Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hand-saw, meet blisters. Blisters, meet hand-saw.

Now that school is done, I can focus my attention on an important secondary project: building a doghouse. It’s not going to be too stunning but anything is better than stuffing the dog like a sausage into its casing when it’s time for him to go in his kennel. I never realized how hard a hand-saw is to use. It’s a workout in itself trying to saw through the board. Sometimes, I feel like it might just be easier to use my teeth or jump on the board to try to break it in half. It definitely makes me respect all the woodworking machinery my dad uses. At 5:30 this morning, I had never wanted a planer and electric saw more in my life (a blister away from putting it on my christmas list, in fact). It’s not that an electric saw doesn’t exist here in the community. It would just be really heavy to carry the wood to the carpenter and not to mention, I would get about a million comments and laughs from staring people. Besides, there’s the glory of saying I did the job myself. Or I might end up in complete, embarrassed denial.

My bigger, more important secondary project is working on and updating the REDES curriculum manual. REDES is the girls’ group I work with. Right now, the manual is good. It has information about HIV/AIDS, the human body and puberty, rights, nutrition and hygiene, job opportunities, etc. Like I said, it’s good but the problem is that the activities aren’t that concrete. The girls have rarely been learning any new skills but are expected to discuss what they think about issues. Don’t get me wrong; them talking about important issues facing women is paramount but it would be good to give them skills that they can carry with them the rest of their lives while holding the discussion.

So here’s my vision. There will be four topic areas for REDES groups across Mozambique to choose from. The ones I’ve come up with so far are 1) Culture, Arts, and Sports, 2) Volunteerism and Community Action, 3) Career Preparation and Technology, and 4) Income and Agricultural Production. Each group will pick one of these categories to focus on and do activities from the manual that go along that line. For example, in Volunteerism and Community Action, the girls will become active through literacy programs, garbage collection, a big sisters’ club, etc. In Career Preparation and Technology, geared more towards older members, the girls learn how to write a resume, how to open a bank account, the etiquette of professionalism, computer skills and typing, etc. Income and Agricultural Production, the girls learn how to start and maintain a machamba (large garden/crops), create quality goods to sell and how to budget their money. Culture, Arts, and Sports is exactly what it sounds like. The girls sing, dance, paint murals, hold soccer and basketball tournaments or leagues, stage theater performances about women’s issues, among other things. We are having a meeting in Maputo before I head home and this is on the agenda so hopefully we can come up with concrete ideas of topic areas then. Until then, I’m just throwing ideas around.

The problem with working on the manual is that it requires a lot of internet research, something I’m not capable of here. So when I’m back in the states in less than a month for Christmas break (*pumping my fist in the air*), that’s what I’ll be doing on my parents’ internet while watching Conan O’Brian at night. Hopefully, we will get help from an NGO or two in the structure of the manual and ideas for projects and activities. There is also the matter of translating the manual to Portuguese – no small task. But right now the manual only exists in Portuguese and I remember when I first got to site and my Portuguese was still at the same level as a toddler – so, needless to say, it will be nice to have in both languages.

I still can’t believe I go home to the U.S. in four weeks. It will be a culture shock. Friends of mine who have already gone back for weddings or family events said that it’s a shock the first day and then it’s back to normal again. It will be weird to have so many options. You want peanut butter? Okay, there’s a sale on it, aisle five. You want to watch the news in English? No problem, every channel is in English and your parents have upgraded to 20 channels since you’ve left. You want to take a shower? Go ahead there, buddy. You get two choices – hot OR cold! Honestly though, since I haven’t lived with that stuff for over a year now, I don’t feel a desperate longing for them. You start to feel kind of detached from it. Sure, you enjoy it when you have it but you can do without. You put butter between your bread. You listen to your iPod instead of watch TV (since I don’t have a TV). You stop heating water for your bucket bath and just deal with the cold shock to the system every day.

Sometimes I imagine what my students would think if they saw the United States. I constantly hear “if I go to America, I will never come back to Mozambique.” It's sad when they say that because besides the poverty, disease and lack of job opportunities here, this country is remarkably beautiful in so many ways. People here live in the most difficult of circumstances and yet they have a smile on their face every day. They are the ones who really know how to live. Not us. They aren’t tied to their electronic knick-knacks or credit cards. They are tied to their families and their culture. Children wake up at 5:00 in the morning to walk with their big brothers or sisters to go cart water. Everyone sings loudly, not caring what they sound like, and everyone dances like no one’s watching. Men sit around drinking maheu (this nonalcoholic drink – I don’t even know how to describe the taste), playing a game similar to Mancala in the market, just for the sake of enjoying each others’ company. Little children cling to the brilliantly colored capulanas their mothers are wearing and yell “da-da!” to acknowledge passers-by. Women pound cassava or peanuts outside their homes by the light of a candle, their family or neighbors sitting with them to chat. That sense of community is beautiful and something I feel privileged to have seen first-hand.