Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Today a woman at the mission said to one of the girls, “you should brush your hair you know, you would be very pretty.” The girl responded “but I am too dark. Except right here by my mouth” she has a birthmark “my skin is lighter here!”
Today my director was walking by my classroom when she noticed all the kids sitting on the floor and asked why. I told her that any kids who are late to class or don’t do their homework sit on the floor. “Don’t you have any shame?!” she asked them. Well, no they don’t apparently. Yesterday in one class I hit a new record: 34 kids on the floor and only 10 sitting at desks.
In town a guy asked me if I were going to Maputo, trying to get me onto his bus. “No, I LIVE here!” It still puzzles me that some people still haven’t figured that out. It boggles my mind when I go down into the lower market where no South African tourist has ever ventured, that people still try to speak to me in English and rip me off. I was going to barter for a lower price from one man (though he wasn’t ripping me off) because we had been talking for a while, but then he asked me for my number and I realized that I would have to make a trade. Damn. I just paid the higher price—totally worth it for the all creepy text messages I won’t be getting in the future.
I really should know better by now, but I lent my flash drive to my director for a couple minutes so she could print something and it came back full of viruses. It’s a puzzle to all PCVs here: in a country with so few computers, how can there be so many viruses on every single one?

Monday, June 28, 2010


During mass this morning one of the girls turned around and gave me a huge smile, holding out her hand to show me the tooth she had just yanked out.
One of the girl’s grandmothers came to visit on Saturday and delivered some big news. As it turns out, the 5 year old who arrived a few months ago and everyone has been calling Laura is actually named Isaura. We still aren’t sure if her uncle who dropped her off had misread her name (they look very similar when written in cursive) or if he had been misheard by someone here. The bizarre thing is that Isaura is a very clever girl and speaks Portuguese quite well, so nobody understands why she never corrected anyone. When asked she just shrugged. And for anyone wondering where her birth records or all the official documents showing that the mission is now her legal guardian were, haha yeah right, welcome to Mozambique.
I was greeted this morning by huge smiles on the faces of two of the sisters who said excitedly, “we offer our condolences for USA’s loss in the World Cup” (they weren’t in the least bit sorry and I was even aware yet) “but at least Ghana won! And Ghana is an African team and you live in Africa now so you should be happy too!”
I finally got to meet Mary (my predecessor) today face-to-face, despite the fact that we have traded many emails and even talked on the phone a ton in the past 6 months (she was a HUGE help in the grant proposal writing process). It was fun to put a face to a name, to trade stories about all the same people we know, to catch her up on everything that has changed and developed since she was here, and to hear about what she is doing with her life after being in Mozambique.


June 25th is Independence Day in Mozambique, today marking 35 years of independence. Since this is still a relatively novel thing, it is obviously a point of greater pride and excitement than you might find in the average American. Because of this I was expecting a huge ceremony, much bigger than the ones on women’s day or labor day. But what I didn’t take into account was that it was a Friday and thus everyone went home to their respective villages. I showed up to the plaza on Friday morning and waited for a little while but nobody was there and nothing was happened, so I went to Ann’s house and then returned 30 minutes later. Still nothing so we went to the market and returned about 30 minutes later, even fewer people were there with no indication that anything was going to happen, so we just gave up and went home.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Today was a huge day of celebration. It was Irmã Albertina’s (my school director) birthday, and we were also celebrating the birthdays of two other sisters and two girls-in-training who also have or had birthdays recently or in the near future. This afternoon was a huge frenzy of preparations, making and frying the samosas (YUM! Ann and I ate so many we felt sick after), washing and cutting the vegetables, gutting the fish, etc. Some of the fish were over a meter long and the girls were having fun seeing the insides, especially the little fish that were still in the stomachs of some. I tried to explain how gills work but my Portuguese is not surprisingly limited when it comes to topics like that. One fish was so fresh that when the heart was taken out it was still beating. The girls started yelling, insisting that there must be a bug inside jumping. No matter how many times Gina (the woman who works in the kitchen at the mission) and I told them it was just a muscle and there was no little bug or animals inside making it move, Gina had to cut it in half eventually just to prove it. Margarita, the 3 year old, watched it all with a mixture of fascination and disgust. I have to hand it to these girls, I wouldn’t have been able to handle that until a few years ago.
I decided to dress up a little for the celebration dinner by putting on a pair of high heels. When Irmã Albertina saw me she commented on how cute they were and I said “well you should be the one wearing them, it’s your birthday!” Turns out we have EXACTLY the same size feet, so she donned my heels and I her loafers for the night. She was loving it and everyone else got a kick out of her strutting around and posing like a model.
After dinner Sandra, my REDES counterpart and best friend here at the mission told me some devastating news. She is being moved up to Nampula on Thursday (24/06). I was crushed. This will be a huge blow to our REDES group because she was such a great counterpart, able to get the girls motivated in ways that I couldn’t sometimes. I am also crushed because she was my closest friend here at the mission and I am frustrated because it always seems that the sisters or girls-in-training I am closest to are the ones who get moved!


After he literally snuck away from school and our lesson (when I told him to wait right there, and returned 5 minutes later to find him gone) on Friday it was the final straw for me. So this morning I pulled my student who can’t read or write aside and told him “our lessons are over. You are just wasting my time every single day that you skip our lessons and I am tired of it. You’re going to fail 8th grade but it’s not my problem anymore, it’s your problem. Maybe next year after you fail you will be more serious about wanting to learn.” He just smiled, I think he only reaction was embarrassment from being yelled at within earshot of other students. He hasn’t taken either of the two tests in math, so his math grade (a required subject to pass to the next grade) is a whopping zero, and I am sure that since he cannot write the entire alphabet without help, he can’t be doing too well in other subjects that actually require writing and reading. It’s frustrating because in the few lessons we had we were actually making progress, but I have 222 other students, some of whom actually want to learn, as well at the 50 girls at the orphanage, so I just don’t have time to waste on someone who won’t put the effort in.


Aside from the beautiful beaches I got placed in close proximity to, the orphanage where I live with all the girls I love, and the great school where I teach, all Mozambique PCVs got incredibly lucky because the people here are incredibly nice. And even though I can get frustrated by the people who plain stare at me or insist on ripping me off because I am white, the people here take good care of each other, myself included. Emma and I went up to Inhambane city today to do some shopping. When we got off the chapa we both had to pee, so we asked a woman working at a little drink shop where we could find a bathroom. The next thing we know she is leading us back behind the shop into what we realize is her house (not technically inside a building, but into the fence of her family’s compound that consists of many small huts—the common housing setup here). When we are finished using her personal bathroom Emma asks how much we should pay. The woman just smiles and said “nothing! When I come to your land and need to use the bathroom you will let me go in your house without having to pay right?”
Later I asked a boy selling things how much something cost and he told me 75 Meticais. I said “okay” and then turned to Emma and said “it’s only 75 mets, what do you think?” For some reason the boy wrote 75 on his hand and stuck it about 2 inches in front of my face. I turned to him and snapped “I understood you, you know that I clearly speak Portuguese. I just wanted to talk to my friend, is that okay with you?” But because I am white and some people think everything a white person does is funny, he just scoffed at me. But then the middle-aged man selling things next to him started yelling at him, “she clearly speaks Portuguese and understood you. how incredibly rude of you to stick your hand in her face like that, were you raised by dogs or something? Show some culture!”


At a faculty meeting today it was brought up how a lot of kids have been coming to class without having brushed their hair lately. In my homeroom sometimes the chief of hygiene will come up to me and say “so-and-so didn’t brush their hair” but I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do about it, so I would just say okay and thank her. So after this faculty meeting I finally asked a good female colleague friend what it meant and what I was supposed to do about it. She told me that when kids don’t brush their hair, they are supposed to be kicked out of class until they have brushed it. I asked how you know whether they have or not, and she said “you can tell! When it’s brushed it looks like this, but when it’s not brushed it looks like this.” I tried to explain that I haven’t grown up with hair like theirs, mine is extremely different, and I could not for the life of me detect the difference she was talking about. She called two boys over to demonstrate the difference between unbrushed and brushed hair but I still have no clue.
I did Sudoku with a few of my classes on Thursday just for fun and we did about half of a puzzle together during class and I told them that if they wanted, they could correctly complete the puzzle for a few extra points. I didn’t honestly expect any of the kids to try, doing extra school work would be pretty unheard of, and even if they tried to didn’t expect them to complete it correctly. But on Friday one boy came in and proudly showed me his perfectly completed Sudoku puzzle.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


This morning two students got suspended from school for a week. They called the two boys to stand up front during morning announcements, and then read a statement on why they were being suspended and for how long (one week), and then told them to go home.
Grading exams this week has been very interesting for me because it shows me once again how little I understand about how some of my kids think. We are doing word problems and their tests have problems like the following: a) the sum of the double of a number with 10 is equal to 16, what is the number and b) maria has 10 Meticais more than Telma, and Telma has 8 Meticais more than Sara. Together they have 41 Meticais. When I wrote the test I assumed that the first problem, “a,” was the easier one (2x+10=16) whereas “b” is much more complicated (x+x+8+x+8+10=41). But I am finding that my students are doing better on problem “b.” I think it may be that for them it is much easier to imagine someone having more money than another person than it is to imagine the sum of the double of some hypothetical number. Just another reminder that I have much to learn.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Yesterday I was leaving class when I saw one of my students from that class sitting outside, so I asked him what he was doing. He said that they had shut the mission gates this morning to keep out the late-comers. “But I really wasn’t that late!” he said “I arrived while you guys were still singing the national anthem, they had literally just shut the gate!” I smiled and told him it was a nice story, but we didn’t sing the national anthem this morning.
We are having a school-wide problem with kids arriving tardy to school, so our Pedagogical Director told us today that for about a week they would be shutting the gates at 6:45am. A lot of kids have also been leaving after they receive their bread at the 20 minute midmorning break or taking too long to return to class after, so they won’t be letting anyone leave during that break. It’s definitely a good thing and the kids need to start coming to school on time (kids will show up not just a couple minutes late, but over an hour late). The downside is that I had 13 out of 45 kids miss a test this morning, and I am guessing that at least some of them had intended on coming, but got locked out.
Submitted three grant proposals to the US Embassy in Maputo today. We have been working hard on them so it was nice to finally submit them, so now we just wait and hope that it was work our efforts.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

We took some of the girls back to Tsene Lagoa Sunday, which they thoroughly enjoyed once again. Here are the girls eating lunch on Yvette and John's deck.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Last night I mentioned having to get up early in the morning to teach to Natalia and she said “you have classes tomorrow? But isn’t that torch thing happening tomorrow?” I told her nobody had said anything to me but I wouldn’t be too surprised if I showed up to school tomorrow and found out we didn’t actually have school. During morning announcements my pedagogical director said that we would be ending classes early, but that we would continue to have them until it was time and the announcement was made. I asked my colleague if we really didn’t know when we were leaving and he said “I think we know, but we just can’t say because otherwise all the students would split. So you can just teach until it’s time to go and someone will tell you.” I was one of only a handful of teachers who gave lessons this morning which is just miserable and near impossible because the other 400 students whose teacher didn’t show up that period were outside making noise and distracting my students outside the classroom door. I made it through four of my five lessons before we were told it was time to go which is good because we have a test next week and the kids need all the preparation they can get.
I don’t know many specifics, but every five years Mozambique has a tradition in which a torch is lit up in the very north of the country, and over a series of months it travels down the country by car and by foot until it reaches the southern end of the country, during which time the torch is never extinguished. This tradition celebrates the unity of the Mozambican people. The torch was coming from inland from Panda on the road that runs by the school Emma teaches at, so at the said time all the students and teachers from my school walked the 50 minute walk from our school to the other secondary school in town, Emma’s school. Once we got there, we just had to wait for the torch to finally show up. Two hours. Then everyone gathered by the road, shoulder to shoulder so that the 4000 people could be stretched as long as possible and everyone was directly on the road. A few trucks came by with people leading cheers and music playing which made it seem like the torch would be following soon, but it eventually became apparent that it wasn’t. People eventually began to drift away from the road to go sit in the shade like I did and wait another 35 minutes until someone said the torch was actually here this time. Accompanied by all sorts of important looking people, when the torch arrived at the line of people (and therefore Inharrime) a man got out of the truck and carried it so that each person could briefly “hold” it as if it were being passed down the line of people, though this really meant that each person just got to reach out their hand and touch it, myself included. The torch made its way slowly to the district government building where people made speeches but after four hours I decided I had had enough and left. I was told that the torch continued to make its way around town until 4:30pm, when it left for the next location.


Today each of my classes (which should have 45 students) averaged about 25 students. I thought this was kind of strange, maybe I had gotten the dates wrong and the World Cup had actually started today instead of tomorrow. I later found out that my pedagogical director had shut the gate of the mission shortly after school began to keep kids from entering late and to try to entice them to arrive on time in the future. I once had a kid show up and 1 hour and 8 minutes late to my class (it was a double hour) and he seemed surprised when I wouldn’t let him in.
One of my REDES girls came up to me this afternoon, grinning from ear to ear. She said that she had gone to the library (where the computers are) to find a biology book. An 11th grade class was using the computers and one boy was complaining that all of his letters were capitalized and he didn’t know how to change it. Using what she had learned at our REDES meeting the previous night, she said “just push this button here.” He just stared at her for a second, like who is this pipsqueak 8th grader telling me what to do? But eventually he pushed the Caps Lock button and found it solved his problem, while she got to strut away, so proud of herself.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sandra, my co-leader, coincidentally wearing the REDES conference t-shirt. "Tudo é possível" means "everything is possible."

My REDES girls, hard at work.


Today we successfully had our first REDES with the girls on the computers. We are doing an exchange program with a similar girls group in Brazil where we will be putting together and exchanging presentations once per month on various topics. The first one is basically just an introduction, so we had each girl write up and bring to the meeting the following answers about herself: name, age, what you would like to be in the future, what you like to do in your free time, and what you would tell someone who had never been here about your life here at Laura Vicuña. Most of the girls came prepared so each girl worked on typing up in a Word document what she had written in her notebook. It’s incredible how much people who grew up with computers simply as a part of their lives take that inherent knowledge for granted. For many of the girls it was one of the first times ever using a computer, so they didn’t know how to turn it on, where on the mouse to click, how to make a space between words, how to erase something they had written, how to close a window, etc. And with about 15 of them and only two of us it was difficult to keep up with all of their questions and demands for help. I also forgot how long it takes to type even a sentence when you don’t have the fainted idea where anything is and have to search for each letter, thus nobody was near done and we are coming back tomorrow to do more.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Yesterday a student approached me and asked if she could meet with me to discuss some problems she was having with math. I was completely taken aback that a student was seeking out extra help, but also extremely pleased. And unlike the few times prior when students have asked me for help on their assigned homework, she pointed out some topics she didn’t understand and we worked through a bunch of practice problems together. I am still a little shell-shocked that this happened, but I just keep reminding myself that this is a wonderful thing. On the other hand, my student who can’t read or write with whom I am supposed to meet with every day after classes for 30 minutes continues to sneak away from school whenever possible, so we end up having a lesson about once a week.
In English when asked, for example, if you didn’t do your homework and in fact you did not, you respond, “no, I didn’t.” But in Portuguese (or at least Mozambican Portuguese) you respond, “yes, I didn’t.” This is confusing. In class today I had a completely awful exchange with my students that went something like this: “So you guys didn’t have homework yesterday?” “Yes.” “Oh so you did?” “No.” “Wait did you or not?” “We did not.” “So you didn’t have homework.” “Yes, we didn’t.”

Monday, June 7, 2010


On Saturday I received an envelope postmarked January 9th. Better late than never. And the fact an envelope could take so long gives me a little hope for the packages that are about as overdue.
Last week we did a lesson which required a ton of writing, so whenever I told the kids to copy from the board, they would all whine and moan about it. My last class of that day was my worst one, so when it came time for them to copy from the board I said preemptively, “now, without crying. Without crying, I want you to copy the board.” When one boy opened his mouth to complain, I feigned crying by making fists and rubbing my eyes and the whole class laughed and he just shut his mouth. Now, in that class, whenever I ask the kids to copy from the board, a few of them will say “without crying? Without crying everyone.”
Kids who are late to class or don’t do their homework have to sit on the floor. I walk around to see their homework, but I tell the kids, “don’t waste my time, anyone who doesn’t have their homework just sit on the floor, you don’t need me to tell you to.” Today in my “Life Group” class two of my students were sitting on the floor, one because I told him to, the other I have no idea why but I didn’t say anything because if he thinks he should be there he definitely should.
A few weeks ago one of my students whose aunt had met me when she came to receive the grades from first trimester for her niece, and was apparently somewhat enamored with me, told me her aunt was asking for my number. I made her swear up and down that she wouldn’t give my number to anyone else and then hesitantly gave it to her feeling that it would have been rude to refuse since she is a teacher somewhere too and thus we are spiritual colleagues (loosely her words). I hadn’t heard from her, so I was hoping maybe she had forgotten, but then she called this afternoon. Her phone kept cutting out and Mozambicans are always super quick to get off the phone (unless you have called them) so I couldn’t understand that well, but she is having problems with math (she is in school to get teacher certified) and I think her niece will be bringing some problems to school tomorrow for me to look at.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

This is our church. On the right in the white dresses are the first communion kids. I am sitting in the middle and to my left is Matt who lives about two hours inland from us.


This morning the 12 girls from the orphanage who got baptized on Easter Sunday received their first communion. Unlike Easter which a huge production, today’s celebration was fairly low-key, but still fun and beautiful. After mass Irmã Ana asked me to talk to a youth group she has for adolescents called “Friends of Maín,” a group in which adolescents talk about their lives and how they can model their own lives after the one of their patron saint. She didn’t give me much direction, just talk to them about the same life issues that I talk about with my REDES group. I tried asking the group of 11 kids what the group meant to them, why they thought it was important and meaningful in their lives, whether they thought that emulating the life of a teenager in the 1800s in Italy was achievable here and now in Mozambique, etc, but they weren’t really having it. So I told them a little about myself, my background, age (they don’t realize how special they are, I don’t tell anyone here my age), and a little about my life and asked if they wanted to ask me questions. Finally the floodgates opened, they wanted to know all about my parents, how many siblings I had, did I want to become a nun, what was my last name, why wasn’t I staying in Mozambique after my two years were up, was I married, did groups like their exists in the States, did I want to have children?
Similar to in Spanish, in Portuguese when you want to refer to a little version of something, you add “-ino” to the end of the word. For example, at school everyone jokingly refers to the first class of eight graders (since classes are arranged by age) as the “pequeninos” (pequeno is small in Portuguese). The word for pants in Portuguese is “calças” so one might logically assume that the “calcinhas” were shorts, but actually this means underwear, while the word for shorts is “calções.” So while everyone understood what she really meant, they still found it pretty amusing the other day when Ann walked into the tailor’s at the mission (where all clothes are ironed and folded after being washed, so about 5 people were working) and announced that she would like him to make underwear for her.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


Every time I am running late or forgot something in my room, so I have to run back and I run by some of the younger girls in the orphanage they yell “Mana Anata knows how to run!” And I hope that that is just a figure of speech, not that they are actually surprised by this.
In town I picked up a shirt and asked the vendor how much it cost. At the same time that he responded “100 Meticais” the woman next to me said “50 Meticais, but make sure you pay 40.” So nice to have someone on my side every once in a while.
I made a note to myself earlier today and just reread it and realized that I had spelled “difference” with only one “f” (in Portuguese there is only one “f”) and I cringed a little. This is not going to bode well when I am trying to apply for jobs from here.
Coming back from town today I flagged down a pick-up truck for a ride back to the mission, but when he pulled over to pick me up the truck sputtered and died. He couldn’t get it started again, so two men walking past helped push it down someone’s driveway (with enough of a slope to get it rolling) so he could start it again and I got in, but we only made it to right outside the gas station where it died again. One of the gas station attendants called out to the others “come over here, we have ‘peees work’ (in English)!” So I ended up walked back anyway, about 20 minutes later than if I had just walked in the first place. That’s what I get for being lazy.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Trying to get a better view of the festivities

The mass that followed the procession for the day of the Virgin Mary last week.


Last night I was so exhausted I got into bed and forgot to set my alarm clock. Luckily, my body has become so accustomed to waking up at 5am everyday that at 5:28am I was wide awake, wondering what was wrong.
Today my homeroom (the class I hate a little bit, coincidentally) kept speaking in Txitxopi which made me so frustrated because speaking the local languages in secondary schools in Mozambique is strictly prohibited and they know this, but they think they can get away with it with me. In hindsight I should have kicked the first person out immediately, but then too many people were speaking it and there is no way I could have gotten each of those people out. I am really at my wit’s end with this one class—I don’t think they respect me much and I hate every time I have to go in there. Today during weekly homeroom meeting we had to read a 4-page message from the government about children’s rights and I told them that I had all the time in the world, so we would only read when everyone was quiet and we would leave when we were finished reading. This would have worked with any of my other classes, but with this one we just ended up staying far past the bell to go home.
Today in all my classes I told people to open their notebooks so I could check to see if they had done their homework, which I do almost every day. Getting frustrated, I said “let’s not waste our time, those people who didn’t do their homework, save me the trouble and sit on the floor.” I had about half my students sitting on the floor in every class. Good for them for being honest, but really guys.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The procession, more than a mile long.

This is from the procession during the celebration of the day of the Virgin Mary. You can see her on the truck.