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!


  1. Reading this post makes me feel soooo good, Hannah Alice!! (((Except for the scorpian bite!!))) You have carved out a comfy little niche for yourself - they are so lucky to have you on site! xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxoooooooxxxxxxxxxxxxxGrandma

  2. Love it, girl! You are making such a difference over there! Go you. Your influence is even felt globally -- now Dog Days is stuck in my head!

    Love and miss you and oh so proud of you!!!

  3. Hannah, you have an unusual lifestyle, location and perspective.
    To improve the reading and readability experience for your blog readers, consider starting new sentences from a new paragraph, left-indented, instead of writing continuously.
    You could even insert a blank row between paragraphs.
    You could upload some images, maybe.
    See my blog, if you want. :)

  4. Hi Hannah, sounds like you're a respected member of the community now and it's great you've gained their trust and respect. You're making a difference of old Uncle Sam!

    Your blog paginates perfectly on my bowser, it's beautiful.