Thursday, January 24, 2008

Yep, no joke. I WOULD like a shovel.

So I had one of my most fulfilling and action-packed days during my time in Monapo. I woke up around 6:30 and did some exercises, working up a sweat and a sore body for the next two days. That´s what going from constant inaction to jumping jacks and lunges will do to you. My warning to all. Anyhoo, I went to the bank and Oasis, a store in town. As I was walking away from the ATM, a lady was approaching it and asked me as we passed each other "esta pagar?", which means "it´s paying?" It was my shining moment. She expected that I understood portuguese and I did, so I beamed at her and answered "sim!" I gave myself a pat on a sunburned shoulder and kept walking on my way to the store. When I got to the store, a Chinese guy was in there and seemed to be having communication problems with the store owner, which isn´t surprising because the store owner isn´t exactly sunshine and daffodils any time I´ve ever talked with him. The Chinese guy proceeded to ask me in English to ask the store owner what type of bread is better. This guy expected me to speak portugese as well...and lo and behold, I did. So I asked the store owner, getting a shoulder shrug and "I dunno." I relayed the status of the bread, made my purchase and walked out into the scorching Nampula street like Mary Tyler Moore on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. If my baseball cap hadn´t been dripping with sweat, I would have thrown it while spinning beneath it. I basked in the glory of my knowledge of a second language for the ten minutes it took to walk home and then reality set in of having to work on lesson plans.

It´s not that I don´t like lesson plans or that it´s difficult - it´s just boring. I talked with one of our colleagues at work and apparently we don´t find out what grades we´ll both be teaching until tomorrow. Friday. And school starts Monday. So our colleague told us to prepare three weeks worth of lesson plans for 8th to 10th grade. We really don´t understand the education system that well yet so these lesson plans are a total shot in the dark. Better than nothing.

As I sat at my desk, listening to music and scribbling away on lesson plans, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I went out into the kitchen area and there was something flying around. At first I thought it was a bird, but then when I walked to the screen door to our porch, I did in fact see a bat clinging to the screen. Instantly I flashed back to when I was little and saw something flying around in our upstairs. I was like "oh, a bird!" And it was a bat in that case too. My mom and dad responded quickly, grabbing a paper bag and a pair of tongs, beelining for the stairway. I had the opposite reaction. This is one way in which I am neither of my parents´daughters, as the term goes. Of course I freaked out and flung the door shut, trapping it between the door and the screen door, calling out to Nia so that we could freak out together. We went out front to catch a glimpse of it and to declare it to be "so disgusting." I worked up the courage to go inside and unlock and push open the screen door so it could fly away of its own volition but it still wouldn´t budge. So of course, what do you do if a bat won´t move? You throw rocks at it. The only result that got was that the bat wet itself on our screen out of fear. Very nice. We attracted a nice little crowd of children who had been shredding cardboard for no good reason in front of our house. Apparently, we became more interesting than cardboard when we started shrieking. "Uma cobra?" they asked. A snake? "Nao!" we called back, as they peered through our reed fence that they parted with their hands to watch our little performance. Nia flapped her arms like a bird, totally not getting the essence of a bat across, but we couldn´t think of the word.

Living in Mozambique has convinced me that I´d fail miserable if I ever took up competitive charades. For example, I later went to the market to buy a shovel to dig a trash pit in our yard. A shovel is "pa." Maybe I´m not nasal enough with some words but when I encounter a blank stare for 2 repetitions of the word or phrase, I launch into full-on mime mode. Flapping and ducking and pretending to eat with my hands. Hand signals here are different too, heightening the hurdle of cultural assimilation. The hand signal of cupping your hand to say "bye" in the U.S. for example, means "come here" in Moz. But back to the business of the shovel. I purchased the shovel to dig our super-awesome trash pit so that children will have to pull a mission impossible with a rope ladder to steal our garbage. I don´t want a mountain of garbage in our yard either, since I´ve taken up gardening and landscaping our yard. I finished a stone path to our bathroom this morning actually. So...I walked around the market a bit with my shovel after successfully getting the lady working the store to understand me and headed home. I have never gotten so many stares and questions since I´ve gotten here. And trust me. I have had plenty. "What are you going to do with that?" was the question of the hour, to which I responded "beat people with it." When that got a silent, awkward response, I continued with "dig a garbage thing," and then I´d get the smile. I´ve found that any word I can´t think of or I don´t know, I tend to replace with "thing", a list which now includes "pit."

As I walked home, casually swinging my shovel, I got offers to work for me and people who would nudge other people and look in my direction. Apparently they´ve never seen a white woman carrying a shovel. Whenever I got the offers for people to work for me, I would respond "no, this is for me. I love shovels," giving my new purchase a loving squeeze. That got a rise out of them. At least walking with it shows people I´m not afraid of work and that if anyone attenpts to rob us , I have yet another weapon in my arsenal of a machete and hoe to wield to scare them. Or maybe they could just steal the shovel too. Who knows. But it was such a good conversation topic. I should carry it around constantly.


Charlene said...

Hi Erin,
I enjoy your blog. I would have liked to see you with your shovel. I do remember the bat upstairs. You did seem to disappear rather quickly when I think about it. Thanks for keeping us informed. Talk to you this weekend.

Nessa said...

Hey Erin,
I love, love, love your stories. I can totally picture you with your shovel!!!
Missing you lots!

Mark Scheppke said...

Hey Erin, it was nice to read your blog. I am glad that you have the tools needed to dig and defend. I would recommend one other tool that you are very familiar with for bats. A tennis racket. The bats echo location senses do not seem to work on the strings of a racket. After talking to your mom I understand that your are teaching the same amount of kids as in AHS. Can you say SuperTeacher! Keep up the good work and keep your chin up. God bless you.

Always a friend,
Mark Scheppke