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.

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