Saturday, July 21, 2012

June, July, and Jogos!

Hello! Hope you are all enjoying a beautiful summer State-side. From what I have heard, it has been rather hot! In Mozambique, we are experiencing a very mild winter. While the nights have been slightly chilly, the days remain sunny and warm, which is very pleasant. June and July have been very busy for me, which is just how I like it. Another fun addition to my life has been cell phone service! Mid-June I heard my phone ring for the first time in Kaunda- a very sweet sound to hear!

At the beginning of June, I was able to accompany the already existing “culture group” from my school to a JUNTOS (co-ed youth group promoting gender equality) Workshop with groups from 3 other schools. Although getting them all there was a challenge in terms of transport (the chapa I arranged to come get us showed up 3 hours late!), the students enjoyed the weekend. I was a little worried at first; you could tell my students were from a more rural area than the other participants. Their Portuguese was weaker, they were less confident participating in large group discussions, and they definitely were not the most stylishly dressed. The last night, however, we had allowed time for each group to present something. Some groups presented theater, others art projects, and my group was able to present their cultural dance that they actually had presented at the provincial “culture competition” earlier in the year. They did an amazing job, and everyone was really impressed. They left feeling proud of themselves for what they could do, making the weekend a great success.

Also in June, I was able to host the first real soccer game with my girls in Kaunda. I received the invitation from a neighboring school for a “friendly game,” and they had volunteered to come to us. All we had to do was show up… easy enough, right? Well, not this year! It has been like pulling teeth to get the girls to show up for practice this year. I was going classroom to classroom every day reminding them that we had a game, and by the end of the week before the Saturday game, I was finally feeling like we’d have enough to play a full team. Game day, we had 14 girls show up an hour before game time, and I was feeling very exciting to play coach in a real match. I remembered back to my soccer days, thinking the fair thing to be was to sub in the bench players every ten minutes to give everyone a chance to play. Well, in Mozambique, equal playing time is not really a concern. The girls on the field got so mad every time they got subbed, and everyone watching on the sidelines was telling me to get the lesser skilled girls off the field. I was so fed up by half time that I just stopped even trying to coach and just let them do whatever they want. We lost 2-0, and sure enough after they were all saying that they should have practiced more and vowed to start showing up for morning practice. I assumed this was just the typical Kaunda lie, but the next morning I had girls at my house at 5:15 am, in the pitch black, asking for the ball. The first week was incredible- I had 10+ girls out running laps before 6 am! One week was all it lasted though… by the second week I found myself alone again on the field in the morning. But, it was fun while it lasted.

The end of June brought my first “troca” of the year. A troca is an exchange between 2 or 3 school groups, usually just over one or two days. For this troca, my REDES girls prepared to welcome the REDES group from Cateme, the new school that Audrey and Helen teach at, to come up to Kaunda for a day. It was a very easy day; the girls did a name game, played a soccer match, ate lunch, participated in a short HIV/sexual health lesson, and then the Cateme girls presented a theater and mine presented a dance. Although it seems simple, the girls still got a lot out of meeting girls from another school, and our counterparts really enjoyed getting to know each other better. Besides a minor hand slapping I got from my school direction for not inviting my school director to participate, the day was fun and easy… a nice change from the usual hassle and stress of secondary project activities!

The end of June brought another round of provincially mandated exams, and then we were already at the end of second trimester! The first week of the 2 week break for the students was reserved for the biannual “Jogos Escolares” (School Games) to take place in the district capital, Manje. Because my vacation with my mom was not scheduled until the end of July, I was able to participate in the week-long tournament with my soccer girls. The weeks leading up were pretty nerve-wracking. I had already entered a full team roster into the district capital earlier in the trimester, but since our one shining week of successful practices, I had barely any girls that regularly showed up to play. I was also told that every girl needed to have documents that proved she was between 13 and 15 years old... but I was also told that the documents could be faked if needed, for a price. The weekend before the games, I was panicking that we wouldn’t have enough girls to play and that we’d have no real documents to show. By Sunday I was ready to cancel our participation, but, as things always tend to happen in Moz, Sunday afternoon I had 12 girls saying they were for sure going to go to the games.

On Monday, we began the waiting game. The only document I had ever seen about the Games stated the start day as Tuesday, yet somehow everyone else knew that we would leave on Monday. So by about 9 am, all of the students participating (we had a girls’ soccer game, boys’ soccer team, some runners to participate in track events, and, of course, a boy and a girl who would represent the school for Xadrez, or Chess). Around 11 am, a large open-back truck drove by and said they were headed to the schools south of us to pick up the students there, and would be back through in a couple hours to pick us up. Well, lunchtime came and went, as did the entire afternoon. Around 6 pm, the truck finally came back by- packed to the gills. By 6 pm is it already dark, but the driver claimed he would go drop the students already boarded in Manje, and return to pick us up afterwards. This meant at least 2 more hours of waiting. I had not been by the road when this interaction happened, but heard the news when I went to talk to one of the other coaches. I was shocked to hear they planned on sending the students on an open-back at night, and he agreed that it was not a good idea… yet had no telephone number for anyone in Manje. One of Peace Corps’ policies is no night travel, so I was stuck in a pretty awkward position. Either I bite the bullet and travel with my kids, or I send them without a chaperone and go up alone the next day. Selfishly, I decided the latter was the better option. I confirmed with the other coaches that they would make sure my girls got safely to their lodging area, gave my girls my phone number, and prayed that everything would work out.

The next morning, I got up to the games by 7 am and was glad to hear that everything had worked out fine. The students were all in their uniforms already, getting ready for the opening ceremonies. After so many Peace Corps run events, I was very excited to see how a completely Mozambican run event functioned. Although the week was a lot of fun for the kids, I walked away thinking that we Americans could have been doing a lot less to put on our workshops and conferences! First of all, each school had 2 classrooms to sleep in- one for the girls and one for the boys. Each classroom had only 4 grass mats on the floor for all the girls to share. The students had to take baths in the school’s latrines, and fight over the very few buckets available to use to do so. We were served 6 consecutive meals of beans and rice (or xima), and there were only about 30 plates for the 200 or so students to share. Silverware was non-existent, and drinking water was one large pot of water from the local water pump and a few cups to go around. Although the focus of the week was the sports, the balls used were the ones I had brought with us to warm up with, as Manje did not have a soccer ball. Compare this to our REDES conference… each girl has a bed, receives bottled drinking water, sits down to full meals in a dining hall, often has a running water shower, and receives 2 snacks per day. On top of this, each girl receives notebooks, pens, and any other materials she may need for the sessions. At the end of the day, it’s tough to say which is better. Are we being excessive? Should we not give the girls water? Should we not pay for lodging and instead have them sleep on the floor? I saw this past week that the events can still go on without all that… but at the same time, the students definitely didn’t feel as special. They did, however, get to play against all the teams in the district, and although they came in last place, they had a wonderful time at the Games. Seven of my girls got selected to go on to the Provincial Games as part of the District Team, which was very cool for them as well. In the end, I’m very glad I participated and got to share the week with my girls… even if it wasn’t quite as luxurious as I am used to.

So, that brings me to today. Tomorrow I leave with 2 girls to our REDES conference, where we will sleep in our beds and drink our bottled water. I’m crossing my fingers that the chapa I arranged to take all the participants from Tete province to Chimoio does not show up 3 hours late, but am looking forward to another conference to share with my girls. In just a couple short weeks, my mom flies in to South Africa and we will begin our 2 week journey around South Africa! Mid-August, I will get back to site and begin my last 3 months of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I received my last day as well, and now know that on November 30th, I will officially become a Returned PCV. How exciting!

This post’s song is “Bleecker Street” by Simon and Garfunkel… as always, no reason, just what I’ve been listening to lately.

I hope to hear from you all soon! Enjoy the summer, and I hope time isn’t flying there as much as it is here!