Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Waving goodbye, Wandering the World, and Welcoming Home!

Happy New Year! I hope that 2013 found you all happy, healthy, and safe. I rang in the New Year in my home town, something I had been looking forward to since leaving in 2010. Yes, my Peace Corps adventure officially came to a close, and as I sit back on my home side of the world, I think it’s only fitting to write one last blog entry to summarize “the end.”

I left off before Thanksgiving. While the holiday didn’t exactly work out as planned, I did have a wonderful day with Ian at my site. Just plain overwhelmed with all the traveling we had ahead for our big trip, we decided to tackle the dinner on our own. We decided this a little too late, though, and didn’t have any time to get into the City to get any ingredients. Looking at what we had (some potatoes, garlic, flour, and spices), we realized we were going to have to be creative. 2 years into our service, though, we were not novice volunteers. So, we found a student to ride his bike up to the next village to buy us a chicken, borrowed a roaster from my friend Veronica, and got to work. When dinner time rolled around, we set the table and served up a nice roasted chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, and a cake that resembled a large krispy kreme donut. And it was delicious! The day was topped off by receiving the much anticipated news that my first niece, Miss Annie Lewis, was born that morning back in Portland, OR (but early evening our time). It was a Thanksgiving I will be sure to remember!

After Thanksgiving, Ian headed back down to get ready to leave from Chimoio, and I was left to pack up, deep clean, and say my goodbyes. My last weekend could not have gone any better. People were SO NICE to me. Compliments do not come easily in Moz… until you are leaving! Colleagues and friends were constantly stopping by and showering me with kind words. Due to limited space in my bags, I gave away nearly all my clothes, a billion extra pencils, and all my broken electronics – giving my last weekend an interesting combination of sadness, nostalgia… and extreme annoyance at all the random people showing up at my door asking for things once they saw I was giving stuff away. But, Monday morning arrived, and Veronica and Celsa, along with my favorite girl from year one, Madalena, all showed up to help me close up my house. Veronica and Celsa acted like my mother hens, making sure I got everything, and then carried all my luggage out to the road and plopped down to wait with me for a ride. 

An hour later, an open back truck stopped to let me get in the back (much preferred to a chapa with all my bags!), I hugged them goodbye… and then I was gone. I watched Kaunda disappear in a blink, and the reality set in that I would most likely never see it again, at least not as it is today. And I was feeling okay with that. I loved my time in Kaunda. I will never forget the people there and the home I found. The time had come to move on, though, and I knew in just 2 short weeks another volunteer would move into her house (it was no longer mine) and continue the projects I began and start her own amazing work in Kaunda. 

Once my town was out of site, the long journey home began! After a week of closing business in Maputo, Ian and I took an overnight bus to Joburg, and then boarded the first of many planes.

First stop: Abu Dhabi! We chose a flight with a full day layover in the hopes that we could get out and see the city. Transport proved to be easy, and we spent the day wandering the streets, looking up in awe at the hundreds of sky scrapers either finished or being built, and finally toured a beautiful giant mosque. We made it back to the airport with time to spare, and boarded our plane to India.

Second stop: India! We arrived in New Delhi after 3 consecutive nights of travel (one overnight bus, and then back to back overnight flights). Basically, we were zombies. We had tried unsuccessfully to book train tickets for travel within India online from Moz, so decided to head straight to the train station to try to book in person. HUGE MISTAKE. There we were, basically sleepwalking, in a chaotic train station with huge bags on our backs with absolutely no knowledge on how to book tickets – and no one spoke English well enough to help us. We decided to throw in the towel until we had gotten a shower and a nap, and through a flurry of confusion and tuk-tuk rides, found ourselves not in our hotel but instead in a tourist help station. We walked out an hour later a little poorer, but did have train tickets for the next 2 weeks, so we were happy campers.

The 2 weeks in India were a combination of beautiful sites, hectic travel, fabulous food, and not so good smells, but overall a wonderful experience. We stopped in Agra, where we visited the beautiful Taj Mahal and fascinating Agra Fort. After that, we headed to Jaipur, the biggest city in the state of Rajasthan, where we market shopped in the old city, saw more palaces and forts, and had a fun date night with Indian McDonald’s (I know… but they have the “Maharaja Mac,” how cool is that?!) and a Bollywood movie in a beautiful theater. After Jaipur, we took another train to Udaipur, a city on a lake where James Bond’s Octopussy was filmed (and you won’t forget it… they have showings of the movie every night in several hostels). Our backpacker’s hotel had a beautiful rooftop lounge overlooking the lake, and in between more palaces, temples, and even a cooking class, we were finally able to relax a bit and just enjoy the beauty of the city. Next, we headed to Jodhpur, the “blue city,” build at the base of a mountain with a gigantic fort protruding out of the rocks. Our final stop was Jaisalmer, the “golden city,” and the gateway to the desert. We toured ANOTHER fort, and spent one evening on a camel safari out into the dunes. After that, it was time to head back to Delhi, and, after a less than peaceful 18 hour train ride back to the capital, we were back at the airport to continue our journey home.

Overall, I am extremely glad to have gotten to see just a small slice of India. Although it was a little dirtier and smellier than I was expecting, the culture was fascinating. It was also really interesting to see a different type of “developing nation.” While India is miles ahead of Moz in several aspects of development, I found myself missing the clean air and slow pace of Mozambique. There are just so many people in India! It would have been great to have time to see more of the country, including more  rural areas, but I still feel like I got a good taste of India, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to visit.  

Third stop: Thailand! With only a week in a country with THOUSANDS of sites to see, we had to make some tough decisions. After discussing our priorities and taking into account that we’d probably be pretty exhausted after India, we limited our visit to only 2 things: the beach, and Bangkok. We landed at the airport Sunday morning, and headed straight to Ko Samet, an island off the southeast seaboard of Thailand. Transport, once again, proved to be a breeze compared to what we were used to in Mozambique, and we landed at our backpacker’s with 3 relaxing days ahead of us. The island was beautiful – we spent our first day walking up and down the coast of the island from pristine beach to crowded resorts and back again, eventually finding our own chairs and cocktails on the sand. The next day was more focused on catching some serious rays and people watching. Wednesday, we headed back up to Bangkok, where we both marveled at the modern world, and took a short day trip up to some ruins to marvel at the ancient world. Saturday, too soon, it was time to go.

Fourth stop: Tokyo! This wasn’t actually a stop, just another layover. Despite being tired (why did we have all overnight flights?!), we knew we would regret not taking the opportunity to glimpse another country, so we headed into downtown and just walked around for a couple hours. That evening, I boarded my flight to Portland and Ian got on his to Chicago. 3 weeks and 6 countries later, it was time to go home.

Fifth stop: USA! I landed Dec. 23rd in Portland, where I met my adorable little niece, and spent a fabulous Christmas with almost all of my family. After a week there, I finally got home, which brings me to where I am sitting today.

So what comes next? The nanny hopping begins this weekend, when I head out to Colorado to stay with my sister Norah and start nannying for my cute-as-a-button nephew, Henry. In March, I’ll do the same for Molly and Annie out in Portland, and start taking prerequisite classes as I have decided to apply for nursing school next year to eventually become a midwife. At least that’s the plan for now!

I guess that is where this blog comes to a close. I have really enjoyed being able to share my journey in this way, and I hope you have enjoyed reading it. The support I received from so many people back home (and in Moz) was absolutely necessary for my success in the Peace Corps. Thank you!!

My last song will be a repeat – one that I was listening pretty much nonstop as I was getting ready to leave: “Home” by Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeroes.

Thanks for reading!!!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Homestays, Homestretches, and (almost) Homeward Bound!

Wow, has it really been almost 2 months since I last wrote? Time has been flying more than I think it ever has in my life, and I suddenly find myself with just 2 measly weeks left in Kaunda. So what have I been doing the last 2 months? Well, quite bit actually!

The end of September was pretty busy with English Theater. This year I was the coordinator for Tete Province’s annual competition. This meant I had to invite schools, set up the location, organize food, and make sure everyone got to the competition. As far as logistics, Tete is probably one of the easiest competitions to organize, but the competition still was a stressful affair. At one point I thought our roster was full, and stopped inviting other schools… only to have schools drop out a week before the competition. This led me to calling teachers 3 days before the competition inviting them to come – which was, as I knew it would be, completely useless as it takes more than 3 days for even the most talented Mozambican students to come up with a ten minute theater piece entirely in English! The day before the competition, I headed into town to make sure everything was set up in terms of lodging, location, and food. I arrived at the bank to take out all the money (you have to pay for pretty much everything in cash here) – about 80,000 mets (almost 3,000 dollars). After waiting forever for the withdrawal to process, I watched with horror as the bank teller set 80,000 mets on the counter – all in 50 and 100 note bills – in front of a busy lobby of waiting customers. I could just picture alerts going around to all the pick pocketers in Tete City- watch out for the short white girl, she’s loaded!! But, it all came together, and despite one of the drop out schools showing up the day of the competition, it was overall a big success. My poor English Club got a little ignored the day of the competition with me running around, but they still had a good time and walked away very proud of themselves.

The day of the competition conveniently coincided with the day I was set to fly down to Maputo to take part in Week 1 of Pre-Service Training for Moz19, the new group of volunteers. This was my first time back in Namaacha since my own PST, and I was pretty excited to get to go, especially Week 1! The trainees were full of questions about everything Mozambique. It was really fun to realize the things we have become so accustomed to, and remember that at one point this WASN’T normal to us. Is it normal that no one speaks during dinner? Of course! Expect total silence. Can I wear shorts at my home stay? Not if you don’t want people staring at your pale white legs all evening. Why does my brother try to hold my hand all the time? Because people love holding hands here. Boys and girls, boys and boys, principals and teachers, it’s just the way things are. It was cool to feel like a quasi-“expert” on Mozambican culture. I guess that’s what 2 years will get you! It was also just such a wonderful thing to get to witness their optimism an overall excitement about Peace Corps. After failure on top of failure (with successes mixed in), it’s easy to forget the dreams you had coming into PC. Usually when a group of PCVs get together, it’s not so much to share success stories, but rather to vent about your latest frustration. But you do have success stories! Listening to what these new trainees hoped to experience in the 2 years made me realize I have, in fact, accomplished so many of my goals. I wanted to participate in Training this year for many reasons, but one was that I was hoping it would be a nice cherry on the top of my service, and that hope was fulfilled. I left at the end of the week with an overall positive feeling about Mozambique and with genuine excitement for my last 2 months at site. How great is that!?

Another fun aspect of training was that I got to see my host family again! I was honestly kind of dreading seeing them. I was dying to see my sisters, but called them when I got there and learned they were studying in Maputo and would not be in Namaacha that week. Bummer! Not sure if I ever wrote about it, but the end of my home stay experience with my “mom” was actually not that positive. My last week of training, my dad moved home and the whole dynamic changed. Then, the day I left, my mom took off for work without even saying goodbye! I was offended at the time, but now after knowing more about the culture, was REALLY offended. Not saying goodbye to someone is a really bad thing to do. So anyway, I was not that thrilled to go see my mom, but I knew I should do it. I figured my sisters would have called her to let her know I was there, so one afternoon trudged down my old road to go visit. At first I thought I must not remember where my house was- it looked completely different! They had painted the outside and there was a car in the driveway. Behind the car was a woman, and as soon as she looked up a huge smile spread across her face. “MANA ANA!!!!!!!!!!!” she screamed and ran up to hug and kiss me. She invited me inside to the beautifully remodeled house and proceeded to ask me question after question about how I’ve been. She told me she’d been trying to call me for months to invite me to their wedding at the end of November. My parents were “traditionally” married, like many Mozambican couples, but were apparently making it official with a church wedding. She filled me in on the family- my sisters are both living in Maputo, one studying civil engineering and the other electrical engineering- just like they had hoped to do when I was with them as they finished 11th grade! I am so happy for them. My dad wasn’t home at the time, but she called him (“Your daughter is here! Come home!”) and he eventually arrived and we ate some crackers and drank some soda. It was a wonderful visit and I am so glad I stopped by. Apparently my mom’s not saying goodbye was probably just a fluke and she really did like me after all.

After a great week in Namaacha, I returned to site for the “homestretch.” Before I left, I knew final exams would be coming up… but little did I know that they would be the day I got back to site! I thought I had another week of teaching, but thought wrong. We would have exams as we’d had them all year, on an exam schedule, but this time we got to write our own. I had one day to write the English final that would be given to all the 8th graders the next day. Well, so much for the sentimental feelings I had about my last days in the classroom. Apparently they had already happened! It all was fine, though, and the students did pretty well on the exam despite any preparation with me in the classroom. The rest of the year was spent proctoring other disciplines and calculating (and changing so I would have a high enough passing percentage) final grades. And then it was done! 2 years of teaching, just over. I am sad to not give any more classes to the students, but ready to be done with the Mozambican education system… which brings me to today.

We just finished the week of the first round of National Exams, a week I’d rather erase from my memory of Kaunda. I could write a whole blog post about the frustrations of the week, and maybe I’ll do that soon.  For now, let me just sum it up by saying: corruption is rampant, and it is really unfortunate that no one seems to see the negative effects on society as a whole.

So here we are! This coming week I will be busy correcting National Exams. The next week I will meet up with some other PCVs for my 3rd(!) Thanksgiving in Mozambique, and then it will be the last weekend at site. I plan on visiting all my close friends that weekend, and also inviting the ladies I am closest with over for a clothes extravanganza. How I ever ended up with this many t-shirts is beyond me, but they are not travelling back with me. I am hoping it doesn’t cause a big uproar, but I’ll be gone before they can complain too much. I expect to continue feeling the roller coaster of emotions until then. On Wednesday I was almost in tears walking home from visiting with Celsa for a bit because I was so sad to be leaving. Thursday I was actually in tears because I was so mad at the stuff going on at school. Just now I walked outside with my buckets to go get water and 2 of the annoying children yelled to me to let them go get me water… a fitting apology after 2 years of harassment, which also gets me a little choked up. I just am hoping time doesn’t go too quickly the next 2 weeks- I want to fully enjoy my last days in Kaunda.  November 26th I fly down to Maputo for a week of Close of Service processing, and then on November 30th, I become an official Returned Peace Corps Volunteer!

From there, I begin my COS trip. I guess I have never mentioned it here (although most of you either know from me - or my mother, more likely) that I have been dating another volunteer for basically the whole time here. Anyway, Ian and I are traveling to India (with a day layover in Abu Dhabi) for 2 weeks, then Thailand for a week, and then heading back home! I will arrive in Portland, to greet my new little niece (who could be arriving any day now) and my family on December 23rd. After a week there, I will finally get to Midland! Just in time for a New Years celebration. Will it really be 2013?!

I hope you are all well back home. I imagine winter is rolling in, and colder days are coming. Just think of me here, sweating in the 43 degree C sun. You can convert it – that’s hot! – and you will maybe feel happy to see snow. Grass is always greener, right? The song for this post is Elton John’s “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters.” Not sure why… just feels like a good song for the ending of things. Okay, stay well!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Quckly Coming to a Close (almost following the alliteration theme...)

Well, it’s September 20th. I’m about one week away from a day I sometimes doubted I would actually come to: The 2 Year Mark.

I’ve been browsing other blogs of my Moz15 colleagues, and it seems like everyone’s starting to reflect back on his or her service. “Things I’ve Learned,” “Things I Will/Won’t Miss,” “Things I Love.” How will I reflect on 2 years in Mozambique? What is a good way to sum up how I feel about the last almost 10% of my life that I have spent living in Kaunda? Although the title may be a little off-putting, bear with me as we enter into my 2 year reflection: 

“Things I’m Sick of”

I’m sick of the fact that it is already so hot when I wake up in the morning that I start sweating immediately, and that the heat seems to never subside… but because of this heat, I have been forced to get up so early to jog that I see the sunrise almost every day, something I know I won’t do back home, and for that I am thankful.

I’m sick of old “mato” men and women staring at me like the devil in running shorts as I come up to them on the road in the morning… but as soon as I greet them with a “bom dia,” they instantly break into the biggest smile in the world, and for that I am thankful.

I’m sick of cooking with the same 3 ingredients: tomatoes, onions, and garlic… but it has made me realize how to be creative with food, and how to really appreciate all the variety we have in our American diet, and for that I am thankful.

I’m sick of having nothing to do in the evening but watch Amazing Race reruns on my computer before falling asleep around 9 pm… but I realize I am more well rested than I have been since middle school, and as a result have maintained wonderful health the past two years, and for that I am thankful.

I was sick of living with no cell phone service, of never being able to talk to anyone that would truly understand me when I needed to vent… but because of that, I have learned how to productively conquer my problems. I regularly journal, and have learned the wonderful ability to let something settle before I freak out, and for that I am thankful (and I’m pretty sure my mom is, too).

I’m sick of not having enough work to keep me busy… but as a result, have read so many wonderful books, watched so many wonderful (and, okay, not so wonderful, but all the same entertaining) TV shows, done so many crosswords, and played guitar, and for that I am thankful.

I’m sick of my flat mattress… but after seeing many friend’s houses in town, I realize I am one of the lucky few to have a bed, and for that I am thankful.

I’m sick of bucket baths… but in the course of the last 2 years, I have had some of the most satisfying bathing experiences of my life (I know that sounds weird, but it’s true). There is nothing like pouring cups of cold water over yourself on a day that is so hot you can smell yourself sweating. I also know that the majority of my students do not have electricity to quickly heat up water for baths before school during the cold months, yet I can heat it up in 3 minutes, and for that I am thankful.

I’m sick of my latrine… but compared with other PCVs indoor “pour flush” toilets, where you have to pour water down them and they never seem to actually flush all the way, I am infinitely grateful for the fact that after I do my business, I never have to see it again, and for that I am REALLY thankful!

I’m sick of speaking Portuguese… but I now realize that I can sit and have an hour long conversation with someone, without any struggle, and walk away without a headache… something I couldn’t imagine 2 years ago! And for that I am thankful.

I’m sick of my school not taking itself seriously, and it taking at least 3 weeks after each break for the classroom to actually become full enough to give serious classes… but because of this, I have been able to travel the country and see some of the beautiful places in Moz, something that not many Mozambicans actually get to do themselves, and for that I am thankful.

I’m sick of teaching grade 8 curriculum to students that are struggling to read and seem to be at about a grade 2 level by American standards… but after 2 years in the classroom, I have realized how to cater to their strengths, and can see their wheels turning. I feel like they are actually learning with me now, and for that I am thankful.

I’m sick of teaching with no resources… but the students are used to seeing NOTHING in their classes, let alone being rewarded for good work. Because of this, I can walk into a class of 16 year olds and start putting stickers on their foreheads for participation… and they all start shouting out answers! I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have the same effect in a high school class in America… and for that I am thankful.

I’m sick of trying to plan events where it is impossible to get anything organized more than a few days before… but I realize that in this culture, people just take things one day at a time. There is no stress about next week because no one knows what could happen until then, let alone next year. As a result, people seem much more content, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard of anyone dying from heart problems related to stress in Mozambique, and it has maybe rubbed off on me, at least a little… and for that I am thankful.

I’m sick of people asking me for food, money, or whatever else they think I have that they want… but I realize that if I were to ask someone else in my town for those things myself, they would definitely give it to me, as they would to any neighbor, and for that I am thankful.

I’m sick of every single person in town knowing every single thing I do every single day… but I realize it’s only because they are interested in me and want to figure me out. This “celebrity” has also made it so I can’t go anywhere without being greeted by name by every single person I pass, and has made me feel incredibly loved and safe in my community. If anyone messed with me, everyone would know it, and they all have my back… and for that I am thankful.

I’m sick of being far away from my family… but I have been forced to find substitutes for my family here in Kaunda. I have my “mom” figures (the secretaries, Beth and Anabela, who always make sure to check in on me the next day if I say the littlest thing is wrong, like I have a headache), my “older sister” (Celsa, my friend from day 1, who although she is at a different place than me in life, is always there to help me out and treats me like her equal), my “older brothers” (all the male teachers at my school who I don’t hang out with THAT much, but still enjoy shooting the breeze with from time to time), my “best friend” (Veronica, my cool Maputo-grown pal who just really gets me and whom I love to just chat with), my “little brothers and sisters” (all my kids in REDES, soccer, and English Club, who I just love to joke around with), and my “children” (my turma, or the kids that have me as their homeroom teacher, who I am responsible for and who actually come to me for all their problems expecting me to solve them), and for that I am thankful.

I’m sick of living life as a “countdown,” thinking how many days until I leave for the weekend, how many days until the next social gathering, how many days until I leave Mozambique for good… but as that final countdown is actually starting, I’m realizing that maybe I don’t want time to go so fast. Sure, I am excited to get back to America, but this place has become my home. Will I really never ever see this new “family” again? It’s a different sort of goodbye that’s coming up… one I’m not sure I’ve ever had to do before. I’ve said goodbye to friends who have moved growing up, to family members who have relocated across the country, to classmates in high school, to roommates in college… but I feel like there’s always a way to keep in touch easily or to see them again. What are the chances that I will come back to Mozambique anytime in the next 10 years? That anyone from here will ever travel outside of Moz, let alone to America? How will I keep in touch with a community that just got cell phone service a couple months ago? Will I still be able to speak enough Portuguese to call them? Will I never ever see my best friends for the last 2 years again? Are these the last few sunrises I will ever get to see in Kaunda, the last few sunsets I will ever watch from my back stoop, the last fresh mangos I will ever eat? I suddenly feel not so ready for that… and although it makes me sad, I know that means the last 2 years have been some great ones, despite every struggle and frustration, and for that I am thankful.

The song for this post maybe a cliché, but is my all-time favorite Beatles song, “In My Life.” I’m sure my emotions will continue to follow a roller coaster through these last couple months… but here’s to 71 more days in Mozambique, whatever they may bring!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Safari, Sherry, and So-Longs

Hello again, friends and family! Today is Sunday of Labor Day weekend, and I imagine America is enjoying the last real weekend of summer. I sincerely hope everyone is eating lots of barbeque, corn on the cob, and ICE CREAM! Here in Kaunda (and yes, I will post this from my site thanks to my fancy new internet modem that goes with our new cell phone network and allows me to get on the internet in my bedroom), I am spending a lazy Sunday catching up on grading, lesson planning, and yes, blog post writing.

So what’s been going on? Since my last update, I feel like I have had quite a month and a half! As I mentioned, my mom came over to visit at the beginning of August. It was great! After meeting her in Johannesburg, we went to Kruger National Park in eastern South Africa where we spent 3 days spotting elephants, lions, giraffes, hippos, and maybe leopard eyes at night… but that is up for debate. The lodge was beautiful, right outside the park. In the morning we could sit on the upstairs deck and watch elephants coming to the river, and at night we were treated to wonderful South African meats (which I ate- I am now a ravenous meat-eater, if you didn’t know!). From there, we flew on to Cape Town, where we spent a few rainy-ish days wandering the city doing all the good tourist stuff. After Cape Town, my mother braved the left side of the road and drove us to Hermanus, known for its whale watching. We took a great “cliff hike,” and saw many whales out in the ocean. From Hermanus, we hopped on the Garden Route and stopped at Knysna, another nice touristy town, and ended up in Port Elizabeth after stopping at one more elephant park along the way. All in all, a great trip and a wonderful way to spend some time with my mom! I think she enjoyed herself, despite my insistence on only eating or staying places where we could watch the Olympics.

After such a great trip, getting back to site was a stressful occurrence. I lost my Mozambican SIM card in South Africa, and was just overall worried about going back to loneliness after vacation. My mom gave me a good pep talk (even though she ended up being the teary one upon saying goodbye… or maybe that was both of us), and I was able to by a new card in Tete City before going back up to site. Good thing I did, too, because upon arrival, I was met by some upsetting news and was happy to be able to call someone for support.

When I leave site, I generally leave Harriet at my director’s house, where his wife takes care of her. Generally they just keep her tied up the whole time, but since she’d been running free lately and I really didn’t want her to spend that long of a time on a rope, I told them it was okay to let her be free.

 As soon as I got to site, one of my students ran up to help me carry my bags. We chatted a bit, and I asked him, “And my dog, she’s still alive?” kind of jokingly. “She died!” he responded, with a huge smile. “You’re kidding, right? You are lying?” I asked him. “No, she died. A car. Okay, goodbye, Teacher.”

This is what I had been afraid of. I unlocked my house and headed over to the director’s house to see if it was true, and sure enough, just one look at my director’s wife’s face and I knew. She told me she had been taking good care of her, but she ran out the street one day and was hit by a semi. It was apparently only 4 days before I got back. I couldn’t really ask more questions as I knew I would start crying, and I had a hunch that crying was not something that would not be acceptable for the death of a dog in Mozambique. This was confirmed when people proceeded to bring up how my dog died in any type of conversation I had in the next few days. Besides a few colleagues who recognized that this dog was like my child, very few people seemed to think it was anything more than just something that happened. While the first week was rough, and I still miss Harriet, I have come to terms with the fact that she did live a much better 8 months with me than she would have otherwise, and I am very thankful to not have been there to witness it. A goodbye was coming in November anyway, but I am very sad our time together was cut short.

Despite the loss of my little companion, third trimester was already in full swing and it was time to get back to work! One of my colleagues had attempted to give some of my classes while I was gone, but between his busy schedule and a lack of participation at the beginning of the trimester, I had a lot of catching up to do. It felt very good to get back to teaching, though, and I think the students were really happy to have me back. Because of the provincial exams taking up the last 3 weeks of the trimester, a 2 week break, and me missing the beginning of the new trimester, I had not given actual lessons since June! It came right back, though, and I have been working hard to make these last classes I give in Mozambique good ones.

Secondary projects continue to struggle, but exist. My REDES girls keep asking when we are meeting, but as soon as we plan a meeting, they don’t show up. I have given up on forcing soccer practices for the girls, but am happy on the occasional day when they decide they want to show up to go out and play with them. And English Club, anticipating the English Theater Competition at the end of September, has started rehearsing their theater piece, although they often claim they have too much homework to come to practice. While this situation would normally get me down during my time in Kaunda, I have settled into a nice “last 3 months at site” mindset, and I have to say… it’s pretty nice. The pressure is gone! Sure, I want my projects to function well, but at this point, I can’t force it. The students are busy, the schedule is hard for them to find time, and when you look at the big picture, my secondary projects have been a success! The REDES group, for example, exists, and I truly believe will continue when I am gone. It’s struggling to meet regularly right now, but the girls who take part consider themselves part of the group, have learned what it means to be a REDES girl, and have two other Mozambican women teachers that they know support them. At this point, I’m okay accepting that and waiting for them to take action. Sometimes I feel guilty, but I don’t want to spend my last 3 months being disappointed that they don’t show up every week… I’d rather admit that finding time to meet has been difficult this year, but the group exists. And hey, if it means my evenings are free to relax, that’s okay with me! What happens next year is up to the girls, and the new volunteer(s).

So that’s the other big news… Kaunda will for sure be getting at least one, if not two, PCVs for the next two years. I’m thrilled. It’s a great site for a volunteer, especially now that communication is not an issue. It’s a pretty small site for two volunteers, but I’m sure they will figure out how to make it their own if that is the case. I just hope the school has work for them! I keep thinking every evening “wow, I can’t believe in less than 3 months I will just leave forever.” And then one day it hit me “Wow, in just over 3 months, one or two more people will be arriving here to live for 2 years, in MY house!” I guess it won’t be my house anymore! In terms of the school, the pedagogical director (the one who actually deals with scheduling, etc) that I worked under has been transferred, being replaced by two teachers who I strongly approve of. They don’t really drink and are very organized, something that will be really good for the school. It will be interesting to learn (hopefully the volunteers keep blogs!) how Kaunda is running in years to come.

That brings me pretty much up to date. This has been pretty much a newsy post, but maybe I’ll think of some profound things to write about in these last few months - no promises, though. I hope life continues to be wonderful back home. I did set my alarm for 3:45 am this morning to check the Michigan score at half time, but was disappointed. L It’s early, though, and I just feel lucky to be more in the loop this year now with internet access! I leave Mozambican soil on November 30, so I am in the homestretch. On Thursday, all of Moz15 heads down to Maputo for our “Close of Service” Conference. I’m hoping it will be both informative and a good chance to catch up with our training class, almost 2 years after arriving in country. I will hopefully get to upload some pictures of my vacation from Maputo, too, where it won’t take as long as from here!

Oh, and I know at this point 2 years ago I was going crazy reading blogs from PC Moz as I tried to figure out how to get ready to leave at the end of September. So, if any Moz19 future PCVs are out the reading this, know you are coming to a wonderful place! Don’t stress out too much about packing (easier said than done, I know). After visiting the surrounding African countries, I can honestly say that Mozambique is the friendliest country in this part of Africa. Enjoy your last few weeks at home, but know it will not take long for Moz to feel like home!

On that note, I will wrap it up. The song for this post is “Wildflowers” by Tom Petty. Happy Labor Day, and enjoy the last few warm weeks of summer!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

June, July, and Jogos!

Hello! Hope you are all enjoying a beautiful summer State-side. From what I have heard, it has been rather hot! In Mozambique, we are experiencing a very mild winter. While the nights have been slightly chilly, the days remain sunny and warm, which is very pleasant. June and July have been very busy for me, which is just how I like it. Another fun addition to my life has been cell phone service! Mid-June I heard my phone ring for the first time in Kaunda- a very sweet sound to hear!

At the beginning of June, I was able to accompany the already existing “culture group” from my school to a JUNTOS (co-ed youth group promoting gender equality) Workshop with groups from 3 other schools. Although getting them all there was a challenge in terms of transport (the chapa I arranged to come get us showed up 3 hours late!), the students enjoyed the weekend. I was a little worried at first; you could tell my students were from a more rural area than the other participants. Their Portuguese was weaker, they were less confident participating in large group discussions, and they definitely were not the most stylishly dressed. The last night, however, we had allowed time for each group to present something. Some groups presented theater, others art projects, and my group was able to present their cultural dance that they actually had presented at the provincial “culture competition” earlier in the year. They did an amazing job, and everyone was really impressed. They left feeling proud of themselves for what they could do, making the weekend a great success.

Also in June, I was able to host the first real soccer game with my girls in Kaunda. I received the invitation from a neighboring school for a “friendly game,” and they had volunteered to come to us. All we had to do was show up… easy enough, right? Well, not this year! It has been like pulling teeth to get the girls to show up for practice this year. I was going classroom to classroom every day reminding them that we had a game, and by the end of the week before the Saturday game, I was finally feeling like we’d have enough to play a full team. Game day, we had 14 girls show up an hour before game time, and I was feeling very exciting to play coach in a real match. I remembered back to my soccer days, thinking the fair thing to be was to sub in the bench players every ten minutes to give everyone a chance to play. Well, in Mozambique, equal playing time is not really a concern. The girls on the field got so mad every time they got subbed, and everyone watching on the sidelines was telling me to get the lesser skilled girls off the field. I was so fed up by half time that I just stopped even trying to coach and just let them do whatever they want. We lost 2-0, and sure enough after they were all saying that they should have practiced more and vowed to start showing up for morning practice. I assumed this was just the typical Kaunda lie, but the next morning I had girls at my house at 5:15 am, in the pitch black, asking for the ball. The first week was incredible- I had 10+ girls out running laps before 6 am! One week was all it lasted though… by the second week I found myself alone again on the field in the morning. But, it was fun while it lasted.

The end of June brought my first “troca” of the year. A troca is an exchange between 2 or 3 school groups, usually just over one or two days. For this troca, my REDES girls prepared to welcome the REDES group from Cateme, the new school that Audrey and Helen teach at, to come up to Kaunda for a day. It was a very easy day; the girls did a name game, played a soccer match, ate lunch, participated in a short HIV/sexual health lesson, and then the Cateme girls presented a theater and mine presented a dance. Although it seems simple, the girls still got a lot out of meeting girls from another school, and our counterparts really enjoyed getting to know each other better. Besides a minor hand slapping I got from my school direction for not inviting my school director to participate, the day was fun and easy… a nice change from the usual hassle and stress of secondary project activities!

The end of June brought another round of provincially mandated exams, and then we were already at the end of second trimester! The first week of the 2 week break for the students was reserved for the biannual “Jogos Escolares” (School Games) to take place in the district capital, Manje. Because my vacation with my mom was not scheduled until the end of July, I was able to participate in the week-long tournament with my soccer girls. The weeks leading up were pretty nerve-wracking. I had already entered a full team roster into the district capital earlier in the trimester, but since our one shining week of successful practices, I had barely any girls that regularly showed up to play. I was also told that every girl needed to have documents that proved she was between 13 and 15 years old... but I was also told that the documents could be faked if needed, for a price. The weekend before the games, I was panicking that we wouldn’t have enough girls to play and that we’d have no real documents to show. By Sunday I was ready to cancel our participation, but, as things always tend to happen in Moz, Sunday afternoon I had 12 girls saying they were for sure going to go to the games.

On Monday, we began the waiting game. The only document I had ever seen about the Games stated the start day as Tuesday, yet somehow everyone else knew that we would leave on Monday. So by about 9 am, all of the students participating (we had a girls’ soccer game, boys’ soccer team, some runners to participate in track events, and, of course, a boy and a girl who would represent the school for Xadrez, or Chess). Around 11 am, a large open-back truck drove by and said they were headed to the schools south of us to pick up the students there, and would be back through in a couple hours to pick us up. Well, lunchtime came and went, as did the entire afternoon. Around 6 pm, the truck finally came back by- packed to the gills. By 6 pm is it already dark, but the driver claimed he would go drop the students already boarded in Manje, and return to pick us up afterwards. This meant at least 2 more hours of waiting. I had not been by the road when this interaction happened, but heard the news when I went to talk to one of the other coaches. I was shocked to hear they planned on sending the students on an open-back at night, and he agreed that it was not a good idea… yet had no telephone number for anyone in Manje. One of Peace Corps’ policies is no night travel, so I was stuck in a pretty awkward position. Either I bite the bullet and travel with my kids, or I send them without a chaperone and go up alone the next day. Selfishly, I decided the latter was the better option. I confirmed with the other coaches that they would make sure my girls got safely to their lodging area, gave my girls my phone number, and prayed that everything would work out.

The next morning, I got up to the games by 7 am and was glad to hear that everything had worked out fine. The students were all in their uniforms already, getting ready for the opening ceremonies. After so many Peace Corps run events, I was very excited to see how a completely Mozambican run event functioned. Although the week was a lot of fun for the kids, I walked away thinking that we Americans could have been doing a lot less to put on our workshops and conferences! First of all, each school had 2 classrooms to sleep in- one for the girls and one for the boys. Each classroom had only 4 grass mats on the floor for all the girls to share. The students had to take baths in the school’s latrines, and fight over the very few buckets available to use to do so. We were served 6 consecutive meals of beans and rice (or xima), and there were only about 30 plates for the 200 or so students to share. Silverware was non-existent, and drinking water was one large pot of water from the local water pump and a few cups to go around. Although the focus of the week was the sports, the balls used were the ones I had brought with us to warm up with, as Manje did not have a soccer ball. Compare this to our REDES conference… each girl has a bed, receives bottled drinking water, sits down to full meals in a dining hall, often has a running water shower, and receives 2 snacks per day. On top of this, each girl receives notebooks, pens, and any other materials she may need for the sessions. At the end of the day, it’s tough to say which is better. Are we being excessive? Should we not give the girls water? Should we not pay for lodging and instead have them sleep on the floor? I saw this past week that the events can still go on without all that… but at the same time, the students definitely didn’t feel as special. They did, however, get to play against all the teams in the district, and although they came in last place, they had a wonderful time at the Games. Seven of my girls got selected to go on to the Provincial Games as part of the District Team, which was very cool for them as well. In the end, I’m very glad I participated and got to share the week with my girls… even if it wasn’t quite as luxurious as I am used to.

So, that brings me to today. Tomorrow I leave with 2 girls to our REDES conference, where we will sleep in our beds and drink our bottled water. I’m crossing my fingers that the chapa I arranged to take all the participants from Tete province to Chimoio does not show up 3 hours late, but am looking forward to another conference to share with my girls. In just a couple short weeks, my mom flies in to South Africa and we will begin our 2 week journey around South Africa! Mid-August, I will get back to site and begin my last 3 months of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I received my last day as well, and now know that on November 30th, I will officially become a Returned PCV. How exciting!

This post’s song is “Bleecker Street” by Simon and Garfunkel… as always, no reason, just what I’ve been listening to lately.

I hope to hear from you all soon! Enjoy the summer, and I hope time isn’t flying there as much as it is here!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Managing Meetings in Mozambique

Good day, America! How is it going? As you all get ready to embrace the wonderful summer months, our school year is pretty much smack-dab half way done, and the time continues to feel like it’s moving faster and faster! As May comes to a close, I am getting ready to enter my final 6 months as a PCV in Mozambique. Although some days I feel I could be ready to go tomorrow, most days I feel like I have a good 180ish days left (but who’s counting??). Unfortunately, after 20 or so months in one place, the things I have to update about are getting less and less. I’m still loving teaching, my secondary projects are still an incredible inspiration or an incredible frustration, depending on the day, and my life continues to be, for the most part, very enjoyable.

That being said, one activity that I am totally ready to throw out the window is the dreaded school meeting. After a year and a half in Kaunda, I’ve had my fill. Just to give you a taste of the infuriating aspects of a school meeting, and to prepare you in case you ever chance upon working in a Mozambican school in the future, I have compiled here a “survival guide.”

Rule 1: Your schedule or outside commitments do not matter. The only time-table that is of concern is that of the “chefe,” or whoever is in charge of the meeting. So what if the meeting was supposed to start at 8? So what if every other person left their house on time and is ready to go? If he is not there, the meeting will not start. When he walks in 2 hours late (and I am not exaggerating, 2 hours is completely normal), do not expect an apology. You are not giving him your time, he is giving you his time. The underlying thing to remember is that you are not important. Your attendance, however, is.

Rule 2: If you so happen to walk in late, it is perfectly acceptable to interrupt whoever is speaking to make sure you greet all your colleagues. No matter if the school director is talking or not, you will walk in and say “Bom dia, colegas.” You will draw attention to the fact that you are late, but no one will be offended.

Rule 3: The agenda will be read aloud, and it will be read as it is written, no matter how inaccurate the delay has deemed it. For example, if the meeting was supposed to start at 8 am, the chefe will begin with “At 8 am, we will have our welcome. At 8:30…” etc. All good, right? Well, not so good if it is now 10:30. But don’t worry, no one will ever remark on the fact that it is completely wrong.

Rule 4: If you have something you would like to discuss, the appropriate time is after the agenda reading. You can basically say everything you have to say then, but just know that you are just alerting everyone of your issue to be discussed later. The chefes will write down details of your speech, and then later you will repeat everything again to actually be discussed.  No need to paraphrase on either occasion. Do not worry about not being efficient with the time; not wasting time is the least of everyone’s concerns.

Rule 5: It is totally appropriate to completely speak poorly of someone else, present or not, at the meeting. They will show no emotions. You could call them lazy, dirty, slutty… whatever you want. The person will keep looking straight ahead, and most importantly, will not hold it against you afterward.

Rule 6: (Related to rule 5) It is totally appropriate for someone to speak poorly of you. If this happens, make sure to keep looking straight ahead, and most importantly, not hold it against the person afterward.

Rule 7: There is no such thing as inappropriate laughter. If someone is being loudly, angrily yelled at by the director, it is definitely acceptable to laugh at them. The director will not laugh, he will continue yelling and looking very angry, but the anger has nothing to do with the laugher. In fact, even if it is you being yelled at, if you laugh while they yell at you, no one will think any less of you, either. It is not seen as disrespectful. It is almost expected, in fact.

Rule 8: It is completely acceptable to be blatantly doing other work during the meeting, so go ahead and bring that crossword. Most teachers use meetings as lesson planning time, and  make no effort to hide that they are not paying attention. Integrate! Do the same!

Rule 9: The meeting will go on until the chefes want it to end, so be fully prepared to be sitting in a dark classroom (if your school has no electricity) thinking longingly about the dinner you have yet to start cooking. You will start to add up the times of all the things you’ll have to do before you can actually eat. Bleach vegetables? 15 minutes. Peel and chop garlic? 5 minutes. Cook the main dish? 30 minutes. Cook the rice after? Another 20 minutes. Don’t allow yourself to add it all up… it will just get depressing.

Rule 10: This is the most important rule, and where I will end. Remember that this meeting style is only temporary. When you get back to America, it will not be okay to show up over an hour late, to interrupt the leader as he is speaking, to waste time with long-winded complaints, to openly insult your collagues, or to laugh at them when they are being insulted. While Mozambique may change you in many ways, please allow these habits to stay in Mozambique. Except for maybe the idea that you should not let what others say linger with you. That is one habit that should not only be carried with you when you go, but also shared with your friends and family back home.

So, I hope that helps you in the case that you ever enlist for Peace Corps and end up in my village someday. Good luck! The song for this post is The Beatles’ “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da.” No reason, just a good song! Hope you enjoy a wonderful June and have some time to rest!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Testing, Tainted grades, and ToTs

Hello everyone! I hope you are enjoying a beautiful spring. Over here in Moz, the weather is cooling, the activities are hopping, and the time is flying! Since my last update, not much has changed in terms of what’s going on at site. I am still loving my time in the classroom and am happily busy outside of the classroom, too. We have just finished the first trimester, and the end of the grading period came with a few notable events, both good and bad.

The first surprise that came at the end of the trimester was the new “provincial wide exam” policy. I remember learning during training about how final exams usually worked at the end of the term, with the students receiving an “exam schedule” where all students write their Portuguese exams one day, then English another day, etc. In this system, all teachers proctor all subjects. I recalled this being something visiting volunteers shared as a frustration, as not every teacher vigilantly proctors or controls cheating. Anyway, I was relieved to see when we got to site that this wasn’t how things actually worked in Kaunda, and each teacher was expected to just give his or her own final exams during regular class time. Well, about 4 weeks before the end of the trimester, I started hearing rumors about “provincial exams.” I tried to ask as many questions as possible, and finally learned the following week we would receive a final exam from the provincial capital, written by someone in the Ministry of Education, to give to our students. Not only would we not get to write our own final exams, but we were also going to have an exam schedule like I had heard about, so I would be leaving my students to be proctored by teachers who have no qualms with cheating or giving answers. What a nice surprise! Another fun aspect of this new system is that they block of the 3rd to last and 2nd to last week for these exams, leaving the last week for “recuperation.” This essentially means the students feel they are done a week early and leave for break. So, suddenly the 13 week trimester that I had planned for was 3 weeks shorter. In addition, since I only found out the new policy a week before finals, I panicked as I realized I had barely touched the majority of what I should have covered according to the 8th grade curriculum. Call me crazy, but for some reason I found it more valuable to drill basic concepts and give the students a very firm foundation first trimester instead of rushing through the obscene amount of subject matter mandated by the national curriculum. I did all I could in the last week to review with my students, and when the day of the exam arrived, I nervously opened the envelope. To my relief, the exam covered exactly what I had taught! There were 3 variants, and this one only used verb tenses that I had covered. The students succeeded, more or less, and I counted my lucky stars, especially as I saw the other two variants and realized the other two versions would have been impossible for my students. So, disaster averted… at least until next trimester finals.

After grading all the finals, I calculated my students’ final grades and got ready to participate in my first midyear “conselhos de nota.” I had managed avoid taking part in these grading days both trimester breaks last year, as I had heard many stories about grade changing and corruption from other volunteers. Well, this year I decided I was ready to see what really went down in the grading days. And guess what? As it turns out, I’m a corrupt teacher, too. I was shocked to find myself changing grades right alongside all the other teachers. But don’t worry, I can justify it… or at least that’s what I’ll tell myself.

So here is how grading days work in Mozambique. I think I’ve explained before my role as a “director of turma.” I am essentially a homeroom teacher for one of turmas. In Mozambique, the students all stay in one class for the whole day and the teachers rotate. So for the 31 students in turma 8C, I am the one who is responsible for collecting all their grades for each discipline and entering them into one big class grade sheet. After this, I have to look at each student and calculate their overall average, and then decide if this student can pass. To pass the trimester, the student is only allowed to fail (below 50%) two disciplines, and those disciplines cannot be considered under the same branch, like 2 sciences. In addition, they cannot have a single grade below an 8/20, even if they are passing all other disciplines. Well, my grades were slightly lower than most other teachers. I also have much higher grades, though. I approach my grading with a more American mindset than other teachers. A student who does all their homework and does well on tests, for example, should get a final grade of 18 or 19 out of 20. Not a single other teacher, though, had given a grade above 13. Consequently, a student who does not turn in a single homework assignment and leaves all answers on his test blank will get a 2 or 3 out of 20. Not a single other teacher had grades below 6. So, my grades were causing some problems. Although I had planned on combatting grade changes at conselhos, I allowed a little wiggle room when I realized that several students were going to fail the entire trimester only because I gave much lower grades than all the other teachers. Some students had all passing grades, but then a 6 or 7 in English, so would be considered failing. I realized this just wasn’t very fair, and decided it was appropriate to move those grades up to an 8 in order to allow them to pass the trimester. They were still failing English, but would not be at risk of failing the year just because of me. But I didn’t stop there. I also stooped to asking other teachers to change their grades as well. One student, for example, had all passing grades (including English, which I take to mean he was a decent student), but had a 7 in gym class. It just seemed a little silly that he would fail the whole trimester because of a 7 in gym. I asked the teacher, and he accepted my request to change the grade to an 8. When did this happen? When did I suddenly become okay with changing grades? I’m still unsure about how I feel about it, but the circumstances and details of the education system in Mozambique make some ethical standards a little blurry.

The weekends around conselhos were both taken up by “ToTs,” or Training of Trainers. The first was for JUNTOS, the coed youth group organization, and the second was for REDES. I had not worked with a JUNTOS group at my school, but there already existed a “culture group” that I thought would easily into JUNTOS. I invited the teacher who works with that group, a really nice female teacher named Neolet, and she went down to Chimoio for a weekend with other new JUNTOS group leaders. She was the only woman and the conference, and really enjoyed hearing about how to work with a group and is excited to start adding gender equality components to her meetings. The group will also go to a workshop, where they’ll have a weekend with 3 other schools full of activities. I think she will be really successful, and I’m hoping that this will be a very sustainable project as she is doing the majority of startup work. She is really excited to propose the program to the school direction, and I’m excited to work with her!

For REDES, I decided that Veronica could get more out of the ToT than Celsa. After some drama getting her to go (she has twin babies and her husband at first refused to stay and take care of them), she and I did travel down to Chimoio together to spend 3 days with 22 other Mozambican women counterparts. She did great! She was a very enthusiastic participant in the sessions, and I think is really excited to bring more girl-empowerment components into our weekly meetings. She plans on transferring out of Kaunda as soon as possible to be back near her family in Maputo, so it’s nice that she has this training to take with her when she goes and could start a new group somewhere else. At the same time, Celsa can continue the group in Kaunda. Overall, I feel very good about the sustainability of the REDES group in Kaunda and I am anxious to see how the rest of the year goes. I was struggling getting the group to meet when I updated last, but they finally got involved right in time for Women’s Day, and I now have a pretty strong group of girls that is excited to actively meet every week. Fingers crossed, but I think between the girls’ involvement and Veronica’s enthusiasm, 2nd trimester is going to be very good for REDES.

That brings me up to date, and I am excited for a successful 5th trimester of teaching in Mozambique! Just 2 more to go! I remember last year that it was around this point that time started to go unbelievably fast, and I imagine that only becomes more intense during Year 2. To add to that, I have a visit from my mom to look forward to during the next trimester break!! I am so so excited. Well I hope that this post finds you well. I am always happy to receive e-mails! The song for this post is Stepdad’s “My Leather, My Fur, My Nails.” It’s catchy! Until next time!