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.