Monday, November 16, 2009

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

I have officially left Monapo and am waiting to fly to Maputo, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to update the ol' blog. Leaving Monapo was difficult. You don't know exactly how to say goodbye to people. I tell people I'm coming back to visit one day, but you can't really put an actual timeframe on "coming back." I gave away pretty much everything I owned. Now, my life in Mozambique has been compacted into a backpacking backpack and a suitcase. Pretty crazy.

Timba has been given a good home. He has gone to live with the priests in Monapo. It's actually some pretty nice digs. He will live inside their compound with three other dogs that seem to be very friendly. There are concrete walls with an iron fence above that - so he better fashion himself a pick-ax or a rope ladder if he wants to escape this time. The priests are really good with the dogs and Timba seemed to like them almost immediately - especially the priest from Waukesha, Wisconsin. When they came to the house to pick me and the dog up, he started barking like a guard dog but he's quick to warm up to people and the priests eventually didn't have to jump away when Timba came near them. Finding him a good home was one of the things that made me the most nervous. I know that to some people he's just an undisciplined little dog, but he was good to have. A lot of Mozambicans couldn't understand why I was so attached to a dog. When I would feel homesick, or all alone, or like no one was understanding me, especially living abroad, he would always be by my side, chewing up my bras and laying his head on my lap so I could scratch his ears. I can now leave Nampula with the peace of mind that he will still live a long and happy life.

From here, I fly to Maputo tomorrow afternoon, after a medical exam in Nampula City. I am ready to go. The heat is getting to me already. Tis the hot season I suppose. This week, I basically finish up paperwork, have interviews, and eat a lot of ice cream and pizza. And I'm okay with that.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tim Robbins would be proud

I officially set foot in the Minneapolis airport at 10:16 am, November 21st. I am looking forward to it but can’t help but feel panic set in a bit. I have a lot to do beforehand and it’s an overwhelming idea that I will be going home permanently. I have thought about it a lot over the past two years but it seems pretty surreal now that it’s actually happening. My grades are turned in, my projects are finished, and I’ve already packed up or given away half of my things. All I have left to do is paperwork, medical exams and interviews in Maputo. One of my suitcases has already been packed and transported to Nampula city for my flight to the capital on the 17th. There is no way I am bringing a suitcase and a backpacking backpack on a chapa to the city the day I leave Monapo. It should be under the weight limit. I am going home with some souvenirs and a few changes of clothes and that’s it. Minimalism is key.

When I get home, we are probably going to go out to eat and visit with my sister a bit. Then I head back to Eau Claire for a couple days to put my stuff down, settle in and then I head to the Cities again to be a witness in my sister and her friend's mock trial at law school. I am looking forward to Thanksgiving. I have never actually sat down and watched all of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade but I always say I will. Maybe this will be the year. I’m hoping for some apple pie, turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes, and if all the stars line up correctly, popcorn balls. That’s what my dreams have been made of for the past 27 months.

I had a scare last week with Timba. I have been trying to get him used to the nuns’ house, who said that they would take him when I leave. Well, I took him to their backyard and was going to leave him there for an hour to start to get used to it. I get home and not 5 minutes later, Timba comes strolling through the door, panting and heaving like he just ran the Marine Corps marathon. Apparently, he shawshank redemption-ed himself out of that place. I put his leash back on him and took him back to the house and sat in the backyard with him while the nuns were in the house. The nuns have two other dogs. One is just a puppy and a Mozambican dog (a mixed mutt) like Timba and the other one is an actual, rip-your-face-off kind of German Shepherd guard dog that they bought in Maputo. Timba had never been in the yard with the dogs when they were out of their cages because they weren’t used to each other yet. Well, I was sitting with Timba, petting him and trying to get him to adjust to the yard with the other dogs in cages. As I was sitting there, I noticed that the German Shepherd kept pawing at his door and that the latch to the cage was slowly lifting as a result. As soon as I saw that, I grabbed Timba’s collar and dragged him toward the gate. The gate was shut and as I was trying to open it, I turned and saw the German Shepherd coming toward us with his head and tail down. The dog attacks people it doesn’t know and my heart just sank. Timba took over from there though and fought with him and I was able to get out of the gate and shut it. I yelled for the nuns and they came running but there was no way to stop the dogs from fighting. Timba refused to be pinned to the ground by the big dog and they were biting and fighting each other all over the backyard.

People were standing at the fence, laughing and talking about what was going on with each other. It was like a telenovela on TV to them. Something dramatic and interesting to do at the moment. I, meanwhile, was having a nervous breakdown in the yard. The nuns kept calling for the dog to go in his house. When he obviously wasn’t listening, one of the nuns put a padlock on the gate and said no one was going in the yard. She said their dog would hurt anyone who went in. Both of the nuns kept pacing and saying “he’s going to kill your dog.” Thankfully, Timba is smaller and was able to escape through the hole he originally found. He ran straight home and I sprinted home after him, yelling at the people at the fence as I ran. I got home and he was panting and pacing, covered in blood. His adrenaline eventually calmed down enough that he let me give him a bath and I realized that most of the blood wasn’t his but that of the other dog. He beat up a German Shepherd guard dog and got away with only a couple of scratches and just 24 hours of soreness! I saw one of the nuns a few days later and she said “your little dog is strong! Our dog has a wound on his neck.” The whole situation made me appreciate and love my dog even more. I've never felt unsafe in my house because he's always been by my side. He will be one of the hardest things for me to say goodbye to.

Besides that drama, I have been busy with an application and getting the right paperwork from the school system here. The application is for one of my REDES girls. I am helping her apply to a school called the African Leadership Academy in South Africa. It’s like a secondary school for African youth that focuses on giving them a quality education to help develop and improve their African nations, and the possibilities of continuing their educations in South Africa at the end of their schooling. Teresa, one of my REDES girls, is wonderful. She is respectful, intelligent and eloquent. I have high hopes for her. Even if she doesn’t get accepted, I have all the faith in the world that she will accomplish things in her lifetime. Her goal is to work in the hospitals with pregnant women. 3

The other application I have been working on is to apply to teach abroad in Japan. If I were to get accepted, I would leave in July or August and the contract is for a year with options to extend. If that doesn't pan out, I have been updating my resume to apply for jobs. I need to save up money and pay off some of my student loans. It'll be back to the real grown-up world, with bills and responsibility of a different nature. But I look forward to it in a sick kind of way. I can't wait to get my first cell phone bill and pay for my health insurance. It means I'm moving onto a different phase in my life. But talk to me again in two months and I might be whistling another tune.

I am getting two site visitors this weekend. The new group of PCVs is in Maputo (Moz 14) in training and before they swear in, they are always sent to people’s sites to get an idea of what life is like at site and as a teacher. Should be a good time. After they leave, I will be alone in Monapo for my last week. I plan on just walking around, taking some pictures, and relaxing at home with the dog. Low-key. But that’s just how I roll.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My Chimpanzee

It’s been a very busy past few weeks. School has finished and I gave each of my students a goodbye message and we had dance parties in every classroom. It was sad that it was the last time I would see them all together but it was also a relief in a way to finish classes. A lot of them have already left Monapo to go and visit relatives over the holidays. They will get back for when school starts at the beginning of February. They have a longer break this year because the presidential election is being held tomorrow (October 28th). I have already turned in my grades and they were much higher than last year so thankfully, there will be no arguments with the school about me being such a horrible teacher because I actually gave students the grades they deserved. When I told the pedagogical director that I reached the 85% passing rate that they require, he reached out and shook my hand. I think they were happy too that there were no arguments this year. I was much easier on my students this year, letting them use their notebooks and doing projects as groups. The passing rate is supposed to be at 85%, but in all reality, less than 50% should actually be passing. In order to even pass, the students only need to get a 10 out of 20 points. It saddens me that knowing half of the information of the year is considered passing for the next level. It’s because of a system such as this that I am correcting my students’ Portuguese. I am a foreigner who just learned Portuguese starting in 2007 and my portuguese is not perfect. Some of my students in ninth grade didn’t even know how to read or write well. My students are intelligent but they have never been pushed to succeed at a higher level. Hopefully, one day that will change.

Monday was the inauguration of the library and it was exciting to see. We announced it on the radio and we invited the local director of district education but she had to go to a funeral so another man came in her stead. At first, he was very standoff-ish and uninterested in a school ceremony. But as the ceremony went on and he saw that it wasn’t your typical boring one, he actually seemed genuinely interested and stopped playing with his cell phone. We had him say a few words, student activists talked about HIV/AIDS, the JOMA group showed some of their art work and my REDES group presented and did their fashion show. I am happy it ended well and I would call it a success in my books. Although I have donated two years of my life to teaching in Monapo and secondary projects, some people here still wouldn’t consider that enough. No. There must be refreshments at the inauguration. So I had to go and buy soft drinks for everyone. I tried not to be bitter about it. It was frustrating but at that point, I was ready to just pull the band-aid, buy the soft drinks and call it a day. Of course there wasn’t enough for everyone and people got upset. I have come to learn that you can’t please everyone and that’s okay. The library is pretty much finished. There are just a few organizational issues that need to be addressed and then we will be set to go for next year.

REDES is having our end of the year goodbye lunch next Saturday. We are going to cook and eat together and I think I will write each of the girls a letter. They are really amazing girls and I hope that they make it all the way through secondary school and continue their education afterward. I have seen them grow so much over the past two years. They have become more confident and vocal. And they have learned how to sew and start their own small sewing business. They have a long way to go still but they have started with the basics and the only direction from here is up. I have already submitted the project reports for my library and REDES projects and am relieved to call those projects finished. They were a lot of work but they also made my Peace Corps experience even better. When I wasn’t teaching, I was always with my REDES girls or in the library. I feel like I have helped my community gain new skills and materials and that’s all I have ever wanted. I feel like I have made an impression on them but they have made a bigger impression on me. We will always be connected to each other and I will miss many of the people in my town very much when I leave in three weeks.

In other news, I have found a home for Timba after I leave! I originally was going to leave him with one of my students but I have always been kind of afraid that he would get beaten by neighbor kids, have rocks thrown at him, or not get any food to eat. As a result, I asked the nuns in our town if they wanted another dog. They told me to bring him by and I have been taking him to their house each day to get the other dogs used to his scent before he joins them entirely. Right now they have a real guard dog. The kind of guard dog that would rip your face off if you were trying to break in. The other one is still just a puppy. I think it would be a great place for Timba. He can run around the fenced in yard all night long and play with the other dog. The nuns are building a new house for the dogs as well. I kind of feel like I’m putting a chimpanzee that has grown accustomed to love and affection of humans back into the rainforest. Timba is my chimpanzee. He will have little interaction with humans, except to bark at them. But I feel like he will be well cared for and live a better, longer life than he would have if he lived in a random house. I feel like a burden has been lifted off of my shoulders and that he will like it. And if the nuns had decided not to take him, a priest across the street saw me with the dog and one of the nuns and he started inquiring to the nuns if the priests could have him. I never thought there would be such a demand for my undisciplined little clown of a dog. Maybe he always was such an unruly jerk for a reason.

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Professional Speed Walker

The waves of alternating excitement and nausea are becoming more recurrent. I have so much to get done before I leave and so little time. I am busy right now labeling every book in the library. The librarian is helping me. And by helping, I mean I write out the labels for the books, stack them up nicely for her, cut the labels, cut the tape to stick the labels on them and lay it out for her. Plus I’m marking my own books. The other day she said “Professora, once the furniture comes, I am going to be very tired.” I bit my lip and continued marking physics books. If all goes well, marking books should be done by the middle of next week. The final deposit has been made and the furniture is ready to be delivered. It is going to be delivered next week and I can’t wait!

Right now, it’s difficult to focus on library work in the library itself because the school is matriculating students for school next year in the same room. So there is a Mozambican line of students of all ages waiting to register for school. A Mozambican line is a mob. No single-file formation. Ah, I have fond memories and look forward to single-file lines in the states. That and talking to someone who works at the bank whose personal cell phone is ringing and them not ignoring you to talk to their cousin. But anyhoo, in the library, it doesn’t help either that the man doing the matriculation is a tempestuous old man with a sharp tongue. I am constantly hearing “stand in a straight line like humans!” and “what do you think I am? Your servant? Fill your paperwork out correctly.” The kids just laugh but I’m fairly certain that if that man yelled at me, my drawers would be soiled.

The new sewing machine is absolutely wonderful! Haven’t had a problem with it yet (knocking on my bed frame as I write that)! The girls have become so much more productive with two. Before, they all stood around the one while one girl toiled on hemming a capulana for what seemed like a decade. I have been practicing my own skills to work with the girls and I have made two dresses and a shirt. I’m getting quite good and I’m not afraid to toot that horn. We were originally going to have a fashion show with what the girls have learned but because of the sewing machine problems and not receiving our funding until last week, I think that we will size it down to a small show. All the girls got capulanas for group solidarity. Very exciting stuff. We are having our group meeting at a girls’ house on Saturday so that her mother can teach embroidery to the girls. Personally, I don’t have the patience to embroider, but the girls are churning out tablecloths. Soon, there won’t be enough tables for all of them.

I am enjoying my last few class periods with my students. They are hilarious. Everyone still calls Hermengildo Timba. I have seen him chasing other kids around the schoolyard over calling him that name. I feel like that nickname might stick but I also think he secretly enjoys it. The kid who almost got beaten up for sassing an older man outside during a bathroom break has actually become a very good student. It’s funny because each time before class, he stands outside the door with his arms crossed and his collar popped like a classroom bouncer. He even held the door open for me and smiled. He’s now a little more distant cry from the boy who tried to kick my dog last year.

Next week, I give my students their final test they will ever have with me. After that, I give them back their results. I think I might offer them the possibility of giving extra credit if they go and get an HIV test and present proof that they went. They want higher grades and it’s important for them to know their status. I’m feeling sad leaving them. I have started to feel like a second mother to them. I feel choked up at the thought that I will never stand in front of them again with a piece of chalk in hand, joke around with all of them or even throw a kid’s notebooks out the door to kick him/her out. I will definitely take class time speed-walks to the latrine off my “will miss” list. I do hope to have a fun last day of school though, and bring music and just hang out a bit.

Next weekend, after the library project is completed, I will be taking three of my REDES girls to Ilha to visit the women’s association and stores to get ideas of things to sew and make, and to give them a small vacation from Monapo. They are pretty excited about it. I am going to talk to their parents to get permission since they are teenage girls. I went to visit one of the girls’ houses last week to see why she hadn’t shown up to a meeting. I was sitting with her aunt, chatting and talking about her family. I asked her how many children she has and she said “two boys. But I’m hoping to have a girl. I need someone to prepare xima.” Xima is maize. So, basically she wants a worker. I am more than happy to give her niece a well-deserved trip, since she seems more like a housekeeper than a member of the family. I just hope that the aunt agrees.

Timba is as wily as ever. Taking him for walks still never gets old. I was walking with my roommate to the market the other night and I took Timba along because he had been cooped up all day. It was like the parting of the Red Sea with people when we walked there. I was sitting at a corner stand with the dog, away from the crowd, petting him and waiting for Nia to buy some juice. People were looking at me like I was petting a crocodile. All of a sudden, one of Nia’s students sees the dog from about twenty feet away and starts screaming like he’s attacking her. Then we walked back to the house and we saw her again, standing ahead of us with her back to us. Being sympathetic to her phobia, we did the right thing. We snuck up behind her with the dog and stood behind her. He didn’t even do anything. He just stood there. And she started screaming and sprinted all the way down the road to her house. And we laughed all the way back to ours. I know that it’s probably horrible that we picked on a person’s phobia, but people need to learn that dogs aren’t just guards. They are also fun little beasts that are dull-witted enough to repeatedly chase the same stick, yet smart enough to steal boiled eggs off the kitchen table when you are busy washing your hands. That potato salad just wasn’t the same that night without those eggs.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Potato Salad is Delicious

I had my students write and present dialogues for their second test of the trimester. They could write it about family, travel, human rights, or domestic violence - all things we discussed in class. Here are a couple of stellar examples from my best students:

1: Where’s your father?
2: My father’s in Nacala.
1: What is your surname?
2: My surname is Afate.
1: Is your family rich or poor?
2: My family is all right.
1: How is your mother?
2: My mother is, honestly, very fat, short and clever.
1: Is your father handsome or ugly?
2: Of course, my father is handsome.
1: Is your mother beautiful or ugly?
2: Umm…my mother is okay. I am sorry.

No joke. I didn’t help them at all with that, just the spelling of words…and I laughed the entire way through their presentation to the classroom. They memorized it and said it in front of everyone. Here’s another one.

1: How can you avoid domestic violence?
2: Don’t hit the people who live with you.
3: Prohibit the father from drinking.
1: Why are women more vulnerable?
2: Because of society and community.
3: Many time the women and children are victims of domestic violence.
1: Mothers, sons, fathers! We should denounce domestic violence!
2: If we don’t stop domestic violence, it will cause problems in life and we will never be happy.
3: Yes, it’s true. Domestic violence is not good for us.
ALL: (shouted with gusto and pumped fists) Stop the domestic violence! Say no to domestic violence!

I only have one more test left as a teacher in Monapo. Pretty crazy. I'm gonna let them use their notebooks. I don't want to fight them up to the very end on cheating. It's a losing battle, so I might as well make the test harder but let them use their notebooks. It's a win win if you ask me. This ACP will be the last time I will be trying to control the kiddies. The last time I will be boo-ed at as I enter the room. I can just feel those tears welling up.

We had a teacher’s meeting the other week where they talked about news at the school and to air grievances. Usually, we bring along a good US Weekly or People magazine for these things. Whether Anne Hathaway was wearing Dolce & Gabbana or Prada seems much more thrilling than whether we are changing grades or problems with depositing money in teachers’ accounts again. I took to doodling in my notebook, fixating on how I was going to make potato salad for dinner. In the middle of scribbling “Potato salad is delish” in bright, checkered letters, I had my legs up on the seat. Much to my dismay, an education official, in front of all the other teachers, announced “Senhora Professora, do you think you are sitting at home? Sit up straight.” I felt like I was in second grade again and was getting yelled at by a nun who mistook my filling up of a milk carton with water as dumping the milk out. But then I went home and ate potato salad and watched Gilmore Girls and the world was turned right again. I ended up giving some potato salad to the workers at the bar next to our house and the next day, the woman said "that mayonnaise you made was excellent." Ha.

Tuesday was Monapo Day. At the beginning of the day there was a bicycle race and a motorcycle race on the main road in town. All the motorcycle riders were showing off, lying down on their seats as if that was really affecting the aerodynamics and their chances of winning. The sides of the road were packed with spectators and you could tell, in the glint of people’s eyes, that they were hoping for a bike to fall down and bite the dust. Or at least, it would have added to the drama. Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t. There were so many children around and bikes going 60 mph down a normally slow traffic road. That is not a good combination.

Tuesday night, Danny OG came to Monapo and performed. Danny OG is like a shoddy DMX or Ja Rule - which, if you have heard the American rappers, speaks volumes about the quality of talent. We got seats in the front, within a taped off area. If there is anything we have learned in the past two days, it is that taped off areas at public events mean nothing in Mozambique. We tried going to the Miss Monapo pageant that Nia’s student won Monday night but the pavilion was so jam-packed with people that our claustrophobia got the best of us and we had to get out. If you are going to travel to Mozambique in the near future, go ahead and pop that personal bubble of yours because that pavilion was like a super-sized chapa. I am honestly surprised that no one died. It was all very running of the bulls. People were shoulder to shoulder, including short children who lacked vision and breathing space. Women with newborn babies strapped to them take the children to the events where the speakers make my own eardrums vibrate. There is a new generation of Helen Kellers growing up in Monapo as we speak.

In other news, my REDES group has received their funding and we can now take our trip to Ilha to visit the women’s association. The girls are pretty excited to get another sewing machine and more supplies. The library project should be completed in the next couple of weeks as well. I visited the school making the furniture last week and it's all shaping up beautifully! And they gave me a bag of vegetables! It is a race to the finish now, making sure projects get completed and I only have four more classes to teach before I am done with my career as a Mozambican teacher. I have heard that Monapo will likely be getting three volunteers next year! That came as a total surprise but we are happy with the likelihood that our girls and art groups will be be continued. The next group of volunteers gets to Maputo at the beginning of October. And they will get to site in December. Time is flying.

Monday, August 31, 2009

How much is that ice shanty in the window?

I made it all the way to the market and back with dried toothpaste around my lips the other day and no one said a word. Sure, people will point out if your skirt is showing too much thigh, practically pop your zits for you and point out every other unflattering fault, but they seem to draw the line at Aquafresh. I like to think that maybe it blended in with my skin but after almost nine straight months of Nampula sun, my skin is far from the Wisconsin near-albino heritage that it used to be. SPF 30 is still no match and I fear early wrinkles around my eyes and cancer on my neck, where I’m honestly just too lazy to reach. I try wearing sunglasses to avoid squinting (and eye contact with people) and hats, but I can’t very well wear a hat to school. As informed by students, wearing a hat to school is right up there with eating a boiled egg on the street. You just don’t do it.

It’s true. My roommate and I have had anxiety over PDE (Public Displays of Eating). It usually draws more stares, like you’ve grown two extra heads, rather than one. I’ve only ever felt comfortable publicly eating roasted peanuts, a food that has been given a stamp of student approval as publicly edible. I have eaten chocolate in the street but feel myself forced to hide the wrapper in my bag, palm the chocolate, and bring it quickly up to my mouth like I have an urgent itch. I feel like I’m twelve and sneaking food from the kitchen. Puts some adventure in my life though. Nothing like a challenge to brighten the day. I remember when my sister and I were little and we would purposely burn toast, hide it in a napkin and store it in our room until darkness came. Certain that our parents were asleep, we would gather in her room to feast on burned toast. I still don’t even know why we did it, but like this, it put adventure in our lives while we listened to Paula Abdul on the radio.

The only mirror I own is the size of my hand. Whenever I happen to stay at a hotel or see my reflection in a shop window in the city, I stare at myself. I am aware that I probably look extremely vain. People walk past me and I’m sucking in my stomach and turning to the side, like in a dressing room at JCPenney’s. It’s weird. Whenever I see my reflection now, I seem so much older. And then I remind myself to use SPF50 even when I sleep and avoid smiling to increase the little lines under my eyes. I’m one of those people who look like they are frowning 24/7. A natural frown, if you will. One of the students who visits us a lot at our house has told me that students I don’t teach say “Ai, that Teacher Erin. We are scared of her. She appears angry.” I’m the American Boo Radley of Monapo. At least the older students don’t bother me to do their English homework for them.

My students are doing well. I am collecting their notebooks to grade this week. 350 notebooks is no easy feat. I basically give them a good grade as long as they have written down all the notes I gave them in class and did a handful of the homework assignments. I have been giving them stickers or stamps every time they do the homework so it should be easier to gauge what work they have completed. Stamps to them are like diapers to Timba. You can never have too many. As soon as I pull out the ink pad and ask who did their homework, hands shoot into the air and desperate “teacher!” is shouted out. Some kids change seats to ensure they will receive the much-desired stamp of a balloon or turtle. They are not impressed by the stamp of the birthday candle, deeming it undesirable by its small size. As soon as I stamp the page of their notebook, they smile and visibly relax because their notebook has been beautified. It’s a simple joy I’m glad to reward them with for doing their work.

I’m making them work for their grades this trimester. I might have to grade them loosely because the school will pass them anyways, but goshdarnit, they will put effort forth. First, it was the family trees and compositions for 10 points. Now it will be the notebooks for 10. Then I will have them do another project and another notebook collection for 10 points each. They hate it but I find that it has the reverse effect with me. I feel like I am making them work for their grades and they know they are. It’s half the battle of trying to control a test with them and easier on the blood pressure, so I am sticking to the less stressful tactics while I'm winding down my time in Monapo.

My girls group is about to buy another sewing machine and is in the process of making dolls. They are dolls sewn out of black cloth and we are going to make capulana outfits for them. Should be “chic de matar,” Chic enough to kill. I hear that term all the time when my students are sucking up to me. I think they should use that on Project Runway and in the fashion world in general. My roommate’s boyfriend made up one, “chic de boofar.” Chic enough to fart. We are trying to spread the saying and already, my REDES girls and Nia’s JOMA students are using it. Maybe it will spread nationwide by 2010.

The sewing machine still has its problems, unfortunately. Hopefully, I can get it repaired well in the next week. I will be much choosier in picking out the next one. I will transport that back to Monapo when I rent a chapa to bring back the library materials I am purchasing. I am going to the city this week for a couple days to buy all the supplies for the library project. I will be buying books, maps, a diagram of the human body, a globe, a filing cabinet, bulletin board, and basic library supplies. The furniture should be finished soon for the project and I want to have everything ready to install as well. Time is getting shorter and I’m starting to feel it. After the trip to the city, I will probably spend next weekend at the beach with some friends. I need to soak up these beautiful beaches before my only option is an ice-covered Lake Altoona. However, those little ice shanties have started to sound downright snug.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Running in Pajama Pants

We have had our close of service conference and are now counting down the months and days until it’s time to leave Mozambique. The conference was great because we got to see all the volunteers from our group one last time together in Mozambique. And there were mini-pizzas, chocolate mint mousse, kabobs, cake, granola and cheese (cheddar and feta). It never fails to amaze me, my fixation on food options when they are available. But in terms of the conference, it makes me sad and happy all at once to think about going home. Mixed feelings were to be expected. There is a whole chart on what our emotional rollercoaster is supposed to look like throughout and after our service and so far, it’s been fairly accurate. Apparently, I’m going to be very depressed in a few months. Fair warning.

My students have been saying, “Senhora Professora, you need to stay!” or “why do you want to leave Monapo?” It’s hard to explain to them because they have never left their homes to go to a completely different country and culture. I just tell them that I miss my friends and family. I told them that I would come back one day to visit and I hope to live up to that promise.

Along with the usual questions of “why are you leaving,” there is another question that often follows. “What are you going to do with your computer? With your bicycle?” Many people have asked to buy my computers from me. I was considering giving my computer to the library project but I’m afraid that someone will just take it if I give it to the school. I explained to a school official that I was thinking about leaving it for use in the library by the librarian in keeping track of the book inventory and a library user system, but he just laughed. “No, you will give your computer to me.” Um. No. I will give my computers to people who want to genuinely learn and not use the computer to show off the fact that they have a computer. I will probably end up giving them to responsible students or a responsible colleague who could use it. I would never sell them. In terms of the bikes, the dog and weather got to them long ago. The wheels are rusted from being in the backroom and in his fits of lonely rage, when I left the dog in the backroom, he tore the seats off and chewed on them. Now, the bikes work as a protective buffer between the dog and my roommate’s art group supplies. He loves paintbrushes.

I'd say I spend a good percentage of my day trying to figure how to outwit the dog. He refuses to stay in the yard and while I’m washing dishes or lesson planning, I will hear “MUALAPUA!” and then a scream and running feet. Mualapua means dog in macua. They run like he is going to tear their face off but he usually just stands there, sniffing garbage or staring at a herd of goats. He has only chased someone a few times and it’s usually because they provoked him or because they are running, which in his mind means happy fun playtime. He was chasing a kid one time who was throwing rocks into the tree next to our fence to get ma├žanica (little, gross apples, in my opinion). I think he misconstrued it as the kid throwing rocks at him. Lo and behold, I look out the windows and the kid is running like a sniper is after him, running in zigzags with the dog trailing closely behind. He found refuge in the bar next door. I threw his sandals to him and told him not to throw rocks anymore. Lesson learned. The other day I was in my room and the children at the school next door were singing the national anthem before school started. Besides their little voices singing about “nossa terra gloriosa” (our glorious land), I also heard a goat stampede. The dog was chasing a herd of goats across the school grounds in front of about 500 children. How embarrassing.

I have a student, Hermengildo, who is an “indisciplinado.” That means he’s a class clown and jokes around a lot during class. I told him he plays bad, like my dog, so I named him after my dog. And now all of his friends call him that. It’s pretty funny actually. He came up to me the other day “Senhora Professora, everyone calls me Timba now!” He laughed about it though. I told him it was a compliment because Timba is pretty, clean and strong. I didn’t say anything about the dog’s fixation with and consumption of fecal matter.

It’s weird. You give a student a nickname and it sticks. One kid was literally hanging out the window one day. I called him a “passarinho,” which means “little bird.” Now everyone calls him passarinho. If he’s not in class and I ask where he is, the other students say, “he must have flown away.” I honestly don’t even know his real name. With 350 students, it’s hard to keep them all straight. I do love catching students not paying attention during class and surprise them by knowing their names and having them answer my question. “Senhora Professora, I didn’t perceive what you said.” They want me to repeat myself. If you know me, you know I hate repeating myself. I then say, “I don’t perceive why you didn’t perceive what I said.” That just tends to confuse them more and they stand there, staring at ceiling until I take pity on them and let them sit down.

After the conference and plates of food, I can feel the extra junk in the trunk so I’ve started running the past few days. I have decided, once I get home, that I want to try to run a half-marathon in the spring so I’m going to start training now. A full marathon scares me. That’s for people who wear really short shorts and have chips inserted into their Nikes that sync with their iPods to track their progress. I’m more of the “running in pajama pants, tripping on my shoelaces” type. I have plenty of ideas of what I want to do when I return home, none of which are concrete. I need to take the GRE for grad school applications and get a job or two to save money. I haven’t decided exactly what I want to go to grad school for but I’m thinking something along the lines of international development or something involving writing. Who knows. That might be a firefighter or ballerina tomorrow.

I have been considering applying to a program called JET while I submit applications to graduate schools. It’s a one-year teaching contract in Japan. I would apply for a position as an assistant language teacher that would start in July or August 2010. You work with a Japanese counterpart to help them in teaching English and supervise extracurricular activities. I have enjoyed working with youth in Mozambique and teaching English at the same time. Japan seems so beautiful and has a rich history, so it would be a great place to live abroad, doing similar work. It would be much different than Peace Corps because you actually get a paycheck and the living conditions are better. And I wouldn’t need to take a malaria prophylaxis that makes my hair fall out. And I’d learn Japanese. I’m down for a challenge though. It’s just an idea right now, but if I don’t end up doing that, I will surely find something else that sparks my interest and doesn’t make me shed like a Labrador.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Family Trees and Earring Beads

And…I’m back for the last trimester of teaching in Monapo. I admit that it was really nice coming “home” to Monapo. I missed seeing my students and eating pasta sauce made from market cans of tomato paste. And I missed my dog, who Fabiao did an excellent job of feeding while I was gone. I might start making him chubby so that he tires easier. Is that inhumane? I don’t think so. He has so much energy. I take him for a walk and two minutes later, he is still biting my ankles as I try to walk to the bathroom. I am planning to give Timba to one of my students. She brought her dog to my house one day last trimester. Her dog is fatter and she is richer, so I asked her:

Me: Enia, would you be interested in taking my dog when I leave?
Enia: (Immediately answers) Yes, my dog needs a husband.

Haha! Now that is a very Mozambican thing to say. No one can be alone. Not even dogs. I’m not so sure she is aware of Timba’s character or she might say no. He is a slightly flawed factory model. My sister got to see his personality firsthand when she came to visit. One of the days she spent in Monapo, Timba lured a goat in the yard to have it chase him around out of pure boredom. I’m sure he thought he’d found a friend but the goat was probably thinking something along the lines of “I am going to kill you.” There is footage of it somewhere.

I’m trying to come up with creative lesson plans to end teaching with a bang. Right now we are working on family names. My students love talking about themselves, so I thought that making family trees would grab their interest and it has. I thought it might be difficult but it is even more so than I’d imagined. “Teacha, my father has three wives. How do I draw that?” “Carlitos, how many siblings do you have?” Counts in his head for a literal minute. “19.” “Wow, your mother must be tired.” Shrugs his shoulders. “Yes.” There are some sequoias being drawn in student homes as I write this. That’s the only way they’d fit their whole complex family histories into tree form.

It’s interesting to see my students’ families and their lives up close and personal though. While Kara was here, we went and visited two of my best students. They live in Monapo Rio, on the other side of the river. To walk to school each day takes about an hour and they have to leave around 5:30 every morning. And then they have to walk home after school for lunch. Then they have to walk back for physical education in the afternoon some days of the week (and even then, the teacher might not show up). They could take a chapa but that’s expensive.

Mozambicans are extremely inviting when you visit their homes. As soon as you set foot in their yard, they send a child to get you a plastic chair and place it under the shade of a tree. One of my students’ mothers gave us a plastic bag of soda cans and another gave us a full meal. You don’t want them to extend such effort but to turn down their food or hospitality is rude. It’s like when you are seven and don’t want to eat your beans and your mom has you sit at the table until you finish them for your own health. In this case, I don’t want to take beans that could be going into someone else’s mouth. But when you visit Mozambicans, you best clean your plate to show your satisfaction and as a mark of respect.

I’ve grown to really love Mozambican cooking. Xima (pronounced she-ma), which is the main staple in Mozambique and in most countries in Africa, has grown on me. It’s like doughy cornmeal. The traditional way of eating it is to ball it up in your right hand (after you wash your hands and you use your right hand because your left hand is considered unclean) and dip it into a sauce made of tomatoes and onions. It’s like manna from heaven when made by Mozambicans. I have yet to perfect it. It’s not exactly something you see Rachel Ray tackle on the Food Network.

Now that I have a functioning camera again, I really have to start taking more pictures of everything. I want to show everyone the market experience in Monapo so I am going to try and film what an average market trip looks like and attempt to post it on here. While she was here, Kara said it reminded her of the hectic market in Aladdin. And if you’re lucky, you might catch someone donning genie pants. I’ve seen it. That and people wearing witch hats, santa hats, bath robes, men wearing women’s tank tops and capris, Packers jerseys, etc. It’s a great place to people-watch AND be stared at yourself at the same time.

Next week, we have our COS conference in Inhambane province on the beach. COS is Peace Corps lingo for Close of Service. It’s when Peace Corps tells us about health insurance, life after Peace Corps and stuff like that. But most importantly, we get to see everyone in our group one last time before we begin trickling out of the country November 5th. While I’m in Maputo, I think I’ll buy some more books for the library project., which will hopefully be completed or close to being completed in a month’s time.

My proposal for my girls group got passed for buying more sewing supplies, a visit to Ilha de Mocambique and the HIV awareness fashion show. I now just need to wait longer than the average goldfish’s life to get the money. Three to four weeks. Time is getting shorter now and I am feeling the pinch in regard to my girls’ group and what type of impact I want to make on them before I board that flight on November 20th. They have really started to grasp the sewing machine but there is so much more to learn. Like how to apply zippers and how to make earrings that aren’t ugly. It’s hard to think of how to praise them when they string together fake pearls with sea shells and clear beads. They are some of the most god-awful earrings you’ve ever set your eyes on. Like something you’d find at a 90-year old chain-smoker’s garage sale. I just tell them to leave them and I’ll put the earring hook on them, but then I just take them out back (my room) and put them out of their misery (back into the bead containers) and hope the girls don’t notice.

I have about three months left in Monapo. The countdown has begun and until then, I will try to update once a week. That and teach my dog to be the gentleman and scholar I know he can be.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pictures, Pictures, Pictures!


The tour by an ex-prisoner on Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years.


Me and Kara on Robben Island in front of the shore of Cape Town


Kara, after a stressful day, and the junk food we ate while watching 30 Rock.


Me and some of my students, who enjoy posing dramatically


The library set-up, pre-library project. I had organized the books more, but the shelving units are going to be completely different and we're getting more books in August!


The river in Monapo. It has crocodiles in it, making it a dangerous place to wash clothes or go swimming.


One of my smallest students hanging onto the window outside for some reason.


The mural in the library that Nia and her JOMA group painted for our library project


Me and some of my students


Kara and Eulalia, one of my REDES group members


My youngest students and I after class

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Greetings and Salutations from Cape Town!

We are in South Africa! By we, I mean my sister and I. We spent about a week and a half in Mozambique and I think my sister was ready for running water by the end, judging by the joy on her face and the way she seemed to hug any hotel bed we got. She pointed out things that I have just grown accustomed to, but it's been a bit tough for her to handle. She and Timba are now best friends - he showed his love for her by charging her as she walked out of the latrine at night. I think he doesn't like you if he doesn't charge you and try to take you out at the knees. My students saw her playing with him and their mouths were hanging open with surprise. "Teacher, your sister doesn't have fear of dogs?" Kara got to come to school with me and experience a couple of chapa rides (including one where she ripped her pants) and we walked to Monapo Rio to go see a couple of my best students' houses. She got to carry water (but not on her head - that's only for us seasoned veterans), wash clothes and dishes, and cook like a peace corps volunteer. I'm fairly certain it was everything she ever dreamed it would be. After Nampula, we headed down to Maputo and saw my host family and stayed with them for a night. She got to meet some other PCVs in the capital before heading on to Cape Town.

South Africa is a beautiful country! We are in the Western Cape area and I would recommend it to anybody! So far, we have been quite busy. We have seen the Slave Lodge (where they used to house slaves before they were to be sold) and the Aquarium. The Cape Town aquarium is an aquarium on steroids. Sharks, manta rays, giant sea turtles, and crazy looking giant crabs were the highlights. One of my highlights that day was definitely the Victoria's Wharf shopping center. I think my sister was slightly embarassed by my shoes and socks so I got some new ones to not tarnish the family name. I can't help it my socks have lost their brilliant white color. I would now call it more of a taupe color, worn with love. And I got some more clothes because it turns out Cape Town is pretty cold since it's winter here.

We also went to Table Mountain and Robben Island. Table Mountain is surrounded by the city and it's gorgeous! There's a cable car that takes you to the top so you don't have to hike. In my opinion, if you want to hike, you're weird...and athletic, I suppose. Robben Island was interesting too. Each tour is guided by an ex-prisoner of the island. You get the history of the island (never knew it used to be a lepers' colony!) and a tour of the cells. I got to see Mandela's prison cell where he wrote The Long Walk to Freedom! And today is his birthday! Pretty interesting. And at the end of the tour, you have the option of looking at the penguin colony or the gift shop. I went to look at keychains and Kara went for the penguins and saw them AND a snake that, according to her, was gigantic. I'm convinced it was a baby grass snake but she describes it as a black mamba. We'll just say it was somewhere in between.

After being in the city and seeing TWO movies in a REAL theater (Bruno and The Proposal), we decided to head in a rental car to Simon's Town for some more penguins and Stellenbosch for wine tasting and sleeping. Penguins actually smell bad but they are so adorable, you just want to pinch their little flippers. And we drove to Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve to climb a really high lighthouse and reach the most south-western point of Africa. The climb was steeper than anticipated and I was unjustly accused of telling Kara she was panting like a little dog. Along the drive, we saw Ostriches as well. There are signs everywhere to not feed baboons and saying they are dangerous, so to avoid them. I, personally, find baboons, chimps, monkeys, apes, etc. to be kind of creepy, so you won't find me trying to approach one to put a bow in it's hair any time soon. Baboons are ugly and mean animals anyway. We pulled into Stellenbosch and my sister finally calmed down a bit after driving on the left side of the road all day. It didn't exactly comfort me at first when she held up her forefinger and thumb on both hand to figure out which direction was right or left. But don't you worry, Mom and Dad, she gets a gold star in my book. We haven't even gotten lost because of her driving and my excellent navigational skills. Only turned around twice!

We spent a night at super nice B&B in Stellenbosch and signed up for wine tour with a really nice guy who kindly explained the wine making and tasting process for us. We visited three wineries and tried a lot of wine (Kara got to use a spitoon cuz she was driving! Jealous? Yes). In my opinion, wine starts to look and taste the same after a while. "Oh, well this one is sharp and sugary and goes well with chicken or salads or pasta." Ugh. Just give me a Fanta already! "This one has a woody, earthy taste as it sat in the barrel for longer. It also tastes toastier because of the toasted French oak that was used in the lining of the barrel." I don't know how they memorize that kind of information. One can easily drink a lot of wine on those tours but it just ended up making me sleepy, which pleased my sister greatly as I am the map-reader in the car (Kara: Erin, how far away is Houwhoek? - Me: I dunno, like an inch). The most interesting part in it all was seeing the wine process and cellars and the views. The views were gorgeous! Vineyards for as far as the eye can see, with mountains in the backdrop. The views made it for me...that and a bird pooping on Kara's shirt.

After the wine tours, we headed down to Hermanus to do some whale watching. We tried looking a bit but those whales are hard to sight. We saw one in the far distance but not much luck thus far. We'll try again in the morning. We have a super nice bed and breakfast. Our room has a patio with an ocean view to do some whale watching. The whales are the part of our big five (rock dassies on table mountain, penguins, baboons, ostriches and whales). Tomorrow, we head back to Cape Town for a couple more nights in the city. I think we will go on a day safari to see the real big five Monday. Tuesday, it's the bus back to Maputo - which is probably good because I'm eating my weight in ice cream, biltong (South African beef jerkey - which grosses Kara out when I eat it - "sounds like you're chewing your cud"), and cheese. It would be wonderful to live in South Africa one day. The scenery is beautiful and it's so serene. I'm jealous of everyone who lives here and I hope to return for longer than a week in the future. Hope all is well in the states! Four months left for this gal in Mozambique! I'll update pictures asap!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Pump, Pump the Jam

So my spirits have lifted a bit since my last posting, despite now having a cold. My mother taught me that when you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all. For me, when I have nothing nice to say, I say wear your headphones and listen to your iPod and then you can drown out what some people are saying. There’s nothing like cranking up some ridiculous ESPN jock jams I have on my iPod – thanks to either my dad and the music he had on the computer for playing at high school softball games or my sister and her random CDs: the jury is out on a which one I got it from. All I know is that I when people are being rude, I just crank up the volume and think “pump, pump the jam, pump it up” and all my cares just float away on a sports center cloud.

School is going well. I was at the board the other day, writing the directions for homework and one of my students said “senhora professora, is it true that there is no God?” My jaw dropped. I asked him why he was asking that and he said “because the Portuguese teacher just told us there is no God.” I told him that it depends on what a person believes and that people are free to believe whatever they want – from Christians, to Muslims, to Jehovah’s Witnesses, to all types of religions (all represented in the classroom). “Well, I am going to ask the biology teacher if you don’t know because I bet he would know.” All the other students nodded their heads in agreement. I tried to explain to them that a question like that has no definite answer and the answer will vary with each person. I am still betting that they went to find the biology teacher to ask him.

The library project is well on its way. It’s shaping up nicely. Nia’s JOMA group is painting a mural on corruption in schools and it is turning out beautifully. I made curtains for the windows and am in the process of organizing the mangled mess that is the library’s “system.” The librarian has obviously taken little care of the library in the past. All of the books are out of order. At the end of the day, after getting books for students, they are just stacked in random piles on desks. This isn’t a library like in the states. It is a single, long, bookshelf unit. Then there is a space for the librarian to walk. Then there is a long librarian’s desk. She can literally sit in the center, pick up a book with her left hand and give it to the student with her right; the space is so small. That is after she plays on her phone for five minutes while the student is standing there, waiting with his/her identification card. That’s obviously something we will need to work on.

Kara (my sister) is coming to see me on Friday! I am incredibly excited and I can’t wait to pick her up from the airport. I will give her a tour of the market and she will get to see the goat heads that are constantly on a display like a warning to all naughty goats. She’s gonna come to school with me for the last day of the trimester to distribute tests and the class prizes. I lied and told my kids that she will be here to control their last exam and I said “there will be TWO Americans controling your test” and a look of horror crossed their faces. “NO SENHORA PROFESSORA!” It will be interesting sharing a bed with her, under a mosquito net, with the dog trying to jump on the bed. She will get to take a bucket bath in our latrine. I have reassured her that my house is like “classy camping” but with numerous locks. I think the most memorable camping trip I ever had with her was when she threw up in my hair. I was like five years old, so this has got to be better. I figure we will spend about five days in Monapo, a couple of days on Ilha, and then we are going to Maputo to visit my host family, making a day trip into Swaziland (my host family lives on the border with Swaziland and I hear you can cross the entire country by car in about two hours) and then we are off to Capetown for a week to go see the penguins, Table Mountain, and Robben Island, experience an array of food and water temperature choices, and we are even getting a rental car. I think the private car might be one of the things I’m most excited about. There are no such things as crowded chapas in South Africa. I often daydream about this chapa-less country - land of milk and honey.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Roadblocks to Funkytown

I’ve had a case of the mondays for the past few weeks now. I think several things have left me in a general funk. First, there is the problem with my library project. I got the project approved in November and I received the check in March. I then went to the bank with my counterpart to open the bank account. They told my counterpart that she couldn’t open the account with me because she didn’t have documentation that had the names of her parents on it. My counterpart is in her early 40’s. Well, in order to get the documentation, she had to make three trips to the city. Finally, once she got the documents, a month later, we went to the bank and opened the account. Turns out, to my intense delight, that in order to withdraw money from an account that has both your name and your counterpart’s name on it, and even with both people present, one needs to order checks so that they can write the check out to themselves and receive cash from the bank. That’s right. In order to withdraw money, even if it is just once, you need to write a check out to yourself. It’s completely ludicrous. I’ve had it up to here (hand at my chin) with incompetent bank personnel. Well, I ordered the checks as soon as I could and went back to check to see if they had arrived yet in the 15 days they claimed it took to receive them. Each day they told me to come back the next because they hadn’t arrived yet. After about four days of this, the bank manager looks the account number up on the computer and says “oh, well, you have to order checks still.” He then informed me that I couldn’t have ordered the checks until my signature appeared on the account on the computer system. After re-ordering the checks, I walked home from the bank in the biggest display of infantile behavior I could muster. There was glowering, snapping, and angry-walk-arm-swinging. Everything but a full-on show of throwing myself in the nearest trash pile with the goats and screaming until my face turned red and I passed out. There is always something standing in the way and I’m tired of these roadblocks.

With the student who stole the money from the project I had going last year, it has been anything but roses. He came to my house last weekend to talk with his original business partner to make out a plan for paying him back. I then had him write out how much he spent and what he spent it on. I then had him sign and date it. Then they worked out a plan for him to pay back his partner. Then we all signed and dated that. Well, he comes to the house yesterday and says that he doesn’t understand why he has to lose money to pay it back. Umm…because he gave a part of it to his girlfriend, another part to starting a temporary bar, and just basically spending the other half of it. I don’t know how to spell it out for him, short of sharpening up a stubby dark magenta and stenciling it in crayon on his forehead. It’s like talking to a wall with bad acne. He wanted to go and discuss the situation with the police later in the week at 2:00. Well, I had class at 2:00. When I told the partner that got screwed over that I won’t miss class for the meeting, he just laughed like I was kidding. “No, the police will write a letter to get you out of work.” No, it’s not like high school and being excited to get out of band practice. I actually want to stay on track with my lesson plans and my classes. I’ve got something called work ethic (except when it comes to playing Funkytown on the trumpet) and there’s also a little something called a backbone. Maybe he should get one in terms of getting his former partner to pay him back so I don’t have to keep playing bad cop.

I’ve been having sewing machine issues as well. The “master” has been coming to the house to fix the machine. He keeps saying that every part of the machine isn’t the original part of the machine. He also says that if I give him the money he can go and buy the right part in Nacala or Nampula – possibilities that I ignore. Ever since the day he asked for 400 meticais to dismantle the machine, he wouldn’t exactly be on the list for my phone-a-friend on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. He brings parts from his sewing machines to replace it when I don’t say anything in response. Right now, he is lending me the parts but we still have that lack of trust. He said “you don’t trust me, do you?” I told him he ruined that the day he asked for 400. I said he wouldn’t have asked anyone else for 400 in Monapo. He said that, on the contrary, he would have asked them for 700. Doubtful, seeing as that is more than most people make in a month. So, pardon me if we won’t be doing any trust falls in the near future.

It’s sad when the thing I’ve gotten the most joy out of in the past week has been throwing my Nalgene bottle against the wall to demonstrate to my students its inability to shatter. There was actually a collective gasp as I threw it and some people clapped their hands as it rolled across the floor. I felt like Houdini. Then they all wanted to throw it and I began to doubt the product’s durability and put it back in my tote bag. I wore some sandals that my feet weren’t used to and got sores that have now turned into infected, pussy, red wounds. In Africa, wounds take much longer to heal for some reason. It seems like every pair of shoes and sandals I own rubs my feet in the wrong way. My students immediately notice the foot and say “aren’t you taking any pills to make it go away?” I then try to explain in my best Dr. Quinn voice that only a topical treatment would be effective in healing the sores and that I am already doing that. But I’ve decided to just nod and say yes so they stop eying up my gangrene. And I think they may have lost some respect for me as I tried to teach them “there is” and “there are” barefoot. The concrete just felt so cool and liberating.

My students in my bad turma have been getting my bad side like no other but they still don’t seem to get it. They’re late to class? I make them crawl on all fours to their seats. They are too rowdy? I make them sit down and then announce “we are going to play a little game I like to call silence.” We then proceed to stare at each other for the last 10 minutes of class and whoever talks loses and has to leave. They’re like little 17-year old kids sitting in front of a big, shiny, red button and they have to push it. One particularly mouthy kid said he had to go to the bathroom and I watched him do his potty dance all the way out the door. He came back a few minutes later, looking quickly behind him and slamming the door. He then sat down behind some other students. I’m sure if he’d had the sports section he would have whipped it open. Bam! Bam! Bam! Knock on the door. It was a guy and his friend. “I want to talk to that boy outside. He offended me and my friend.” Part of me wanted to feed him to the wolves. The part of me that saw him try to kick my dog once. But I told them no and then informed the student that he has a big mouth and he best be careful about who he insults in the future on his potty breaks.

One of my students received a zero on a composition because two people wrote the same composition. I warn them over and over again that I will give a zero if I receive the same compositions. And yet I still receive compositions that are copied from books and from the smart kids. He got upset and started to walk out the door. I told him I didn’t give him permission to leave and if he walked out the door, he would receive a falta vermelha. He just shrugged his shoulders and walked out as I reached for my red pen. The next day I told him that I wouldn’t let him back into the classroom until he wrote me an apology letter for his little display. The next day he had written the letter but I decided to take it one step further. I told him that in order for him to stay he had to read his letter of apology in front of the class. His eyes teared up and his lips quivered. “Senhora Professora, I can’t do that.” So I told him he was too proud and had him stand next to me up front. “Everyone, Melito has something to say,” and I then proceeded to read his letter out loud while he stared at the floor. I recognize that it was slightly evil but maybe that public humiliation will tone down his sass in the future.

So hopefully this case of bitter hostility will pass. I am ready to stop feeling so cranky. I wake up and walk to the market and someone says “how are you?” in English and I want to turn to them and say “Don’t start a conversation you can’t finish, buck-o. Do I say ‘ehali?’ to you in order to give myself that false, pat-on-the-back feeling that I can speak fluent Makua just because I know a few random phrases? No. So lay off.” Until the cantankerous emotions subside, I have locked up the slingshot and every balloon to resist the temptation of those little bulls-eyes, er, children that attend the primary school next door during their daily 9:30 am bark-off with the dog. It’s the least I can do.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Prairie Dogs and a Breathless Lone Wolf

Yesterday, we had a “Day of Culture” in Monapo, or as I like to call it “I don’t feel like going to school or work so I officially dub thee a Day of Culture.” I walked from the school with my students to the community stage, where there was music blasting and kids in uniform as far as the eye could see. I quickly got asked to dance and my students got pretty excited when I pulled out my dance moves. It was a repeat of the rousing impromptu dance performance during physical education last year. Let’s just say, I took it to the streets for about…10 seconds. Northwestern Wisconsin streets. In a matter of seconds, I was surrounded by cheering/staring kids. They get a kick out of anything out of the ordinary my roommate or I do. Kids here are amazing dancers. You will be walking down the street and all of a sudden, with music blaring from a local store, they will pull out these sick dance moves and then continue walking as if nothing just happened. People can pop and lock it from the womb here.

For culture day, there was a presentation by local officials – a presentation that, in all honesty, no one cared about. There is a stage but it’s odd because the officials sit on the stage while people dancing or performing are on the ground with the general public. Wouldn’t it make more sense to put those people on the stage so people could see? Yes. Yes, it would. But anyways, as they were presenting on the stage, we noticed a guy had a shirt from the JOMA conference in Nampula this year. Backstory - besides REDES in Mozambique, there is also another youth group that is run by Peace Corps volunteers called JOMA (Youth for Change and Action – translated). They had their conference at the same time as ours that I made a speech at and Nia and I both have shirts. Nia had run into him earlier in the month for “Day of Workers” and he was wearing the shirt. She asked him where he got it and he leaned in really close and was like “why do you want to know so bad?” She asked him where he got the shirt from and he said it was from someone in Angoche. She then asked him who gave it to him because she probably knows them. And then he went into this ridiculous lie about how people have different names on their identification cards so he couldn’t be certain. Well, after getting home yesterday, I was curious about where my JOMA shirt was and lo and behold, it’s missing. The only explanation we can come up with is that he took it off our clothesline. What a creep. So I am determined to see him in public wearing the shirt, and then walk up behind him and do that nifty little hockey trick where they pull it over the person’s back. Followed promptly by the biggest wedgie of his life.

I have been going running every morning at 5:30 at the soccer field by our house and I’m up to 7 laps. There are always children playing soccer, so it can be annoying at times. I have to hide my heavy breathing every time I jog past. You jog past a group of people and they just stare. Stare, Stare. Stare. That’s life for us. Like a monkey in a cage. I enjoy staring back with exaggeration – my jaw hanging down. And then say something like “flies are going to enter your mouth.” Most of the time they get embarrassed and look away, but sometimes they just look confused. One day, these two little boys were sitting in the field and as I started my laps, they stood up and started jogging behind me. Every time I would go slow, they would go slow. Every time I sprinted, they would sprint. It was all quite annoying - like “I know you are but what am I?” or repeating everything someone says. Another time I had the same pace as a 12-year old girl. I tried to pass her but then she sped up. I tried to slow down and I swear she slowed her gait. I think she wanted to run with me, which is cute and everything because I’m the only other female in the field in the morning, but I can’t handle that kind of pressure. I’m the lone wolf type when it comes to exercise.

I am having issues with a turma (class) of students. I handed out a falta collectiva (marking everyone as absent) and a falta vermelha (the worst offense) one day this last week. They just get obnoxious and you have to try to put them in their place. Some teachers have changed classes in the school so they don’t have to teach certain bad turmas. It shouldn’t be like that. In my mind, there should be major punishment for that kind of behavior. For example, kicking them out of school. I become evil when I have a bad turma. I was kicking people out left and right. I made everyone who didn’t do their homework (which was about 90 percent of the class) sit on the floor between the aisles for the entire class period, which is not comfortable. A fellow teacher walked into my classroom in the middle of class to make an announcement and all my students looked up from between the desks like prairie dogs. I think I’ll have a Mozambican teacher yell at them for me. Or at least tattle on specific people to the pedagogical director. There just gets to a point where there isn’t anything you can do and you have to call in the reinforcements.

Kids at the school have been barking at the dog and standing in the cashew tree again. So I went and talked to the school and we haven’t had a problem for the rest of the week. It’s ridiculous that no one controls the kids here. No teachers show up to school so the kids just sit around and get bored, so they decide to stir up trouble. One day I was teaching at school and Nia was home. I guess a kid was throwing rocks at the dog and barking at Timba. Well, Timba has this King Kong-like ability to burst free from his restraints when he is enticed and he managed to do so. He immediately sprinted out of the gate and chased down the kid. As he was trying to flee, the kid got so scared that he fell down and Timba just stopped on a dime next to the kid and turned around as if to say “well, my work here is done.” I like to imagine he dusted his paws off. I would have given up my monthly salary and eaten just cassava for weeks to see that.

Friday, May 15, 2009

I am Feeling Downright Collicky Today

So life has been crazy busy and internet hasn’t been working in my town…and those are my reasons for not updating this. Just think of my desire to update this often as a new years resolution – a completely breakable promise with the best intentions. The REDES conference was a success! It was in the city for four days with 47 girls, 7 Mozambican counterparts and 10 Peace Corps volunteers. Each day, they had a focus on a certain area – gender, HIV/AIDS and health, women’s rights and setting goals. Also, they had technical projects – painting a mural, sewing a capulana purse, first aid sessions, cleaning a park, and computer classes. Everything ran fairly smoothly. No one got seriously ill during the conference. One of my girls told another girl to tell me that she felt sick. I went and found her and asked her what was wrong, only to have her reply with “I feel a little colicky.” I thought that babies only got that. I just told her to drink some water and sleep, which worked like a charm. That was my response to all reported headaches and minor pains. Yeah, I know. I’m a veritable Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman. All in all, I’ve never been that tired in the span of a week. It was stressful and wonderful all wrapped into one. I definitely consider it one of my top achievements in life thus far…besides figuring out that it’s “I’m Shameless,” not “I’m Shaving,” in the hit country song by Garth Brooks.

Since the conference, I’ve had a chance to relax a bit. All of us Nampula volunteers went to Angoche the weekend after to celebrate a fellow PCV’s opening of an impressive youth center and to hang out on the beach. Then, I went to Chocas and Ilha with another volunteer and some ex-pats. It was a lot of fun, despite unnecessarily long chapa rides and a freakishly horrible display of exiting a boat. I have realized that these Wisconsin legs are meant only for land and reasonably small bodies of water. There’s a reason why the Little Mermaid had transition issues. I tried to gracefully descend from the boat, only to slide down the side and fall straight into the water, leaving three bruises (arm, leg and ego, respectively).

One might say I have an irrational fear of a boat tipping over but I think it all circles back to swimming lessons I took when I was about 7 years old. I refused to jump off the diving board until they finally convinced me that it’s not as bad if you hold onto the long metal pole. Well, those teenage swimming instructors were a bunch of Judases because it’s not. When I went to Girl Scout camp a couple years later, Camp Nawakwa, to be exact, they gave me a “yellow zone” swimming bracelet – based entirely on my inability to tread water. The yellow zone was equivalent to what I was bathed in at the age of three. So I stood there in my swimsuit and yellow bracelet, stomping through that puddle they referred to as the “yellow zone” while the other girls got to be submersed in the “orange” and cannon ball like lunatics off of the “red zone” dock. I don’t regret it though. If you think about it, if that lake were an ocean, those red zone show-offs would be the first victims of a great white and I would be the one with all my limbs intact, applying a thick layer of SPF 40 on the shore, saying “well, that sucks.” Glass half full indeed.

My REDES group is going well. We started sewing machine lessons this week. The sewing machine “master” (as he refers to himself) took apart the machine and oiled it. With the machine torn apart, screws lying everywhere, he then tried to tell me that the job would cost 400 mt to complete. I flat out refused and said 100 mt and he laughed. When people try to rip me off and then giggle, I go straight from negotiating to slinging insults. It’s a defense mechanism that doesn’t always get me what I want but it makes me feel a ton better to emotionally maim someone. I went from saying 100 mt to telling the guy that if he wants to take advantage of people and hinder development in Mozambique, he can walk out the front gate and I can get someone else to put the machine together. And then he starts talking to the girls in Macua. Which resulted in me saying “You don’t know how to speak Portuguese, huh? Do you know anything?” All of my REDES girls looked at the ground. I think I made them uncomfortable but maybe it was a lesson in not letting people walk all over you. We settled on 150 and the assurance that he would come when I call to do machine maintenance. That is a promise that might be similar to my promise to update this blog - minus the best intentions.

I am having a woman from the Women’s Club in town teach me a different skill each week that I will, in turn, teach the girls. I tried to get her to come last week. Apparently, in her world, saying to be somewhere at 8 technically falls somewhere between 9 and 9:30. It’s amazing how one can feel like a date being continuously stood up in Mozambique. It’s like Groundhog’s Day meets…Never Been Kissed? We are trying it again this week and I’m hopeful everything will run smoothly and according to plan and other cliches I cant think of at the moment. My ultimate goal though is to give them the basic sewing instructions they need in order to operate a sewing machine and they can take it from there after I leave. Before I leave Mozambique, I have to figure out a location to leave the sewing machines so that the girls can continue the project in order to make it sustainable. So far, we are learning how to work the pedal on the machine and punch holes in a piece of paper. If you are nice to me, I can stitch your name in a piece of notebook paper along with a heartwarming message. Merry Christmas.

I went to the police station next door to finally talk to them about actually sitting down and talking to this guy who stole money from a project I was working on last year. I filed a report and sat in a concrete room with three bored police officers plucking away on typewriters the size of a small SUV. I returned later in the day to walk to the guy’s house with a police officer. I wanted to do it all SWAT-like. For example, send a plain clothes police officer or just send me in first to lay down a false sense of security. But no, the officer goes with me in full policeman’s garb. Apparently subtlety is right up there with chivalry in terms of all things dead. Children in the neighborhood ran screaming when they saw the whitey and the officer. Their mothers were no help either. “Policia! Policia! Policia!” The kids then ran and grabbed guns they had fashioned out of banana leaves and bamboo and pretended to hide from the police while their mothers pretended to turn them in. Would have been cute if we weren’t trying to apprehend a perp. Turns out, this guy got a job working at a banana farm about 50 km from Monapo and is only home on the weekends. The school still won’t let him graduate because of the money he stole and all he can do now is work. If I were him, I would be doing everything I could to get this money back but his priorities seem to be about as organized as my intestinal tract.

I received my COS (close-of-service) date of November 20th. I’m pretty happy about that because it means I will be home in time for Thanksgiving. I will fly home on the 20th. There’s a lot to do before then though so I have plenty to keep myself occupied. I have the library project I’m working on at my school. My sister is coming in July to visit for a couple of weeks and then we are going to Cape Town in South Africa for a week. After that, in August, I have a close of service conference with everyone from my Peace Corps group. September and October will be busy with finishing up projects and beginning that fateful step of searching for a job in the states. I don’t want to be pulled into the black hole of watching The Price is Right and eating frozen chicken pot pies in my parents’ living room for any longer than I have to. And my spider senses tell me my parents would rather not have that black hole exist either. I am thinking I want to work in the Twin Cities for a year or two to save up money for some furthering of education. I’m not exactly sure of what that furthering of education will entail at this point but I figured that it will come to me. Maybe in a dream. Or on a piece of buttered toast in my parents’ living room.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bend It Like Encyclopedia Brown

We just finished the week of ACP exams in Monapo and we all know what that means. We got to play a little game I like to call “close your eyes and point your finger and you’ve got yourself a cheater.” We aren’t even talking about good cheating. Slick 007 cheating. Ocean’s 11 rig-the-deck cheating. No. This is the type of cheating where they see the teacher looking at them and throw their notebook back on the floor. Or the notebook is on the floor but they page through it with their toes. There’s also my favorite: blatantly sitting on the notebook. You can always tell because they might as well have brought a blanket and picnic basket. They don’t tuck in their shirts so that the fabric will cover any corner of the notebook that is peaking out. Also, they look slightly uncomfortable when you walk past them, give you a side-glance or are sweating more than what is seasonably acceptable. When I would yank a notebook out from under a student like the golden egg from under the goose, a look of shock and horror would appear on their faces.

“Senhora Professora! I didn’t cheat! I don’t know how that got there! That’s not my notebook!”

And then I joke that they were probably sitting on the notebook so they could see the board better. They continue to argue with me and the amazing thing is that they actually seem to believe they did nothing wrong. They are just that desperate to pass without doing any work. All of the teachers control the exams of other teachers. We just pass out the tests and keep an eye on them. The teacher eventually comes in and explains everything. I can’t help but feel sheepish when the teacher comes in to explain and I’m standing on a chair, looming over the students in my dark sunglasses, red marker in hand. The teacher usually appreciates it though and backs me up when the students try to complain to them that I’m actually marking down who is cheating and talking.

The students have this trick of not telling you their name after they cheat and not writing their names on the test,so that they can go to the teacher of that discipline later and say that they were sick that day and couldn’t take the test. I have found a good way to combat this problem. I steal from the students. They don’t tell me their name or are suffering from temporary Alzheimer’s? Fine. Osvaldo doesn’t get to wear his shoes on the long walk home. It’s virtually fail proof (unless I worked in a nursing home). When they want their shoes or their random personal belongings returned, they have to go and talk to the teacher. At the end of one test, my tote bag looked like a middle school lost and found.

They take two tests each day for ACPs and one day I controlled 11th grade exams, it was bloodshed. I was handing out “cheated” on tests like a shoe salesman getting commission. After the break between tests, I walked into the room to find a message scrawled on the board.

“Erin – you can not enter this classroom anymore! We are not asking – we are ordering!”

Frankly, I was flattered that they spelled my name correctly. Now if only they would stop spelling English as “Inglesh.” I was hoping for a skull and crossbones. Or at least a Mr. Ick. But alas, we can’t have everything we want in this world.

Life has been amazingly busy between planning a conference in the city and school. I have been dealing with a man who works at a venue in the city where the REDES conference room and food will be provided. I should have known what it would be like to deal with the man from this place (I will call him “half pint”) when one of the first things he asked me when I talked to him in January was “are you married?” I have learned that I just need to lie and say yes in hopes that it will squash the possibility of future discussion of the topic. The problem is that you can tell men you are married, but that isn’t good enough. They need to see your spouse as a conjoined twin at your side, like some warped TLC special, in order to leave you alone. Half Pint attempts to flirt with me each time I go to discuss conference logistics, making me want to shove his stubby tie halfway down the paper shredder in the corner of the office so he can sit there and think about what he’s done.

I went to stay at a friend’s house the other week in an attempt to get more accomplished and in the morning, as I was walking out to the road, I flagged down a chapa to take me to the center of the city. Well, lo and behold, Half Pint was behind the wheel of an SUV directly behind the chapa. He waved for me to come so he could give me a ride. I couldn’t say “oh no, thank you. I much prefer this smelly, dilapidated excuse for public transportation.” So I hopped in with my belongings strapped to my back. The bulk of the conversation went like this.

Half Pint: “I like you a lot.”
Me: “Is that a soccer field over there?”
Half Pint: “When I think about you, I feel frightened by how much I like you.”
Me: “Sporting is a Nampula team? Or is it Benfica? Or are they both?”
Half Pint: “Fright. I don’t know why. Strange, isn’t it?”
Me: “Soccer is a good sport.”
Half Pint: “I like you a lot. We should have dinner the next time you are in the city.”
Me: “I am married.”
Half Pint: “I sense that you are bothered when I talk about how I feel for you.”
Me: “I am married.”
Half Pint: “We should have dinner.”
Me: “I eat dinner with my friends when I’m in the city.”
Half Pint: “You are bothered?”
Me: “Yes.”

Yes, Half Pint is a true Encyclopedia Brown of female emotions. I feel like the closest I could come to him understanding that I don’t like him is by punching him in the face, and outweighing him by a good 50 lbs., I am fairly certain a sneeze would suffice in steamrolling the little feller. I just have to put up with it for another month. Until then, he isn’t charging me for the use of the microphones and sound system.

Speaking of dogs, Timba got his rabies vaccination. So if he bites a thief and they start foaming at the mouth, I can wave a piece of paper in their face and say it must have been something they ate. I was relieved to find out that it wasn’t our town veterinarian but a veterinary technician who was available. The man had gin on his breath but hey, he was a dapper gentleman in comparison with the other guy. I had to pin Timba to the ground while he shot the dog up. I couldn’t plaster the little guy down the whole time and he got up, snarling at the tech. I always love getting a front row seat to Mozambican men yelping like little girls. The man picked up his feet and ran like a collegiate marching band’s half-time show to our front gate and I had to talk to him through the door to have him drop off the paperwork later. Part of the injection ended up on the ground, which the dog promptly lapped up. This is Africa. Waste not. Want not.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hell Hath No Fury

I was sitting on my front veranda, relaxing after an afternoon of teaching, when my peaceful silence was upset by a ruckus. That's right. A ruckus. The primary school children won't give a moment's peace; particularly when Timba is outside. They tend to bark at him, throw rocks at him and generally taunt him with their presence. They yell "succa!" at him, meaning "go away," but in a rude manner, even though he is clearly in the boundaries of the fence and they would likely prefer that he stay in the fence, given their ungodly fear of all canines. Well, I looked up and saw a gaggle of children taunting him and then running back to the school. They were repeating this over and over again, like those little birds who have nothing better to do but come out of cuckoo clocks. Except these little birds were like the Pauly Shore birds of the cuckoo clock world. Don't get me wrong though. I loved Son-in-Law.

I had enough. I picked up my things, got my bag and keys and headed out the front door to the fence. I looked around in my bag for a moment, like I was prepping for a market run. My acting skills worked. I didn't look at all on a mission as I walked leisurely toward the school. I might have swung my arms more to look to be walking leisurely, now that I think about it. As I walked toward the group of children, the jig was up and they fled like Godzilla was clomping down the dirt path after them. It was that running-while-looking-over-the-shoulder-with-fear-in-your-eyes type of flight. And I'll admit - it was kind of satisfying. I tracked a couple of the fugitives to their hiding place in a classroom, where they were trying to casually blend in with the innocents. Au contraire. If you choose to harass a neighbor's dog, make sure you aren't the only ones wearing non-uniform clothing. They just sat there by their bookbags, as if they had been sitting there, casually chatting up their classmates and discussing the turning point in the economic climates of the United States and Japan.

As soon as I entered the classroom, which unsurprisingly was unchaperoned by a teacher, the kids started screaming. I am fairly certain that the two girls didn't think I would recognize them. I spotted them and grabbed their arms to take them outside. Immediately, one of the girls goes Helen Keller, pre-Ann Sullivan, on me, flipping out and crying and flailing her free arm. An almost immediate sign of guilt and angry denial. I took them outside, followed by every child in the classroom and we were quickly surrounded by what appeared to be every child in the school. There were no classes being held as a result of teachers not showing up, so I, the white girl about three feet taller than everyone within 100 meters, was the main source of entertainment. I think the girls thought I was leading them to the jail that is right next door because they started to drift in that direction. I corrected them and steered them toward the school office. For a moment though, I thought it would have been very interesting. I should make friends with a jailer and then lead the children to the jail to have them sit in a cell for ten minutes. Give them some time to think about what they've done. Deny them their one phone call.

The amazing part is that the girls actually came with me and didn't put up too big of a fight as I marched them out of their classroom and to the school office. If I were a horrible child, I would have laid down and had to have been dragged out, suffragette style. We were surrounded by a swarm of children. One little boy I know said "Irene! What did they do?" But he didn't say it in an "Ah, eegats, Senhora Professora, what did these innocent young whippersnappers do? It couldn't have possibly been that dreadful. You going to the clam bake next weekend?" kind of way. It was a teeth-gnashing, eyes red with the desire for blood kind of "sick 'em" you might see in lynch mobs. When I got to the office, it was closed and no one was there. I looked around and there was only one teacher in school and they weren't even teaching. Again, no surprise. So I turned the girls over to the proper authorities at the school, asked them to inform their students to leave our house alone, and then bid him a stern adieu. It was all very classy. Very Anne of Green Gables "your cow got loose in my pasture."

I never got so many respectful "boa tardes" in my life though as I walked past the school again on my way back from the market. There were groups of children standing around and as they saw me, pointed at me and continued talking in hushed whispers. Ah yes. All of Monapo probably knew about the episode within the hour. But at least now the children at the primary school know that if you mess with the bull, you get the horns. Or at least you run a high risk of me recognizing you and dragging you to the director's office to be given the punishment of cleaning out the school latrines. Personally, I'd much rather get the horns.

I was walking down the street the other day and a drunk man walked up to me. "Hello! You need to get your dog vaccinated! And you have to marry a Mozambican." I'm guessing in that order. This scholar and gentleman was referring to my dog's booster rabies shot. He is due for it in March. I think that the only way this man knew about my dog's vaccination history was that he is friends with the creepiest veterinarian alive. I went last year to get Timba his rabies shot and I had to talk my way out of getting beers with the vet with my own money. And that was before he called me his pita in front of a large group of people.

I will remind you, faithful readers, that a pita, here in Mozambique, is not a delicious sandwich bread that you stuff with an assortment of meats and salads. It is someone you have sex with at your leisure - a quasi-lady of the night, if you will. At that time, I just walked away quickly and ignored the comment. As of late, I have been unable to ignore this comment. Men around here just seem to think that it's a name you can shout out like Bingo on a Tuesday night. I was walking home from school the other day and a guy shouted "pita" at me as if he was calling for his lost dog. And yes, he did whistle. I wasn't appealing in any way, shape or form. I was wearing a bata, the equivalent of a white lab coat, hadn't showered in 48 hours, and was sweating so much, you could have set pots under my forehead to save water for the next dry spell. The next day, I'd had it. I walked past a carpenter's shop and a man called out the magic name. I promptly turned around and flicked him off. I have never flicked anyone off out of anger before and to be honest, it was exhilarating. There's only so much harassment one can take.

I just bought a sewing machine for my girls group and we are going to begin sewing lessons next week. I am becoming more and more busy as the year is progressing. I am starting a school newspaper and between that, juggling my girls group, planning the girls' conference in the city and my library project, I am beginning to talk to myself. That may be the first sign of insanity but hey, at least I'm never lonely. Everything moves at an anvil's pace here. For example, my counterpart for the library project has had to make three separate trips into the city to get the right documents so she can open a joint bank account with me. She had documentation before but the bank informed us that the documents were only good enough to open an individual account. This is an anvil with a heck of a lot of red tape on it. Some people get used to it. I, however, still complain bitterly about it in private every few days.