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.