Thursday, July 29, 2010


This week is school break, which means that the teachers are working from 7:30am to 4:30pm every day, writing out by hand every single grade for every single student four separate times, first in pencil and then all four times again in blue pen. It’s slightly frustrating. We work in groups/teams of five people with separate jobs, one person dictating the grades, others writing them, one doing statistics, etc. At one point one of my colleagues, and English teacher, said the number “13” the way I say it, mocking me. I know I don’t say “13” and “3” correctly, my “t” isn’t quite right and I can’t roll my “r,” I try, but there isn’t much I can do about it. Well I let it slide about 7 times until the number 13 came up and he said “anata, can you read that one?” I smiled and him and nicely said “you know, I think it’s interesting that you act like it’s such a big deal that I have an accent. Yeah, I do. It’s not like you don’t have a ridiculous accent when you speak English.” But I didn’t say this in Mozambican English, slowly and with certain vowels drawn out and enunciated. I said it in American English, so nobody understood me. There was silence until we reached the end of that line of grades and one of my colleagues said “I didn’t understand, can you repeat that in Portuguese?” When I did, my colleague who had been mocking me was completely baffled and chagrined, as if what I had said had never occurred to him. He said “you can’t be afraid, you have to at least try.” “I have to try? I teach math, so I am obviously not afraid! I know I don’t say those numbers right and I try to correct it, but that’s about all I can do.” I think my colleagues are always a little taken aback when I am straightforward like this—perhaps even confrontational in their eyes—but I think they respect me for it too.
Waiting for a chapa in another down the other day, I was standing in front of a primary school with my back to it. Some kids leaving the school saw me and started yelling, “hey hey hey!” which I ignored. “Hey hey! Hey you! You give me money!” I turned around (they were about 8 years old) and scolded them, “is that the manner in which you speak to adults? Show some respect! Don’t yell hey at me, say good morning. Don’t ask me for money, ask me how I am doing.” Their demeanor immediately changed as soon as they realized I wasn’t some foreign tourist. They did say good morning and ask how I was, and one helpfully told me that it might better to catch the chapa if I moved up the road a little.

All of the science fair participants and my two colleagues

A picture of science fair. This was a homemade thermometer, made with an empty ink tube from a pen and a little bit of water in the bottom of the airtight jar. She is holding a lit candle under the jar to show how the water rises up the tube.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


They had stopped in the bakery at our mission when it began to pour so they decided to wait out the rain. Two hours later it was still pouring so they decided to wander around the grounds a little bit, seeing there are too schools here. In their wandering they got welcomed to come inside and that is how a French couple biking on a tandem bike from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa ended up having tea in our main house this afternoon. They spoke French and English, and only the rudimentary Spanish and Portuguese that come from speaking such a closely related language (French). Some of the Spanish volunteers (there are currently 4), a Mozambican who speaks English well, and I sat down with them and we got to know each other in a strange combination of English/Portuguese/Spanish where I even got to be translator a few times because of everyone there I was the strongest in both Portuguese and English. They had started in December and planned to complete the trip in 6 months but as they met friendly people, saw beautiful places where they ended up staying for a week or so, and had to wait on visas, the trip had stretched into 7 and then 9 months. They are even using the trip to raise money for Handicap International, through friends and family who have pledged to donate a Euro for every Kilometer they ride. They were wonderful people and stayed the night with us. Then in the morning headed south on the highway.


Today three colleagues came up to me and asked how the science fair was, which just annoyed me. If you really cared you could have taken a few hours out of your day, it’s only once a year, and come yourself. And it was great.
In the homeroom I am director of today I boy came up to me and told me that a classmate had “made a cycle” at her desk and was refusing to clean it. I told him that I wasn’t familiar with this phrase, could he explain what it meant? But he got really uncomfortable and avoided answering. In retrospect I probably should have been able to figure that one out on my own. After class I went to the faculty room and asked “what does it mean if a student made a cycle?” She had menstruated. Duh. One of my female colleagues offered to go back to the class with me and handle the situation, which was incredibly nice of her.


Science fair was today! I spent all of this week personally delivering letters of invitation to attend or be on the jury for the science fair. There have been many times in the past 10 months where I have wished for something in America like a chocolate milkshake, delivery food, or skim milk, but this week made me realize one thing I truly miss about America (obviously what I miss most is all of the wonderful people I left behind!). I miss just intuitively knowing how to act appropriately in any given situation. I spent this week meeting with all sorts of directors in the local government and other important people and in an extremely formal culture like Mozambique’s I just know I must have been incredibly offensive at times without knowing it. How do I know when to shake their hand, when do I sit down, what should I wear, how to I exit??? And of course my Portuguese doesn’t get any better when I am nervous, which only makes me more nervous and self-conscious.
This morning my colleague actually showed up early and the first thing he asked was whether I had more chalk. “Oh did I mess up?” I had written “welcome to the science fair Inharrime 2010” on the board in colorful chalk and hadn’t double-checked the Portuguese with anyone because I had been confident in myself, so I was frustrated I had made a mistake. “It looks great!” he said “But the current year is 2010…not 2001.”
I knew people were going to be late—this is Mozambique after all—and had planned that into the schedule, but I was still nervous when everyone was running late. I had asked the police chief, the two local doctors, the director of the primary school here, the directors of the two other schools in the district, the district director of education, a former engineer, and the district director of agriculture and development to be judges of the fair. I had also sent personal invites to the president of grading at our school, the equivalent of the mayor, and the president of the neighborhood we live in. My fear was that nobody would show up, that there would only be a couple judges and no audience. Most of the judges showed up before the participants even had which alleviated one fear only to replace it with another—what if all these important people had come and none of the students showed up? All except two of the judges showed up which was amazing and there were about 15 other spectators, including the people I had invited (except the mayor). The participant turnout, however, was dismal. The six expected students from my school showed up, but only one of the four students from Emma school showed up, and nobody from the professional school across the street showed up. We were all a little embarrassed that so many prestigious people from the community had showed up for so few presentations. My two colleagues who had helped organize, my director, and the pedagogical director of 11th and 12th grade showed up. Not a single other college showed up, not even the science faculty, not even my colleague who had two daughters participate and one of them won the fair. This disappointed me. The district director of education (who is a pretty big fish here) had told me he was too busy to come, so sent his immediate inferior to represent him, but he showed up at the end with another district director of a department I didn’t catch, and even personally thanked me for organizing everything.
The fair turned out wonderfully. The students who participated had good projects and presented them well. What the audience was most interested in was how the science of the projects could be applied and used in everyday life, thus the homemade candle made from seeds and the homemade charcoal (charcoal is very expensive) made from recycled waste materials were big hits. The judges gave great feedback to the students and they and general audience members seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves. I learned a lot today. I learned what I did right and wrong in the preparation for the fair, and also by letting my colleagues and director run things today learned a lot about what expected from an event like this in Mozambique. At the end my director said “there is one more person we need to acknowledge, Professora Anata, who organized all of this. You haven’t seen much of her today because she still doesn’t like to speak in Portuguese in front of a lot of people still, even though I tell her that her Portuguese is perfectly fine, but she did all the work for this fair and if it weren’t for all of her we wouldn’t have had one.” It was incredibly thoughtful and sweet of her to say this, and although I had that warm and fuzzy feeling inside because the fair had gone well, it is always gratifying to be acknowledged for the work you did.


Last night one of the sisters was going across the street where I needed to go too, so I asked her, “can I walk with you?” At this the two other sisters in the room just died laughing. My director corrected me “you should say ‘can I go with you’ not ‘can I walk with you.’ Andar means like this” and she marched to demonstrate for me. “I know what andar means, but isn’t that what we are doing?” They died laughing again. The joys of learning the nuances of a language.
Today in all five of my classes while we were resolving equations I asked a student (who had volunteered themselves) what -6+8 was and in all five classes I was told either -4 or 4. Usually I can at least follow my students’ thought processes and see where they went wrong, but with this I can’t and the fact that it happened in all five classes has left me completely bewildered.


This morning at morning announcements I asked a colleague to remind the students about science fair and invite those not participating to come support their classmates. One of my colleagues turned to me and said “Saturday isn’t really a good day because nobody wants to do things on the weekend. Couldn’t we change it to a different day?” I just stared (well, perhaps glared) at him for a second until another colleague quickly said “I think that all the work has already been done so it’s a little too late for that!”
I forgot to write this at the time, but in the days before 4th of July I was told some of my students that it was our independence day and that, just like all of their neighboring countries—South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania—we had been an English colony and it was because of this that we speak English. This just blew their minds. They think of America as this invincible superpower that produces all the good things in life: Michael Jackson, Beyonce, and Lil’ Wayne. The idea that we could have been a colony once, just like every country they are personally familiar with, and that we too fought for our independence just as they had was incredible to them.

Friday, July 23, 2010


The normal phone and internet have been out for over a week now. Everyone has slowly been switching to the other provider but of course nobody has each other's new numbers, making coordinating weekends away and the upcoming provincial science fair very difficult. In a supposedly unrelated incident the internet has been out for a week. We have been told that it's all of inhambane province but of course we have no way of knowing. And we have been warned that things could stay like this for a month. Sitting on the beach now, celebrating the last day of classes. Have many good stories i'll update once we have internet again.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ann had built a guest bed/couch out of cement and concrete blocks, but eventually realized that rats were living in it, so she needed to disassemble it. She asked me if I could help. "Ummm, YEAH." Destroying things are so fun. Lucky the cement here is just terrible quality, so it took me less than an hour to completely destroy the cement with only a small hammer. Right, and I didn't have safety goggles so I wore my sunglasses.


This morning at morning announcements a man from Argentina talked to the students a little about Laura Vicuña (who our school is named after), who wasn’t born in Argentina, but lived and died there. He left after speaking and I went to class. After classes I had gone to the professional school across the street to talk about science fair when I ran into him again and he said “are you thai?!” Yes, my mom is actually. “Where is your family from?” When I said Bangkok he got so excited and said “I love Bangkok, that is my favorite city, I wish I could go there now! Well bye!” And he hurried off and I was thoroughly confused.
When I was in town today I saw a cute little boy about 2-3 years old wandering on a path by the road so I smiled and waved at him. The thought flickered through my mind that it was strange that he was wandering alone, but he was still in yard/house territory so I kept walking. I stopped at the ATM to withdraw money and when I finished I saw that he was now toddling down the main road, almost to the bank. It didn’t feel right to me—kids here have a lot of freedom, but it isn’t normal for a kid this young to be wandering completely unattended. I asked him where he was going and where his house was but either he doesn’t speak much, didn’t want to speak to me, or doesn’t speak Portuguese. I took his hand and we walked back to where I had first seen him and I tried to get him to point to where he lives, but with no success. A woman I know was sitting outside her house so I asked if she knew him, but she didn’t. She tried asking him where he lived (but only in Portuguese, I have no idea why she didn’t use Xopi. That was kind of weird) but he didn’t respond to her either. She asked the people who walked by if they knew him until a girl about 11 years old walked up carrying firewood who was his sister. Apparently he had tried to follow her when she left and nobody had realized, so we sent him home with her.
In my Portuguese lesson tonight I saw the Argentinean man again who greeted me “ah my Thai friend, from the land of smiles!” I asked him how he knew I was Thai and he said “oh you have a Thai face. I know Thai faces!” He later admitted that he had seen me this morning and asked my director what my heritage was.


In the double hours this week we have been doing exercises in groups. I tell the kids, “this exercise is like a test, except you are working together and can use your notebooks, so there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t all get 20s (out of 20) on it!” They all laugh at this, as if it’s an absurd thought. So then when they begin working I specifically call them out “why isn’t your notebook open? I wasn’t kidding, open your notebook and find the example we did that is exactly like this problem!” And I could shake them because literally every problem from the exercise was exactly like an example we had done in class. So then they will open their notebooks only because I am watching. In one class I got so frustrated I said to them “you guys always want to cheat during the tests! Now you are ALLOWED to cheat, so do it!” They all laughed at this but it actually spurred a couple of them to flip through their notes. Open-note tests they can’t relate to—cheating they can.
When the school year started, I was going through the projects Mary had started while she was here, including science fair. One of my colleagues who I asked about science fair said “oh yeah, I can do science fair. I did it with Mary and I know how everything goes, so don’t worry, I have it under control.” So I didn’t worry. Then it became clear that if I didn’t do everything there would be no science fair. Unfortunately I realized this a little late. So the past week has been an awful scramble to get everything ready for our district science fair, which will this Saturday the 17th. I was talking to my director about some of the people I need to talk to and she said I should ask my colleague, since he had done this before. I said “yeah, I did a little” vaguely, not wanting to throw my colleague under the bus. But she right away said, “yeah he tends to like to be out in front of things, but getting him to actually do the work to get there can be difficult.” It was nice to know at least that someone else was aware of the situation. The past two days have been a nice little introduction into the nightmare that can be Mozambican bureaucracy and trying to get things done here. (And Mary has been a HUGE help.)Everything MUST be signed and stamped, otherwise they aren’t official. So general invitations to VIP members of the community, invitations asking certain people to be on the jury to evaluate the kids’ projects, and posters to hang around town have to be all sorts of formal, signed, and stamped. Then came of the task of delivering all of these letters, because if I didn’t personally stop in and meet with these people, the letters might never actually get read. The first person I stopped by was the chief of police. I was expecting a ~50 year old guy with a potbelly. I was completely shocked when I found out that our police chief is a fairly young, super friendly and hip woman! I’m still reeling from that one. Spent all afternoon walking from one end of town to the other trying to catch people which they were actually in their office. So far I have 6 confirmed judges which is wonderful, but Mary said she had 9 confirmed judges the night before her fair and only 3 showed up.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Steph showed up late in the day Saturday to help.

Ann loves a good hoe




This weekend Ann and I created our permagarden (permanent garden)! You may remember two days of permagarden training during my pre-service training that left me incredibly excited and motivated—now we finally put all those ideas into action! We started bright and early Saturday morning and had to start completely from scratch, first clearing the area and then leveling the ground. We then put a fence around the area to keep out the chickens and Ann’s dog. We greatly underestimated how much fencing we would need, so we had to finish enclosing the area with woven palm leaves, but it worked out. Finally we began the digging! We dug a swell (trench) and berm (little levy) to control heavy rains and keep them from washing out our garden. We then double-dug (permagardening! It allows for maximal root growth) three planting beds. We eventually got all three beds planted and watered Sunday afternoon, so now we just cross our fingers and wait for things to grow! And we are really sore.

Friday, July 9, 2010


Walking around looking at students’ tests as they’re taking them, sometimes I just want to shake them, “you so blatantly didn't study that you don’t even realize you are supposed to write a number for that answer and you just wrote a word!”
One of my colleagues took a cheat sheet away from a student who tried to claim it was just their scratch paper they had been using during the test. “That’s funny” she said “because this sheet cheat was written in black ink, but you're taking the test in blue ink, how did you manage that?”

Thursday, July 8, 2010


I was really nervous about how my note to my colleague would be received—I wasn’t sure whether he would welcome the criticism or be offended, especially since I am not an English teacher. This morning (I can’t believe he have been grading, or at least going through, the exams already! Some of my colleagues still have yet to return the first test of the trimester) he came up to me and told me he had gotten my note. He explained that the test was in such poor shape because it had been intended to be revised before distribution, but due to time this never happened. He said he really appreciated my offer to help and wanted to run things by me often, and I got the impression that he may have wanted to this in the past but didn’t want to bother me. He is also going to university for a bachelor’s degree right now and asked if I could help with problems he was having. He then gave me a hard time for not being an English teacher and asked why not. So I am very relieved and happy with his response and looking forward to future exchanges.
One of the girls in 10th grade is easily 6-7 months pregnant, I wonder how she has managed to go unnoticed this long (pregnant girls have to transfer to night classes which my school doesn’t offer, so it means they have to transfer to Emma’s school).
During exams in any given class of 45 students there will be only about 37 rulers/erasers/calculators/etc, thus the students are always passing things back and forth and reaching over and grabbing things off each other’s desks.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Today I caught a kid with a cheat under his desk so I took it away from him. Then 5 minutes later the kid sitting next to him tried to cheat in exactly the same fashion. Seriously? I just walked over to him and didn’t even have to say anything, he opened his desk and handed the cheat sheet over. Then about 30 minutes later the SAME kid tried to cheat the exam same way. I just walked over and said “Really? Again?” “No?” he said, hesitating, and then after a moment began to open his desk again. I said, “Listen just shut your desk and take the test. Please.” I can’t tell if he wasn’t very bright, or if he thinks I’m an idiot.
One boy signed something to his friend during a test and his friend responded by shaking his head. But as he was shaking his head he realized I was watching, so he tried to play it off as if he hadn’t been responding but simply moving. This resulted in him basically imitating a bobble-head for about 30 seconds. I almost laughed out loud.
Today the kids were taking English exams and reading the tests always annoys me a little because they have mistakes. The mistakes don’t harm the integrity of the exam and I am technically not on the English faculty, but it still annoys me—hello you have a native English speaker at your disposal, use it! But one of the exams today was a complete mess which really upset me. There were 7 glaring errors that actually inhibited a good English speaker from successfully taking the test, but on top of that I went through and proofread an extra copy and found 24 grammatical and spelling errors. I felt like I couldn’t let something like this slide, so on the top of the test I had corrected, I wrote this note “in the future please feel free to ask me for help in writing or proofreading exams or anything else. Professora Anata” and slipped the test in the middle of the others I turned in. I hope and think it wasn’t out of line because I didn’t call my colleague out publicly, but also showed that the number of mistakes made was frankly unacceptable and I was offering to help in the future.


This week is final exam week for the second semester. The students don’t have any classes this week, but they take two exams each day (8th and 10th grade in the mornings, 9th and 11th in the afternoons). The teachers are randomly assigned to different classes to proctor the exams and with four exams to proctor each day I think many times that I may die a slow death by boredom. I don’t like being randomly assigned to different classes because the kids aren’t my students, aren’t adequately afraid of me, and I often hear “mulungu” (foreigner) as I’m walking to their classroom. This just annoys me because it is incredibly disrespectful, but also sure I understood at first, but I have been teaching here for 7 months now, hasn’t it gotten old yet?
Before the first exams one of my students who is apparently epileptic had a seizure. I have never seen someone like that and it was bone-chilling when they carried him past me covered in sweat, drooling and eyes glazed over.
At lunch my director asked me how the exams were going, “are the kids cheating?” Really, that’s like asking if the kids are breathing. From what I have seen there haven’t been too many cheat sheets or strategically open notebooks, but the kids basically take the exams together, always looking at each other’s papers and trading answers. There are probably only a couple students in each class who don’t share their answers or look at another person’s during an exam. My director said to me “I think the kids must get excited when they have you proctoring their exam because they think since your eyes are little” (Yes. Because I am Asian) “you can’t see as well and they can get away with more.”

Monday, July 5, 2010

Friends of Inharrime

I wanted to introduce “Friends of Inharrime,” a non-profit organization started by Mary that supports the mission and orphanage where I live and work here in Inharrime, Mozambique. Friends of Inharrime grew out of friends and family in the US wanted to help out in Mozambique, namely in the places where Mary and Matt (her boyfriend who was a PCV in Sofala province, Mozambique) were volunteering.
The sisters of the mission run a nutritional-support program that supports 600 kids in the local community by providing them with regular access to nutrition, as well as educating their care-givers about proper nutrition and sanitation practices. The mission is self-supporting through their on-site bakery and large farm and it is from these funds that the sisters support these children in the community, but sadly the number of children in need far outnumbers the money available. Friends of Inharrime allows people in US to support extra food, medical and education costs for a child in the Inharrime area for $120 per year. People can also make donations to support the formula-milk project for orphans who are unable to nurse, the school lunch program that provides students with a piece of bread each day, and any other projects that may arise, as Mary is in constant and close contact with the sisters and is very aware of the mission and Inharrime community’s real needs.
Mary and associates were able to partner with a local bank in Iowa to receive reduced-cost money transfers for the donations to get to Inharrime, and no money is taken out for overhead costs, so 100% of the money that people donate does directly to the people in the Inharrime community who need it most. I would ask anyone who is interested to please visit the Friends of Inharrime website listed below and permanently in my “about me” box to the right. Thank you!


This weekend a ton of us PCVs (24 actually) gathered in the tiny village of Cambine to celebrate America’s Independence Day. I got a ride up with a minister from Maputo who was incredibly friendly and told me about how he was orphaned at only 5 months and initially only completed 10th grade, but he eventually was able to return to school and graduate and now he has two children in university (a huge feat here in Mozambique) and one child studying at a professional school. He was driving up to visit some churches in the north of the province so he dropped me off right at the road to Cambine. Cambine is about 15 miles inland from the national highway on a dirt road, so getting in can be difficult (you never know when the next car will pass) but the ride is gorgeous. I think that Cambine is what people (I) pictured when I was told I would be doing the Peace Corps in Africa. When we arrived in Cambine I was literally awestruck. Not only is it tucked away in gently rolling green hills, but it was apparently settled by the Methodist church which built the town out of sandstone colored stone. It almost felt like we were in rural 19th century England. The church was in pristine condition and though some of the other buildings were a bit run-down, the village was breath-taking. In the middle is the remains of the foundation of a building—the building where Eduardo Mondlane (president of the FRELIMO party which started and eventually run Mozambique’s fight for independence) lived while he was studying in Cambine. We wandered down to the market to check it out and realized that it was an exaggeration when we were warned that there was nothing. A few tomatoes, onions, and oranges were the only fresh produce in the market; the other options were cracker packets, pasta, chicken stock, and some assorted canned goods. The women in the market were incredibly friendly, wanting to know who we were visiting, where we were from, and if they could celebrate with us too.
Over the course of Friday and Saturday volunteers arrived in Cambine from everywhere from Gaza province to Manica province. We made (keep in mind every single thing was homemade, from scratch…we don’t have any other options here) tortilla chips, two different salsas, hamburgers and hotdogs (those were a splurge, but you can’t have 4th of July without them!), fresh-squeezed lemonade, onion rings, chili, assorted salads, some rice drink, apple pie, banana bread, brownies, and fried mandioca. And of course we were all wide awake by 6:30am each morning, making homemade biscuits, fried eggs, and french toast. As always it was wonderful to see everyone, to catch up new stories, and to eat great food.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The view from the back of the truck on the way to Yvette and John's


Tonight we had an absolutely wonderful REDES (girls in development, education, and health)! We meet twice a week and alternate between using the computers and having discussions. Needless to say, the girls are far more interested in and engaged during the computer sessions, as opposed to discussing life issues. Tonight we were supposed to use the computers but they weren’t working. I am not 100% but I believe there was a power surge last week that completely fried some if not all of the computers. So we are waiting on something to fix them and hopefully protect that from happening again. So we had a discussion about marriage that started out painfully. Thankfully two of the girls were incredibly animated and talkative, relaxing the environment, making others laugh, encouraging a few other girls to chime in, and leading to a wonderful discussion and meeting that we had to cut short due to time.
In America half the reason for getting married or divorced is for financial reasons. But in a world without prenuptials or being on your spouse’s healthcare plan, it’s no wonder why many people don’t bother making their marriage of end of marriage official (in the eyes of the law). Many Mozambicans have traditional marriage ceremonies without officially registering as married, and many have what we call common-law marriages. Also in a culture where multi concurrent partners is fairly normal and accepted, why bother getting divorced? Once a man (adult) who works at the mission sought me out because he had heard my parents are divorced. His parents had split up and he wanted me to explain to him why they would do that.