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!

Testing, Tryouts, and Tasty treats! (February 24, 2011)

Well, I don’t know when exactly it happened, but at some point, Kaunda started to feel like home. Perhaps it was when one of my classes was interrupted by a student sent by another teacher just to inform me that there were avacados for sale for the first time. Or maybe it was when I was hanging out with some of the teachers one Friday night and witnessed them all devour some cooked pheasant pieces that someone brought by, reminding me all to well of my roommates and I devouring Panera’s baked goods that Teresa used to bring back to the house on Friday nights. Or maybe it was when I started to feel comfortable asking the students to do anything for me- I asked a few who stopped by asking me soccer questions to go and get me some water, and a few minutes later, I had another girl come by begging for another bucket because she wanted to go get some for me, too. Regardless, I’ve started to really love my community and am glad to be feeling so positive about everything right now!

As we say here in Mozambique, things “are walking”- classes are in full swing, I am definitely feeling like I have friends in the community, I’m holding soccer try-outs next week, and my house is getting a little more full every day. I am nearing the end of another long stretch at site, and it was way more bearable than the last time I spent this long at site without leaving. I’m heading back down to Moatize for the weekend, and although I am really excited to see the Tete girls again (and to be back in cell phone service), I’m not as anxious to leave as I used to get. I’m still excited to see what civilization is like again, but I don’t have as much of a count-down mindset as I did at first. And that’s a good thing! Here are some highlights of the past couple weeks:

*Lunch with the Peace Corps Regional Director for Africa. He was touring several African countries and it was interesting to hear how Mozambique compares with other countries. Apparently in Zambia, all volunteers co-teach with a Zambian teacher in the classroom. Also, we’ve heard this before, but apparently the Mozambique program overall is a little less rough than other countries’ programs. Most other African volunteers live in much more rural communities… like Kaunda…
*The start of local dialect lessons. Another teacher is meeting with me twice a week (for free) to teach me the language. So far, we’ve just learned greetings and a little bit of how verbs work. If we keep going at the rate we are, I should have a pretty decent vocabulary after 2 years – I’m pretty excited about that! Still, sitting in a classroom getting local dialect phrases translated into Portuguese so I can understand them just blows my mind a little.
*Learning the phrase for “wedgie” in Portuguese. This wasn’t even intentional. I was sitting at one of the little bars Friday night with some professors, and one of them was standing up (and had a pretty bad wedgie) so another one commented “Hey Carlos, your pants are meeting,” to which I couldn’t help but crack up.
*Mozambican cooking lessons with one of the fellow professoras. Not that I have any real interest in learning how to make cooked pumpkin leaves and xima, but I figured it was a good opportunity to start hanging out with women more. Plus, cooking in Mozambique kills a good 4 hours from start to finish, so it was a nice way to spend a Sunday. Her husband is the somewhat-condescending “counterpart” figure, but he wasn’t home for most of the time, so it was nice to just get to chat with her. Sure enough, when he got home, it took about 5 minutes before he felt like he needed to lecture me on article agreement for feminine/masculine nouns. As if I haven’t ever learned this before. Grr.
*Opening up the world of English speaking with other professors. They ALL want to learn English. Until now, I’ve been pretty insistent on speaking only Portuguese, but now I’m feeling comfortable enough with my language to start humoring their attempts at English conversation. When I sneezed today, one of the professors thought he was being so polite as to declare “My God!” for me… I corrected him that it is actually “God bless you.” This also brings up some pretty interesting topics. I have translated Eminem songs, explained that no, Westlife isn’t really popular in America anymore, nor were they ever that popular, and been able to answer that it is, in fact, a lie the condoms contain the HIV virus. Lucky me!
*Successfully making both granola and hummus. I’ve been thinking about these for a while, and finally got all the stuff together to make them. Delicious! I also made some pitas to eat with the hummus, and then topped them off with cucumbers, tomatoes, and some parmesan cheese. It’s funny- I wonder if some of the things I used to buy back home I’ll start to just make for myself, like these things, or tortillas, or pasta. They really aren’t hard. I’ll get back to you in 3 years on that one.
*My first biology test. Out of all 5 classes, I had 4 students pass (and to pass you just need a 50%). I thought I would be a little discouraged, but I’m surprisingly not too down about it. It was not a difficult test, and they all admitted to not studying, so I don’t feel bad. I am looking at it more as an opportunity to show them that they will actually need to prepare for tests in biology. I also caught probably 20 cheaters, and it felt good to show them that they can’t get away with that stuff in my classroom. I am giving them the opportunity to do corrections for homework, so hopefully that will help them get a little closer to passing my class. I talked to another teacher, and he explained that it’s not bad for them to fail, that many of them should not be moving on to the next grade if they can’t even read or write. “Students of the farm,” is what they refer to them as. I feel guilty, but I’m here to teach, not to just advance students that do not deserve it. Hopefully the scores improve as they get used to me, though.
*The start of sports. Yesterday we had our first “sports department” meeting, where they mostly discussed where they were going to put the various fields and courts. I’m anxious to see how basketball goes in the absence of baskets, but I’m hopefully going to get something worked out with Audrey and Helen’s technical school to get the welders to make us some hoops. When they told me I was in charge of sports, I assumed I’d just be playing a bunch of pick up games. Apparently, though, we have actual tryouts next week that I am judging! Or so they say… we’ll see what actually happens. I hope I don’t sound cynical already, but I do know that people in Kaunda talk a little more than they act. For example, my fence gate that was supposed to be built like 4 weeks ago just started being built today. But I’m still super excited about it!

Well, that’s about all I’ve got for now. Not sure when this post will actually get posted, but hopefully fairly soon! I hope, as always, that things are going well back home and that spring is starting to find you all. The song for the post is “Take it Easy” by The Eagles, just because it’s a happy song that always puts me in a good mood. And I’m in a good mood now!