Monday, March 19, 2012

Inspiration, Ingles, and Itty-bitty Harriet

Hello hello! Another long stretch has passed since my last post. If it makes any difference, I think about writing blog posts often. Chalk it up to laziness, or busyness, or a combination. Either way, it’s been a while, so I’ll just dive right in.
Year 2 is shaping up to be… different than I had expected. You hear a lot about what is “normal” for Peace Corps volunteers to experience. A low point at the start of the second year can be expected, but is usually followed by an extremely fast-paced, productive year. You no longer have to worry about language, you don’t have to waste too much time figuring out how things work at the school, and you pretty much know what you need to do to make yourself feel happy and successful. I walked into my second year assuming all of my secondary projects would start up right where I left off and I could pretty much take a back seat to my counterparts. As it turns out, Year 2 is not quite as easy breezy as I was hoping for – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing!
My success with REDES last year was outstanding. I had an awesome group of girls, led by a couple rock-star 10th graders. Well, I guess I forgot that 10th graders turn into 11th graders the next year… of which we do not have classes for at my school. So, while I have been able to see my favorite girls on the few weekends they come back to Kaunda, for the majority of the year, they are off at boarding school a few hours up the road. I can’t be too upset as this is fantastic for them- not many Mozambican girls are lucky enough to complete past 7th grade, let alone move on from 10th grade. It does, however, leave me with a leaderless group of girls. I’ve tried to talk to the few remaining and to recruit some new ones, but we are still getting off the ground. Not what I was expecting for year 2! It doesn’t help that Celsa, my counterpart, is not in the best place. Between her husband (my frequently mentioned *%#$-head supervisor figure, Sev) falling off the wagon and turning into a raging alcoholic, and a string of misunderstandings that led to her suspension from the school, she is not exactly the ideal role model for REDES. Veronica, my other counterpart, is still in the picture, and she still has high hopes for the group. I do have confidence that it will get going, it’s just a little frustrating to think I am basically starting from scratch.
Soccer was also proving to be a challenge. While there are many girls that want to play, their schedule is a little different this year. The 8th-10th grade meets in the afternoons now, except for 2 8th grade turmas that meet in the morning. Given this, it is really challenging to get all the girls together to play. Another snag is that fact that my soccer balls are fighting back against me for bringing them all the way to Africa. I had 3 balls pop in one week- 3! I could not believe it. I have been able to get a small group of girls out running for our “practice,” and I think we’ll get a routine down. Just one more thing I thought would be so easy this year that is turning out to be another challenge.
Needless to say, I was in need for some inspiration. I was frustrated with the lack of motivation and effort that the students were putting into the projects that I had worked so hard to build a strong foundation for last year. Enter: English Club. As the English Theater competition is not until September, I hadn’t really done anything with this group yet. Last weekend, though, I received an e-mail from my sister including some letters from her students to my students. We had talked about doing this last year, and now that I am teaching English, it is much more applicable to my students. My 8th graders, however, are not quite up to that level. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to get the English Club working on a project. So Monday, when I got back to school, I called over one of my English Club boys and told him I had an idea for a project and we needed to meet this week, maybe Friday morning, but I’d let them know. I ended up putting off “informing” them (as it involves speaking in front of the whole school and it just intimidates me), but then I was surprised to see all my returning students show up at my house Friday morning. He not only remembered, but took it upon himself to tell all the other students in the group. This may not seem like that big of a deal, but in Kaunda, this is PHENOMENAL. Motivated students! That show up on time! I was floored. I took the group over to our school’s new library to talk to them about the letters, and they jumped right in. They drafted them in Portuguese first, and I told them to just write about their lives- their families, interests, schedules, etc. After, they each showed me what they had written. One by one, I read their letters and had to hold back tears for each one. The first was from Xadreque, a really awesome 9th grader. He wrote about how much he loves English and the music of Jason Derulo, and then went on to talk about his family, and how his father died when he was 3 and his mother died just this last year, so he lives with an uncle. The next was from Sergio, another rock star 9th grader, and he talked about how much he likes to play soccer, and how he lives with only his mom as his dad died. Next I read Dique’s letter, who included how both his parents are farmers and he lives 10 kilometers away, but he has been fortunate enough to be able to continue in school by living in Kaunda during the week and returning home on the weekends, where he shares his house with his grandparents and 11 brothers and sisters. It seems like the odds are against each one of these kids, yet here they were, coming into school on their own time, by their own initiative, to participate in my English Club. I walked away just feeling so… humbled. Here I was, complaining about how hard things were for me. How the students didn’t care, and feeling like nothing I was doing was going to make a difference in the long run.  Sure, that may be the case for many of the things I do in these 2 years, but that’s not the case for these few students. I need to keep those students in mind as I approach the new challenges of Year 2. I may not have 40 girls show up for soccer practice, but does that really matter? Even if it’s only one student, that student is worth the effort. Although I may not have the high hopes I had during Year 1, if I go through Year 2 thinking of each student as his or her own project, well, then I think I’ll have a successful year.

In the classroom, on the other hand, Year 2 is turning out far better than I could have hoped for! Switching to English has been a nice change. Although I do have to start fresh in terms of lesson planning and getting to know new students, I am in no way starting fresh as a teacher. I actually feel like I know what I’m doing this time around! While I may have studied biology in college, I have studied English for my whole life- so I feel pretty competent! Last year I had to worry about tough vocabulary in Portuguese and how to explain complicated phenomena to students without the aids of textbooks Magic School Bus videos. This year, I just get to walk into the classroom and make up silly songs. Don’t get me wrong, it is still challenging. These students have absolutely no foundation of the English Language (and not much of the Portuguese Language, either), so it’s tough to know where to start. They are getting it, though, and most importantly, seem to WANT to learn English. That’s a big step. For a couple weeks I also got the pleasure of teaching the 10th graders, as the aforementioned other English teacher decided to take some time off to drink. That was so much fun! The students have the foundation and are a lot more mature. I really tried to talk the school direction into letting me continue with the 10th grade, but sure enough, when Sev came back from his binge he decided he could not give up the 10th graders.  Ah, I could write a whole blog post about my dealings with Sev, but I’m afraid I’d come off as too bitter. So I’ll just leave it at: I think it’s very unfortunate that the students are deprived of a very capable and eager teacher  just so the school directors can save face with their drinking buddy. But such is life as a woman in Mozambique.
I guess an update would not be complete without mentioning my new little companion, Harriet. After midservice, Audrey, Eden, and I all received puppies from the family that Audrey and Helen used to share a farm with in Moatize. Harriet is the runt of the litter, but she’s pretty darn cute. The first couple days with her were rough- it was literally like having a baby! Or what I imagine having a baby would be like, I guess.  She peed EVERYWHERE and approximately every 5 seconds and could not be left alone. She has grown into a nice little dog, though, and I kind of love her a lot. We take a lot of walks and she follows me like a shadow. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have someone that is SO EXCITED to see me in the morning! It’s nice to just have someone else to worry about besides myself.  So, Harriet is a very welcome addition to my home in Moz.
Well, I hope this post finds you well. I apologize for the lower frequency of blog posts. I will blame it on the fact that I just don’t leave site as much this year! This weekend, however, I am going down to Chimoio for the first time this year. I’m excited for a little get away and some internet time. Hopefully some good food and company, too! I hope the weather is warming up, the trees are budding, and the birds are singing. My mom said it was 62 the other day- that means shorts and flip flops are coming out in Michigan! Ha. If it was 62 here, I’d probably be wrapped up in a blanket with my warm socks. I also just realized it’s just about my FAVORITE time of year there – March Madness! I am glad to see both of my teams doing well… Go Blue! Rock Chalk! (Side note- I wrote this before the first weekend of games :( )
The song for this post is “Helicopter” by Oh Land. This is new music to me, and I’m loving it. I hope you enjoy it as well! I always appreciate update e-mails- let me know what’s going on! Happy spring, and talk to you soon!