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.


Cory said...

Evil Erin.....what has Africa done to you??? I, too, hope this "episode" passes soon. Miss you!

Charlene said...

It could be me but I detect slight hostility here. Cheer up Erin!! Less than 6 months to go! When you get your library project finished and the sewing machine produces worthy items all these roadblocks will be distant memories. We're looking forward to this fall!

kara said...

I hope this evilness lasts until I get there! If there is anything I love, it's being evil.