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!


  1. Oh Hannah, you are SUCH A GIFT - says your mom with tears streaming down her face. I am so proud of you!

  2. Your grandmother is crying, too. I am so very proud of you, dear Hannah. You are awesome.

  3. And your post combined with the two comments above made your pregnant and emotional sister cry, too!!

    Keep up the amazing work -- you are definitely making a DIFFERENCE.

    Love you and miss you,

  4. Wow. You certainly have chosen the road less traveled. It's amazing to read about what has become your daily life. Thanks for sharing, Hannah. You are incredible!

    Rita Hopfensperger