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.