Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My Chimpanzee

It’s been a very busy past few weeks. School has finished and I gave each of my students a goodbye message and we had dance parties in every classroom. It was sad that it was the last time I would see them all together but it was also a relief in a way to finish classes. A lot of them have already left Monapo to go and visit relatives over the holidays. They will get back for when school starts at the beginning of February. They have a longer break this year because the presidential election is being held tomorrow (October 28th). I have already turned in my grades and they were much higher than last year so thankfully, there will be no arguments with the school about me being such a horrible teacher because I actually gave students the grades they deserved. When I told the pedagogical director that I reached the 85% passing rate that they require, he reached out and shook my hand. I think they were happy too that there were no arguments this year. I was much easier on my students this year, letting them use their notebooks and doing projects as groups. The passing rate is supposed to be at 85%, but in all reality, less than 50% should actually be passing. In order to even pass, the students only need to get a 10 out of 20 points. It saddens me that knowing half of the information of the year is considered passing for the next level. It’s because of a system such as this that I am correcting my students’ Portuguese. I am a foreigner who just learned Portuguese starting in 2007 and my portuguese is not perfect. Some of my students in ninth grade didn’t even know how to read or write well. My students are intelligent but they have never been pushed to succeed at a higher level. Hopefully, one day that will change.

Monday was the inauguration of the library and it was exciting to see. We announced it on the radio and we invited the local director of district education but she had to go to a funeral so another man came in her stead. At first, he was very standoff-ish and uninterested in a school ceremony. But as the ceremony went on and he saw that it wasn’t your typical boring one, he actually seemed genuinely interested and stopped playing with his cell phone. We had him say a few words, student activists talked about HIV/AIDS, the JOMA group showed some of their art work and my REDES group presented and did their fashion show. I am happy it ended well and I would call it a success in my books. Although I have donated two years of my life to teaching in Monapo and secondary projects, some people here still wouldn’t consider that enough. No. There must be refreshments at the inauguration. So I had to go and buy soft drinks for everyone. I tried not to be bitter about it. It was frustrating but at that point, I was ready to just pull the band-aid, buy the soft drinks and call it a day. Of course there wasn’t enough for everyone and people got upset. I have come to learn that you can’t please everyone and that’s okay. The library is pretty much finished. There are just a few organizational issues that need to be addressed and then we will be set to go for next year.

REDES is having our end of the year goodbye lunch next Saturday. We are going to cook and eat together and I think I will write each of the girls a letter. They are really amazing girls and I hope that they make it all the way through secondary school and continue their education afterward. I have seen them grow so much over the past two years. They have become more confident and vocal. And they have learned how to sew and start their own small sewing business. They have a long way to go still but they have started with the basics and the only direction from here is up. I have already submitted the project reports for my library and REDES projects and am relieved to call those projects finished. They were a lot of work but they also made my Peace Corps experience even better. When I wasn’t teaching, I was always with my REDES girls or in the library. I feel like I have helped my community gain new skills and materials and that’s all I have ever wanted. I feel like I have made an impression on them but they have made a bigger impression on me. We will always be connected to each other and I will miss many of the people in my town very much when I leave in three weeks.

In other news, I have found a home for Timba after I leave! I originally was going to leave him with one of my students but I have always been kind of afraid that he would get beaten by neighbor kids, have rocks thrown at him, or not get any food to eat. As a result, I asked the nuns in our town if they wanted another dog. They told me to bring him by and I have been taking him to their house each day to get the other dogs used to his scent before he joins them entirely. Right now they have a real guard dog. The kind of guard dog that would rip your face off if you were trying to break in. The other one is still just a puppy. I think it would be a great place for Timba. He can run around the fenced in yard all night long and play with the other dog. The nuns are building a new house for the dogs as well. I kind of feel like I’m putting a chimpanzee that has grown accustomed to love and affection of humans back into the rainforest. Timba is my chimpanzee. He will have little interaction with humans, except to bark at them. But I feel like he will be well cared for and live a better, longer life than he would have if he lived in a random house. I feel like a burden has been lifted off of my shoulders and that he will like it. And if the nuns had decided not to take him, a priest across the street saw me with the dog and one of the nuns and he started inquiring to the nuns if the priests could have him. I never thought there would be such a demand for my undisciplined little clown of a dog. Maybe he always was such an unruly jerk for a reason.

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Professional Speed Walker

The waves of alternating excitement and nausea are becoming more recurrent. I have so much to get done before I leave and so little time. I am busy right now labeling every book in the library. The librarian is helping me. And by helping, I mean I write out the labels for the books, stack them up nicely for her, cut the labels, cut the tape to stick the labels on them and lay it out for her. Plus I’m marking my own books. The other day she said “Professora, once the furniture comes, I am going to be very tired.” I bit my lip and continued marking physics books. If all goes well, marking books should be done by the middle of next week. The final deposit has been made and the furniture is ready to be delivered. It is going to be delivered next week and I can’t wait!

Right now, it’s difficult to focus on library work in the library itself because the school is matriculating students for school next year in the same room. So there is a Mozambican line of students of all ages waiting to register for school. A Mozambican line is a mob. No single-file formation. Ah, I have fond memories and look forward to single-file lines in the states. That and talking to someone who works at the bank whose personal cell phone is ringing and them not ignoring you to talk to their cousin. But anyhoo, in the library, it doesn’t help either that the man doing the matriculation is a tempestuous old man with a sharp tongue. I am constantly hearing “stand in a straight line like humans!” and “what do you think I am? Your servant? Fill your paperwork out correctly.” The kids just laugh but I’m fairly certain that if that man yelled at me, my drawers would be soiled.

The new sewing machine is absolutely wonderful! Haven’t had a problem with it yet (knocking on my bed frame as I write that)! The girls have become so much more productive with two. Before, they all stood around the one while one girl toiled on hemming a capulana for what seemed like a decade. I have been practicing my own skills to work with the girls and I have made two dresses and a shirt. I’m getting quite good and I’m not afraid to toot that horn. We were originally going to have a fashion show with what the girls have learned but because of the sewing machine problems and not receiving our funding until last week, I think that we will size it down to a small show. All the girls got capulanas for group solidarity. Very exciting stuff. We are having our group meeting at a girls’ house on Saturday so that her mother can teach embroidery to the girls. Personally, I don’t have the patience to embroider, but the girls are churning out tablecloths. Soon, there won’t be enough tables for all of them.

I am enjoying my last few class periods with my students. They are hilarious. Everyone still calls Hermengildo Timba. I have seen him chasing other kids around the schoolyard over calling him that name. I feel like that nickname might stick but I also think he secretly enjoys it. The kid who almost got beaten up for sassing an older man outside during a bathroom break has actually become a very good student. It’s funny because each time before class, he stands outside the door with his arms crossed and his collar popped like a classroom bouncer. He even held the door open for me and smiled. He’s now a little more distant cry from the boy who tried to kick my dog last year.

Next week, I give my students their final test they will ever have with me. After that, I give them back their results. I think I might offer them the possibility of giving extra credit if they go and get an HIV test and present proof that they went. They want higher grades and it’s important for them to know their status. I’m feeling sad leaving them. I have started to feel like a second mother to them. I feel choked up at the thought that I will never stand in front of them again with a piece of chalk in hand, joke around with all of them or even throw a kid’s notebooks out the door to kick him/her out. I will definitely take class time speed-walks to the latrine off my “will miss” list. I do hope to have a fun last day of school though, and bring music and just hang out a bit.

Next weekend, after the library project is completed, I will be taking three of my REDES girls to Ilha to visit the women’s association and stores to get ideas of things to sew and make, and to give them a small vacation from Monapo. They are pretty excited about it. I am going to talk to their parents to get permission since they are teenage girls. I went to visit one of the girls’ houses last week to see why she hadn’t shown up to a meeting. I was sitting with her aunt, chatting and talking about her family. I asked her how many children she has and she said “two boys. But I’m hoping to have a girl. I need someone to prepare xima.” Xima is maize. So, basically she wants a worker. I am more than happy to give her niece a well-deserved trip, since she seems more like a housekeeper than a member of the family. I just hope that the aunt agrees.

Timba is as wily as ever. Taking him for walks still never gets old. I was walking with my roommate to the market the other night and I took Timba along because he had been cooped up all day. It was like the parting of the Red Sea with people when we walked there. I was sitting at a corner stand with the dog, away from the crowd, petting him and waiting for Nia to buy some juice. People were looking at me like I was petting a crocodile. All of a sudden, one of Nia’s students sees the dog from about twenty feet away and starts screaming like he’s attacking her. Then we walked back to the house and we saw her again, standing ahead of us with her back to us. Being sympathetic to her phobia, we did the right thing. We snuck up behind her with the dog and stood behind her. He didn’t even do anything. He just stood there. And she started screaming and sprinted all the way down the road to her house. And we laughed all the way back to ours. I know that it’s probably horrible that we picked on a person’s phobia, but people need to learn that dogs aren’t just guards. They are also fun little beasts that are dull-witted enough to repeatedly chase the same stick, yet smart enough to steal boiled eggs off the kitchen table when you are busy washing your hands. That potato salad just wasn’t the same that night without those eggs.