Thursday, March 4, 2010


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!

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