Saturday, February 27, 2010


Saturday morning, I was talking to my director about something school related, and she wanted to look at a list she had in her office. She unlocked the padlock on the metal bars over the door, then unlocked the door to the office area. Then she unlocked the secretary’s office and opened a draw and took out a key. Then she used that key to unlock the pedagogical director’s office and opened a cabinet and took out a key. Then she used that key to unlock her own office. She said “it’s because we can’t trust people here.”


Yesterday Ann and I were passearing (passear: to walk/wander. A PCV favorite is, in our language which is some jumbled mess of Portuguese and English, to conjugate Portuguese words in English) and stopped in the central market to buy cold sodas, the only thing close to relief from the heat here. As we stood there drinking them (the glass soda bottles have to be returned) we were looking at and joking about the bright pink 80’s prom dress with huge puffy sleeves and the bright teal 80’s prom dress with large bows hanging a few stalls down. The woman who had sold us our drinks caught on to what we were talking about and said jokingly “you like those right? Let me go pick you out a good one!” She ran over to the pile of clothes and pulled out the most hideous dress possible and ran back over waving it around. She held it up to Ann and said, “it looks so beautiful on you!” At this point everyone in the market is howling with laughter. There were multiple strange sash-like things hanging off of the dress and I asked “what do you even do with those?” “Like this!” she said throwing them dramatically over her shoulder and prancing around with the dress. Everyone laughed even harder. It was a great moment of really feeling part of the crowd, instead of being that weird white person.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Today we had a faculty meeting during the last period of morning classes, during which time on Thursdays each homeroom director meets with their homeroom. Since afternoon classes would be starting 50 minutes later, I thought to myself, well at least the meeting can’t last any longer than that. Wrong. The meeting lasted into the third period of the afternoon, I am just glad I don’t teach in the afternoon or I would have been furious.
One time Emma and I were on a chapa and were making small talk with the women sitting around us. They asked if we spoke English and we said yes. One woman said “you will have to teach us English and we will teach you our language.” “What’s that, Portuguese?” we asked. “No!” all the women said emphatically, “we all speak Portuguese, but that’s not our language, our languages are the Bantu languages.”


The morning schedule is three classes with five minute break in between, then a 25 minute break, and then three more classes. Today my school brought in a man to speak about drugs and alcohol during the 25 minute break. I have been giving my midterms this week and each class took their midterm during their one double-block they have per week so I can split the class into two smaller groups to take the test. It just so happened that today one of my class’s double-block fell on either side of the 25 minute break, so during the break only half of the class had taken the test. Naturally, this being Mozambique, it took forever to round up the 1000 students into the courtyard for the speech. The bell rang for classes to recommence, but he kept talking. About five minutes into my class period I was mildly annoyed but knew that I should have known better than to expect anything here to start on time or to expect him to keep to his 25 minute limit. Ten minutes into my class period I was getting worried and trying to figure out what options I had if half the class wasn’t able to take the test today. 15 minutes into my class period I was furious and 20 minutes into my class period I just stormed off to the classroom to get set up, muttering profanities to myself. When I got to the classroom the wind had blown the door shut, so I had to storm over to the secretary’s office to ask for the keys. We got started on the test with about 15 minutes left in the class period, but luckily the test was very short and none of the kids in other classes had taken more than 30 minutes to finish it. The bells rang to end my class and to start the next one, but luckily this is Mozambique so the teacher teaching after me hadn’t arrived yet when the last girl finished up.
Today an 18-wheeler flat-bed truck sped by me down the EN-1 with logs piled up in the bed. On top of the logs were about 8 pitiful goats, tethered so tightly they could barely move, but only try to brace themselves against the 80 mph wind.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Today I gave my first midterm, I think I was more nervous than the students were. Each class has one double block per week so I am having each class take the exam during their double block so I can have the class take the test in two smaller groups, to cut down on cheating. As far as I could tell, there didn’t seem to be much cheating, perhaps because they were all sitting too far apart from each other to try. Kids from the second group did try to look in the windows which in one sense is fine because I was giving them a different test, but saddened me because there doesn’t seem to be any sense of shame in cheating here. The sense (in many arenas here, outside of cheating in schools) seems to be that you are entitled to whatever you can get away with.
I sat in on an English colleague’s lesson today. He said, “in English you have to be careful because there are many words that sound the same but are spelled differently and mean different things.” I thought to myself, yes, this is very true. He wrote the words “bad” and “bed” on the board and said “see these words sound the same but mean different things” and explained the difference between the two. In the way that Mozambicans speak, yes those words sound exactly the same. I tried to be inconspicuous as I silently died of laughter in the back of the classroom.

This is the youngest girl in the orphanage, Margarita, with her baby, also named Margarita, tied on her back with a capulana like a Mozambican woman.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Today I wore a seatbelt for the first time since September 29th. Matt was finally heading back to Panda today after being in Maputo for health reasons, so I was lucky enough to catch a free ride back in the Peace Corps car that was taking him! Much better than a chapa.


Yesterday and today we had planning meetings in Maputo for REDES. REDES, Raparigas Em Desenvolvimento, Educaçao, e Saúde (girls in development, education, and health), is a project that was started by PCVs in Mozambique in 2005. The REDES mission is to empower and develop young women in the areas of life skills, education, and health. I think it is a project that has an incredible ability to make a difference, because girls/women are really second-class citizens here sometimes, and more gender equality could do wonders to develop Mozambique. Just things as simple as teaching girls that they have the skills and the power to negotiate their own lives and their relationships with men will make a huge difference in their own lives and for the country as a whole. The REDES project has two components, weekly meetings with your REDES group which I will be starting soon, and a yearly conference in April that we were planning for this weekend.
The advantage of going to Maputo is having access to all the things that exist there and nowhere else in the country, so I enjoyed some great Thai food and ice cream, and was able to buy a non-stick pan and packaging tape.


The power went out two nights ago and has been out ever since, except for about 3 hours last night. The water has also been out for most of this time, but luckily it was raining this morning so we caught the water running off the roof to use for bathing.
After my classes I left for Maputo. I was happy because I got a medium size chapa in which you actually get your own seat and the rickety sides aren’t threatening to fall off at any point. For about a 20 mile stretch north of Xai-Xai, the EN-1 (the major national highway that runs north-south) is under construction and completely unpaved. It has been raining for most of the week, so the road here was completely mud. I was thinking to myself how little I desired to have to get out of the bus and push it, and our bus dangerously slid around 4 or 5 times, but luckily we never got stuck.
For the first time since I have been in Mozambique, my chapa driver drove very carefully and safely which should have been a relief, but I was annoyed by how long the journey takes when you’re not whipping around people and other cars at 90mph. I got into Maputo too late to take a chapa, so I asked my driver to help me find a reputable taxi driver. I asked the driver what the fare would be (knowing what it should be) and the fact that he gave me a good price and didn’t try rip me off because I am white reassured me. And I texted his license plate number to Matt, just in case. We were driving along having a pleasant conversation when all the sudden he said “I was too busy talking to you I completely forgot I need to get gas!” So he pulled over to the side of the road, grabbed a used 5L water bottle, and jumped out of the car saying “don’t worry I’ll be back in 5 minutes!” Wait seriously? I don’t know Maputo well enough to know which are the good and the bad parts, but where he had parked his car wasn’t quite as well-lit or populated as I would have preferred. “Wait you’re seriously leaving me here and going to get gas?” I asked. “Yeah, don’t worry I’ll be really quick and you can close all the doors!” The windows were all open, but thanks for the idea. So I texted Matt again telling him what was happening and just sat there. Luckily he came running back a few minutes later with two old water bottles full of gas and poured them into the gas tank (spilling quite a bit if the smell of gas was any indication). But after that we were on our way and I arrived safely to the hotel.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I am still getting to know my students and trying to understand how they think. If I ask them “what is -6 times -8?” They will stare at me like deer in headlights. But if I say “will the answer be positive or negative?” They will say “positive” right away, and then I can ask “what is 6 times 8?” and they will say “48” right away.
Today was truly miserable. It was hot, as always, but the humidity must have been about 106%. The chalk was even writing funnily because everything was completely saturated. It started pouring in the middle of one of my classes so I had to write everything I would have liked to say aloud on the board because it nobody could hear a thing.
I just found out today that one of the sisters, the one who is one of my colleagues at school, is leaving our mission to live way up north in the province of Cabo Del Gado. I’m really sad to hear this because she is probably my closest colleague (we can relate a lot, she shares my desire for punctuality) and was always really helpful with Portuguese or teaching related questions.
The Mozambican grading scale is from 0-20, and 10-20 is passing. So the initial reaction is that it must be really easy to pass here, but it’s not. A combination of the students studying very little and the tests being made insanely hard means that very few people pass. Unlike in America where anything below an 80-85 (so like 16-17 on their scale) is really bad, here a good mark is 13 or 14. Anything above is really unheard of. One of my colleagues told me today that the average grade on a test is probably a 7. One of my colleagues was grading her midterms during our break and I didn’t see a single grade above 9 and a number of the students had 0.5s. Knowing that I am giving my first test next week, one of my colleagues lectured me about my grading. “Mary (the American volunteer before me) was always giving her students 17s! You can’t give them points they don’t deserve. It’s a little strange when the kids have 7s in all of their subjects except 17 in one.” Other colleagues came to her defense saying that sometimes people are stronger in one subject than another. But the reality is that the concept of what is a “good” grade is very different here than in America, and above that is really unheard of and impossible.


When the teacher enters the classroom in Mozambique all the students stand up and in unison say “good morning teacher.” The teacher says “good morning, how are you?” The class says “we are fine, and you?” Two of my classes yell this so loudly that it rings off the cement walls of the room and hurts my ears, but makes me laugh nonetheless. Today my students had homework from yesterday, so when I entered each class I wrote the problems on the board, and then turned around and randomly chose students to stand and give their answer. This is what happened in two of the classes. In the other two, the minute I turned around about half the kids jumped out of their seats and started running to the front of the room. Other than the fact that I might be trampled to death by a twenty 14 year olds, it was a wonderful feeling. And in these same two classes whenever someone is taking too long to respond to a question, all the other kids start jumping out of their seats, waving their arms in the air, yelling “Stor!” (Stor is the shortened version of professor).
The bell at our school is not automated, but a boy in the secretary’s office has to ring it manually. And I know that if I had to remember to do something every 45 minutes I would be awful at it, but it really drives me nuts because you have to plan about 5-10 minutes of flexibility into your lesson plans. Yesterday the bell to begin one of my classes rang 9 minutes late which is a HUGE chunk of time when you only have 45 with them. And trying to round up 45 students from a courtyard of about 600 students is just futile.
The Spanish volunteer at the mission is named Natalia, and the girls can’t keep our names straight for the lives of them. So some of them have just started to say “mana Anatalia” to cover both all bases.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


How do you push your top students without leaving the slower learners behind in the dust? And how do you cultivate the learning of the slower learners without boring the top students completely to death? This of course is the challenge of every teacher, but I think the problem is magnified over here where there is no such thing as “accelerated courses” or anything or the sort, and where the class size ranges from 80 to 100+ students (remember, my quaint 45 student classes are the envy of every PCV), so the difference between the top and the bottom is bound to be greater. When we do exercises, some kids will have completed the exercise before other kids have even finished writing down all the questions.
My guess is that very little school-related thinking is done outside of school here. It seems that my students do homework on a more regular basis than some of my colleagues.’ But despite the fact that I always ask my students “is it work for the classroom (homework is trabalha para casa, literally work for home)? No it’s work for the house, not to be done in the classroom,” and they all giggle and agree with me, I have the feeling very few are studying at home. There is very little retained from one class to the next. We will really nail a concept one day—I am quite good at picking out the kids who are completely lost or off in space, and I will get them on the same page as everyone. And then the next class we are back at square one. It’s quite frustrating because in math you are constantly building on what you already know, so if my students can’t add two numbers, how will they be able to add a series of 6 numbers?
I have become the information technology person for the mission now, whether it’s helping add or delete columns from the salary spreadsheet in the school office, to showing them how to have their computer files listed in alphabetical order so it’s easier to search for the one they want, to making excel spreadsheets for the sisters. I was asked last week to take a picture of one of the girls with gifts from her sponsor to send to her sponsor. I am still unclear as to why it had to be me specifically who took the picture, because I am pretty sure they all know how to operate the camera. My hunch is that there is a misconception that I will take a better picture because I am so “technologically-savvy.”
A student in the 11th grade asked me today where in the U.S. I am from. I said (like I always do here) Chicago. He asked if Chicago was close to Miami and said that Miami is very beautiful. I asked if he had been to Miami and he said “no, but I have seen it in all of the rap videos.”


It’s almost like the students’ brains have been computer programmed to respond “yes” every time the teacher asks a question here. It’s funny sometimes because it seems very Pavlovian, like they can’t control it. A student will give me an incorrect answer but I will still write it on the board and ask “is this correct, does everyone have this?” And I will see a bunch of them nod affirmatively, “yes,” but then looking at their papers they will catch themselves, “no!”
I taught the same lesson four times today and this happened in all four classes. Teaching about the commutative property of multiplication, I say “see? The order of the numbers in a multiplication operation doesn’t matter because we can write it like this or like this and the answer is always the same. So, (I pick one student specifically) does the order of the numbers in a multiplication operation matter?” “Yes teacher!” This first time I just smile. “No it doesn’t matter. Okay look here. See we can write -3x5 or 5x(-3) and the answer is -15 no matter what. So does the order of the numbers in a multiplication operation matter?” “Yes teacher!” This happens about three more times. For the rest of the class period I would refer back to this one person when we encountered an example of this property. Even if only one person is going to learn this property today, they were going to learn damn it well! One boy kept looking at me warily when I would ask him, trying to figure out if I was trying to trick him.
Watched the other 8th grade math teacher teach today. It was such a relief because I was worried about how my classes were about a week behind schedule, but his are even behind mine. And it was relieving to see that his students are having the same problems mine are. The best thing about watching my colleagues’ lessons is seeing the teacher-student interactions. There are some things I see a colleague do and I think, wow that is much more effective than the way I am doing it, I’ll have to try that. And other things I think, okay I’m not going to do that, but it’s nice to know why in the hell the kids were reacting like that.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


I am a little hazy on the details, but apparently someone was putting in a new TV line to the cut and cut ours. So here at the mission and across the street at the Salesian priests’ technical school, the phone lines, internet, fax line, etc have been down for over a week. Supposedly someone is coming right away from Maputo to fix it, but I have been here long enough to not believe people when they tell me something will happen quickly.
Has been miserably hot the past few days. If you can find a place in the shade and there is a breeze and you don’t exert yourself whatsoever, and you are only mildly uncomfortable. But yesterday I walked into town, so about 35 minutes of walking in the sun along the highway. By the time I got there I was literally pouring sweat and quite light-headed. This morning it was sweltering in church, which is a one-room reed building with too few windows and not quite enough space for everyone who was there this morning. Mozambicans don’t sweat very much so you know you’re in trouble when they all have glistening brows.
In college I dreaded doing laundry and would put it off until the last possible day, when I was literally down to my last pair of laundry. Now as I hand wash and rinse a basin full of clothes I struggle to remember exactly what it was that I didn’t like about doing laundry.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Had wanted to go Zavora beach this weekend with Ann and Emma, but wasn’t able to because we had a faculty meeting this morning. The meeting was on multiple-choice which is being used in the 11th grade now, so they want teachers in other grades to be familiar with it so that they can help the kids become accustomed to multiple-choice format. Growing up in the American schooling system, I probably took my first multiple-choice standardized test when I was seven, but for a lot of my colleagues, this was the first time they had seen it. In that way the meeting was incredibly enlightening for me—not the multiple-choice content of the meeting, but to see my colleagues’ reactions, interpretations, and difficulties understanding this new concept.
Yesterday afternoon went down to lagoon to read and grade homework. I had only been there about ten minutes when two girls in school uniforms walked over. I am always friendly to kids in school uniforms because I worry that they could be my own students who I just don’t recognize. Turns out they are in the eighth and ninth grade at the other secondary school in town and the ninth grader actually has Emma as her English teacher. Her sister in eighth grade didn’t know who teacher Emma was. “How have you never noticed the single white teacher—person—in your school?” I asked her, and her sister laughed. The ninth grader, the more outgoing of the two, asked to see the book I was reading (Dark Star Safari) and began flipping through it and reading some sentences out loud. She would proudly translate some of the phrases and words she knew into Portuguese, but mostly just liked to read the English aloud, without really knowing what she was reading. She kept asking me what some of the more strange words were and I tried to explain to her that the character is in traveling in Sudan, so a lot of the words aren’t actually English. She was quite perplexed by this. She asked how old was and I said 86, smiling. I don’t tell students here how old I am because many of them are close to my age or even older than I am.
She asked me why my skin and hair weren’t like Emma’s (Ann and Emma are both blue-eyed, blonde haired “stereotypical” white Americans). I explained that my mom is Asian so I am not actually “white” but a mixture (“mixtura,” that’s what they call us here). She loved my hair and kept asking me what I had put into it, not believing me when I said nothing. I was lying on a capulana and as they were both practically sitting on top of me, touching my hair and studying my freckles and my hair with their faces only inches from mine, the thought crossed my mind that only six months ago this would have struck me as very strange and uncomfortable, but now it seemed completely natural. She asked what my freckles were and I tried to explain that I got them from my dad who is Irish. But, probably having no idea what Ireland is, she misunderstood me and thought that mixture people who have one white parent and one darker parent come out as literally a poke-a-dot of the two colors.
After having sat with me for over two hours, she said they should head home. It was 4pm and neither of them had eaten yet today. They were about to leave when they saw a group young men/boys walking down the beach, so she said that they would stay until after the men had left because they will often harass solitary women. When the men came by they were (harmlessly) crude, annoying, and lewd in a way that is sadly not uncommon for Mozambican men and I was glad that they girls had stayed. It was getting late and I was about an hour walk away from the mission, so I left with the girls. She asked if I knew how to ride a bike. Then she asked if I knew how to drive a car. Then she asked if I knew how to drive an airplane. This seems like a silly question, but if I can ride a bike and drive a car, two fairly exotic things for these girls, then it’s not too great of a leap to think I would also be able to fly an airplane. They walked with me for a couple minutes, but then had to run off because their herd of 26 goats that they were supposed to have been watching while they were sitting with me had wandered into a neighbor’s garden. She pointed to their house and told me that I have to visit. I told her I would, and that I would bring teacher Emma next time too. I fully intend to go visit them again, they were the sweetest two girls and really interesting to talk to. It is also sadly uncommon, as a white American, to be with a Mozambican for more than ten minutes without them asking you for something: money, a flash drive, a computer, your notebook, anything. But these girls didn’t ask me for anything during the three hours we were together, they just wanted to talk to me, and even protect me from the bored young men.


Peace Corps Mozambique has an education sector which indicates that many people thought that the education system here needed improving. I have been told, “you can’t hold the kids here up to an American standard” and I agree that is true, but my question is: to what standard can I hold them? There are many things that are out of the kids’ control: you can’t expect students to learn as much when they are one in a class of 80+ students, or when they don’t even learn their letters until they start first grade (because their parents and grandparents speak the local Bantu language at home) and they are being taught by a primary school teacher who only completed the tenth grade and one year of teacher formation school, and how much can you expect them to know about the world then nobody owns a map or books? But at the same time there are things that 8th graders SHOULD know, that they NEED to know, regardless of the challenges they have faced.
Today I had a double block of “Life Group” with my homeroom class that I am director of. I have talked to a few of my colleagues about what they do during Life Group. A lot of them talk about proper behavior and other life skills, and a lot of them make their kids practice reading and writing. A lot of the students in eighth grade still can’t read and write well, which is part of the reason they take so long to copy what I write on the board. Nowadays when I ask for a volunteer to read what I have written on the board, there is a huge commotion as 12 students jump up and try to out-shout each other until there is only one person left standing, so I have switched to randomly picking a student from the class list. Yesterday in class I unknowingly picked a student who could barely read.
For my Life Group I prepared a Jeopardy-type game of things that I thought eighth graders ought to know in the topics Mozambique, Math, The World, America, and HIV/AIDS. I had two of the sisters revise my questions because even when they weren’t technically wrong, they weren’t phrased in the way a Mozambican would have said it. I asked them if these questions were good for eighth graders and they said yes, they should know the answers, and one of the sisters even wants to play the game with the girls from the orphanage.
Well the game turned out quite dismally. What year did Mozambique gain independence? He said 1995, it was 1975. What is the name of the lagoon here in Inharrime? Nobody in the class knew. Name the three political parties? He knew the two main ones, which was good, but didn’t know the newest one, MDM, which made big news during the elections in November when it created quite a stir. Who was the first president of the Republic of Mozambique? He knew the last name, Machel, but didn’t know his full name and come on, there have only been like three important men in Mozambican history. Name the ten provinces of Mozambique. She could only name seven, and Angola (another country in Africa) was one of them. Nobody in the class knew the line of latitude (Tropic of Capricorn) that runs through Mozambique about 100K north of Inharrime. The girl did know that the Mozambican flag has five colors and what they are, so that was good. What are the six countries that border Mozambique? He said America, Portugal, Africa, and Asia. (Unrelated, PCVs are often asked how long it takes to drive from here to America and the other day I was asked which is closer, Zimbabwe or America?) Name four countries where Portuguese is the official language. He said Portugal. Only. Not Mozambique. Name the line of latitude that cuts the world in half, nobody knew. Portugal is in what continent? She said America. Name the seven continents. America, Portugal, and China. Name one country in Asia other than China. Africa. Name two countries in South America. America and Portugal. How many countries are in the continent of Africa: 1, 11, 47, 99? She picked 11 (the answer is 47). The good news is that the HIV/AIDS section was good. This section was mostly true/false, and they knew that white people can have HIV/AIDS, and that you can’t get HIV/AIDS from a kiss or a mosquito.
And so, like I said, I am not sure what to think. Perhaps it is unreasonable of me to expect someone who has possibly never seen a map in their life to understand the difference between a continent and a country. But they still need to know. I told two of the sisters about it and they seemed shocked that the kids knew so little. They told me to write out the answers and make the kids study them and try playing again, since it was all stuff that they really should know.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Three Cups of Tea

Just read the most wonderful book. Three Cups of Tea is the incredible story of Greg Mortenson, one man who makes a promise to a village that helps him that he will return to build them a school, and ends up building more than 50 schools and vocational centers in Pakistan and Afganistan. It is a great book for people like me who still believe that one person has the ability to make a little difference in this world; for all Americans, especially in light of 9/11 and the events that followed; and for everyone who needs to be reminded that real life heroes still exist in our often disillusioned world. Greg Mortenson embodies the same philosophy that Peace Corps Volunteers try to live by: that the best way to improve lives is not to march into a place with bombs or billions of dollars, but to give people the most valuable tool you can, and that is education.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Two things I have always taken for granted before coming here, without even realizing they were things I should take for granted: water coming out of the faucet when you turn it on and not getting shocked anytime you touch anything electrical.
Today three students asked me questions while we were doing practice exercises. Great success.
We were doing an exercise as a class today and I asked one of the kids for the answer. The answer he gave me was incorrect, but I wrote it on the board and asked “does everyone have this equation and this answer?” A bunch of them answered yes so I repeated “everyone please respond, do you have this equation and answer?” a few more times. The entire class responded “yes!” in unison. I said “well this answer is wrong, it’s too bad that every single person in my class had the wrong answer!” Then a few people began to sheepishly say “…well I have a different answer…” I asked “who here has an answer different than the one I wrote on the board?” Half the class raised their hands! “You guys! I asked if you had this answer and you ALL said yes even though half of you didn’t! It’s not enough for you to just sit there and say ‘yes’ every time the teacher asks you a question. If you have a different answer, have the courage to say so! The same goes for when I ask you if you understand. I am not asking because I want to hear to say ‘yes,’ I am asking because I really want to know if you understand or not. Is this clear?” They all responded “yes!” and then everyone (including myself) giggled. Damn, I should have phrased the question differently.


Today I began all of my lessons with a little chit-chat with my students. I explained to them that homework (called “work for house” in Portuguese) means that it should be done at home, not during the class before or hurriedly when the teacher is walking in the door. I said “I ask you guys every class, many times per class, if you understand and everyone always responds ‘yes.’ But the homework demonstrated that you guys hardly understand anything!” I explained to them that I need them to let me know and ask questions when they don’t understand, otherwise I have no way of knowing they are lost. Of course they all dutifully responded “yes teacher.” Seven years of this habit in school will be hard to break. I also told them that in the future if anyone fails to give me homework or gives me incomplete homework, they will receive a falta. (Students here receive “faltas” as bad marks, for example bad behavior or missing class.) Because, I told them, it is a falta of respect for me and my time if I am willing to sit down and thoroughly grade 225 homeworks, but they can’t do one homework assignment well.
The youngest girl in the orphanage is 3 and she is everyone’s favorite. Everyone loves to baby and coddle her, even the 5 year olds. The way she says my name “Mana Anata” (“mana” means sister), has a very distinctive intonation, so now all the girls imitate her way of saying it whenever they see me.
I have 225 students. Plus at this point I have sat-in in about 8 different classes, which puts the number of students who “know” me at about 600 students. So whenever I walk into town I am greeted by kids everywhere saying “Professora Anata!” And the awful thing is that for a lot of them I don’t even have any idea if they are my own students or not!


I spent the day just hanging out with the girls. A bunch of them congregated on my front porch to play games or get help with their English homework, so I played music for us from my room. When I told them that after lunch I wanted to nap some declared that they did too, so I brought my straw mat out into the shade and way too many girls piled on it to nap. When it became clear that I was actually going to sleep during this nap time though (probably made evident when I passed out), some of the girls became less enamored with the idea and wandered away while the rest of us enjoyed a nice nap.
Irmã Albertina told me she was taking the Italians (we have three Italian friends of the orphanage visiting right now) to see the river and asked if I wanted to go. I decided to tear myself away from the singing and dancing girls to see a new part of Inharrime I hadn’t yet discovered. We drove for about 30 minutes inland, much of it on a “road” that was simply two tire tracks in the sand. I kept wondering what would happen if we encountered another car, but luckily I didn’t have to find out. We finally arrived at a little resort tucked away on the Inharrime River. There are two docks that lead out into the river (which is huge! I had no idea) and a sandy beach with a collection of some incredibly exquisite stones. It was one of the most idyllic, peaceful places I have ever been in my life. On the way out I introduced myself to the Zimbabwean couple who live there and run things but don’t own it, it is actually owned by a South African. They came to Mozambique two years ago when the situation in Zimbabwe had reached its worst. The woman told me that often they had to Botswana to buy even simple things like sugar because the markets in Zimbabwe literally had nothing in them. And when stores did have things, the prices would double and triple within the same day. I told her I had read in an article that the inflation rate in Zimbabwe had been 1 million % at one point, and she said it all the way up to 250 billion %. Whatever that means, eventually the money simply has no value.
Bruno, the Italian man here visiting, who is probably in his 50s, apparently told his mother that he was going on a trip to a town in Italy. He said that her 86 year old heart wouldn’t have been able to handle the terror of knowing that her son was in Africa! Yesterday he called her and she asked if it had been cold (because it has in fact been cold in the town where he is supposed to have gone), and without thinking he responded “no it’s been really hot!”


Emma and I went up to Inhambane to get a few things before heading back to Tofo beach to meet up with Becky, Stephanie, Vic, and Chelsea. The beach was wonderful as usual, and then we headed home in the afternoon. Our chapa driver on the way home drove like a maniac. The philosophy of chapa drivers here is to stop for every person, as to stuff as many people into the chapa at once, to earn the most fares. Sometimes I want to sit down with them and show them the math that if they didn’t stop every 100m, they would be able to make more trips in a day. So while they may not make as much money on each trip, they would probably end up making more money that day. Especially when you factor in the fuel-inefficiency of stopping and starting every 100m (especially since the chapa drivers here floor it for those 100m in between stops), as well as how having an incredibly loaded down car kills gas mileage. But I am here in the education sector. Perhaps someday Peace Corps Mozambique will introduce a Chapa sector.
Our driver was one of those drivers who floors it whenever possible, then slams on the brakes every 100m to squeeze one more person into an already over-full chapa. We are doing this when suddenly he slams on the breaks again: there is a police check ahead, and the chapa is 7 people above the legal limit, so they have to deposit those 7 people by the side of the road. Sorry better luck next time guys. Our driver was stopping so often that at Jangamo (roughly 65k north of us) Emma turned to me and said “let’s place bets on how many more times we will stop before we get home. I bet 17, Emma bet 21. We were both very wrong. 31.


Over the holiday I assigned homework and told the kids that I would be collecting it. During classes I could get a little idea of what the kids were struggling with, but I wanted to really know what they did and didn’t understand. Doing homework is not something a lot of Mozambican students do, but I had made it clear that I would be collecting it and expected them to complete it, and almost all of them handed homework in. I have five classes of 45 students, so I have 225 students total. I have been told that this over-zealous attitude will wear off with time, but I sat down corrected all (almost 225) homeworks, not only marking the wrong answers, but also writing in the correct answers. By the time I finished all of them, I was incredibly frustrated, disappointed, and borderline furious. I wanted to know what my students were learning and retaining from my lessons, and my answer was: not much. I had expected that many, even most, of the students would do pretty badly on the assignment, but I had expected and hoped that at least like three students out of the 225 would have done well on the assignment, but not a single person did. There was only one person who had no wrong answers, but they had failed to write all of the questions down. About half of the homeworks given to me were incomplete, either missing half the questions, or having only the questions written down and not any answers. I was disappointed that they seemed to have learned very little of what I had taught them in the past week. I was also quite furious because I wanted to help them learn and I was willing to sit down and correct 225 assignments, but those students who hadn’t even bother to write any answers were just wasting my time. We will have a talk on Monday.
8th grade math meets five times per week, but each class has one double class per week, so each class doesn’t meet every day during the week. Thus, because of the holiday on Wednesday, two of my classes only met three times this week, two met four times, and one met five times. At this point I don’t feel I could mentally handle it if one of the five classes was a lesson ahead of the others—I would get too mixed up. So for three of my classes we did an exercise during the fourth meeting this week. I am director of one homeroom, and it just happened that the class I am director of was the one that met five times this week. In my school the director of a homeroom meets with their class four times per week, once for a class meeting, and three times for “Life Group.” I asked the director, and “Life Group” is a time for the kids to watch movies and learn about life skills and it is something that I (in theory) never have to prepare for, but the school director and pedagogical director will prepare for. But I say in theory because there was nothing planned for the double “Life Group” on Friday and when I asked what I should do, I was told, “just go talk to them. About behavior and stuff.” For 90 minutes. So instead I taught them the games “Heads Up, Seven Up” and “Hangman.” Both games were huge hits and the kids got really into them. Tons of kids were cheating, so I got two erasers very very chalky and from that point on when I caught someone looking I would (gently) beat their heads with the erasers. This was very effective on stopping the cheating because Mozambicans hate to be dirty, and I would say after each round “class, look at your classmate who looks like an old man with his white hair, now we can all see who the cheaters are!”

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Yesterday headed up to Maxixe to do a little shopping and then stay the night with Becky and Stephanie. They live a short chapa ride away from Maxixe but I wasn’t sure I would know exactly when to get off the chapa, so before getting on I asked the conductor, “do you know the two white girls who live there? Do you know where their stop is?” He said, “Oh Rebecca and Stephanie? Oh yes, dey are my friend!” And he did indeed know exactly where to let me off. They live about a 10 minute walk into a neighborhood with no streets and only slightly discernable paths, so I was planning to wait where the chapa let me off until one of them could come get me. But a boy in a school uniform got off at the same place so I asked if he knew where the two white girls lived. He said “oh yes, I met them last year when they first arrived here!”
We met up with Emily who lives in Inhambane on Wednesday (which is Heroes Day here, a national holiday) to go to Tofo beach. Tourist season has passed so we had the beautiful beach all to ourselves, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ice cream at a shop there which is the closest to real ice cream I have yet found in Mozambique. We were talking to a boy selling bags on the beach. Becky asked if he went to school and he said that yes, he was in the 7th grade. Becky asked if his town had 8th grade and he said no, he would have to go to Inhambane city for 8th grade. He said “of course, you need money for the transportation into the city, so if I have the money I will go. But if you don’t have the money, you can’t go to school.” It’s such a shame that in a country that so badly needs the educated and skilled people, some people who would like to go to school can’t because they can’t afford the transportation costs. My school now offers 11th grade for the first time, but any kids who live in Inharrime who want to complete 12th grade have to have the money available to pay rent in Inhambane or Maxixe.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


This morning I taught the girls in training the ancient American art of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They thought it was weird. Well I thought it was weird when my host family would eat French fry and mayonnaise sandwiches, so I guess we’re even.
One of the girls from the orphanage came to me for help on her homework this morning at 6:25am. I asked her, why didn’t you ask me on Friday, Saturday, or yesterday? But when she returned from school today she asked me right away for help, so, progress.
In all of my classes I have asked the students to write their names on paper tents to place on their desks. While walking around the classroom while the students writing, I noticed one boy’s tent said on the back “big boiss” which made me laugh out loud. After class I asked him if he mean “boys” or “boss,” explaining the difference between the two. He meant “boys” so I helped him spell it correctly.
This afternoon I watched two of my colleagues give lessons to 11th graders, the first a geography lesson. I had never really given much thought to it, but how do you teach geography when nobody has a book and the school doesn’t even own a map? I am pretty sure Ann, Emma, and I own the only three maps in Inharrime. The second lesson was Psychology (fun fact: in Portuguese, in words like psicologia and pneumonia, the “p” is pronounced. Try it, it’s kind of hard to do). In both classes, for much of the lesson the teacher read aloud notes while the students furiously scribbled ever word, and occasionally the teacher would stop to write a new word on the board and explain it. When I was introduced in the Psychology class, one boy stood up and said “I would like to know if our new teacher is married.” After the note-taking, the psychology teacher led a discussion on the philosophy of psychology. She asked the students if they thought that animals had “almas,” which translates literally as “souls.” All of the students immediately responded “yes.” I wondered if a class of 11th graders in America would feel the same, so universally and so adamantly.
I introduced a new word for the number line in class today: “eixo” (pronounced kind of aayeejshuu), which caused a chorus of giggles every time I tried to say it during my first lesson. So I developed a new method for my following lessons. I would tell them they were learning a new word, write it on the board, and then say “now let’s say it together.” Problem solved.