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.