Monday, May 31, 2010


Today I headed home from Maputo which turned out to be a bit of an adventure, but every day is a bit of an adventure here. A bus was supposed to come pick me up at the hostel at 5:30am, but I waited for an hour and it never appeared, so once it was light enough to walk I just decided to go to the bus place, called “junta,” myself. A chapa pulled over and I asked the conductor if he was going to the junta and he said yes, so I got in. After about15 minutes when it became clear that we were not going to the junta I asked him again and he said “oh I didn’t understand you, you wanted to go to the junta?” I chewed him out in front of the chapa, telling him I don’t see where the confusion was, considering there is only one place called junta and, let’s be honest, that’s where most young white people with large backpacks in Maputo want to go. After I was done I am pretty sure a woman in the back of the chapa chewed him out one more time (though it was in local language so I am not 100%). But he was contrite, helped me get to the right chapa, and didn’t even attempt to get me to pay.
When I got to the junta there was a chapa going up to Inhambane already fairly full, which is nice because they don’t leave until they are full. I ran into one of my colleagues on the chapa, returning from a weekend in Maputo with his family, and they offered me the front seat which I gladly accepted because they are more comfortable. About 2 hours into the ride we got a flat tire, so the driver pulled over and AAA was called. HAHA, funny joke. The driver, conductor, and a few passengers fixed the flat while the rest of us sat on the side of the road and occasionally wandered into the brush to pee for 45 minutes while we waited. Sometimes chapas make good time. This one did not. But I had my own seat and got home eventually, so I can’t complain. For the first couple months I was in Mozambique I refused to sit in the front seat of chapas. The way I saw it, I didn’t need to see how I was going to die. Nine months later, a lot of the things that used to send me reeling don’t even faze me anymore, and I enjoy the front seat. However, there are occasions (such as when we are about to have a head-on collision with an oncoming car) when I just close my eyes for a few seconds—if I am going to die I don’t need to see it, I’ll find out soon enough anyhow.


Today we ventured outside of Mozambique for the first time since arriving, going to Swaziland for the Bushfire Music Festival. Swaziland is south of us and also in the mountains, so I found myself, for the first time in over a year, cold. It was weird. We also kept getting in trouble because people speak English there! We are accustomed to being able to say anything we want and nobody understanding us in Mozambique, because even the English speakers can’t understand our American accents and slang. Oops. We had been told that Swaziland is more developed than Mozambique, but we were literally blown away by the drastic contrast as soon as we crossed the border. Swaziland is full of Western markers of civilization that simply don’t exist in Mozambique—paved roads, lines (like of people), signs, trash cans, sidewalks, price tags, strip malls. Never in the 9 months I have been in Mozambique have I thought to myself, “I could be in America right now” but in Swaziland I constantly felt like that.
The festival was great. There were all different sorts of music, mostly from South Africa, but also from Swaziland, Mozambique, and a few other countries. And judging by the crowd, some of the bands were incredibly well-known and popular. We ran into a lot of other Moz PCVs, as well as meeting tons of interesting people in our hostel and at the festival, including tons of South Africa PCVs and Swaziland PCVs. At our hostel we met people from England, Canada, America, Israel, traveling and doing different sorts of projects. I even met two separate people with Bowdoin siblings! And we made friends with a guy who was traveling in South Africa and Swaziland and when he found out we are from Mozambique he said, hey I have always wanted to go there, so he came back with us.


Headed down to Namaacha tonight, my first time back since we left after training. My mother, who told me the night before I left in December that she was pregnant, is now quite pregnant and expecting in July. She said she doesn’t want to know the baby’s gender, that she wants it to be a surprise, but she is disappointed because she is hoping for a girl but everyone tells her that her stomach is shaped like a boy. At the end of training I was pretty ready to be living in my own and not in a homestay situation anymore, but on the way to Namaacha I found myself incredibly excited—tingling with the anticipation of going home. It was strangely nostalgic, like when you go home for a break during college. I found myself immediately inspecting the house, to see what had changed since the last time I was there—they got rid of the fridge that had broken during training, they had switched to fluorescent light bulbs, my room had two beds now instead of two. The framed picture of our family that I had given them before leaving was sitting on the sideboard in the living room. It made me sad because the family has already changed some and will change a lot in the future. My 16 year old male cousin who lived behind us has moved to Maputo to live with his mom. My 13 year old female cousin/sister wasn’t there because she had been called back by her parents to Inhambane province to take care of a sick uncle (though she should be returning eventually). My mom and her son’s father (that is how she always refers to him) had started building a house during training that apparently is done now, so they will be moving with their son and new baby after the baby is born, and a different aunt will be moving into our house to take care of grandma and the two other boys. It makes me sad that after this happens I won’t be able to “return home” anymore.
Seeing my family was wonderful. It was so wonderful to be able to speak Portuguese with them finally! I got to sit down and have a real conversation with my mom about how her life, pregnancy, and new job are going, instead of the baby talk we were forced to resort to during training. The boys (3, 4, and 7 years old) took about 30 minutes to warm up to me, but as soon as they did, they were all competing for my attention and playing a game we used to play when I was there where they would try to sneak up behind my chair and tickle me, and then try to run past without me getting them. During training the 7 year old loved to tell me stories, but I think I only caught about half of what he would chatter at me, but this time I understood his entire story about a dog and horse. During dinner Anna’s mom (who is my mom’s sister) called to say hi. The first thing she said to me was “so have you gained or lost weight since training?” I told her I wasn’t sure, but I thought I was about the same. “Oh” she said, disappointedly.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


In schools in Mozambique, when the teacher enters the classroom they greet the students and all of the students stand to return the greeting in unison. Today I was teaching when I heard the class next door saying “bom dia professor!” I looked down at my watch—19 minutes into a 45 minute lesson.
I make tardy or or students who didn't do their homework sit on the floor. My first hour this morning I had 28 students on the floor and 12 in seats.
Today Ann and I went into town to buy some things to take our host families in Namaacha because we are visiting them tomorrow. I ran into one student who I had embarrassed last week when I asked him in front of the class “is math important to you?” when he said yes I asked “well then why did you fugir my second class yesterday?” (fugir I think translates best as “to get the heck out of there”) We had had a double period the day before and he had snuck out after the first hour, thinking I wouldn’t notice. Today when I saw him I asked what he was going to do after he was done selling things and he grinned and responded “do my math homework of course!”
A few meters down I ran into one of my students who actually gets passing notes on all of her exams, but didn’t show up to hers last week and also wasn’t there for the recuperation, so she has a zero on the first exam. I asked her where she was last week and she said she was sick, so I told her she needed to get a justification slip from the secretary’s office for her absence so I could give her a make-up test. She said she would, I hope she actually does. I have about 10 students who just didn’t show up to my math exam and apparently don’t care, because they haven’t sought me out yet to ask for a make-up opportunity. The sad fact is that they have been in the system long enough to know that when it comes to the end of the year and the school needs to have a certain percentage of kids passing, a certain number of kids will just get bumped along, so they might just be hoping they are one of those kids. My student who can’t read or write didn’t take his math exam (along with others) but he must know better than anyone that there are other ways to pass the grade.
I ran into another student (actually we ran into about 15 more) who asked us “what language do you guys speak when you are together, American?
Leaving tomorrow for a few days.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Yesterday I cracked an egg into the frying pan on my electric stove and a was electrically shocked by the current that traveled back up the egg—apparently an extremely good conductor—leaving me with that all too familiar tingly feeling in the back of my scalp.
Today we celebrated the day of Mary our helper (the Virgin Mary), even though it was actually yesterday. We didn’t have classes today, but instead everyone, teachers and students, from the primary and secondary schools here at Laura Vicuña and from the Salesian priests’ professional school across the street congregated at 7am outside the mission. Of course, everyone was running at least an hour late. We formed a huge processional line, first the altar servers carrying a cross, then the primary school kids, arranged by age, followed by important townspeople. After came an open-bed truck carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary and the sound system from which people led songs and prayers the whole walk. After the truck, the students from the secondary school and the professional school. We walked down the national highway (we had one lane while police stopped and then guided traffic through the other lane) for about a mile before making a loop through the front drive of a restaurant and then returning, this time turning into the Salesian priests’ mission for mass on their outdoor basketball court. A full mass was said, followed by dancing by a couple of different groups, but I wasn’t able to see any of it because there were too many people and I didn’t have the energy to push my way through everyone. After all the dances lunch was served in the orphanage dining hall for important townspeople and all people who work for the Salesians: teachers, gardeners, janitors, etc. Lunch ended at 3:30pm. Like many things in Mozambique, the celebration was quite nice, but lasted about 3 hours too long.

Monday, May 24, 2010


On Friday my student who can’t read or write showed up to school for the first time all week. I found him after fifth period and confirmed that we would meet after sixth period (the last class of morning classes) to have a Portuguese lesson. I waited for half an hour but he never showed.
Saturday I went to Ann’s house and got stuck there for 6 hours because of the rain. In a country where nothing is paved (the only paved road in our town is the national highway that isn’t in our town as much as runs straight through it) rain suddenly becomes a huge limiting factor as streets become rushing rivers of mud that suck the flip flops off your feet like quicksand.
Two of our colleagues who met and started dating during training just got engaged, which we celebrated during the monsoon an Saturday. Parabéns guys!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Walking to the beach (praia--spelled differently, pronounced identically to the Spanish word) with the girls


Today Rita, the Portuguese volunteer, and I took 20 of the girls to Yvette and John’s at Tsene Lagoa. Yvette had a whole day of swimming and horses planned, with an emphasis on learning about these things as they were doing them. John and Yvette have 4 dogs that are really friendly, unlike Mozambican dogs, especially the dogs we have here at the mission, but I had forgotten that some of the girls would be scared of them. Yvette offered to put the dogs away for the day, but Rita and I agreed that we wanted the girls to learn that dogs can be friendly and even playful, that they don’t all threaten to attack and bite. I am sure that the girls have never seen dogs before that were friendly and even wanted to play (even my friendly dog during training had never been played with, when I picked up a stick to play fetch with him he thought I was going to hit him with it). Two of the girls (about 10 years old) burst into tears whenever the dogs would come near, but by the end of the day they were completely fine around them and the rest of the girls were loving getting to pet and play with them.
We had a snack when we arrived and then went down to the ocean. It was an chilly, overcast, and windy day, so it didn’t even cross my mind that the girls would want to swim. I should know better by now. The beach was covered in crabs so the girls immediately set off trying to catch them, determined that we would be having crab for dinner. As they started venturing closer and closer to the waves their pants started to get wet, so they asked if they could take their pants off. After another 20 minutes of girls accidentally getting too far in and soaked by a big wave, one girl asked if she could take her shirt off too and next thing all the girls were running around in their underwear. After another 30 minutes one girl said she had gotten sand in her underwear, so could she take them off to wash them—next thing we had 20 naked girls running around the beach. We could have stayed out much longer if it were not for a cloud burst that sent everyone running for their clothes. Some of the girls complained that their clothes were wet when we told them that they had to redress before going back to the house, no they couldn’t walk back naked. Rita and I rolled our eyes, well maybe you should have thought about that before you ran into the ocean fully dressed.
We returned to the main house for lunch and a fire was made for the girls to warm up around and dry their clothes. Without being prompted the girls all cleared their own stuff away and four of the girls even washed all of the dishes. I think the two maids were pretty taken aback, but certainly not complaining. Yvette gave all the girls large construction paper and markers to draw and they all ended up making cards for Yvette, telling her thank you, how much they had enjoyed their day so far and how they wished they could stay forever.
Our last activity before having to leave was with the horses, though we didn’t have much time which was a shame. Yvette talked a little bit about horses and then each girl (and all wanted to except one girl) got to sit bareback on one and got led around for a couple minutes. Some of the girls were terrified, but they loved it. Animals in Mozambique are treated and though of very differently than in America, so it was wonderful for these girls to see these huge creatures not as scary or simply a future meal, but as intelligent, feeling creatures—our friends even.
Even though it was chilly as the sun set and we returned home in the bed of a large truck, most of the girls curled up for nap, completely exhausted.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Today I told a class that it was very important to all come to school tomorrow because we were doing recuperation for the test and most of them badly needed it because they had done so poorly on the test. A couple of them told me it was my fault they had done so badly, since I didn’t let them use scrap paper. I almost erupted. I was so angry I couldn’t respond other than to waggle my finger at them in disagreement. It’s not my fault that I told you exactly what would be on the test but clearly most of you didn’t study AT ALL because you missed even the “gimmes” I put on the test to ensure that too many people wouldn’t have zeros. How dare you say it was my fault you did so poorly when you should be apologizing to me for wasting my time and thanking me for giving you the opportunity to raise your grades!
A man doing work in my room (I finally got the mirror that I bought in December hung today!) was asking me about being a volunteer—basically he couldn’t understand what we get out of it. I told him, look I am living in a foreign country, I have learned a new language, I am learning a new life. True I am a volunteer, but I am gaining more from this experience than anyone else. I tried to explain that in America the Peace Corps is a known and respected organization, and most people respect the fact that I am learning more here than I could for two years in a job, but I don’t think I convinced him. And really, how to you explain all this to someone for whom careers (not a job, but a career), networking, grad school, etc literally don’t exist? He must just think I am crazy. But afterward he tried to convince me to stay after my two years are up.
222 (minus the few students who didn’t show up to take their test) tests graded in the past 3 days, check.
One of the girls in the orphanage found out last night that her mother died in an accident (she is here for other reasons). What do you say to a 9-year-old whose mother died? The only consolation is that she is surrounded by friends who can relate. She is makes my heart swell every time I talk to her because she only arrived a few months ago and is proof of how much good being in a wonderful environment like we have here can do.


Sometimes I encounter cultural differences in the most unexpected places. In Mozambique, a test is like the final draft of a paper that, one printed, you carry in a folder or something to prevent it from getting dirty or scuffed. They are accustomed to using a piece of scratch paper on which they do all of their work, and then we write only their answers on their test. I have a student ask me for another piece of paper because she wanted to rewrite her test after it was finished, because it was too messy in her opinion. But I don’t let them use scrap paper for two reasons: first, to control the papers on their desks during a test because cheating is such a problem here, and second because I want to see what they did to be able to give them credit. And no matter how many times I explain to them that in math it is important to show all of your work and this system is to their benefit because it gives me the opportunity to give partial credit, you would honestly think I was telling them I want their firstborn child when I tell them they can’t use scrap paper. And many of them still refuse to write on their tests. For simple algebraic operations they write on their desks and the walls and when I yell at them for this they write on their arms and hands.
Caught one boy cheating today, and like the previous times I felt that I was the one who felt more remorseful. I eventually had to kick him out of class because he was being intentionally noisy and disruptive and I had nothing left to threaten him with, as he already had a zero on the test.
Today was pleasant enough that I knew I wouldn’t sweat, so I wore a cotton dress with short sleeves that I haven’t been able to wear much since coming here since you sweat through it in all sorts of unattractive ways. One of my students was wearing a puffy down winter jacket. When I asked her if she was sick she responded “no, I’m just feeling chilly today.”

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Something about the weather here, but I think I have seen more rainbows in the past 8 months than in my entire life. One big difference is that we rarely have rainy days here, rather it will go from sunny to stormy and back many times within one day. Today we had a beautiful double rainbow during one of my classes.
My student who cannot read or write hasn’t shown up to class the past two days, missing, in addition to all the classes, his math and geography exams. There is a slight possibility that he is seriously ill, but seriously I doubt it. I am frustrated because short of marching to his house (and I don’t know where it is yet, though that may be something I find out in the near future), there isn’t much I can do for him if he doesn’t show up to school. At the same time, with 222 students, I don’t have time to be knocking on the door of one student and dragging him to school and teaching him to read and write if he doesn’t want the same things for himself. I have far too many students who want and need help to be wasting my energy on someone who won’t reciprocate my efforts.

Monday, May 17, 2010


We finally got to have our first REDES (girls in development, education, and health) meeting in the school library where the computers are on Saturday (every other time we tried the keys were M.I.A. or something else strange came up). Our group will be doing a 6 month exchange program with a group similar to REDES in Brazil. They already sent a Powerpoint presentation introducing themselves, and for the next 6 months we will once a month exchange a presentation on the following themes: youth, working, reproductive health, violence and gender, and technology. This is a wonderful opportunity because it gives our girls the opportunity to learn very useful technical skills (as of right now, only a few know how to turn on a computer), learn about and communicate with another culture, and all the while learning more about their own culture and experiences by taking the time to think about the discuss them. So Saturday we finally get to meet in the library for our first lesson on computers (I am fully aware that I may be making the first few presentations with minimal assistance while as a group we are still trying to master the mouse (little rat, in Portuguese) and Start menu). But of course, this is Mozambique. At this particular time on Saturday the energy decided to flicker on and off at about 45 second intervals. Almost comical. And the girls were so entranced by the computers (and granted they kept shutting off and restarting) that we couldn’t get any meaningful discussion going either.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

About 15 minutes after this picture was taken, Sister Ana (dancing in the photo) said, "A Salesian house without music is like a body without breath in it!"


Yesterday I was buying tomatoes in the market from a woman nursing her baby. As she handed me my change with her left hand she said “I’m sorry I am using my left hand, it’s only because I am holding my baby with my right arm.” Doing almost anything: eating, writing, waving, handing something to someone, or accepting something with the left hand is considered very rude in Mozambique. She was showing me respect in two ways, first by apologizing, and second for acknowledging that I knew enough to have been offended by her handing me something with her left hand, and I really appreciated that. Often people will be intentionally disrespectful or just disrespectful out of laziness to us foreigners because they assume that we don’t know enough to know they are disrespecting us.
One of the girls in 11th grade saw a picture of me and said, “you look pretty in this picture because it was taken before you had all of these,” referring to my freckles. I explained that these are freckles, people with Irish heritage tend to have them, and I have had them my whole life. “oh, they aren’t scars from the pimples you had during adolescents?” No, but thank you for telling me my face looks like it’s covered with acne scars.
I finally got my shelf today, after ordering one to be made well over a month ago. When I first ordered it, the man said it would take a week to make, but of course a week in Mozambican time is more than 7 days long. When the shelf was finished and he called I was out of town at the REDES conference, so I told him I would call when I returned. When I called he was out of town. When he returned he called to tell me that while he was out of town the people who work for him had mistakenly sold my shelf, so he would need to make a new one. But today it finally arrived at the mission and is standing in my room. When I first ordered it, I asked if he would be able to bring it out to the mission. “All the way out here?!” he asked and so I braced myself to charged an outrageous extra fee partly because I am white and overcharging us is the norm, but also because I do live a good 2+ miles out of town. “Well I suppose I can bring it out to you…if you buy me a soda.” I laughed and said I could manage that, assuming that he or a friend had a truck in which they would transport the shelf. Turns out that he and his younger brother walked, carrying the heavy wicker-with-iron-frame shelf the whole 2+ miles out to the mission. And in such a nice change from the usual, they refused my soda offer the first time around (though accepted the second offer), didn’t ask me for any extra money, and were incredibly grateful (rather than just feeling entitled) when I gave them a tip for going through the trouble to bring the shelf out to me.
Yesterday I was walking into town when a car ahead of me stopped and waved at me to come get in for a ride the rest of the way. They asked where I was going and I said to meet up with some of my (female) friends, “amigas.” One guy asked, “oh so you already have amigas? Do you have amigos (male friends)?” I smiled and told him that I have all sorts of friends. Then his friend driving turned around, giving me, I think, the creepiest smile I have ever gotten, and said “I think you’re very pretty, that’s why we stopped to give you the ride.” And I have gotten some pretty creepy smiles in my life.

Friday, May 14, 2010


Today I was writing my lesson title on the board of my second class when my pedagogical director stopped by with a man he introduced as being from the Ministry of Education and asked if he could watch my lesson. How nerve-wracking, I had no time to mentally prepare, he was just suddenly in the back of my classroom! Thankfully he watched one of my best classes (though truthfully I have four great classes and one pretty awful one, so I am just happy he didn’t sit in on the awful one) and the students were great: well behaved, animated, and engaged in the lesson. Afterwards he showed me an evaluation form he had filled out in response to my lesson and needed my signature. I was already bracing myself for what he would say with American arrogance, anticipating cultural differences to make up most of this feedback and thus I would accept his advice with a smile, but secretly know that my American teaching style was superior. Instead I was humbled by receiving an incredibly thoughtful and helpful response to my lesson, with suggestions in areas that I agreed needed to be improved, and a few suggestions that I hadn’t considered before and could be very beneficial.
After classes had a second reading and writing lesson with my student. We reviewed what we had covered the first day and he could almost write the entire alphabet without help this time. Then I wrote out words in syllables like this: ca-ne-ta and had his sound out each syllable, then each time say it faster until we were saying a real word (caneta means “pen”). He seemed to understand the concept behind what we were doing and although he still struggled with many of the pronunciations still (rather, remembering the sounds that certain letters make) I think it was a productive lesson.


I’m not really sure when or how it happened, but I am really busy. And I suppose that’s a good thing because it makes me feel like my time here is worthwhile, but sometimes I feel like I hardly have time to breathe. I teach every morning from 6:40-12:05. I have begun meeting with my student who can’t read and write for about 30 minutes every day after classes at 12:05pm. Then at 3pm the girls in the orphanage who have school in the mornings have two hours of study hall where I help with English and math homework. Then at 4pm (yep, the hours don’t quite line up, I am aware of that) I work with two of the girls-in-training who are studying for their GED in the subjects of math and English (and wow, have I forgotten all calculus I ever learned). Then 5pm: Tuesdays I have Portuguese tutoring, Wednesdays we have a REDES meeting, and Thursdays I give an English lesson to one of the sisters in the mission. Plus I plan to start Txitxopi lessons now, so on Mondays, I suppose. And all of that barely leaves times for lesson planning, guitar-playing, leisure reading in English and Portuguese (I am now reading Harry Potter e o Cálice de Fogo), journaling, peanut-butter making, etc. But like I said, at least I feel like I am doing worthwhile things here.
And of course, while I am walking from a study session to my English lesson, Margarita runs up to me and trips and scrapes herself up and starts crying, Alcinda is crying and in a cold sweat because one of the crazy German Shepherds at the mission chased her, Alice’s foot where she stepped on a nail last week is looking bad and that scares me, and Daniela has somehow taken a chunk out of the bottom of her foot so has to be carried to where we can clean and cover it up. But all this craziness is good somehow because I am still very happy here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Thanks to a helpful blog comment I now cut my daily garlic dose into pill-sized pieces and swallow them whole—MUCH better than chewing raw garlic.
Today the very confused guy who works in the secretary’s office at my school waved me over and asked if I knew an Emma. Turns out that the post office in Morrumbene, a town about 2 hours north of us (and whose name he couldn’t remember at first, making this whole exchange even more difficult), had called our school looking for Emma, a white teacher. He had answered the phone and didn’t know Emma, but figured that I would know who Emma, the white teacher, was. Emma had agreed to pick up any mail for the former volunteer in Morrumbene, so they were trying to get a hold of her to tell her that she had some mail.
Today I cornered my student who can’t read or write and asked him why he didn’t show up yesterday afternoon. He said he had gone but couldn’t find me, but I called him out on lying because I knew he hadn’t even shown up to P.E. in the afternoon. So we agreed to have a reading and writing lesson directly after classes. I have two of my colleagues, his Biology and Portuguese teachers, coming up to me repeatedly, telling me that something needs to be done about this, because he is in my homeroom. And talking to his mom last Saturday really made me feel like it’s up to me. His mom is concerned, but that’s it. And when your 8th grade son can’t read or write, being concerned isn’t enough. And coupled with the fact that she lives far away and he lives on his own here in town, I really think that if I don’t fix this problem, nobody is going to. So we had our first study session today. Aside from the terrible irony that I am teaching a language I just learned 8 months ago, I have absolutely no idea how to teach someone to read and write. Luckily a couple of the sisters are primary school teachers, so I have already talked to one about giving me lessons and activities to do with him. Today I had him write the alphabet, which he couldn’t do on his own but we worked through it. The concepts of upper and lowercase letters seem to be completely beyond him, but we have bigger issues to worry about. Then I had him write each consonant with each of the vowels (ex: ba, be, bi, bo, bu) so he could practice which sounds each letter makes. And that was all, but it was a whole lesson. I just keep thinking, fuck I wish this wasn’t my problem. But maybe this is a chance for me to actually do something concrete and good. And I know that if I don’t do it, nobody is going to.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Have one student who can’t really read or write, so arranged with him to come in this afternoon for an extra study session, but of course he never showed.
The other afternoon when I went to see the Prime Minister speak I ran into some of the girls from the orphanage with one of my students. This girl who is my student is a little different from just a student because she lives right across the fence from the mission, goes to our church and her parents are incredibly active in our church, and often comes to our afternoon study sessions. But when they saw me they walked over and my student put her hand on my stomach and concernedly asked, “aren’t you hungry, did you eat?” And I thought to myself, man has my definition of normal changed in the past 8 months. “Yes mother, I ate, thank you” I teased her.


This morning during my first period class I, in frustration, asked my class if they were still sleeping. Six of them responded “yes, teacher” without even registering what I had asked. Nice.
Today I had a double-hour of “life group” with my homeroom. We just had a study period for the first hour and I put the world map up on the board if anyone wanted to look at, which many students did. The second hour I told the kids that I had an optional activity, so the kids could decide whether or not they wanted to do the activity, or continue to study and talk amongst themselves. I also told them that the first 5 people to complete the activity perfectly would win a brightly colored click-pen. I have been told by other volunteers not to underestimate the power of free things here, but I definitely did not anticipate the frenzy by the entire class (literally all 45 students) that ensued. They had to answer a number of questions, some they had already written in previous “life group” periods and some they needed the map for (such as “which continent is an island?” or “name 5 countries in the African continent”). Nobody got it right on the first try, but eventually all 5 pens had been given out. What surprised me was that even after there was no prize left to be won (and I was clear about telling them this) about 10 students still wanted me to read and check their answers. I have no idea why, perhaps they actually enjoyed the things they were learning?
Two of the girls-in-training here at the mission are studying for their equivalent of the GED, so I have been assigned the task of tutoring them in English and math. So I now move straight from homework help sessions with the girls, to these study sessions every afternoon.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Another Sunday afternoon dance party.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Today we had sort of parent-teacher conferences, though the concept if very different from in America. We started about 1.5 hours late, naturally. First, everyone gathered where we gather each morning for announcements, and everyone sang the Mozambican Nation Anthem, then the Pedagogical Director addressed the parents, and then all the students, their parents (or their education undertaker…that doesn’t translate very well. This is sometimes an uncle, aunt or grandparent who is actually the child’s guardian, but on days like today, because the parent either cannot or doesn’t want to come, or perhaps has many more than one child in school, an older sibling or cousin will be sent with the student instead), and the directors of each homeroom went to their respective homerooms. This was when the homeroom director talks to the parents about “our” children (note: not “your” children), about how the year is going and if there are any issues for this homeroom. Nerve-wracking! I also lied and said that we had a good homeroom, rather than telling the parents that of the five classes I teach, this one is by far the worst and that this many undisciplined kids couldn’t have ended up together by coincidence, but that I think my school purposefully gave me this homeroom because I am a new teacher and a foreigner. Then the grades for each kid are given out, which is really the purpose of the day. Some teachers just read the students’ grades out loud, but I decided to be super-American and called each student and their parent up to the front to give at least a little privacy. This also gave me the opportunity to talk to the parents of students who were having problems. I thought one mother was going to hit her child right there in front of me when I told her that he didn’t have a grade for P.E. because he had never even showed up once. One student in particular cannot even read or write very well, isn’t very good about doing his homework or showing up to class, and also did not have a grade for P.E. because he had never showed up, so I talked to his mom about all of this. She also looked like she wanted to hit him, but explained that she had no idea because she lives far away and he lives here near the school by himself (one of the problems with only having two secondary schools in the entire Inharrime district). I told her that I would have some extra study sessions with him outside school, primarily to work on this reading and writing.
Afterward one of my colleagues beckoned to me and said, “have you talked to your student yet?” “No why?” “Because she is pregnant.” I was shocked and asked how she knew and she responded “I just know these things.” So she called over this student (14 years old) and talked to her and her mother. Her mother didn’t seem altogether with it and didn’t speak much Portuguese so they held the conversation in Txitxopi. She hadn’t known, but in her defense she lives about two hours away and her daughter lives here near the school alone. My student will have to turn her name in to the office on Monday to be transferred to the other secondary school. The rule at my school (and I know this is normal, if not the country standard) is that pregnant students have to withdraw from normal school and can only attend night classes. And since my school doesn’t offer night classes, this means transferring to the night classes at the other school.

After Ann and I effectively ruined one of the outlets in my room by lighting it on fire, I am now down to only two, often creating rather interesting and creative charging situations.


Just as the cooler weather kind of snuck up on us, it snuck away just as quickly and suddenly we all realized, weird, we’re sweating buckets again. And the most interesting thing about sleeping with the fan on is hearing the number of times it turns off during the night (i.e. the number of times in one night the power goes out). Last night I noticed 4 times.
Big day today, last night only one girl in the orphanage wet the bed!
Yesterday a 10th grader sought me out during break for help with some English homework. The homework was a paragraph with words missing, so he had to fill in the missing words. It was kind of a bizarre assignment though, so the words missing were just kind of random, some were nouns, adjectives, pronouns or even articles, and there didn’t seem to be any specific point to the assignment. The paragraph was about a text they had read during class and though we could fill in most of the blanks just because it was obvious which words would work best in English, there were some words missing that you would have needed to have read the text to know. I told this and that I couldn’t help with this part, he would have to remember the text they had read. He said “oh well I didn’t read the text, this is my sister’s homework.” I asked why he was doing his sister’s homework and he said “well because she couldn’t do it.” Today he sought me out to give me a big thumbs up and let me know that we had done the homework correctly. Well thank goodness I can still do 10th grade English homework.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Today at the end of morning announcements our Pedagogical Director mentioned that someone from the government was coming this afternoon so if anyone wanted to see him they should go to The Mango Tree at 1pm. Of course if one hasn’t been here they will miss the terrible irony of referring to The Mango Tree in a country where half the trees are mango trees. Afterwards I asked a colleague who this person was who was coming and he told me the Prime Minister. “Like THE Prime minister?” I asked. “Yeah” he said, thinking that I hadn’t understood “he is like your, what do you call it, Secretary of State I think.”
Right as I got into bed for a 20 minute nap after classes someone knocked on my door, of course. It was one of the Catholic sisters who live in town. She was planning to take a group of kids to the South African owned place on the river where I had been once (most tranquil and wonderful place) and had talked to the guy, but wanted me to call and just make sure that everything was set because she worried that her English hadn’t been good enough. I talked to him and I think we got everything figured out, but I didn’t tell her that I can much easier understand her Portuguese than his South African accent.
Not wanting to have to wait too long I found my way to The Mango Tree (which has a bunch of trees, but I am still not sure which one is The one) at about 2pm, but still had to wait 45 minutes. There was tons of singing and dancing before he and his entourage came and then still more to welcome him, and then three dance groups preformed for him once he arrived. He was introduced by a local Inharrime government person, then the governor of Inhambane province, and then he spoke for a long time about how we can improve as a country (such as farming), how much progress has been made in the past ten years, and about future government plans. Every single word was translated into Txitxopi. Afterwards the floor was opened for people to speak (all of them spoke in Txitxopi) and then all the important people piled back into their big cars and drove away. As I was leaving I heard an older Mozambican remark dryly, “He came, he lied, he left.”
As we were walking back up to the mission we passed the Prime Minister’s entourage of cars parked outside of a restaurant on the highway. In the back of one truck was a huge and heavily sedated bull.

This is an old one, from the feast of Dom Bosco: the presentation of the cake. Nothing in Mozambique happens without ample singing and dancing.


This morning two of the girls-in-training at the mission were teaching some songs to the students in preparation for May 24th which is Maria Auxiliadora day. They had passed out sheets of paper with the song lyrics (some of the songs are in Portuguese, some are in Txitxopi) to all of the students and practiced singing each of them. When the school director commented on how most of the students weren’t singing, my colleague which whom I was standing, who is a Portuguese teacher, said to me, “that’s because most of them can’t read.” And that is the terrible irony I encounter when I am helping them with their English homework: quite often they cannot even do in Portuguese what they are being asked to do in English. Sometimes this is because what they are being asked to do is fairly conceptually difficult (who is the mother of my aunt?). But often it is because they simply don’t have a good enough grasp of their own language to be learning another. But therein lies the problem, it’s not their own language. It is a language that they learned upon entering school, from people who don’t speak it very well, that they speak only within the school grounds, and with no reading material available to augment their learning opportunities. On many occasions I have been helping someone spell something and I say the letter in Portuguese, and they write a different letter. These are 8th and 11th graders! And they still have trouble and mix up letters on a regular basis. Twice I was translating a phrase with someone and I asked what “na” in, for example, “na escola” meant. I told them that “na” was actually a contraction of two words: “em” (in) and “a” (the). They had no idea! They had been using this word for as long as they have been speaking Portuguese without understanding what it actually meant and apparently without the intellectually curiosity to wonder why “na” doesn’t actually exist as a word.
Yesterday I was teaching when a middle-aged white guy walked by my classroom and, I think just thrilled to see another white person, stopped and stuck his head in and asked “tudo bom?” (everything good/what’s up?). “Tudo bom” I responded. He smiled and left. I asked my class if they know who he was but they didn’t and were about as bewildered as I was.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Today in my two double periods I did a short lesson and then had application exercises for the kids to do in groups. I told them that they had to work in groups of 2 or 3 people and each group had to have at least one girl and one boy and that they needed to figure it out as a class because I wouldn’t write the exercise on the board until all the groups were properly formed, so they could either do well on the exercise as a class, or suffer as a class. My first class wasted a lot of time and eventually I had to tell a couple people to switch groups, but they eventually got the groups formed. When it came to the second class they actually formed the groups much quicker, but one group remained that had only 2 boys in it and all the girls were refusing to switch groups. After a while I told the class “there are 8 groups with 2 girls in them, so that means that there are 16 girls who can work with these two boys and when that happens I will write the exercise on the board.” When this still didn’t work I told them, “if one of you 16 girls doesn’t move to this group in one minute I will give all 16 of you zeros for today, kick you out for the remainder of the period, and you will have to do the exercise for homework.” I was hoping that threat at least would get results. Unfortunately it didn’t, so one minute later I was forcibly removing 16 girls from my classroom. They apparently went and complained to their homeroom director because he stopped by my class a few minutes later and asked why I had kicked out all these girls because of only one person. I explained that between the 16 of them only one of them needed to step up and take responsibility but nobody would and I gave them ample warning before kicking them out. He graciously apologized saying “I’m sorry, they lied when they told me what happened,” and left.
Last week I watched a colleague’s 8th grade English lesson and they were reviewing the homework, which had been to write a composition on their school break last week. One of the students wrote the following composition on the board (I probably would find this less amusing if I were actually an English teacher…). “My holiday was is going Secondary school 4 the October to watched play and athletic is wain secondary school Laura Vicuña play and athletic is looked teacher drive player and athletic.”

Monday, May 3, 2010


I brought my world map back into class today during my “Life Group” hour and told the kids that we didn’t have anything planned, but they could use it as a study hour, sleep at their desks, talk quietly with each other, or look at the map. It took a few minutes for anyone to get near the map, but after the first kid broke the barrier, there were at least 9 students crowded around the map for the rest of the time, pointing out different countries and places and I even got asked a few geography questions.
This afternoon I was walking into town when I saw a few of my boy students standing by the road with mischievous looks on their faces. When I got closer I realized that they were rolling fruit into the road and were hoping for passing cars to run over them and crush them. So that’s what my kids do after school instead of the homework I assign them.
I had forgotten to write about this. When we were returning from Xai-Xai last week, about 2 hours into our 3-hour trip we heard a large clunk sound as if something had fallen out of the chapa. The car seemed to still work fine so I didn’t think anything of it. A few minutes later I noticed that the driver had slowed down to about half the former speed so I thought, hmmm maybe it was a slightly necessary part we lost. Then I saw a person waiting on the side of the road up ahead and heard a sound that took a second to place: the sound of the emergency brake being pulled up. And I realized “oh my goodness, we have no brakes.” But of course, other than the reduced speed, not having brakes did not affect the manner in which we drove, we still stopped to pick up every single person waiting on the side of the road b slowing down far ahead of time and then cranking up on the emergency brake.
I have been told that eating a raw garlic clove every day will keep mosquitoes from biting me. I don’t know if I believe it, but I don’t have much to lose at this point. Raw garlic doesn’t taste very good.

THe hostel we stayed at in Vilanculos had mosquito nets but they weren't treated, so anytime you were touching the net in your sleep they would just bite you through it. I am always diligent about taking my malaria prophylactic so i am just crossing my fingers...


Headed home today after a short but wonderful weekend. A man pulled over headed to Maputo so Zach asked if we could get a ride with him. He said that we would have to pay 500 Meticais each which is just absurd so we told him no and thought to ourselves that he was just another guy trying to rip us off because we are white. He asked how much we wanted to pay and Zach said “well actually we were hoping to find a boléia (ride).” The man said, “oh okay, in that case you can come.” For free. I am not quite sure how that thought process worked. When we were getting in, another man pointed to a rice sack and said “be careful.” Then the bag started to move and four 3” claws poked out! Not knowing the word for turtle in Portuguese, it took us a few minutes to figure out exactly what it was. The whole ride it kept clawing Anna every few minutes and a few times it finagled its huge head (like the size of a Nalgene) out of a hole in the sack so someone would have to take their flip-flop off and whack it a few times to get it to go back into the bag.
Finally starting to cool off here. I got my blanket out of storage this week and walking to eat breakfast at 5:45am it’s actually quite chilly. Of course it’s always amusing to see the Mozambicans wearing wool caps and gloves and winter jackets anytime the weather dips below 70ºF.


Anna came to Inharrime last night and spent the night here, and then the two of us and Ann headed up to Vilanculos after my classes. We had just walked out to the road to wait for a chapa when a truck pulled over and asked if we needed a ride. He drives a produce truck from Maputo to Beira (the capital of Sofala province, the province to the north of Inhambane) twice a week, so he actually drives right by my house four times per week! He was extremely nice and friendly without being creepy or inappropriate (rare in Mozambican men) and though we talked for most of the ride, he never once asked if we were married, if we wanted Mozambican boyfriends, etc. It was nice to make a new friend and he is bringing Ann a bag of beans when he passes back through this week because he can get them so much cheaper. The only drawback was that his truck REALLY struggled on the uphills and didn’t go much faster the rest of the time. For the first couple hours I thought the speedometer was in miles-per-hour because surely we couldn’t be averaging only 45 kilometers-per-hour…but we were. At one point we had to go off the road to drive around another semi that had broken down in the middle of the highway. The dirt shoulder is incredibly steep and it felt as if our overloaded truck might just tip over. One of those moments when you think, okay I might die right now and there’s not too much I can do about it. And I threw up in my mouth. Thankfully the truck never tipped.
In Vilanculos we got to see many friends who we hadn’t seen since leaving Namaacha after training. People came down all the way Zambezia, Nampula, Sofala, and Manica provinces! It was so wonderful to see everyone again and to hear all of the stories.