Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Stressed Out

Oh, where to begin with this week?! We'll go in chronological order. Thursday morning I fired our empregada, Lucrecia. She had just gotten too comfortable and we suspected her of stealing a few things. She didn't even deny anything but accepted the pay I gave her for a third of the month, said thank you and walked out the door. It was actually a startlingly easy firing. The bad part about having fired her is that now I need to find someone to take care of the dog while I'm home over christmas. That is not an easy task to find someone you can trust enough to give the keys to your house or to ensure that they are going to do the job correctly.

That same day, I had to give my second exam of the trimester to students. I made three students cry when I gave them a zero for cheating. They are just absolutely ridiculous. I don't know why, but before, I used to have pity for them. That's why I let them use their notebooks. I've grown tired of that now and am giving them a lesson from the school of hard knocks. If you don't study, you don't pass. It's as simple as that. The students don't see why cheating is bad. They think talking during tests is okay and that sitting on your notebook to conceal it is standard as well. I wore the dark sunglasses but it didn't help that much. When you are one side of the room, the other side is cheating and vice versa. The hardest part is that any kind of study habits you try to teach the students is undone by Mozambican teachers because they permit cheating and will likely just raise the grades anyway to let the students pass. It frustrates me to no end. The system just seems to be going through the motions, without educating a single child properly. It's something I'll never get used to.

Just yesterday, I was about to leave our house when one of the winners of our FBLM (Future Business Leaders of Mozambique) competition came to speak with me. He and his partner had a plan to build a lunchonette close to the chapa stop in our town. There had originally been three people in the group. The girl rarely came to meetings and when she did, she just sat there and said nothing. After the group won, we found out she wasn't in the right grade to participate and she was only in the group because she was Felix's girlfriend, a member of the group. So, we kicked her out. Well, the other member left in the two person group came to me and told me that Felix had used some of the money we had distributed to them to start a business ($1,000) and gave 3,000 meticais ($120) to his girlfriend. He also used some of the money to start his own little reed bar where he just sells cabanga - homemade booze. He did all of this, careless of what his partner thought. His partner (the one who came to me) wanted to stick with the plan. So I went to the bar and told him that he needed to correct what he had done wrong and how it wasn't fair to his friend to be doing this to him. I also told him that money from FBLM is not for starting a bar so that men can get drunk and go home and beat their wives and children. I was so angry that I had to just walk away from him but I think I succeeded in making him feel bad. I never thought he'd turn out to be such a little punk. It's really disheartening that someone would do that with money that was supposed to help them lead a successful life - not destroy a friendship and become corrupt. They're both coming to our house tomorrow for some kind of mediation over this problem.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Chalkboard Riots and a Dramatic Escape

Whenever I hand out my visual aids to students when I am done with them, it is a free-for-all. We’re talking about hands grabbing, elbows shoving and kids boxing out like its fifth grade basketball. One of these days, one of my students is going to get a concussion for a magazine cut-out of Roger Federer playing tennis. They are just as enthusiastic when I let them fill out exercises on the board with chalk. In one of my classes, I have a really small student. Picture the size of a second-grader. He’s particularly adorable because he dons high-water pants with a tucked-in shirt. He is intelligent though and always races to the front to get the chalk before anyone else can. I admire his audacity. Well, this last week, as usual, he got to the chalk before everyone else. However, once everyone else got up there, they mobbed him and he was practically impaled on the chalk ledge. I envision his face was smooshed up against the board much like that deer I hit with my learner’s permit’s face was smooshed up against my driver’s side window.

He is funny though because as a tall person, I am capable of using the entire board quite easily. As a result, I write exercises at the top of the board as well. One day he really wanted to complete the exercises but he was too short. One of my older students marched up to the front of the room, grabbed the little one around the waist and hoisted him up to write at the top of the board. When he was done, the little boy dusted the chalk off of his hands and announced “chega.” “Enough.” And the bigger boy put him down. Gotta love teaching some days.
I was sitting at school the other day and a little girl was getting water at the spigot in the schoolyard. Kids here, as soon as they can walk, are expected to do most chores at home. And they do. There’s no such thing as talking back to your parents here. At five am, walking on the road, you can easily find young children yawning and sweeping the front yard with branches. This girl was probably about that age. When people here carry things on their heads, especially water, they usually put a capulana coil between their heads and the thing they are carrying because it eases the pain of carrying a heavy load. This little girl would put the capulana coil on her head and reach down to pick up the jug of water. As soon as she would get the jug of water almost on her head, the coil would slip off. So she stood there with the jug on her head and the coil on the ground, looking as though she was trying to figure out how to make it work. I went over and picked up the coil, lifted the jug off her head and placed the coil under the jug on her head. She just smiled at me, grabbed a hold of the water jug with one arm and headed for her house. Moments like that make my days.
I had an interesting encounter with a colleague. I was at our house with my REDES girls when he came to the gate and stood there. When I noticed him, I said “yes?” and he was like “well, can’t I come in?” I agreed and let him come in. The first words out of his mouth were “do you have any whiskey?” I told him no. “Okay, beer.” I told him no. “All right then. A soda.” I said no and that we only had water. So he agreed, making me serve him in my own house when we have never been friends. I have no problem with hospitality. I DO have a problem with hospitality that’s forced upon me by disrespectful people. So I got him his water and while he waited out front, he proceeded to flirt with my 13 or 14 year-old REDES girls. He was completely inappropriate and I could smell the alcohol on him – at eight o’clock in the morning. He finally left and I saw him later at school and decided to say something. I told him that we didn’t want him coming to our house, asking for alcohol, especially when we had students there, and that we don’t drink and we don’t want students to think that we do. He nodded and said OK. But then two seconds later, he said “what would you like then?” It made me want to pull my hair out. It’s difficult to deal with someone who doesn’t see their behavior as a bad example or just plain doesn’t care about how inappropriate they appear.
Right now it’s Ramadan. That means that half of my students who are Muslin are fasting from five in the morning until 5:30 at night. They can’t eat or drink water. They can’t even chew on a pencil, according to my students. I couldn’t imagine fasting here. The sun is brutal. Some kids have to walk 45 minutes to get to school when the sun is at its hottest. Not to mention, the kids have to do manual labor at home, carting water and doing normal chores. I can’t even go half an hour without drinking water. As a result of bellies with even less food in them, my students are crankier than ever. I always bring water with me to school because I talk so much and I now feel required to take swigs on the sly. No one wants to be there during the last time of school because they want to be home with food in front of them when 5:30 rolls around. School ends at 5:35 – if students stay that long, which rarely happens.

I went and sat outside Nia’s class last week, waiting for her to get done with classes. She wouldn’t let her students leave until they’d shown her that they had written their work down in their notebooks. Some students hadn’t and with her blocking the door, they were trying to sweet-talk their way out. One of them, a fasting girl, started crying and to avoid having to do the work in order to leave, escaped out a window. She’s quite the drama queen. She told me that she aspires to be a flight attendant because, according to her, flight attendants are multi-lingual and very worldly. And she also told me, in her throaty voice that sounds like she smokes a couple packs a day, that I should adopt her. I just laughed and shook my head.
And now for some pictures of my bacterial throat abcess from back in February. Was not fun at all then but now whenever I look at these pics, I can't help but have a hearty laugh.