a thing as an automatic hand dryer. I think we will have a session at the beginning of the conference next year on hygiene so they know what's up. I have volunteered to help plan the regional one next year that we'll probably end up having in Nampula anyways. And now we are waiting in a hotel, waiting for a flight tomorrow because they kicked us off the flight we were supposed to take today to accomodate a group of male soccer players going to Nampula. Don't get me started on that one.

In other news, I haven't been able to blog for a few weeks because internet in my town is, surprise, surprise, not so hot. I finished up the first trimester with what is probably the lowest passing rate of all the teachers because I didn't let my students get away with anything. I am sure that the school boosted my scores to make them better. Even though 39 to 45 of my students passed in each class, passing being fifty percent or higher (way to shoot for the stars, right?), they are going to jack it up to passing 80 percent of the kids because they don't want the kids to 'give up.' Hmmm. Yes. I have strong feelings about this and I get worked up so I won't even get started.

I got hit on by the sleazy veterinarian in my town when all I wanted was a rabies shot for my dog. He smelled like a liquor cabinet as soon as he opened his mouth. When I had to get change from him, he said that we could walk to go get it and he could buy me a drink. Smooth. Obviously I said no and he retaliated by calling me his pita in front of a bunch of people in front of a shop. A pita is not delicious bread here. It's your girl 'on the side,' if you catch my drift. It frustrated me to no end. I have no respect for a lot of men here now until they prove it to me that they aren't creepy. They are quick to hit on white girls. Case in point, just got hit on by a guy waiting to use the computer behind me. They are sleazy until proven not guilty. Not exactly fair, but hey, it's worked for some facist dictators so there's gotta be something to it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

True or False?

I had my second REDES (Raparigas em Desenvolvimento, Educaco e Saude) - pronounced red-ish - meeting last weekend. It´s my girls group, Girls in Development, Education and Health. Peace Corps volunteers started up the program in Mozambique a few years ago and now it is in almost every province. I had them do an activity where they had to put facts about HIV/AIDS under either true or false on the board. The results were pretty surprising. They put under true that the only people who have HIV/AIDS are immoral people, like prostitutes. They put under true that it is better to not know if you have HIV/AIDS by getting tested. They didn´t realize that the percent of Mozambicans with HIV/AIDS was so high either. I hope to do a lot of work with them about HIV/AIDS facts and just general knowledge. After that, I gave them each a small notebook that I bought for them to journal in. I don´t think they understand the concept of a journal so I brought a couple of my own along so they could see. I asked them "Do you know who Anne Frank is?" Blank stares. "Do you know about the Holocaust?" Blank stares. Oh man, oh man. The history department has some explainin´to do. These kids live in Africa. How can they not know about genocide? Maybe they´ll let me teach history next year too, once I have a much better grasp on portuguese. So the girls have to bring their journal with them every week and I told them that if they want me to read it, I´ll read it. And then as a final activity about trusting each other, I had them pair up and I blindfolded one girl in each pair, had them hold hands and took them on a walk around the school grounds. Of course the school was super busy and all the students were there so I got a lot of "Epa! Teacha, what is this?"

This next Saturday, my group is going to listen to Independent Women by Destiny´s Child. And I translated it into portuguese for them. Should be interesting. Kids love music and dance here so I think it´ll be a good aid. I am looking into the local orphanage too to see if I can get the girls involved in some kind of community service.

I chose two girls from my group of about 15 to go to the national conference in Chimoio next month. We are going for a week and during the conference, the girls get to do activities about AIDS, female empowerment and meeting other girls from around Mozambique. Should be fun and I´m looking forward to it. These girls have never been on an airplane, much less been out of this province so I am thrilled to take them. One of the girls was so excited that she ran home after I told her I had decided to take her.

My students are still frustrating me because even after the test is finished and handed back to them, they change their answers and come to me, saying that I graded their tests wrong. Well, when you rewrite the answer in a different color pen or all in caps when the rest of the test is in lowercase, I am about as likely to give them credit as I am to join the Ringling Brothers. I even had some students change their answer from right to wrong. Come on. I even told my classes "if you are going to lie, at least do it well." And they were like "Yes, teacha." "NO, the point is you don´t WANT to lie!" So I had to start making the threat at the beginning of each class period, "If I find that you have altered your test in any way after I hand them back, you will get a zero. And I WILL know." I had no one come up to me after that.

We do have some rock stars in our classes though. The kids who know the answer to everything and are curious about other phrases in English. They are our favorites and make us feel like we are doing something right. Nia and I are going to pick a student from each of our classes who participates a lot in class and gets good grades and we are going to invite them to our house as a group for a meal. It´s incentive to do well and it should be fun.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Cheaters, Liars and a Trampled Puppy

I got my first sneak peek at the art students here have perfected that is cheating. I assigned my first graded homework and when it came time to collect, the students were scrambling to copy other people and hand it in. I remember 8th grade - people scrambled. But not everyone. Here - 100% scrambling it seems like. So I collected everyone´s who had finished and told them I´d count to ten and after that, I´d accept no more. I got a couple more. Not one minute after I said I´d collect no more, I had students walk up to hand me their papers. I shut them down in front of their entire class. They shot me these exasperated looks, like I was the most irrational person they´d ever encountered. I held my ground though.

One girl came up and I let her take her paper because she said she forgot to write her name. Yeah, I was a sucker. She comes back three minutes later while my back is turned and I´m writing on the board and tries to stuff what is apparently her own paper and two others into the folder. I caught her in the act and told her she couldn´t do that. She was like "what do you mean? These were here!" That´s when I went into my dramatic mode, pulling them out of the folder and pushing them off the desk to the ground, saying I wouldn´t accept them and told her to sit down. I once again turned my back to write on the board after she left for her seat and turned around to find more on my desk, shoved between various places in my notebooks. One student had even strategically placed their homework on the ground to make it look like it had just fallen off the table. At the end of class, the papers I´d ignored and their owners came to me with ridiculous puppy dog eyes and "senhora professora! pooor favoooor!" I guess when blatant cheating and copying don´t work, begging and sacrificing your dignity come next. They claimed that their papers had been in my stack of papers. The same girl came up with her paper again. When I called her out on lying, she said that it wasn´t here but another girl earlier. I responded with a good ol´"I don´t like liars and I´m not stupid. Did you forget your name? Is that why it took you so long to bring your homework up?" Or maybe she has undiagnosed multiple personality disorder. I was almost on the verge of taking the other students´homework and giving in when another boy from their turma came up and was like "Teacha, nao aceita." Don´t take them. I´ll admit that his opinion made up my mind. He was a better witness to the cheating than I was. I wanted to say "thanks but you´re probably going to die later." The begging students started yelling at him - what I found to be another indicactor that they were lying. I explained that it wasn´t fair to students who did their homework on time and walked into my next class, leaving them outside. Not one minute after being in the next classroom, I see two students walk in carrying homework in their hands. My Encyclopedia Brown senses went into overdrive. Smugglers. I pounced on them faster than a child can ask me for money when I walk out our front door. What do you have in your hand? Why isn´t it in your notebook? I made them give it to me and surely enough, it was the homework from the students in my last clsas, the lying beggars. I then asked them point-blank if it was their homework and after a period of pensive lip-biting, they admitted the truth. I made an announcement to the class that anyone who aids and abeds a smuggler´s work will, in turn, be prosecuted by receiving a zero. I then crumpled up the smuggled homework and threw it out the door, where it landed at the liars´feet. I admit that I was hardcore dramatic but you´ve gotta be or they´ll walk all over you.

Speaking of walking all over something, I took Timba for a walk with Nia on our way to buy bread. Tons of people were walking in the opposte direction because the soccer game let out. A boy was walking past us and he zig-zagged toward me and the dog to scare Timba. Of course Timba freaked out and tried to get under my legs, resulting in me trampling him. He yelped and cried horribly. I felt so bad. I think he was more scared than anything. And that little moron just kept on walking and laughing. I glared at him but didn´t say anything, something I regret. The next time that happens, I´m going to yell or at least make a scene. That´s what one PCV did before she left Moz. Whenever someone kicked or hit her dog, she would kick or hit them. I think that´s a solid tactic that I might just have to employ. If anything, the way people treat him will make him more guarded and less trusting of strangers, hence, a better guard dog. It´s so weird walking with him in public because people make the noises you would make if you want an animal to come to them. It´s so annoying. So when a little boy did it and I was walking past, I hissed at him like a cat. I don´t even know why I did it.

The school hired a guard for our house so we´re golden now. And Nia told me she saw that he brings a sling-shot with him while he guards at night. I was like "why, does he get bored and shoot at things?" She gave me this funny look and was like "no, I think it´s to use against thieves."

We have been seeing a lot of thieves getting taken to jail lately. Maybe ´tis the season. I was sitting in my room yesterday grading exams with my headphones on when I heard the dull roar of criancas (children) getting louder and louder. Nia and I walked out to our back porch to watch it all go down. We don´t have TV so we embrace drama when it happens. When people catch thieves (or ninjas and they call them here - and I´m not even kidding. I think that´s why so many people are thieves. When people ask them what they do for a living, they get to say something cool, like "what do I do? Oh, I´m a ninja.") they and another person escort them personally to the jail next to our house and a mob of children from the primary school follows, shouting and harrassing the thief as they go. And when I say a mob, it´s about 100 or more children. They must have followed the thief too far yesterday because a guard was trying to make them move back. When they wouldn´t budge, he pulled out a handgun and held it at his side, walking toward them. They screamed and ran back toward the primary school. Nia and I couldn´t beleive that happened. It seems like even if you´re sitting at home here, something crazy is bound to happen. Just walking to use the internet today, I walked past an officer escorting a thief who had stolen a computer to the jail. We´ve seen an escorting of three different thieves three times in one week now. Impressive.

I have to go prepare to control exams again in an hour. When I controlled exams on Tuesday, I marked off for talking and cheating. The students were so annoyed with me. At the second exam I controlled, the students even groaned when I walked into the classroom because they know I actually watch them. It made me feel good actually because it shows I´m doing something right. They talked to Nia afterward and were like "are you going to control our exam? We don´t like it when Erin does it because we´re all friends and she won´t let us cheat together." Haha. Coincidentally, Nia did end up controlling their exam but she was just as harsh as I was. I can´t stand that the students here think cheating is okay. They´ve been taught to cheat to get ahead. It´s only reinforcing future corruption that stunts any kind of possible growth. These kids have so much potential but they´ll never reach it if they don´t think for themselves. Hopefully I can get that across to some students.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Gimme a five...meticais

We got a dog at our house again. It´s nice to have a little companion once again. I had to figure out a name for him so I did some thinking and have decided. His mother´s name is Dama do Bling - Lady of the Bling- and MC Roger is his father, both Mozambican hip hop stars, so I figured I´d stay with the hip hop tradition and take it stateside with an American star - Timbaland. My dog is now named Timba, although he has yet to realize that.

I took him on a walk with a leash, an event that turned out to equal the day of the shovel. Mozambicans are extremely scared of dogs. My puppy is about the size of a chihuahua right now but to some, he might as well be a rottweiler or a pit bull. We had stuents come to chat and he brushed up against one of their legs and the student yelped and jumped away. I, however, thought it...was...hilarious. He´s about as intimidating as a bunny. But not the Easter Bunny because, let´s face it, Easter Bunnies at the mall are creepy and thus placed under the category of intimidating.

I went to the market yesterday for some fixin´s for dinner and there was large crowd gathered by the primary school next to my house. I couldn´t see anything at first so I asked a guy what was happening. "Uma luta?" A fight? He said yeah and when I ask what it was over, he responded with a shrug and "sobre coisas." Over things. And then he jaunted off to join the crowd of spectators surrounding two women fighting. These women weren´t just exchanging a good ol´battle of verbal slings but were all out punching and slapping each other and pulling at each others´hair and clothes. Looked painful. A few guys were trying to break them up but it looked like a few other women got involved by the time I´d finished my passing by. I wasn´t about to stop and stare but I secretly wanted to. And to know why they were fighting. Come on. Let´s be honest. A good fight is intriguing to us all. Why do you think Springer was so popular? I´ve heard in a few places that many Mozambicans will break up people of the same gender if they´re in a physical fight but will do nothing if it´s between a man and a woman because they assume it´s a marital spat and that it´s none of their business.

Speaking of disputes, I had an interesting one in the classroom. I had a listening exercise with my students where I brought in my iPod, hiding it in my bag so no one would see it, and my iPod speakers and played Where is the Love by the Black Eyed Peas for them. The kids really got into it and started dancing even. While they were writing down words they recognized, three students knocked on the door and I answered it. Usually when they´re more than 5 minutes late, I don´t let them in but these kids made the time. Tardiness is such a problem at our school - one teacher makes his students crawl from the door to their seat on their hands and knees when they´re late. Brilliant idea. Public humiliation = never late again. So I let these kids in and they sit down. All of a sudden, every one of my students is up out of their seat, yelling at the three students and yelling to me in portuguese that could only be matched by a Mozambican auctioneer. When I finally was able to hear a student tell me the problem - the students weren´t in the turma and just wanted to listen to the music - my students kicked out the three who didn´t belong themselves, ushering them out the door. I was amazed at how the students reacted, saying "eles so querem fazer barulho." They only want to make noise. I love my students. They´ve got my back. There are too many students in my turmas to know who does and doesn´t belong.

Oh, and I´ve thought of a way to combat people asking me for money and water constantly. I ask them back. A guy asked me for 5 meticais. So I said "ok, but first, can I have ten?"

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Thank you for prying off our door lock, Mr. Thief. Love, Erin

I'm back. I began to teach again last week. Unamazingly, news spread like wildfire here. I had people I've never met before be like "are you better?" and then clutch at their throats. I also had students clap when I came into the classroom. Nia said she only told a few people the details of my abcess but every person she told was like "oh, it's because she ate fish." I love the causes and cures of diseases people claim here. I particularly enjoyed when a friend was sick with a cold during training and her host mom told her she needed to eat a hamburger. When I was down in Maputo for training, I was told that eating sand helps pregnant women. Note to self in the future.

We've had a couple of friends visit us from Niassa, the northernmost western province. Everyone is automatically curious about them too. Pretty much the first question out of our students' mouths is "are they your husbands?" But it's been really nice having them with us, especially since we had an incident the other night. We had a break-in. I haven't been able to sleep well at night, which I entirely blame on my hyperactive thyroid, so I was semi-awake at 3 a.m. the other night and had my room light on. I heard this loud clanging by our front door and I got nervous and turned off my bedroom light and locked my bedroom door. After I didn't hear anything for a while, I fell asleep. I awoke to Nia at 6. "Ummm, Erin?" I unlocked my door and looked into our kitchen. Our front door was wide open with the lock crow-barred off the wall. The amazing part of it all was that they stole nothing. There was a cell phone sitting on the table and they didn't take any of our kitchen supplies. We were so confused by that. Jamie claims that it was probably just someone who has a grudge against doors and I am convinced that they looked through our window and saw our vast array of spices and wanted to borrow some mint. Our real theory is that my shuffling around in the room and putzing with my room lock scared them away.

The glory of theft and what I respect the most about it in Mozambique is that most of the time, people will try to steal from you but they aren't out to hurt you. Typically, if they know people are home, they won't try anything. A friend from Zimbabwe told us she just heard about a case in South Africa where a child was waiting at the gate of their school for a parent to pick them up and they had a cell phone on them. A man walked up and shot the child, with the sole purpose of taking the cell phone. Unbelievable. I feel pretty safe in Mozambique though. People here don't like confrontation or trouble, much less violent crime. Absolute poverty is bound to breed different levels of theft and crime though. It's survival of the fittest here. Each for himself and his family.

So now we've had a carpenter install two new locks on that door and a simple slide lock. Possibly more later. We're going to ask to get iron gates over our doors too. Make the place a fortress. Peace Corps will pay for us to get the iron gates so I think it would be worth it. We're in Nampula right now for a conference and I am getting a dog from a PCV in Mousseril. So the dog will bark if they hear something at night. And our school has said they will pay for a guard for our house. So it's all looking up.