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.