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.