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.