Saturday, February 23, 2008

business, books and teeter totters

So it's not cancer, just a hyperactive thyroid. I have to start taking medication of some kind and possibly get flown to South Africa at some point but it's not an urgent health emergency. I'm happy too because it sounds like I get to head back up north on Tuesday, officially making my stay in Maputo two and a half weeks. I missed the first ACS too, the exam that teachers make for their students. I feel like my students are going to be so far behind but I'll just start from scratch with them. I'm excited to jump back into my job. I have spent the last week or so with another volunteer from Nampula who showed me several project proposals for grant money for school projects and I've gotten some great ideas for the school library, possibly a mural, maybe playground revamping and she also has this wonderful project called FBLM (Future Business Leaders of Mozambique).

I can't even begin to sing the praises of the FBLM project she set up. The first year she did this was last year. She had classes and her students had written about what they wanted to be when they grew up and many of them wrote "I won't be anything but a poor farmer because that is what my father is." So she had a talk with them on how they thought they could change it and that was how FBLM was born. She set it up into a competition with 10 groups, each group having to come up with a feasible business plan for their community. They had to think up ideas of what could create income, for example a public swimming pool so people don't get injured/killed by crocodiles in the river, a copy shop, an ice cream shop, etc. Each week, Sarah would have local business leaders come in and give talks about different aspects of business - like community demographics or the origin of their business and what inspired them to do what they do. When the competition finally came around, the groups had to present their idea to a judging panel of local business leaders and the business leaders picked the winner and the prize money was used to manage the business. And now, that copy shop is a full-fledged business, doing really well, with the students from that group sending their brothers and sisters to school. I am so impressed by this project because of the long-lasting effects even after the volunteer has returned to the states. It's spreading around the province too, with possibly four or five regions becoming involved this year - each region with it's own competition - and a business conference for the students possibly in Nampula. I would love to jump into this project when I get back up north and I think Nia is interested too.

And then I want to look into buying more books and getting more bookshelves made for the library at the school. It's such a thrown-together library. All the books are textbooks that are either stolen by students (one students got expelled last year for stealing an English textbook and not fessing up right away) or are books students don't care about. I think it would be great to get books for the students so that they could learn the ways to find information on their own, like encyclopedias...or even dictionaries, which are scarce beyond belief. And if you have a local person build more bookshelves for the library, that is putting money back into the community as well. The library is nothing like that in American schools. There are no fiction and non-fiction books for casual reading or school reports and I think their check-out system needs to be redone so that the likelihood of getting books stolen or ruined is severely decreased.

The playground in Monapo is crazy. There is a slide that kids are always on but at the bottom is a pile of trash/I don't wanna know what. There is a jungle gym that is fully functioning but maybe we could get teeter totters and swings installed as well. There used to be swings but I can believe that they got worn out pretty easily by all the children who would like to play on them. The possibilities are endless with that. If they had a clean place to play, kids would stay out of trouble and have a nice place to hang out with their friends.

My mind is full of ideas of what we can do in our villa right now.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

birthday biopsy and a brownie

I'm still in Maputo but everything is going okay. I had my biopsy this morning and thank god I had Sarah, another volunteer, to wait with me or I would have gone crazy. First off, I forgot the documents for my biopsy at the PC office and it didn't open until 7:30 and I had to get to my appointment by 7:45. So we took a taxi for a brief stop at the office to pick up the papers and made our way to the central hospital. I enjoyed the part when the taxi got stopped by a cop of some kind and the driver and the cop argued about the validity of the drivers' documents. And then the driver palmed a hundred met note and tried to give it to the cop. I couldn't tell if he took it or not but he did let us continue on to the hospital after a little more arguing. I think I'm learning portuguese more because I understand arguments between native speakers better now. Or maybe I'm just inserting words that I want them to be saying to each other for my own entertainment.

At the hospital, I paid for the biopsy, got taken to another building on the other side of the hospital to wait for an hour and then back across the hospital grounds to get my biopsy done. In the biopsy room, the doctor asked where I was from and I said "America, er, the United States" and he happily proclaimed "you are close to my country then, Cuba." I really wanted to ask him what he thought about Castro stepping down but it didn't seem like the right time to chitchat on international affairs. The Cuban doctor felt at my old abcess that has deteriorated to a smaller bump and asked what it was. I was SO nervous he was going to biopsy my growth and not my thyroid. Sarah, who is more fluent in portuguese, was like "no, that's an abcess." He then did two fine needle aspiration biopsies on my thyroid so they can check if the nodules on my thyroid are cancerous. It wasn't as bad as I was expecting. They did another ultrasound of my neck region - this time my thyroid - to find out where to insert the needle, and Sarah got to watch it all, proclaiming "your thyroid looks like the moon." The doctor said I should get the results on Friday but we'll see if that happens or not.

Afterward, we walked to the hotel and watched an episode of Family Guy and then headed to Mundo's for an awesome birthday lunch of pizza for me, greek salad for her and brownies for dessert. It was blissful. And now, free high speed internet at the peace corps office with the movie, Brave New World (or as Sarah calls it, "Pocahantas") on the movie channel in the PCV room. I still don't know how long I'll be in Maputo for.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

my double chin

This last week has been insane. The first of February I started to feel a lump forming on my chin. My throat felt a little scratchy so I figured maybe I was getting a cold. Much to my dismay and my vanity, the lump grew and grew...and grew until one morning I woke up to find I had gained a second chin. This was no small lump. I looked like a blowfish or a frog that forgets to deflate that little chin thing it blows out. I looked like Tim Allen in the Santa Clause after he sees how fat he has gotten, but just in my face. I have so many comparative terms but I will spare you the details all at once. I knew I could not teach with my chin growth, much less eat, drink or swallow. Determined not to be plagued with the cruel nicknames for teachers I know 8th graders are more than capable of producing, I texted the director of my school and said I was sick.

After the slight nervous breakdown caused by Mt. St. Helens on my chin, I texted the emergency medical number for PC here in Moz and received instructions to go to the local hospital and have a surgical technician look at it. That job title sounded high-fallutin for my hood so I texted a Cuban doctor I met who worked there and she assured me that, indeed, a tech did exist. My roommate and I were unable to find a private ride to the hospital so we had to chapa it. Under the Nampula sun, I wore a jacket zipped up to hide my growth - a sweaty sacrifice I was willing to make.

The hospital I went to for an evaluation would send shudders down the spine of anyone who has every been treated in an American hospital. We can moan and complain all we want about healthcare in the US and the cost but we have it SO good. In one part of the hospital compound, there was a huge mass of people waiting to see a doctor, more likely, a nurse. Most of them women with babies or small children. They all sat outside patiently and I would not be surprised if they had been there since the very early morning. The main hospital had old wooden paneling and smelled like what I imagine the entire ytear of 1945 as smelling like. It seemed that the furniture and decor had not been updated since the hospital came into existence. Each hospital room looked like an abandoned haunted hospital straight out of a Stephen King horror novel. The equipment was all old and I did not see a single electronic device the entire time, save for a rusty refridgerator contraption with Blood Bank written on the outside sitting in the corner of the waiting area. When the doctor finally saw me, he proclaimed it to be both hard and large, an astounding diagnosis and proceeded to hand me a prescription for a drug I am allergic to.

We left the compound, crumpled ball of prescription paper in hand and headed back to the road. After walking for about 10 minutes or so, we caught a chapa heading back in our direction. Once at home, I dug through my medical kit and started taking an antibiotic they give us in emergencies and got clearance to take it. The kits are quite nice that the PC gives us, with everything from gauze and ACE bandages to ibuprofen and rehydration tablets. I hoped it would help but it was not meant to be. I continued to swell like I was spawning an alien out of my throat and gained a fever. The icing on this cake of fun was when the energy of our house died. You have not lived until you grope around blindly in the dark for your wind-up flashlight so that you can kill a cockroach the size of your thumb that is stuck between a poster and your wall with a flip-flop. No sirree.

I woke up the next morning in a state that trumps Jay Leno in the chin department. By late morning, I was booked for a flight down to Maputo to see an ENT. Of course I could not get a private ride so I had to take a chapa to Nampula - a trip fraught with the cobrador patting me on the backside, an unexpected hour and a half wait in Namialo so the chapa could fill again, a chapa driver who was on a quest to tell me every word of English he knew so I could feign amazement and surprise - 1, 2, 3, thank you, how are you, driver, etc. - and being forced to sit on a sack of flour with black pants on. All of this with a capulana around my neck to avoid people staring even more than they usually do. Once I finally got to Nampula, I stumbled out of the chapa, feet and my emotions both numb, and took a taxi directly to the airport so wait four hours for my flight. At the airport, I made small talk with the airport guard, a dude flying to Beira and wasted time chugging a fanta and chewing my french fries in the airport restaurant down to a fine paste.

The main roadblock I met with coming to Maputo for medical attention was the chapa situation right now in the city. The price of gas was increased so the chapa drivers increased their fares by 100 percent, something that most people cannot afford when they have mouths to feed and children to send to school. It was declared illegal for them to charge this fare and the drivers went on strike. People began burning tires, throwing rocks and blocking roads in protest. A few have died and several were injured. The protests have spread northward more as well and the drivers and the government are in a state of negotiation.

After a night in a hotel, I was taken to the hospital where I was to stay for five nights. It was one of the most boring experiences of my life. I had no television, no internet and no one who spoke fluent English to describe the medical procedure they needed to do. I went to go see an ultrasound technician. She was a portuguese lady with a raspy Marge Simpson voice and laugh who took one look at my chin and put her hands to her head in alarm. As she squirted jelly on my chin and began to monitor what exactly had made me look like Fat Albert, I could not help but ask whether it was a boy or a girl. She said it was too early to tell, but she could tell me that there was a pocket of puss in there - aka a bacterial infection. Puss pocket. Not to be juvenile and disgusting but it reminds me too much of the hot pocket jingle but with puss pocket inserted. Puss Pocket!

After a couple days of a drip in a vein in my hand, a shot in the backside and three pills every two hours, I went down to have a mini-operation done with a local anaesthetic. I am just going to admit that I had a nervous breakdown on that bed. Crying. Sweating profusely. Heavy breathing. Clammy skin. I felt I had valid reasons to freak out. People who do not speak fluent English cutting open my neck with just a local anaesthetic in Mozambique. No family with me and no one to hold my hand. When he finishes, the doctor asks me why I am crying. He was lucky he was the one holding sharp objects at that point. That was the first time I have every snapped at a doctor. He kept saying acabou! acabou! finished! finished! but I couldnt just turn off my panic attack like it was a switch. I snapped EU SE! I know! I think I scared him. I told Isadora, the PC doctor, I was none too fond of him and I think she relayed that message. She thought it was hilarious. I love Isadora.

While he was sucking out the Puss Pocket! from a hole he cut in my throat, I guess he saw something else wrong with my thyroid. So they patched me up, sent me back to my room and drew more blood. After those five long nights in a hospital room, I am staying at a hotel with fellow PCVs in the city, waiting for the strike to end and my test results to come back. In my first two hours at the hotel, I fell down, flat-out sprawled out three times on the stairs of the hotel, spraining my ankle. I must have walked under a ladder somewhere. Where's a large plastic bubble when you need one? I will update as soon as I know more about this chin problem. Hope all is well and that no one else has contracted odd abcesses on body parts. Cheers!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

I´m going to pick your pocket now. Ya know, if that´s ok and everything.

I went to the Feira Dominical in Nampula on Sunday. The Feira is a crowded Sunday market where merchants and pickpockets line the streets, both waiting to take your money in their own ways. It was a successful trip. I bought a DVD with 16 movies on it (completely legal in terms of copyright, I´m sure) and sandals for school. There is definitely an art to bargaining for things here. A lot of the time, you can take the price they give you and cut it in half for the real price of the item. If they say no, you start to walk away and then they´re willing to negotiate more because a sale is better than no sale at all. We both got Mozambique hats, short-brimmed hats with the flag on it. Of course this hat was made in China. There is no shortage of Chinese products here.

We were walking away from the market to head back to the chapa stop, bags in hand, when something didn´t feel right. My roommate was walking ahead of me and two guys walking side-by-side split up, each to brush against her on each side as they walked past. That was strange but they didn´t take anything from her. We kept walking and I felt something going on around my pocket. I turned and saw a kid with a plastic bag over his hand trying to pick my pocket. I pushed his hand away and when he saw I noticed, he just walked away, like he thought "oh, okay. She noticed." I hope that kid goes to and stays in school because he was a lousy pickpocket. I think that I could have done a better job. If I get robbed, I want to at least be impressed by how well the operation goes down. I want to see Oliver Twist-esque action.

My friend was on her phone in Nampula one time and this guy just comes up and sticks his hand in her purse right in front of her. She looked at him and said "what the hell!" and another guy started yelling at the thief too. So the thief just walks away. He might as well have been like "Excuse me, miss. Is it all right if I just take a gander through your personal belongings?" I doubt the guy was looking for tampons or chewing gum. People are not overly fond of thieves here, despite the fact that it seems to be a popular profession. I have heard stories of Mozambicans chasing down thieves and beating them up. The next time someone tries to rip me off, I just plan to start yelling at them in English and making a scene. I don´t keep anything, valuable or not, in my pockets though. It´s too tempting for people with sticky fingers. It all goes in my money belt under my clothes and for women, it´s best to put money you´ll need quick access to in your bra.

I´ve stayed in contact with my second family, the Ndoves, in Namaacha. I hope to visit them in the future but it´s expensive. For now, weekly text messages and short phone conversations will have to suffice. Plus now that school is starting, it´ll get harder to find time to do it. I texted them the other day and apparently my sister, Aninha, who´s 13 years old, was cooking with oil and my little brother, Pedo, was with her. The searing hot oil fell onto her feet and splashed onto my brother´s face. They went to the hospital and Aninha spent a few night there but apparently they´re doing much better. They say she´ll be fine. I can´t even begin to imagine how hot that oil was so I hope she doesn´t have scarring, not to mention that it must be horribly painful to walk. She´s such a good kid too so I hope she recovers quickly with school starting. I want to go down there in April during our time off.

Nia and I have had a string of good luck in the last 24 hours. We had originally been given night classes to teach and we were none too thrilled. It´s extremely dark walking home and we would have had to walk by ourselves. So we decided to go and talk with the Pedigogical Director at the school about our problem. We even planned it all out. I was to be the confrontational one, being like "look (dramatic stamp of the foot and defiant pound of the fist), we refuse to teach at night for security purposes." We walked into his office and I launched into my speech about how we aren´t comfortable teaching at night. The Ped Director interrupted me and was like "ok. I just got someone else to teach them." I think both of our jaws dropped. And then the school fixed our front light fixture and main kitchen light fixture and outlet so we can now use these areas without a flashlight at night. We found ketchup at the local store and I made excellent french fries. Nia split a coconut perfectly in half. We are both becoming experts at splitting and eating coconuts. If I ever get stranded on a deserted island, I won´t be the fool who can´t figure out how to open a coconut.

The most amazing thing was this morning. We walked out of our house with our gas cylinder to catch a chapa to go to the gas station in Monapo Rio. We would have had to walk to the chapa stop with the heavy cylinder, wait for a chapa, load it in and wait for an hour or more for the chapa to fill up, go to the gas station and get a new cylinder, and then wash, rinse and repeat with the whole chapa situation. It´s quite the process. We had maybe walked a minute with the cylinder when we ran into the Zimbabweans who live in Monapo. They are starting up a banana operation over in Namialo and are living here for now until their living quarters are set up in Namialo. They had to get gas too so they gave us and our cylinder a ride to Monapo Rio in their car (which had electric windows - which I took full advantage of playing with. I am five years old when it comes to buttons) AND we got to talk in fluent English. It...was...awesome. We couldn´t believe our luck and were endlessly grateful to not have to chapa it. They dropped us off afterwards right in front of our house and gave us their number. They seem like really nice people. Nia and I thought that if we could buy a lottery ticket right now, we would probably win.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Latrine Falls and Chalk on the Walls

And so it's February and all is fine in Monapo. The mangos are dwindling and tomatoes larger than ping pong balls and watermelon are slowly but surely making their way into the market. I love going to the market just as it's getting dark. The fishermen who go to the ocean during the day and return with their catch sell in stalls lit by candles. And I love it because people don't realize you're white until you're close to them so there is less staring. I buy my supplies to make french fries, egg sandwiches with garlic and PB&J sandwiches. Those are my specialties for the moment. Everything takes a while to make because you have start cutting or bleaching any vegetables beforehand to get rid of any parts that may end up causing you to dash to the latrine and you also have to light charcoal, an art in itself. It's almost aerobic. While cutting vegetables or fruit, you work your shoulders by waving away flies and you use your biceps and forearms to fan the flames so your fire won't die. Finally, when it's time to eat, you're a sweaty, sweaty mess and ready for a bucket bath.

I had a cold for a few days the other week. One day, I woke up with a runny nose, a slight fever and a headache. Eventually working up the energy to put on flip-flops and maneuver the deadbolts on our doors to go to the bathroom, I went out to the latrine in the corner of our yard. Our embrigadad had just washed the floor inside so the ground was slippery. Just as I thought I was homefree, I fell like a house of cards in a wind tunnel - on the latrine. After lying there for a second in shock and laughing at myself, my laughter quickly turned to concern and serious consideration of how I could submerge myself in our water barrel full of boiling water with bleach to sanitize myself. I've made strides since seventh grade. I used to refuse to touch doorknobs at school without the barrier of my t-shirt and toilets other than the one in my home were considered bacteria-ridden death traps. My 12-year old self would absolutely scream at my 23-year old self or at least shake my hand only with the protective layer of their t-shirt. I walked out of the latrine and came face-to-face with the neighbor's chicken who wanders into our yard on a daily basis, crowing incessantly as if to say "suckas. I'd like you see you try to catch me." Catching that chicken is like herding...well...chickens.

Thursday I had my first day of interactions with students at school. I call them interactions because each class in the afternoon had about 20 students, about 60 less than what I will normally have. I wasn't even that nervous surprisingly. You can't show fear or they'll eat it up anyways. I had more of an adrenaline rush really. I introduced myself and had each of them say their names and where they were from. They were all quiet and attentive. I could barely hear the girls when they talked and they'd cover their mouths with their hands when they smiled or laughed. Yeah, we're gonna work on that.

The real challenge came with teaching the 8th graders during my night classes. They look to range between the ages of 10 and 35. When they see you coming to teach, they run into the classroom and stare at you. And when I say stare, it's intense. You're more interesting than a man with 7 arms in spike heels to them. Night classes are loud and rowdy so I predict discipline problems already. Slightly reminiscent of the students in Sister Act II and Stand and Deliver ("his body's decomposing in my locker"). I had them go to the front of the class to read a script on the board with another person.
1: Hello, my name is...What is your name?
2: My name is...
So the students were basically introducing themselves. I had one boy who claimed to "have a fear of writing with chalk" come to the front with a girl to do the script. At the end, when they were supposed to say "nice to meet you," he moves in for the kill, reaching for a hug from the girl and she backed up quickly. The class exploded in laughter an all I could do was wag my finger and say "uh-uh, not in my class." After I finished my classes, I went to watch my roommate's, where every guy in the class wanted to introduce himself to me when I walked in. And then there are the popular questions 1)are you married? 2) how old are you? and 3) how many children do you have?

Yesterday I had four classes, 2 of which I had the students do the "alphabet dance-off." I gave each student a letter of the alphabet and we spelled out English words with the English pronunication at the front of the room. For example, "hotel." I made up a dance move, like the knee wobble and the slide, and "h" had to say their letter and do the dance and then "o" and so forth. They may think I'm slightly off my American rocker but I had their attention. Crazy like a fox? I like to think so. I really enjoy the kids so far though so I think I'm going to like teaching here.