Saturday, November 26, 2011

Family, Falls, and Full Bellies

Happy Thanksgiving! It is hard to believe that it was my second Thanksgiving in Mozambique, and it certainly was one to remember. In light of the holiday (and as a way to update you on what’s been going on for the past few weeks), here is what I am thankful for Thanksgiving 2011:
1.       A wonderful end to the school year with the English Theater competition. 6 am Saturday after the last day of school, I took my ten students, along with one other teacher, down to Moatize for the big competition. Our Tete province branch had 8 schools competing, most of which were first timers. The competition was a huge success. The students all arrived safely, and we started by singing both the Mozambican and American national anthems. After, each school sent up one student to draw a number for the order of presentation. Kaunda drew lucky number 1! I was so nervous for them. We had practiced it many times, but never in front of a big audience. No need to worry, though, they did great! They were so proud of themselves afterwards, and that was so great to see. We didn’t win, but didn’t finish last either, which was great for a first year in the program. One of my girls did win the Best Actress Award, though! About half of my group is in 9th or 8th grade, so they’ll all come back next year, and I know they’ll be excited to do an even greater job.
2.       A chance to hang over the edge of some of the biggest waterfalls in the world- and living to tell about it! As I mentioned before, my sister came out to visit me for Thanksgiving. Molly arrived to Livingstone, Zambia last Sunday, and we have been having a blast together for the last 2 weeks. She left yesterday, but the trip was a huge success. I was able to meet her at the airport in Livingstone, and after a tearful greeting, we headed to a backpackers to get settled in. Livingstone is the town closest to the Zambian side of Victoria Falls. The first day, we headed out to “Devil’s Pool,” which is within the National Park for the Falls. Because it is the dry season, we were able to follow a guide all along the edge of the falls, which is normally blocked off by water. Once we got out to the main waterfall, we got to a spot where there is a natural pool blocked off by a rock ledge. You can jump in here, and then go sit LITERALLY on the edge of the falls. Then, to top it off, the guides will hold your feet while you inch over the rock ledge to be hanging over the falls! You look down and just see white water. Talk about a natural infinity pool! It was a little scary, but for sure a once in a lifetime experience.
3.       Another survival- this time from an on-foot rhino encounter. The second day of our visit, we headed to Mosi-ao-Tunya National park for a “game walk.” We followed a guide (and chaperone with a gun…) around the park and took pictures as he pointed out footprints, animal droppings, and the actual animals! We saw elephants, impalas, baboons, giraffes, a waterbuck, and finally a herd of white rhinos. It was pretty scary to be so close to something so big, especially on foot, but definitely very cool.
4.       A chance to show my sister my site. Of all the super cool, exciting things we did on the trip, this was really the most exciting for me. She got to meet a lot of my colleagues and friends, see my school, and stay in my house. She even got to take a wonderful bucket bath, which she described as “pretty cool and refreshing… but I can see how that would get old after a few months.” Ha. She loved my site, though, and it’s just so great to have someone back home that has seen it and can picture where I am every day.
5.       A sunburn… but only because that means I was at the beach! After visiting my site, we headed down on one of the wonderful 11 hour bus rides to Vilanculos beach to see the Indian Ocean. We had a great group and a really fun time.
6.       A great Thanksgiving feast with a huge group of volunteers at Gorongosa National Park. For the last leg of our trip, we made it up to the park where a fellow PCV had set us up at one of the education centers where she works. We had access to a huge kitchen and were able to make all the Thanksgiving staples. Turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie… It was really good! It was so great to have Molly meet so many of my friends here, and they all really enjoyed meeting her.
7.       Finally, I am thankful that 3 weeks from today, I will hopefully be plopped on my couch in Midland, Michigan, watching Bravo TV marathons, eating nachos,  drinking a Diet Dr. Pepper, and talking to my parents.  And petting my dog. All of that just sounds wonderful. 
On the way out of Africa, I’ll spend a few days in Cape Town with some other volunteers, so I’ll update again after that fun vacation. I’m looking forward to a great break and hope I will see many of you while I am home.
The song for the post is “L-I-F-E-G-O-E-S-O-N” by Noah and the Whale. Molly and I played some trivia at the backpackers and this song came on name that tune… and I had never heard it! Really sad considering Noah and the Whale is one of my favorite bands. Must mean it’s time for a trip home to catch back up on the music scene!
So, Happy Thanksgiving! Happy start to the holiday season!!!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Teacher's Day, Taste Labs, and T-he end...

Hello, friends and family! Hope all is going well back home. As the weather turns colder on that side of the world, it is heating right up over here. Back to the days of sweat, cold baths, and acne. So excited!

I apologize for the lack of updates recently. My laptop kicked the bucket once again, so my computer time is rather limited. Overall, though, things have been going pretty much the same as last time. By the time I put this post up, I will officially be done with classroom teaching for the year! Wow, did that go quickly! At the end of September, we also celebrated our one-year anniversary of leaving America. The best part of completing a year is the fact that I feel genuinely excited for the second year, which is a good place to be at.

So what has been going on? Pretty much the same ol’, same ol’, I just feel like I know how to do it a lot better than I did at the beginning of the year! This past week at site may have been my best week at site ever, actually. October 12th is Teacher’s Day in Mozambique, and it’s a pretty big deal. Normally the teachers organize a big party with each teacher contributing some money to pay for food and beer. Not surprisingly, my sleepy little town was a little behind on the planning. There was talk of a party, but no one ever got around to actually organizing it. We would have the normal “cultural presentations,” but besides that, not too much. I was kind of bummed about the lack of party, but it ended up being a great thing! Since no food or drink was around, the day was not focused on just getting drunk. Instead, we had a big presentation with all the teacher’s dancing, my REDES group performed some songs (we are now doing original songs with guitar accompaniment- pretty advanced!), my English Club gave part of their competition play, and some other groups showed dances. After, everyone headed out to the soccer field to watch the teachers vs. students game, which I got to participate in despite being the only female. The teachers lost, but it was a riot. They hooked up some speakers out on the soccer field and blasted music during the game, and we even had some students do a dance for the “half time show.” To round out the day, most of the teachers headed over to one of the little bancas and chatted and danced around. It was a very fun day and I’m very glad I got to participate!

In the classroom, things have been pretty fun as well. Because of the crazy number of holidays in the already shorter 3rd trimester, I realized pretty early on that there was no way I was going to get through everything I was supposed to. It actually worked out for the best, though, because for the last few weeks I’ve just been giving fun lessons. They may not know everything about the nervous system that they are supposed to, but I think their general excitement about biology and learning is a little higher than it was, and I think that’s more important. For my last actual class before their final, we did a little “taste lab” where I brought in solutions of the different tastes and they all used match sticks to find where on the tongue that taste is detected. They were pretty excited to do something different, and I think the students really appreciate when a teacher prepares something different than the typical dictation-copy lesson plan. This coming week I’ll give my final exam, and then I’m done! I really hope I get to teach 8th grade again next year, so I can improve on my lessons, but I also really hope I get to add 9th grade as well so I can move on with these students. By this point, I really feel like I know each turma really well, and it’d be great to keep working with them. We’ll see next year!

Socially, things continue to get better. I feel like I can really show my personality well, now, and know what kind of sense of humor works over here. It’s nice to finally be able to joke around with the other teachers! I mentioned my friend Veronica before, I believe, and I’m really happy to keep getting closer with her. Of all the women I have gotten to know, she is the one that I can relate to the most. It helps that she’s from Maputo, so also from a little more developed society. She’s also only a year or so older than I am, and it’s just so nice to feel like I have a friendship where we are equals. I have a great time hanging out with my REDES girls, but they’re still only teenagers. Celsa has become a great friend, but she’s quite a few years older and already has older children. It’s so great to finally fill that gap of someone who was truly my peer, and I’m really jazzed to continue to get to know her next year!

The time between now and my visit back to the States in December will be pretty busy! Although teaching is done, I’ll still be pretty occupied at the school helping proctor and grade national exams, as well as the normal end of the year grade stuff. In the middle of November, I’ll get my first visitor- my sister, Molly, is coming over to Africa for 2 weeks! I am going to meet her in Zambia to hang out at Victoria Falls for a few days, then we’ll travel back to Mozambique together and bop around until Thanskgiving. We’ll be at my site for a bit, too, and I’m really excited to have her see where I live and meet some of my colleagues. Since she’s a teacher back home, it will be really cool to show her what my teaching life looks like! After that, I’ll just have a couple weeks before heading back to beautiful America. I am so very excited, and hope I’ll get to see many of you who are reading this while I am home!

Well, the song for this post is going to be “Party Rock Anthem” by LMFAO. I’ve done quite a bit of dancing to it in the last couple months.

So that’s it! Miss you all!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Desfilaring, Dialect, and Decorating

Well, it’s been a while. Since my last update, quite a bit has changed! For starters, I am now an aunt to an adorable little nephew. I was pretty worried that I would be out of range for the news and not know for a couple weeks, but I only was 2 days late in finding out. I am thrilled to meet the little guy in December! I last posted right before the last trimester break, so I have also completed a good vacation, the REDES conference, and the first 4 weeks of my last trimester of teaching this year. It would be impossible to include everything I want to share, but here we go!

Firstly, I definitely would like to talk about the REDES conference. Each volunteer that had a group was allowed to bring 2 girls and a counterpart. I picked my favorite girl, Madalena and one of my soccer stars, Osvalda, both extremely motivated and involved 10th graders. My counterpart was Celsa, the same woman I have been working with for the whole year. The conference was a week long, and the girls were kept very busy with sessions on self-esteem, healthy living, women’s rights, and more. The second year volunteers did a great job organizing and planning the conference, and the first year volunteers stayed pretty busy doing the “grunt work” during the conference. Personally, I led a small group of girls in many activities, reflections, and games. It was very fun! It was great to see the cream of the crop of Mozambican girls, as well as all the powerful Mozambican women that were helping us lead sessions. And oh my goodness, these girls were CHIQUE. I did not realize how much fashion I was missing out on in my little “one-horse town” of Kaunda. These girls came in wearing heels, and my jeans and chacos just didn’t really cut it. The first night in our small group reflections, we were all supposed to share something we were good at. The girls kept bringing up this word that I had never heard of. I finally asked another volunteer, and it apparently is a verb that means, literally, “to parade,” but basically, “to strut your stuff.” The girls put on all their fanciest clothes and mimic a fashion show, walking and posing like they are the hottest thing around. It was cool to see the confidence and sass, but this trend has not quite reached Kaunda yet. Regardless, I think my girls got a lot out of the conference and came back very excited about REDES. It’s too bad I’ll lose them next year, but I think they’ll be able to show the other girls what it means to be a “REDES girl” before the year is up.

Coming back from the REDES conference was a little hard for me. After seeing all the potential in these young girls, it was tough to come back to my school that seems, at times, to have no faith in its students. The first week of classes never goes too well, and sure enough, we only had about 20 students show up each day. In addition, I hadn’t realized how much I was missing out on by living in a town where local dialect dominates. I’ll admit I haven’t done a great job at learning the language (my lessons with that teacher fell through as he got super busy with other responsibilities at school), but it almost made me angry to come back to a place where I have never EVER heard my students speaking Portuguese to each other outside of the classroom. I have to make my REDES girls run laps if they speak dialect, it has gotten that bad. Even the teachers often will switch into dialect right in front of me, which I just don’t think is very fair. I know a language is a language, but I just feel like I miss out on a lot of personality of my students when I don’t understand how they interact just with each other when they are having fun. I had assumed it was like this everywhere, but after the conference, I realized there are many sites where this is not the case. Audrey came up to visit that weekend, and she even noticed that between the city chapas and the chapas to come up to my district there is a huge difference. On our chapas, no one speaks Portuguese. I know I can’t be upset about it, I’m just a little frustrated with myself that I didn’t make a better effort at learning the local dialect. Tack that on to the list of things I’d like to do better next year!

Don’t worry, though, coming back was not all frustration. After traveling a bit and seeing other volunteers’ houses, I decided it was time to make my house a home! I don’t know what I’d been waiting for. There was white paint left in my house when I got there, so I went to the City and bought some tint to make colored paint. I also finally got all the stuff I needed to install electricity in the rest of the house, and got to work. By the end of the first week back, I had functioning lights and outlets in all rooms! This meant I was able to move my stove and food into my spare room and actually make a kitchen! I used some wood from old desks stacked on some bricks to make little counters, and it makes such a difference! That weekend, Audrey came up and helped me paint, and I now have a bright green living room and sunny yellow kitchen. Since then, the wicker furniture I arranged to be done before I even left for break was FINALLY delivered, and so I have a nice love seat-2 chair-coffee table set that just makes my house a home. I love it. I’ve been kicking myself for all the empty days I spent back in December and January with nothing to do, but I just didn’t realize that people had cute houses! Now, after dark, I can cook dinner in my brightly lit kitchen and kick back and read on my little love seat as I wait for it to be ready. It is simply charming. I am thinking I will throw myself a little house-warming party soon (I know, 10 months later). Pictures to come! Another fun addition to my life is that my computer is functioning again! Another volunteer fixed it for me, so although it’s back to like it was when I got it, it works!

In the classroom, the last trimester has been pretty fun so far. I’m teaching the reproductive system, which has been a riot. I got my first round of applause from one class as I demonstrated the “sperm meeting the egg” with little cut outs and my hand drawn female reproductive system. They were so embarrassed at first, but they are getting more comfortable. It’s a little awkward teaching it to my night school students, many of whom have babies at home (or on their backs in the classroom), but it’s getting better. I’ve been really trying to add variety to my classes and have found most of them going pretty well so far. I have learned a lot since the first weeks of school, and am excited to get even better next year!

Extracurricular-wise, this trimester has taken off running. I had the impression that the third trimester would be the least busy with clubs, seeing as many of them had big things during the second trimester. This has not been the case, and I’m not complaining! I find myself busier than ever, which, as most people probably know, is just how I like it. The English Club has finally transitioned into the English Theater group that it is supposed to be, and it’s been a blast and a half! I recruited one of my favorite colleagues to help us come up with a play idea in Portuguese, and then spent the weekend translating into English. There is a lot of work ahead of us to learn the whole play, but the kids are just GREAT. After spending a year finally accepting that no meeting would ever be on time and that you could never expect anyone to show up without a reminder, I have had to go back to my old standards of punctuality for this group! It’s just so cool to see these kids show up every week, sometimes twice a week, without any prodding from me. As I mentioned before, most of them are 10th grade students who I have never even interacted with at school. They just want to learn English! There are only 12 students in the group, but every meeting I have at least 8 show up, and lately it’s been close to everyone. I know that doesn’t sound that impressive, but at my school, it is phenomenal. It’s mostly 10th graders, and predominantly boys, so that’s a nice change from all the estrogen of REDES and soccer. And after spending a day teaching the male reproductive system to 8th graders, it’s nice to hang out with some motivated 10th graders for a couple hours. Our basic play premise is a 3-part theater, the first scene promoting abstinence, the second safe sex, and then the third is about talking to your parents about sex and HIV/AIDS. I’m pretty excited to see it come into fruition, and so are the students… which is what it’s all about! My REDES girls are also still meeting regularly, and are currently busy working on a play (my grandfather would be proud!) to put on at school about early pregnancy. After a pretty big lull in the soccer near the end of last trimester, those girls are also showing up again. I’m on my 6th soccer ball of the year, and am hopeful that the one more I have waiting to pump up will get us through the end of the year. They average about 2 weeks of hard play, longer if I don’t give it out every day, so we’ll see. A big thank you to my mom and grandma for sending them all the way to Mozambique!!

So, I don’t have many complaints! My life is fairly worry-free. I’m happy teaching, have found awesome students to work with, have great new friends both at site and away from site with other PCVs, have an adorable house that I can be proud of, and wonderful friends and family back home, many of whom I’ll be seeing (either here or in America) in just a few short months! Although some days are more challenging than others, it’s nice to step back and know that when I look at the whole picture, life is very good. And, as my father would put it, “that’s a good thing.”

The song for this post once again has no significance to my experience, but is "American Girl" by Tom Petty. Just so much cooler to listen to when you are out of the States. Hope everyone back home is healthy and happy and ready to start the new year!
Try clicking on this to see pictures:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Work days, World Cup, and Women!

Hi everyone! I hope you are enjoying the summer months back home! Since my last update, not a whole lot has changed in terms of my activities. By the time I get this post up, the second trimester will have come to an end! It’s hard to believe how fast this trimester flew by… and I’m thinking the last trimester will feel even faster!

Since you all pretty much know what I’m up to by now, I decided it’s time to give you a little more detail about what “a day in the life” really looks like. So, here we go!

5:30 am- Wake up to the usual morning noises of Kaunda: dogs barking, roosters crowing, goats screaming, and a few bancas playing bad music.
6:00 am- Actually get up. If I haven’t taken one the night before, warm up some water to take a bath. This has become much less frequent in the winter months. I can’t figure out why, but for some reason standing outside naked at 6 in the morning splashing luke warm water on my body doesn’t appeal to me that much. If it’s really cold, I just stand in a bucket inside my house to “take a bath.” After, I eat some breakfast (which the people in my community are so surprised at- “You ALREADY ate breakfast?! Before your classes???”) and drink some instant coffee.
6:45 am- Head over to the school, or, in other words, walk out my front door. I am generally the first teacher to show up. The other teachers start rolling in around 7, which is what time we are supposed to be done with morning announcements and in the classroom starting first period. The teacher generally walks up, shaking his head about “these students” and how late they all are. If I’m feeling sassy, I point out to said teacher that there are, in fact, many more students who have shown up than teachers, at which he usually laughs and agrees. We finally enter into the classroom at about 7:20, leaving a full 25 minutes to give first period.
7:20-12- Give whatever classes my schedule has for the day. I am not sure if I have mentioned this, but in Mozambique every homeroom class has a classroom that they stay in all day, and the teachers enter the different classrooms. I do not have my own classroom that I could hang any posters in or anything like that. So, I walk into whatever classroom I am teaching, one student yells out “SCHOOL DISCIPLINE” in Portuguese, and all students stand up and say “BOM DIA, SENHORA PROFESSORA.” Good morning, teacher! “Bom dia, como estao?” Good morning, how are you? “Estamos bem, MUITO obrigada!” We are fine, thank you so much! Then, they all stand waiting for me to give them the okay to sit down. Sometimes I forget and start doing something at the teacher’s desk. When I finally look up, they are all standing there staring at me. My class period usually starts with checking of homework, where I walk around and give them a little check in their notebooks if they have done it. After, I write all the notes for the period on the board and wait for them to copy it down. Other teachers often just dictate to the students, but given my imperfect Portuguese mixed in with a Michigan accent, this would take hours to do. When they have finally copied it down, I usually explain the notes and hopefully have an activity if there is time. Between classes, I either go back into my house, chat with other teachers at the school, or work on grading in the “teachers lounge.” Because of the fact that the students stay in the same classroom all day, it is also possible to “occupy” some other teacher’s class time if they are absent that day, which is unfortunately very often. It is a rare day that the students actually have a teacher 1st through 6th period. It is also very rare that the students will have to stay at school until 6th period, since the teachers that are there will just give their classes whenever the turma is free, often times combining classes. Regardless, by noon all the classes are done.
12-2 pm- Eat leftovers from dinner, read, take a nap, do grading, or really whatever needs to be done for the day. This is the general “rest time” for everyone in town. No one is really out.
2-6 pm- Depending on the day, go for a jog, play soccer, meet with clubs, or passear around Kaunda.
6 pm- Go home, cook dinner (and enough for lunch the next day), read, do crosswords, drink tea, and try to keep myself awake and out of bed until 8.
8 pm- Lock up, tuck in my mosquito net, and read for a while before falling asleep.

Pretty exciting, huh?

The past few weeks, though, I have had some different things to do to spice up the day. I think I am entering a new “phase” in my integration. Now that I pretty much know most people in my community, and they know me, I am now getting to the point where I feel like I am starting to build real, meaningful friendships. The other day, for example, none of my girls showed up for soccer so I decided to walk around for a while. No one was really out, and I started to feel really sad that I just didn’t have that many real friends that I could hang out with in Kaunda. Well, Kaunda must have read my mind, because since that day I have been pretty socially busy! As I was on my way back home that day, looking sad, I ran into the frequently mentioned big-nosed-condescending counterpart figure, and he told me his wife, my REDES counterpart, was in their house and I should go visit her. I headed over to her house, and ended up sitting and chatting for over an hour, and it was just what I needed. Got some good gossip about other teachers, and just really felt like she considered me more than just some weird foreigner. Last weekend, I also was invited over to watch a movie at a teacher couple’s house on a rainy Sunday afternoon. The wife, Veronica, made us popcorn and I got to play with their adorable twin babies. Later that night, I was invited over to another teacher couple’s house to eat dinner and watch the US Women’s World Cup game. They invited me back for the next game, which I definitely took them up on, and it just felt so nice to be sitting in a full living room with a full family watching TV and chatting! I had forgotten how nice that feeling was after nearly 7 months of living alone.  Later in the week, Veronica, the popcorn teacher, came up to me and told me she heard I played guitar. She has a guitar but doesn’t know how to play that well, so she asked if we could start playing together. So, we set a “jam session” time for Friday morning and she showed up, baby on back and guitar in hand, and we played together for an hour or so! It was so much fun and I hope something that will keep happening! Just feeling like there are a few women I can actually be myself around and that genuinely want to hang out with me has made a world of difference in how I feel about Kaunda. I had always felt accepted and welcome, but now I feel like I am more than just a visitor. It’s these relationships that I am building that make me excited I still have a year and half to get to know these friends even better!
So, things are going well! I am ready for a little break, and will hopefully have some good pictures to share after some traveling and the week-long REDES conference that is coming up. I hope you are all doing well, too!
The song for this post is Rusted Root "Send Me on My Way." No particular reason, it's just a happy song that has many happy memories of dancing with friends and sisters!
Hope to hear from you soon!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Exchanges, Exorcisms, and English-speaking-fun!

Hello everyone! I apologize for the long delay in updates, but I’m happy to say it is because the past month has been pretty busy at site! Compared to the early months where I was in a constant count-down mindset for the next time I would leave site, this past trimester I have been struggling to fit everything in that I want to do! So, I guess I will just dive right in with some highlights.

When I last updated, I was down in Chimoio for a REDES planning meeting. I’ve talked about this before, but REDES is a young girls’ empowerment group that has groups at several schools in Mozambique, both with and without Peace Corps Volunteers. I’d been pretty happy with the interest in REDES at my school. To get the girls even more excited, I’d been telling them that at some point I would be taking a group to another school to do an exchange with another group. Since there are only 3 volunteers in Tete province, we ended up just having a 3-way exchange the first weekend in June. We each could bring ten girls, so I chose my 10 most involved and excited girls to go with me down to Audrey and Helen’s school close to Tete City for a weekend of seminars about planning their “healthy future” (wonderfully presented by Janet, a volunteer from the previous year who has the third group in Tete), crafts (capulana bags- super cute), sports (organized by yours truly), and of course some dancing. Besides some drama with the water- as in the school had absolutely no water, which created quite a bit of extra stress for the Moatize girls- the weekend went really well. Although my girls were super shy for the whole weekend (you could definitely tell they were from a more rural school), once we were back on our own turf, they were so excited about everything they learned. Unfortunately, my overall attendance has decreased since I had to pick only ten to take, but the girls who do participate are fully invested and the functionality of the group has really gotten better. Yesterday, in fact, we presented for June 25th, Mozambican’s Independence Day. We only had ten or so girls, but we were actually able to prepare a very organized dance presentation and it just felt more like we really knew what we represented by being in REDES. The weekend was also especially great for my counterpart, Celsa. I had explained what REDES was, but I think this weekend really helped her grasp the overall goals and purpose of the organization. I had already felt like I lucked out in finding an awesome counterpart, and since the weekend she has only become better! We will go together to Chimoio at the beginning of August for a week with our two most involved girls, and I absolutely cannot wait to see what she and the girls get out of a whole week of REDES!

I believe I had just started my English group when I last updated. Since then, it has become one of my favorite projects at site! It is mostly made up of 9th and 10th grade boys, and they just crack me up. They show up every Monday without a reminder (which is so impressive for my community, believe me) and are so eager to learn. Generally, we start each meeting with listening to some American music as they copy down a short dialogue that I write ahead of time. We go through the meaning and pronunciation of all the words, then they each present it in little groups. They love it because they get to speak English, and I love it because I get to write silly little skits that are absolutely hilarious to watch. Plus, spending time with just the students that actually want to learn and are excited about the subject matter is such a breath of fresh air after struggling to get the students interested in biology all day. We also presented yesterday at the Independence Day festivities, and it was a huge success. Although it was just a short little skit about June 25th, they were so proud of themselves for memorizing their English lines, and I’m really excited to continue working with them!

Another one of my big successes the past month is that I actually feel like I have created some sort of schedule for my students! If you could see my school in action, you would understand that this is no easy task. While my school is full of extracurricular activities, there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to when each group meets. Most teachers just decide “Hm, today I will have a meeting for my group” and then hope that word gets around. Or for sports, they usually just show up with the ball and know that the students will eventually show up, too. My students, on the other hand, have finally gotten the hang of the fact that English Club will always meet on Mondays, REDES will always meet on Wednesdays, and then Tuesday and Thursday we will have soccer practice for the girls. After trying to drill this in their head for the entire school year, they have finally got it! Just having soccer practice twice a week means that more show up on those days, and I don’t have to be constantly fending of questions about when we are going to play next. I rarely have to give any reminder announcements, and for my slightly OCD personality when it comes to planning, this has really done wonders for my sanity. Plus, I now have something guaranteed to do every evening, which I love. I’m really starting to be able to be myself around my students, too, and am forming some great relationships with them. I have one girl that participates in every one of my activities, and she is just awesome. She’s 17, and although this sounds weird, I think she and I are at similar maturity levels. Here, you just have to grow up a little faster in some aspects. She’s just got it all figured out and I know she is going to do great things, which is so great to see and so encouraging. She’s a tenth grader, so hopefully in a few months she’ll be passing out of our little school and moving on to bigger things. More to come on that at the end of the year!

Inside of the classroom, things are also going well, although the rest of the trimester looks fairly bleak. Since the beginning of June, the other teachers have been saying to the students that the trimester is almost over, and their behavior reflects that. Just the other day, one of the teachers was talking to me about how we had basically reached the holidays. I pointed out that there are still 4 weeks of school left, at which he simply shook his head as if I was crazy. It’s such a self-perpetuating problem. The teachers know that traditionally, there are not many students at school the last few weeks, so they end up not really planning to teach. Since the students know the classes aren’t taken seriously by the teachers, they don’t come to school. And so it goes in Kaunda. On Thursday, I got to school with all my lesson plans and my little teaching jacket on just to find out that there weren’t going to be any more classes that day since it was some random holiday (not one at which school was supposed to be taken off). Instead, we had to supervise the students as they planted “trees,” which was just breaking of branches and replanting them in the ground. Since this happened on Thursday, and Independence Day was Saturday, this effectively meant that Friday classes were going to be a joke as well. Sure enough, not a single student or teacher showed up until 7:15 (we are supposed to be there at 6:30), and maybe 30 students in total showed up for school in the end. So, we couldn’t have classes of course… what a perfect opportunity to plant more sticks! Although I may be dangerously behind in the curriculum for 8th grade biology, my supervision skills for activities such as this have greatly improved in my 6 months in Kaunda. At least I have that.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I am still feeling like a very lucky volunteer to have been placed here in Kaunda. I can finally express my personality to both the students and other teachers, and I think I fit in pretty well. I’ve been spending more weekends at site, and have really gotten a lot out of them. I attended church for the first time in Kaunda, and am really glad I went. The church was founded in Zimbabwe by Americans (Celebration Church) and is all in the local dialect. Luckily, there is a man from Zimbabwe that works at the church, and so he translated the whole service into English for me. The joy in the congregation was extremely captivating, everyone was very welcoming, and I even got to witness a few exorcisms to end the service. Ha! After, the pastor’s wife invited me over to eat lunch with them, and I am really happy to have found my way into another different social group in Kaunda. I don’t think I’ll be going to church every weekend, but I’ll definitely go every once in a while.

Well, although I could probably go on for pages, I think I’ll stop there for today. I hope that you are all enjoying the summer months back home. I think we sent some of our heat over there for the time being, and that’s okay with me. I always appreciate e-mails, so let me know what you are up to! Unfortunately, my computer has joined the electronic graveyard in Mozambique, so blog posts will probably be a little less frequent, but I can get e-mail on my phone when I am in cell phone range, and I’d love to hear from you!

Oh, and the song for today is “Turning Tables” by Adele. You’ve probably heard it, but I really like it. You can picture me cooking dinner to it most nights. So that’s it! Happy 4th of July!!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Electric Slide, Elected Officials, and Excitement!

Well, it’s been over a month since my last update, and quite a crazy month it has been! I last updated from Reconnect Conference, where all of the Moz 15 volunteers got together to discuss our challenges and successes from the first 4 months at site. This meant 5 days in a swanky Mozambican hotel, complete with hot showers, cozy beds, wireless internet, and enough food to feed a small country. I’m still full, and it’s been a good 4 weeks since the conference. Besides the obvious perks of the hotel, the conference itself was actually very helpful. I realized I had become somewhat complacent in my teaching style, feeling like the obstacles of my small, resourceless school were far too great to overcome. Hearing what other volunteers were doing to keep their classes interesting and productive gave me a much needed “second wind” of motivation to be a good teacher. Plus, I don’t think I have been so clean in months! I left the conference feeling really excited to get back to site and into the classroom. But not excited enough to cancel the little beach vacation get-away I had planned for the extra few free days following the conference. All the fun details about the beaches, food, scuba diving, food, reunions with volunteers I hadn’t seen since training, and food would be enough to fill a whole blog entry in themselves, but for now I’ll just say it was a pretty awesome vacation. Feel free to check out my pictures on Facebook, or just google Tofo, Barra, and Vilanculos beaches… you should get the idea.

After such a wonderful break, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified to get back to site. Sure, I was super motivated and excited to get back in the swing of things after the conference, but the beach… well, the beach was just so far from Tete! I had quite a few pep talks with myself to remember why I had come here in the first place, and eventually got on my happy face before heading back up to Kaunda. And I was okay! I got back to a wonderfully clean house with everything still in it, and many smiling faces that seemed honestly excited to see me back. The honeymoon didn’t last all that long, though, unfortunately. It didn’t take long to realize my electricity had been cut, and when I went wandering around to find out why, I found out the school had also decided to cut my hours, too! Not a good surprise. My recurring-condescending-butthead counterpart was there to tell me that it was because I didn’t give high enough grades. I was so frustrated! I explained my confusion to him, and the fact that I could have done something different with my grades if they would have just talked to me, but given the fact that he was completely drunk for the conversation made me feel like I should just wait to see what happened at school the next day.

Sure enough, when I arrived my Ped. Director told me we needed to talk, but then explained that a new teacher was transferred to the school so they had to shuffle around the math and physics departments, and so I wouldn’t be teaching math anymore. I was pretty bummed, but asked if it had anything to do with my performance and he said no, it was just that a new teacher needed hours, too. So, kind of a bummer, but I decided to look at it as an opportunity to really make my biology classes better, and to have more time to devote to the extra-curriculars at school. It’s outside of the classroom that I am really feeling successful, anyway, so maybe this is a sign that I need to be doing more. Another priorities readjustment, but I think that’s normal every few months.

Week 2 back at site brought me back to where I was before I left- much more positive and productive! I have been really trying to make my biology lessons more exciting. I am still following the curriculum, but I’ve decided that there are a lot of other things I want them to learn more, like study skills and just general excitement about learning. If some of the mandated curriculum gets set aside, so be it. The way I was teaching first trimester, I got through the material, but felt like they probably actually learned under 10% of it. This trimester, I may get through less than half of the material, but I want them to actually LEARN that material. While this attitude may not be appropriate for every school, in Kaunda, I think it is the way to go. And I am enjoying teaching a lot more when I feel like they are actually learning! This week, for example, I needed to cover the vitamins and minerals. Instead of just having them copy a chart of the various vitamins and their sources and functions like I would have done last trimester, I wrote a paragraph about each vitamin and mineral on little sheets of paper and passed them out to pairs of students. Then, I had them identify the various characteristics themselves. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, you would have thought I was asking them to write a rocket science thesis. They had absolutely no idea how to read the paragraph and pick out the important details. We ended up doing the whole activity as a class, with me explaining what key words they were looking for, and eventually going around to each group and helping them individually, but by the end, they were definitely getting the hang of it! I was so incredibly excited when I came across a group that did it without my help. Now, they may not know exactly what every single vitamin and mineral does (I mean who should know that in 8th grade?), but I think they now have a better idea for how to read something and pick out information. Plus, I got to interact with every single student individually as I went around helping, and although I know they will never say it to me, I think they appreciate the extra attention. And it’s just more fun than me standing and lecturing for all of us!

Outside of the classroom, things have been going swimmingly as well. Last weekend, the governor of Tete actually made a stop in Kaunda! Last week, therefore, was entirely devoted to planning for the visit. Watching my teeny tiny village get ready for this big visitor was a hoot! I was told I was part of the “decorations committee,” and so every afternoon, I was out monitoring students as they decorated the school. Did you ever “paint” with mud on trees when you were little? Well, that’s what we did. The students were all told to bring white rocks and dirt and they used it to mix with water and make “paint.” Then, they had to go around to every tree on and near the schoolgrounds and paint the bottom part of the trunk. We also spent many, many hours aligning rocks to outline “streets” for the cars to drive on, and then paint those as well. We made streamers, colored big signs, hung fabric, and more. I have pictures of the final product, and it looked pretty good!

My REDES group also wanted to perform, so most afternoons I had girls practicing dances in my backyard. They wanted to learn an “American dance” from me. Now, contrary to what you might believe after seeing me at weddings (or on the pool deck, or on ottomans…), I am not exactly a super-star dancer. I racked my brain for ideas, then finally decided on the electric slide. I first just taught it to them with counting, and originally planned on adding music later. After more thought, though, I thought I might challenge them to come up with their own chant to go with it. And they did! It ended up being super cute. Unfortunately, we got cut last minute from the program since they governor was running behind, so we didn’t get to perform. We are doing an exchange with a couple other groups in Tete in a couple weeks, though, so we’ll get to perform it there. Another big success, though!

The day before his visit, I was also informed by my director that they wanted to use my house for him to hang out in when he arrived. He said they’d clean it all out for me, no problem. If this was not motivation to deep clean my house, I don’t know what is. Mozambican culture is very clean, but in a different way than American culture. For example, I may think that latrines are dirty. They, however, think that the fact that the dirt in my yard is not swept in a fancy pattern makes me filthy. That being said, knowing that some members of my community were going to come in my house and clean it made me want to make sure it was up to their standards, first! They also told me I’d have to move everything out of my main room and into my bedroom… fun! After cleaning and moving mostly everything out all afternoon, I was awakened to knocking at almost 11 that night. It was my director, along with pretty much every important man in my community, wanting to make sure the inside of my house was okay. There I was, in my pajamas and sleepy eyed, getting my house judged by all the people I’ve been working so hard to impress all year! They approved, though, and then awakened me again at 5:15 the next morning tell me they found another place to use, so not to worry. “Your house can stay beautiful” was actually how he worded it, as in I didn’t have to move all my furniture. I was relieved, to say the least, but have a very clean house, now!

This week has not let down, either. I finally feel like my language is letting me act more like myself at site, and am continuing to build good relationships. I feel like I really do have friends, and am not often looking for something to do. I’ve been trying to find something to do with the students every afternoon, and have been successful so far. The English Theater/English Club met for the first time this week, and although attendance was pretty low, it was cool to see such motivated kids and to get to work with some new faces. I am positive that more people will start to come once it becomes a regular thing. Yesterday was the start of volleyball, and I told another teacher I’d love to participate, so got to play with some new faces there, too. It was a blast! Between English Club, REDES, soccer, volleyball, and just general afternoon meetings and more at the school, it’s been very easy to stay busy and to have fun! Although the second trimester started out on a slightly negative note with the hours cut, I have been really hitting my stride both in and out of the classroom, and feel like this trimester will be a quick and fun one! Looking forward to what lies ahead!

This weekend I’m heading down to Chimoio again for a REDES meeting with some other volunteers, so hopefully get to post this then and upload some pictures. Please keep the e-mails coming- I love to hear what is going on back in the States! As always, sending all my love back home! You are all getting close to summer, there. It’s getting cooler here as we enter the winter months, as in I can actually sleep with a sheet. It’s a nice change!

The song for this post is “Take a Minute” by K’naan. He’s the same guy that did the World Cup song, and he’s from Africa. Really I just like the song, but I guess I could relate it to my experience because there are many things that seem overwhelmingly hard to face. My first week back, I just felt unbelievably small in comparison to all the challenges and things that I thought needed to change at my site. A change in perspective was necessary, and sometimes a step back and a deep breath are all you need. But, again, I really just like the song J.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

4/8/11 - Fury, Friendships, and Fulfillment

Well, when they say being a volunteer is a 24/7 job, they are not kidding. What they should also say is that during those 24 hours, you’ll experience a year’s worth of emotions. I’m ending my longest stretch ever at site (how many times have I said that in the first paragraph of my blog posts??), and feel very ready for an emotional break! Don’t worry, many of these emotions are wonderful feelings of joy and success… but pretending like the other extremes don’t exist – the heartbreak, the feelings of failure - would not be accurately representing my experience. So here they are: the good, and the bad.

Last week, I arrived back at site ready to give it my all until our Reconnect Conference (which is probably where I am when I am actually posting this). Unfortunately, the coveted soccer ball that had been giving me so much success with the students was flat, which caused a week of playing with the boys. This was okay with me, I was thoroughly enjoying the tougher competition. The men, however, weren’t that excited about having all the extra bodies of girls in the way of their game. They let it go for the week, but then this week demanded that they needed their own time to practice. The first day, I was fine taking my girls off the field and discussed splitting the time the following day, to which the boy’s coach agreed. The next day, I got out to the field only to realize the guys were already there. I tried to express that we needed our time to practice too, to which they allotted me a whole 20 minutes to play with the girls. When I told the girls the time was up, the men clapped and gave me a bunch of sarcastic “THANK you, teacher!”s… and this was coming from the adults! I was livid. Unfortunately, my Portuguese is not strong enough to give them the string of expletives that was running through my mind, so I had to settle with saying several things in English (that I won’t include here) under my breath and storming off to my house. This is the time when living alone without cell phone service is very trying. All I wanted to do was vent my frustration with the situation. I was so mad I was almost crying, yet had no outlet. I definitely have friends here that I can talk to, but explaining why the situation is unjust to someone who has lived in a male-dominated culture his entire life is just opening a whole other can of worms that I wasn’t quite ready to open. My anger was only enhanced by the fact that several of my colleagues were asking me to organize all these soccer games for Women’s Day, which was yesterday (the 7th). “Professora Ana, will you send a letter up to Manje and ask them to bring their teams down?” “Professora Ana, are you going to buy new balls for the school?” “Professora Ana, you need to organize the student-teacher games.” All this, but you can’t have any time to actually play! Well, I did everything they requested, and sure enough, when it came time for the women’s game, I had to fight for every minute of field time. But, we got it! So, although a lot of negative emotions have come from the soccer saga of late, my body is satisfyingly sore today after our big game yesterday. Next trimester, though, I am demanding an organized schedule for sharing the field!

A more satisfactory story comes from the success of my REDES girls. We had decided to plan a dance to present on Women’s Days, so last week they all showed up at my house ready to go. They all already knew the dances, so it was just picking which songs we were actually going to present (and teaching me the dances). It was such a high point to have about 20 girls all singing and dancing in my yard with me. I’ll hopefully be able to upload some videos! We were able to present them yesterday, and it was a huge success. My counterpart for REDES also got me involved in OMM, the Mozambican Women’s Organization, who also had a dance to present. They forced me to dance with them on the day, and it was a blast, even though I was laughed at the entire time. Although being openly laughed at in front of my whole town was somewhat humiliating, it was also a huge feeling of triumph to know that I now have the courage to dance anyway, despite the eminent laughter. I know the community respects me and appreciates the fact that I’m there doing all these things, and so I think of it as a nice laughter and just always try to laugh with them.

Another success has come from my relationships with women. I know I had written before about struggling with the fact that all my friends were the male teachers, but little by little, I have found my way into the women’s circle. Last weekend, I went out to walk around for a bit, and was called over to a group of professor’s wives who were sitting outside under a tree braiding hair. I sat with them for a couple hours, and it was great to feel like I was getting some “girl time.” These were all women in their early to mid twenties, and fairly educated, so the conversations felt like some that I’d have back home with my friends. I had been craving this kind of interaction, and it felt so good to finally feel invited and accepted by the women. Another circle I’ve worked myself into is the “Professora” circle. These are the slightly older women (as in late 20s), but they are fun to hang out with in the sense that I usually can get food out of it… ha. Yesterday, I knew the younger women were hanging out at the bancas drinking for the holiday, but since I was already busy with the soccer games, I decided to pass on the drinking. Instead, I found a group of the older women who were just sitting watching the games, and spent the afternoon sitting and chatting with them. It’s amazing how much my language has improved- I don’t really have to concentrate anymore to follow the conversation! The last group of girls I have gotten to spend time with (and the one I’m most excited about) is the students! Between soccer and REDES and homework help, they are always stopping by my house. I’ve been taking lots of pictures of them, and they loved looking at my pictures from home. They seem to actually want to hang out with me, which feels GREAT. Of course, the positive and negative emotions come out of these interactions, as well. Some of them are just so great- I just want to adopt them as my little sisters and bring them back with me! This is where the heartbreak comes- it’s only been 4 months and I’m already so sad that I will leave and they will just be staying here, most of them with not much hope to get out of Kaunda and get any more education past the 10th grade. Last night, one my 8th graders ran up to me as I was walking home and it didn’t take too long to realize she was drunk. “How old are you??” I asked her. “Me? I am 12.” Heartbreak. I tsk-tsked her and was so happy I had decided to skip out on the drinking so I could honestly tell her that no, I was not also drinking. She parted and left me to walk with one of my favorite girls, who I braced myself before asking if she was also drunk. “No, I am afraid to drink. I never have.” Heartbreak again, but this time because I was just so proud of her. I tried to tell her how great that was, that she should definitely wait to drink if she ever wants to. This girl is a 10th grader, and easily my most involved girl even though I don’t actually have her in class. I desperately want to do something to help her get out of Kaunda and on to 11th grade. I’m going to try to talk to other volunteers over the next month and see if they have any ideas. Perhaps I will hire her as a “maid” and have her do my dishes in exchange for helping her out with tuition next year… we’ll see. It’s just so hard to feel so helpless.

On a lighter note, this past week was final exams for my classes (there is only one more week of the first trimester- crazy!), and I decided to include some extra credit. The extra credit question was “What country is Professora Ana from?” Man, did I get some funny answers! The majority put down America (to which they didn’t get full extra credit points… there is lots of confusion as to where America is- it does include 2 continents!), but several thought I was from either Portugal, Brazil, or South Africa. Some also just thought I was from Maputo, which is not a country, nor does it make any sense, but it was nice to think that I fake my Portuguese well enough to be considered Mozambican! I got a quite a few giggles out of grading, at least. And hopefully, they are encouraged to chat with me a little more outside of the classroom.

Okay, now for the worst of it. Last weekend, I was walking around and ran into a few of my colleagues. I asked them if they were coming from the soccer fields, and they told me no, they’d been helping carry the body of a woman who died. I wasn’t sure if I’d heard them right, since they’d said it so casually, with the same intonation as if they were saying that yes, they had been coming from the game, so I kept asking questions. It turned out that it was a pregnant woman who had problems during childbirth. Apparently, the baby died inside first and then the woman lost too much blood and died at the street where she was waiting to catch a ride up to the hospital in Manje. I’d heard this story before – how many case studies did I read in my Women’s Health classes that sounded exactly like this? Only this time, it wasn’t something I was just reading, it was happening 20 yards from my front door. Not only was it incredibly sad in itself, but it was also so sad to listen to these men tell me about it, like it was so normal, because it probably is. I managed to finish the conversation with them, then went to my house and just sat and cried. It just all seemed so unfair. Why was I born into a life where this is so shocking to me, while they have probably dealt with it for their mother/sister/daughter/wife? Why is this such a problem for so many women all over the world? How many other women had died during childbirth in the world just in that past hour? I don’t mean to have such depressing thoughts in a blog entry, but these questions are part of daily life here. And I’m sure they won’t be the only hard questions I have to ask during these 2 years.

Well, I feel like I have to follow that up with a super positive story, but there isn’t one that stands out more than the ones I have already shared. It really is the little successes that feel so huge, though. My interactions with the students lately have been great, and the relationships I’m building are making the tough days worth it. I know I’m learning a lot and really growing as a person in all of the ways I had hoped I would, plus more! The song for this post is “Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne. Sometimes it really feels like that! But I’m happy to still be running!

I hope that spring has sprung back home! I’m heading back into civilization tomorrow to give my dad a Happy Birthday phone call (Happy Birthday, Dad!!!) and to catch back up with the world. Then, back to site for one more week until Reconnect! Although it’s only the Central group together (all of whom I’ve already “reconnected” with several times), I am very excited to stay in a hotel with hot showers and internet access for more than just a few minutes! I will have another update then. Sending all my love back home!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Surnames, Schedules, and Scorpions- March 17th, 2011

Well here we are, half way through March, and it’s hard for me to believe I was ever looking for things to do to fill my time. Although I still have plenty of down time compared to my American lifestyle, I am definitely much busier than I was a couple months ago, and I’m loving it!

Last week, I got back to site on a Monday morning and went into the teacher’s lounge area, where I was greeted by my counterpart figure. “Goff,” he said (for some reason he’s taken a liking to referring to me by my last name only now), “you are teaching 5 turmas of 8th grade biology… and 2 turmas of 9th grade math. The schedule has changed so you might want to check it out for your new hours.” Math?? Alright. I had mentioned once that I would be willing to take on math classes if that meant more hours, and apparently they had decided to take me up on my offer, just 2 months into the school year. We headed over to look at the schedule, where I learn that 9th grade math meets 4 times a week, meaning my schedule had nearly doubled. In addition, I saw my name listed as Director of Turma for one of the 8th grade classes. This is essentially the same as a homeroom teacher; I am responsible for all of the logistics of my class, including their grades, punishments, and plants (I’ll get more into this later). I had definitely not agreed to be a Director of Turma (the Peace Corps warned us to avoid this our first year; it can be a lot of additional responsibilities that can be pretty tricky when you don’t fully know how the school system works), but I felt like since it was already 2 months in, I had a good enough feel of how things work to take on the extra responsibility. It’s an opportunity to get to know the students a little better, too, and I had been complaining about how bored I was, so there was no reason to turn down more work. So there I was, suddenly very busy! I realized I’d be teaching my first math class tomorrow, so it was time to get planning! I am splitting the turmas with another teacher, who already planned out the whole trimester, so I just have to plan the lessons based on his outlines. I have not spoken to him since classes have started, though, so I don’t think we’ll really be collaborating all that much, which gives me a little extra freedom.

Walking into my first math class, I realized I had the same jitters I felt the first time I walked into my 8th grade classes. These were all new students, and that first time speaking in front of them is a little nerve-racking. I did my little speech that I gave all my 8th graders (“I know my Portuguese is not perfect, but if you want to laugh at me, I’m perfectly happy just giving the lessons in English”), but was pleasantly surprised to get fairly positive feedback from them. It’s amazing the maturity level difference just between 8th grade and 9th grade. They seem to just get what is going on a little bit more, participate a lot, and seem to get my sense of humor. Plus, since math is more based on numbers than language, I know I appear to be a lot more intelligent and qualified than I do in my biology classes when I am butchering the names of bones left and right. They also think it’s funny to try to speak English with me, which none of my 8th graders really do… I feel like because I don’t teach English, and don’t ever speak it at site, not all of them have made the connection that I am, in fact, an English speaker. They definitely know that I don’t speak Portuguese as a first language, though, so who knows what they think I speak. But regardless, I have found that my 9th grade math classes are extremely enjoyable for me, and am very excited about the extra hours!

The Director of Turma business is not quite as welcome of an addition. It’s not hard, it’s just that the things I have to worry about as DT for this specific school are just a little confusing for me. For example, the plant saga. Every student is supposed to have planted 3 trees at the school as part of one of the mandates of the Mozambican government. As DT, I am supposed to make sure all my students have these plants and take care of them. Seeing as I don’t really understand the background behind it, it’s a little difficult to really enforce these rules on my students. I, for one thing, have no idea where they are supposed to be procuring these plants from. I also am unsure of how often they are supposed to be watering them. I also do not understand why this is such an issue for the school, which makes it hard for me to take it seriously. My school is obsessed with these plants. It’s seriously all we talk about at school meetings. Nevermind the students that can’t read, there are students out there that only planted 2 trees! We need to do something about it ASAP! Call me judgmental, but I just don’t get it. Perhaps I’ll gain some insight as the weeks go on.

I’ve already mentioned the addition of soccer, and although we still have not had these “intraturma” games that the other professors talked about, I’ve definitely been out there the majority of days playing with the girls. Up until this week, I’ve had enough show up every day to do a full field scrimmage. This week, for some reason, they’ve been slacking. Yesterday I had to (gasp!) let some boys play with us, which I thought was super fun, but the girls were a little upset about. I finally got them to agree that it was better to play than not to play, and the only way we could really play a good game as if they played with us. I thought it was fun, seeing as these boys are in my classes, and it’s good to interact with them a little outside of the classroom. It was great to see that the girls still played hard, too, in the presence of the boys. Girls in Mozambique tend to be rather passive, especially in the presence of men, so it was awesome to see them fighting for the ball and sprinting just as hard as they boys were. It also made for a little more competitive game, although I did threaten one of the boys that he was not going to pass biology after he kicked the ball into my face.

In terms of my colleagues, I am finally at a pretty good place with that counterpart figure. I think he’s finally starting to see that I am fairly capable, and even asked me if I’d sit in on his English classes to help him improve his classes, and then if I’d teach some of his classes next week so he can learn from me. As simple as it seems, that really meant a lot to me. After 3 months of feeling like I am constantly appearing clueless to all those around me, I was actually asked for help! He is also very anxious to get our English club going, which will eventually segue into the English Theater secondary project that Peace Corps Mozambique has. Since I am in the middle of starting a REDES group now (more in a bit), am fairly busy with soccer, and am trying to get a grasp on this new busy schedule, I told him we’ll work on it next month. Still, though, it’s thrilling to be greeted with such enthusiasm on the Mozambican counterpart end. Also, since I already see a lot of the girls with soccer, I am anxious to give the boys at my school something to do!

Last night, I had my first mass meeting for girls interested in the REDES group (another one of the already established secondary projects for PC Moz for young women). I had told 3 women in my community about the meeting and the project, hoping that at least one of them would volunteer to be my counterpart. Sure enough, only one of them actually came to the meeting last night, but I think she’s going to be an AWESOME counterpart. I was fairly skeptical about this group working out this year, but between the two of us, I think we can really get something good going. I just wanted to talk to the girls about the group, basically telling them that our group can do whatever they want, whether it be cooking, dancing, some kind of craft project, theater, or whatever other ideas they have. I had almost 30 girls show up to get the information, and 24 actually sign up to be involved. They are supposed to bring their ideas for what they want to do for our “project”/activity next week. Other than that, we picked out a weekly meeting time, discussed the exchanges we can do with other REDES groups in Tete, and I told them about the incentive for the regional conference in Chimoio that the most involved girls will get to go to with me. I’m anxious to see what comes of next week. My counterpart, Celsa (who is actually the English teacher dude’s wife), is really excited and motivated about it all, which is great. We talked yesterday about how this year I would be more in charge, and then next year she’d take over the leadership role while I kind of stepped back, and then she can do it all once I leave. She really understood this well, and was asking great questions, like where is the funding going to come from after I leave… which is still to be determined. It was also so helpful to have her at the meeting to restate the things I was saying in terms that the girls could better understand. Overall, the meeting went much better than I expected it to, and I’m really excited about getting the program going!

I can't believe I almost forgot to include my little run-in with "danger" the other night! I was sound asleep (naturally, at 10:30) and woke up to a sharp pain in my arm. I grabbed my headlamp but couldn't see anything on my arm, but felt another pain a couple inches away. They felt like I was getting bitten by something, but I couldn't find anything around where the pain was. I started to just assume I was going crazy, until I felt a SUPER sharp pain on my back. I whipped off my shirt and threw it on my bed, and saw that there was a scorpion crawling on the inside of my shirt! Realizing I had been stung, I decided I should probably get out of that bed (which is still on the floor) and get this scorpion out of my house. I put it out on my porch, and went back in my house to look in my medical book for what to do for scorpion stings. In a situation in which I could just call someone, I would have not freaked out too much, but seeing as I have absolutely no way of contacting anyone at site, this made me a little nervous... especially as my arm was starting to go numb and my back was tingling. I finally found the section about scorpion stings, where I read that sometimes people experience "rolling eyes" or "excess salivation that might lead to respiritory blockage"... all of which I thought were probably not ideal experiences to be having completely alone in my little house. Tearing up a little (I know, weak), I decided I would head over to my director's house and ask him what to do. I woke up his wife and told her what happened and she said we'd go over to the hospital. It really didn't hurt that bad, I just didn't know if scorpion stings lead to death or are nothing to worry about! So we headed over to the nurse's house, and she told us she'd meet us at the medical building. My director's wife and I waited a good ten minutes for her to show up, at which point I realized I was not in immediate danger of death and started to feel pretty stupid for waking them all up for my little insect sting. The nurse first tried to give me a shot, which I turned down, and which she then asked me why I was denying her treatment and what exactly I wanted. This made me feel terrible, and super embarrassed, so naturally, I started crying again (I couldn't make it any worse at this point) and tried to explain in flustered Portuguese how I am not supposed to get treatment at local medical facilities and I have some medicine allergies so I can't just take anything. She tried to give me some other pills, which I also had to decline as I tried to explain that as long as I wasn't going to die, I was perfectly fine just going back home. They finally let me go, and I just took some Benadryl and finally fell asleep. The next morning, I was dreading showing up at school, assuming that everyone and his brother had heard about my little incident. This nurse has probably seen some pretty bad things and there I had been, crying over a scorpion sting. I arrived at school early, where my director's wife was cleaning, and she asked me how I felt and seemed to completely understand that I was just scared at the time. No one even asked about it, and I live to tell about it! So there it is!

So, all in all, things are running! I can’t believe how fast time is going now. We just have a month left of the first trimester, and then we’re off to our Reconnect conference! Until then, I have some fun weekends planned and a general excitement for my time at site. Although I still look forward to the fun weekends with friends (I don’t think I ever won’t), I definitely am past the countdown mindset that I had at the start. It’s hard to not just be ridiculously happy when I am standing outside my house late in the afternoon with a group of students (that showed up half an hour early for my meeting- a shocking occurrence in my community!) kicking around a soccer ball and listening to them try to speak in English with each other. I genuinely enjoy being at site, and usually am ready to get back. That being said, I’m still very excited for fun weekend ahead with the Tete group up in Angonia (where it is supposedly cold enough to get dew on the ground in the morning)! I’ll head out after classes Friday and hopefully be able to get all the way up there by early evening. Fingers crossed! If you’ve ever missed a ride or flight in America because you showed up late, just be thankful for the reliability of American transport. I’ve waited for a ride out of my town for as long as 3 ½ hours before, and when that happens it can really mess up any plans to get anywhere! So, here’s hoping that’s not an issue this weekend…

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, by the way!

The song for this post is another shout out to my sister, Molly, who does a great job at picking out tunes to send my way. It was actually on my running playlist the month before leaving for Mozambique, but kind of fits with my mood right now. So, hope you enjoy “Dog Days are Over,” by Florence and the Machine. I think it was on a commercial for that Julia Roberts movie last summer, so you’ve probably already heard it. I’m definitely not running around Europe eating tons of food and spending tons of money as she was, but I am having a pretty good experience over here. J Hope that spring is finding you and that you are all still healthy and happy back home! Ate a proxima vez/Until next time!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Soccer, Shoe-forgetting, and Sun Dials

Happy March! This is the start of my 6th month in Mozambique. I’m also happy to note that I am just a few days from officially being done with the dreaded “first 3 months at site.” Most people say that those months are the hardest – obviously it differs for everyone, but they were definitely challenging for me. From here on out, things should be smooth sailing! Ha, let’s hope so. Well not a whole lot has changed since I wrote last week, except that my body is aching after bringing daily soccer back into my life. I’m a little out of shape! My first “practice” was last Thursday, and I had about 40 girls show up to run and do some conditioning drills! The next day, one of them actually showed up to run in the morning with me- I was shocked. Yesterday I was up to 3 little meninas trailing me at 5:30 am. We have a couple balls, now, so we have been having games every afternoon. I’m supposed to be picking the girls team, and I have a pretty good idea of who is going to “make it.” Some of them are pretty good! Especially given the fact that they are playing with either flip flops or no shoes and have had very limited “training.” It is just so funny to think back to my situation growing up… my soccer bag with my extra pair of shoes in it, our 20+ balls that we had to practice with, the artificial turf at my high school… we are a long way from that! It is amazing, though, when I tell the girls it’s time to quit because I have to go teach my night class, they all protest and beg for just 5 more minutes. “Senhora Professora, it is only 5:00! Nooo!!!” I’m going to need to study up on my Portuguese soccer vocabulary, though, because my team definitely needs some work. It looks a lot like the bumble-bee soccer you see from 1st graders in America… but they have potential.

Oh, and last week, one of the students knocked on the door to get back in the classroom after she had already turned in her test. I asked her what she forgot, assuming she left her notebook. Nope, she left her shoes. Just plain walked off without them.

One of my only preoccupations lately has been my lack of bed. The school was supposed to provide me with a bed frame, a table, and 2 chairs. I have a teeny table and one chair, but no bed frame. I did purchase a mattress, so I do have a little piece of foam on the floor that I sleep in (as you probably saw in pictures). When I arrived, they said I’d get it in January. In January, I was told February. Apparently, if the school won’t provide it, the Peace Corps will reimburse me. So, I figured it was time to take things into my own hands. I talked to one of my professora friends and she took me to the carpenter, who told me he could make it, but I’d first need to procure the materials. This would be easy if I could just run over to Home Depot, but in Mozambique that’s not exactly the case. In this situation, I have to arrange someone to go get me some wood, bring it back to Kaunda, give it to the carpenter, and then pay quite the hefty sum for him to actually do the work. Even though I’m getting reimbursed, I still will have to front about half of my monthly allowance to get this bed frame made- a little frustrating! I did mention to my director that I finally talked to someone, though, and asked once again if the school was going to pay for it or if I was going to have to (I don’t want them to know I will get reimbursed), and he said he’d talk to the financial director… so we’ll see.

Other than that, not much to complain about. I’m continuing to get to know the other teachers better. Last Saturday, we had a really long (and stupid) meeting about salaries, etc, that I was not allowed to get out of even though I don’t get paid (a little bitter?). Anyway, after the meeting, I immediately grabbed my backpack and headed out to the street to wait for a chapa to take me down into the city and back into civilization. After running to catch up to the one that had just passed, the chapa driver continued to just drive back and forth in Kaunda to pick up all of the teachers who were taking off for the weekend. One by one, 6 other professors from my school got on the chapa, and it turned into quite the party chapa! They convinced me to go grab a beer with them in the city, and it was fun to feel like I have friends. I also usually run into someone I know in Tete City when I go there, which makes me feel just way too cool. I’m in the middle of Mozambique, Africa, and I can’t go anywhere without seeing someone I know! Not really, but it’s nice to feel that way for a little bit. J

I think this will be impossible to explain via blog post, but it is also HILARIOUS to watch people in my town when anything about time is mentioned. They literally point to where the sun should be in sky as they say it. For example “The meeting should be over, oh, about 10:00” (pointing to the sky about half way up from the horizon). Or, as I mentioned with my soccer girls “It’s only 5:00” (pointing to the sun not yet setting). It’s clearly a better story when I can use my arms to explain, but you get the idea. It’s like living with the Aztecs. I also get “estou a pedir-ed” (asked for) the hours at least once a day. That magical watch…

Okay, well the song for this post really has nothing to do with how I am feeling, it just happens to be what I’m listening to right now. So, I hope you all enjoy “I and Love and You” by the Avett Brothers.

I also hope this post finds you all in good health and happiness! For all my U of M friends, graduation is in just 2 months! That is pretty crazy. Hang in there! I hope spring is starting to show in most of America, although I know that March is usually pretty far from springy up in Michigan… Have a wonderful, productive, and fast-moving month!