Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Returned to Inharrime today. I think the perfect vacation is when you are both sad to be leaving and happy to be returning and thus I had had the perfect vacation. It was wonderful to see all my friends and get a little break from day-to-day life in Mozambique (air conditioning, Thai food, Chinese food, ice cream, etc), but Inharrime has really become my home now and I wanted to get back. And that was only reaffirmed when I returned to girls running up to me for hugs, yelling my name excitedly. One said, rather sadly, “where did you go? We thought you left. Are you going to leave us again?” Some days here it drives me nuts to say hi to every single person I walk past, but in Maputo I really missed it. And I hated my anonymity in Maputo. In Inharrime many of the kids in town greet me by name, most of the people around town know I am a teacher, and even those people who don’t know exactly who I am or why I am here know I am not just a South African tourist. But in Maputo I am just another white South African tourist, back to being harassed by street vendors calling out “hello my seesta” and other phrases in broken English. And as if to reaffirm this, I had only been back in town for a minute when I heard someone call out “Professora Anata!”
Today on the bus the man sitting behind me must have heard me speaking on the phone in English because he tapped me on the shoulder and asked “are you with the Peace Corps?” And then in surprisingly good English he asked “pardon me, I am asking if you know how to find the address of a Peace Corps teacher. I tried emailing the Peace Corps. I know only that he lives in Chicago.” I laughed only in my head and politely apologized and told him no.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


I have noticed that a lot of products in Mozambique have Thai writing on them, toiletries, candy, non-perishable food items, etc. Was wandering around Maputo yesterday when I stopped in a shop and saw a strangely familiar-looking sequined elephant. “hey that bag is from Thailand, my mom is from Thailand!” It took the salesperson a second to process what this crazy white person was blabbering at her, but after a moment she smiled and said “yes it is, actually everything in this store is from Thailand.” And I looked more carefully at the strangely familiar skirts, shirts, and bags and realized she was right. Strange, who knew?
In the afternoon Alice and I headed to Xipamanine, the famously huge and crowded shopping area in Maputo, rife with pickpockets and cat-calling men. Taking very little with us and tucking out zipped bags tightly under our arms, we endured two hours of men cat-calling, kissing at us, and sometimes even reaching out and touching us. And it was well worth it. Everything in the world is sold there: kitchen stuff, clothes, shoes, and then the best section: the curandeiro (witch doctor) section. Calves feet, chicken feet, monkey feet, cow tails, ostrich heads, ostrich eggs, some unidentified jaws, snake skins, animal hides, bones, teeth, etc. It was incredible.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


After the reconnect conference I headed down to Maputo for another REDES planning meeting this weekend as our big yearly conference in April draws near. The meetings don’t actually start until Saturday, but traveling in Mozambique is such that it made much more sense to come straight down to Maputo, so we got to kill yesterday in the city. Did some essential Maputo shopping in the morning, getting the couple things that simply don’t exist anywhere else in Mozambique, then spent the afternoon just walking around the city. Even as a female by myself in broad daylight, on the major streets, and with my bag tucked very tightly under my arm, I felt perfectly safe just walking around for 3 hours which is not something I would have expected before coming to Africa. Walking around Maputo is a nice little change because, unlike at site where everyone stares at me because I am the only light-skinned person within 50 miles, nobody stares at me here. That being said, I am apparently beginning to shed my look of a tourist because less and less often do I get accosted by the men on the street selling “African” masks, necklaces, and drums. I have also mastered the Mozambique finger wave to tell them no, so they back off when I do that. And being in Maputo is funny because in some ways you could be in any city in the world. It has the same little shops, crummy buildings, and people on the streets trying to sell you sunglasses or peanuts. But then every once in a while you are reminded that you are clearly in Maputo and not New York: two 8-year-old boys try to sell you exotic-looking green and blue birds they are carrying in crudely made cages, or the guards (untrained men who were just looking for any means of employment) in front of every bank and other official building holding fully-loaded (yes, this has been confirmed) semi-automatic weapons.


Sorry for the break, I have been out of town for a Peace Corps conference! On Friday the 19th all of Moz 14 headed to the reconnect conference, a little check-in after our first three months of service. Mozambique is divided into three sections, north, central, and south. The 16 south (Inhambane, Gaza, and Maputo provinces) education volunteers were in Xai-Xai at a hotel on the beach, so really nothing to complain about. But every single other person in our group (south health, and north and central health and education) were all together in Nampula for their conference, so the 16 of us (while happy we got some serious quality bonding time together) felt a little isolated and left out. We had four days of meetings and sessions, but getting to see everyone and hear their stories and their methods for dealing with poorly-behaved students made it a very fun four days. Plus we got to go to the beach every day after our meetings were over. I am not the only person teaching a subject I wasn’t trained for during training, two chemistry volunteers are teaching physics, one is teaching physics and English, one’s status is still up in the air, one biology volunteer is teaching English and computers, and another is teaching English in addition to biology. Flexibility is a very important quality for Peace Corps Volunteers. Most people are doing incredibly well, are happy, and are making many new friends. We all have our share of frustrations and challenges, but I don’t think that will be changing anytime soon.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Natalia, the Spanish volunteer here, went for a run this morning. At one point she had to basically jump off the road to avoid being hit by a semi-truck because the drivers here drive like f-ing maniacs. When she turned around to head back to the mission she came across the same truck, stopped this time because it had hit and killed a young boy in his school uniform, walking to the primary school at the mission.


I gave my second test today and most of my students did quite badly. I suppose there is nothing more crushing as a teacher than thinking you are teaching really well and your kids are really learning, and then realizing that they have learned nothing.
I caught my first student cheating today. It’s such a disappointment because she was using a multiplication table, why didn’t she just memorize it? We have been practicing the times tables during class. And even if she didn’t get a single multiplication correct, she probably would have still gotten better than a zero, which is what I said I would give anyone caught cheating. But I think I was sadder about catching her than she was about getting caught, and of course that is that problem.
One of my students wrote “good luck [his name]!” on the bottom of his test, I laughed out loud. Another left me instructions: “turn page” at the bottom of one page and “end” at the end, quite thoughtful.


I was carrying avocado peels today when two of the younger girls from the orphanage came running up to say hi. “What are these from?” I quizzed them. They responded but it wasn’t the word I knew for avocado so I corrected them. They both said “oh, that was Changana [a Bantu language spoken in Maputo province], I don’t know the word in Portuguese.”
A little while ago four of my female colleagues were spending the weekend together at a house where I have been many times and always felt incredibly safe. The bathroom of this house happens to be outside (which is normal here). As one of the girls was leaving the bathroom that night, a man grabbed her from behind, putting her in a headlock and pressing a rusty screwdriver into her neck. He led her into the house and basically created a hostage situation, demanding money and a camera from the other girls who only wanted him to stop pushing the screwdriver into their friend’s neck.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Last night I woke up to the sound of the hardest downpour I have ever experienced and I was incredibly thankful that I have a roof and walls that actually keep water out, unlike many of my colleagues’ houses.
Over the weekend I had to complete the grade sheets for my classes, now that all the class lists are finalized. We are given photocopies of a list that has a space for each student and their grades on each exam, and then I got photocopies made of my five classes so I would have the students’ names to write into the spaces. And as I am painstakingly writing by hand all 225 names of my students, I wonder why, if both of these pieces of paper came from a computer originally, why we couldn’t have just cut and pasted the names while both pieces of paper were still on the computer. And then I realize that I have left out student number 27 of one class, so I have to write all 45 names again.
The homeroom that I am director of was being a little unruly during class today, including their elected boss/president/chief/leader (“chefe”—the word doesn’t translate very well) who I have always been on the fence about. She seems to be constantly torn between trying to look cool and really getting into what we’re doing. I caught her mimicking me so I told her to get out (kicking students out of class for misbehavior is common here). First she tried to blame it on the boy next to her, and then she tried to ask please and say she wouldn’t do it again. Like with the ear-grabbing incident, this was another situation where she was clearly acting out of line with a teacher because she thought she could get away with it with me. The class knew she was out of line and was kind of interested to see how it would play out, but also were worried about missing the lesson since it was a review for our test this week. I told her, “we are not conversing and I am not asking, get out.” When she still made no move to leave I walked back to where she was sitting, took her stuff, walked back to the front of the classroom and threw them as far as I could out the front door, and continued to teach. She left and everyone else in the class was incredibly well-behaved for the rest of the period.
Some fellow volunteers are good friends with and in many ways help take care of a neighborhood boy who hangs out in their yard every day. They had long suspected that he was HIV positive, but every time they tried to take him to get tested they ran into roadblocks with the family. They were finally able to take him today—sad results.


I met a fellow volunteer for lunch the other day and she told the following harrowing story. She has been here for a year already and is very close friends with her maid. (Background: having a maid here is very normal and even expected of anyone who has any sort of income.) She and her maid had gotten some weird rash, but while she had recovered pretty quickly, the medicine was not helping her maid and her rash had gotten so bad that her legs were completely covered and she was in so much pain that she couldn’t walk. My friend went to her house with another health volunteer to try to figure out if they could do anything. The health volunteer asked to see her doctor’s records. She asked the maid if she knew what medicine she was on and the maid said yes, I’ve been on such and such for a couple years, it’s for high blood pressure. “No…” the health volunteer said “it’s anti-retroviral…it’s for HIV/AIDS.” She didn’t know she had HIV/AIDS. She had gotten tested in 2006 and tested positive, but whoever had given her this piece of paper and her medicine had failed miserably in explaining what it meant. And so she has been HIV positive since at least 2006 and had absolutely no idea.

Friday, March 12, 2010

This happened last week but I forgot to write about it. My students and I were practicing the times tables and I showed them the finger trick for multiples of 9. It took a lot of them to understand why I was wiggling my fingers at them, but I happened to be watching one boy when a look of understanding washed over his face and he broke into a huge grin because he realized how cool and useful the trick was. It was one of the best feelings I have ever had.

Most of the kids live in town and walk over 40 minutes each way to school every day (or twice a day on the days when they have physical education in the afternoons).


Today during the last class of the day, with about 15 minutes left in class, one of the girls came up to me and asked if she could leave. I asked why. Mozambican girls often do this thing where they get really shy, cover their mouth with their hand, look down and away, and mumble too softly for anyone to hear. And so this girl did that and I was frustrated because I would have been happy to let her go if she had a serious issue, we weren’t learning any new material but just doing practice problems, but I also wasn’t just going to let students leave early without a reason, so I had to tell her no.
Today while waiting for my kids to finish copying from the board I was spacing out a little and looking at the blackboard in the back of the classroom. Then I realized that that blackboard had what really looked like Japanese writing on it (it wasn’t actually, but looked so much like it, as if someone had been imitating Japanese writing). I asked my students “who wrote that?” But none of them, so it must have been someone from the afternoon class in that room. I said “it looks like Japanese writing. Do you guys want to see my name written in Japanese?” I wrote my name in Japanese on the board for them and I don’t think I could have impressed them more.


When role is being called the kids usually respond with “estou” (I am) or “presente” (present). Today one of my kids responded with “presidente” (president) instead and it caught everyone so off guard we all burst out laughing.
And the student who had his chair pulled out from under him last week got his perpetrator back today. Wish I knew how to say “payback’s a bitch” in Portuguese.
Today after classes Ann’s mom took Emma, Ann, and me to Zavora beach for lunch and then to hang out at the beach for a little bit so that she could swim in the Indian Ocean. Ann and Emma went for a weekend once before, but I had never been since I had had a faculty meeting that Saturday. It is a breathtakingly beautiful long and secluded beach, so we were literally the only people. The waves were huge (too bad none of us had a surfboard) and it was a struggle just to avoid getting knocked over. Actually Emma did once, haha. A wonderful afternoon.


This morning during announcements before classes, one of the teachers scolded the students, “yesterday I took the chapa to [the town north of us] and it was full of students from this school and ALL of the students were speaking to each other in Tchopi! When I go in the library here at school and students are studying together and you are all explaining things to each other in Tchopi! How shameful!”
Language is a bit of a problem here. Portuguese is the official language, but for 99% of Mozambicans it is not their first language and they don’t consider it “their” language. I do think it is fairly necessary for a country to have a national language because without it, a person here can travel 50 miles up the road and not speak the local language anymore. But it also is a problem to have a nation full of people speaking a language that they learn only when they start primary school, nobody speaks particularly well, and nobody takes much pride in because they don’t consider it their own.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Today I peeked outside while the kids were copying and excitedly turned back to my class and asked “what’s it called in Portuguese, the thing like this with all the colors?” They looked at each other and giggled, who is this crazy white lady? “Arco-íris” they said. “You guys want to come look at it?” I asked. They giggled and hesitated for a second thinking surely she can’t be serious. And then there was a mad rush for the door.
I find helping the girls with their English help very interesting for a number of reasons. Sometimes the things they have written (that their teacher said or wrote on the board) are in an English that only exists in English grammar books and that nobody actually speaks. Sometimes it’s wrong and that troubles me. And then trying to explain to them that the English they are learning (British English, perhaps) is very very different from the English I speak, and sometimes I don’t actually know if something is wrong or just sounds funny to me.
A student from another class came to my door today while I was teaching and said “our math teacher isn’t here, we are asking for some math exercises to do.” I was incredibly impressed by their initiative, and annoyed that my colleague hadn’t left them with anything.


Life at the orphanage is fun, is funny, is hectic, and is certainly always interesting! Natalia and I have “class” every afternoon with the girls where we help them with their homework and studying. And there are two types of students: some girls just want you to tell them all the answers, and some girls really really want to learn. And the latter of the two are just a pleasure to work with and almost make up for the former. And of course I am helping one of the 8th grade girls with her homework and in the middle have to reach over and make the 3-year-old spit out the little pieces of dirt or perhaps bugs she has been picking off the table and putting in her mouth.
Today one of the 10-year-olds came up to me and showed be the huge wound she has on her knee, really three large circles missing skin. I asked “when did this happen?” and she said “yesterday.” And she clearly hadn’t told anyone or done anything for it, because there was a huge amount of cotton fabric (from her sheets I am guessing) stuck in the blood and pus of the scab. So I had to go try to track down the rubber gloves, but it took me 20 minutes to find the sister who had the key to the dormitory where they were. Then when I returned with them I was told that the giggling 5-year-old has decided to just pull down her pants and pee right there on the cement next to the building, so I took her and delivered her to another sister to be scolded. Then I had to pull all the cotton out from the wound and then it took us another 10 minutes to track down the gauze and bandages. But in the end we had the floor cleaned, girl scolded, wounds all cleaned up and covered, and hugs for everyone.


This morning (Saturday) all the students came to school to clean up the school grounds. Schools here don’t have janitors, so the kids are responsible for keeping their school clean, cleaning the classrooms daily, and then doing grounds work occasionally. The first time did this, I didn’t understand why all the kids were, with their hoes, uprooting all of the grasses. But now I understand that while grass might be more attractive than the bare red earth, anywhere there is grass there are likely to be snakes.
Sometimes I get frustrated that a lot of my students seem to be lacking any sense of wonder or excitement. But today a bunch of the girls were hoeing and then one girl said “oh look!” (pointing at a small bunch of leaves that looked like all the rest of the weeds to me) “I think it’s an orange tree. Yes, smell this leaf it is!” And then she carefully hoed around it and continued on.
On days like today, our responsibility as teachers is to be constantly telling the kids to get back to work, to go pick up that pile, to stop sitting against the building. A lot of the kids were playfully trying to see how little work they could get away with doing which didn’t really bother me. But I told one boy to come do something and he deliberately walked away, pretending not to hear me, and then tried to hide behind the wall. It upset me because it was INCREDIBLY disrespectful and no student would EVER have behaved that way toward a Mozambican teacher. So I decided to deal with it in the manner a Mozambican teacher would have. I walked over to him and grabbed him by his ear, saying loudly enough for everyone to hear “have you no shame?! Have you no respect for your teachers?! You heard me talking to you, have you no shame?!” and we briskly walked back over to a pile of yard waste. Not something I ever ever dreamed of doing, and not something I feel really great about. But it was very effective and he worked hard for the rest of the time, and the interesting thing was that he didn’t appear resentful at all, but rather seemed to know that he had deserved it.


In the homeroom class I am director of I have been having two problems with my kids. They are divided into five groups and each group is supposed to clean the classroom every day, but a lot of the kids have been shirking their cleaning duties. Also, on the days when I see my homeroom twice, first for math class and then later for homeroom meeting or “life group,” a number of students have been just leaving after classes. Today we had a double class of “life group” so I decided to try to deal with these problems. When the bell rang for the interval between the two hours I wouldn’t let them leave and some of them got really upset. I said “those of you who are upset that you can’t leave right now, you should talk to your classmates. I know that if I let you guys go outside right now some of you won’t come back, so nobody can leave. It’s because of your classmates who always run away that nobody can leave, so figure it out amongst yourselves.” Then I let go all the students who weren’t on my list and physically barred the door to keep in the kids on my list, who had either not cleaned or skipped a homeroom class at some point. I shut the door and basically locked us in there for the remaining time. Then, when it became time to clean, I gathered all of their bags and notebooks and held them hostage until the cleaning was finished, knowing that they wouldn’t run away without their stuff. It certainly seemed to get through to them, so we will find out next week how effective it was.
This afternoon Natalia, Ann, and I bought half a kilo of fresh shrimp for 35 Meticais, about a dollar, and made a wonderful shrimp and vegetable stir fry. I am quite sad that mango and pineapple season are ending, but the consolation is that avocado and orange season are starting up and we made the most amazing guacamole with four fresh avocados.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


This is embarrassing, I have never done this before and never in my life imagined I would do this. I just jumped up on top of my chair and screamed as a result of the 4-inch spider that just ran into the room. I am not exaggerating. I even jumped on the chair with my shoes on, so those of you who know me well can imagine how out of sorts I was.


Today during the large morning break I was hanging out in the faculty room with my colleagues. One of my colleagues asked me if I was planning to learn Tchopi, the local Bantu language. If you’re white and you speak Portuguese, Mozambicans will love that because most white people they interact with are the South African tourists who make no attempt whatsoever to speak or learn Portuguese. But if you want to make a Mozambican’s day, speak in their local language. It doesn’t matter what you say, they will just think it’s the greatest thing ever that you cared enough to learn even that. When I was in Maputo in an ice cream shop I was talking to the guy behind the counter. When he found out where I live he said something to me in Tchopi. I responded with the only thing I know how to say in Tchopi: “I don’t know?” (It’s really the most useful thing to know if you only know one phrase!) The whole ice cream parlor LOVED that. My colleague today said something to me in Tchopi and I again responded with my signature line. The whole room erupted in laughter. I said that I am planning to learn it, but not until after I have really cemented my Portuguese. One of my colleagues said “I think it’s impressive that she is willing to try to say something in our language when she has only been here and learning it a short time, and all of you guys took English for 5 years and are still too shy to try speak.
Yesterday after taking statistics with my class we had time to kill, so we played “Heads up, 7 up.” Lots of kids were cheating yesterday, so I was very busy with my erasers. The 7 kids at the front were helping me by scribbling on the board with chalk because I had to keep re-chalking my erasers. The 7 kids who were selected stand up and guess who picked them one at a time. During one round the very last boy had been caught cheating so I told him he couldn’t guess. “Come on teacher, I didn’t even see!” Everyone is laughing as he tries to get the chalk out of his hair. “No, cheaters don’t get to play. Sit down!” Then VWHUMP! The kid behind him had pulled out his chair, so he is lying sprawled on the floor. And it was one of those moments where, as a teacher, I am supposed to scold the boy behind him and remind him that someone could get hurt, but I don’t think anyone took me seriously trying to say all that with tears of laughter in my eyes.
When I was a child I learned that the world has seven continents. And I always took this as a pretty universal fact, like the fact that the world has two hemispheres or Africa is a continent and not a country. I had written out some facts for my homeroom class to learn during our “life group” class tomorrow. During my Portuguese lesson today (with Natalia, who is Spanish, and our teacher who is of Portuguese descent) I asked our teacher to edit my Portuguese, and found out the according to the European model, there are only five continents: America (both north and south together) is one continent, and Antarctica is not counted. I had no idea this wasn’t universal!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


My director watched my first class today (coincidently with the same class that Lauren watched yesterday). Not surprisingly, they were much better behaved in her presence, but thankfully their participation was great.
The third of February is the day that all of the schools here make their official statistics. This includes just counting the students to make sure each homeroom has more or less the same number of students, see who has transferred schools, etc. But there are also more personal statistics that are, for an American, slightly mortifying to have to ask the students. The cultural gap is always interesting. When I ask for more explanation on something and they ask incredulously “what you have never done this before? You guys don’t do this in America?” “well no, we don’t do this in America (and in this specific case, some of these questions might be illegal to ask in America).”
I had to ask the ages of all the boys and girls and who was a new eight grader and who was repeating, but all of my students were new eight graders. Then I had to list the disabilities in my class: visual deficiencies, auditory deficiencies, motor physical deficiencies, learning problems, mentally retarded, behavior problems (like OCD), then whose mother had died, whose father had died, and whose both parents had died. I have one boy whose legs are incredibly bowed and he is pigeon-footed such that he has trouble walking. I have another student whose feet are completely turned around backwards. And I had to ask who had motor physical problems and have them stand up. Then I found out that I have one boy whose father died. Three students whose mother died. And one girl whose both mother and father are dead.


Want to make a correction: our school is not a private school as I mistakenly said, but a community school, which lies somewhere in between a public and private school here. There is a small tuition fee and the school was not built by the government, but everyone’s salaries are paid by the government. At my school and at Emma’s, many of our colleagues have not received their salary yet this year. This also means that even if there is someone working in the school who is known to be corrupt and stealing money from people and the school, my director does not have the power to get rid of them, but would have to appeal to a bureaucratic system in the government.
I got called Irmã Idurre today on my way into town. Irmã means Sister, like a sister of the church (nun) and Idurre was the Spanish volunteer before Natalia. But close.
Lauren, a volunteer who lives near me, extended for a third year and her official title is PCVL (the jury is still out on whether the L stands for Leader or Liason), so she is part-volunteer and part-PC staff. Part of her job this year is doing site visits with volunteers who live nearby and watching and evaluating lessons of education volunteers. She came today to watch two of my lessons and it was the hugest event ever of the school. All of the students were running out of the classrooms to see the OTHER white girl who was with the white teacher. I had to shut the door of my classroom (which makes it just miserably hot inside) because of the crowd of students peering in. My students were incredibly riled up to have a white visitor in the classroom, and thus were VERY enthusiastic during the lesson, but it went well.


It’s so nice now that my Portuguese is getting better (more importantly, I am able to speak faster, without having to think as much beforehand). Today I let one girl go home early because she was very visibly sick. Then a boy came up to me saying “teacher I am so sick, please let me go home” (he obviously wasn’t). And I responded “no you’re not sick but I’m going to beat you (I promise that’s a really normal thing to say here) and then after you will be sick.” The whole class laughed and he smiled and returned to his seat.

Monday, March 1, 2010


The new head sister here at the mission arrived on Saturday. I was a little worried because I really love the former one, but she is really sweet and so I am much relieved.
After finishing grading my tests the averages for my classes were between 9-11 (out of 20). This was actually better than I expected, but still bad enough to please my colleagues who are under the impression that Americans give out points the kids don’t deserve. I told Mary, the volunteer before me, what our colleague had said and her response was “I was just a damn good teacher and that’s why my students got good grades! ;)” I had one 20, which was wonderful, and only one 0, so not desired but I am glad I had only one. There were quite a few 17s and 18s and also quite a few 1s and 3s. Oh well.
The mission has a guitar that I have been playing pretty regularly. The girls love it when I play “Hallelujah” because the chorus is just “hallelujah” over and over and they can all sing along with me.
Small bursts of rains all day today, I think my class thought I was nuts today when I ran outside during one brief downpour expecting a rainbow. Finally this afternoon I got my brief but beautiful rainbow.