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.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Hi Erin,

I'm a RPCV who hasn't returned yet. My wife and I finished our service in Bulgaria in October and since then we've been traveling through the Middle East and East Africa. We'd love to have a taste of your Peace Corps life in MZ if possible. Can we come see you?

You can learn more about us at: or if you're internet is decent, You can contact us there.

Look forward to hearing from you!

Till soon,


P.S. - If you think one of your cohorts might also be willing to meet with us, spread the word!