Friday, December 23, 2011

23/12/11

Peace Corps Mozambique suffered a terrible tragedy this week:

http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=resources.media.press.view&news_id=1934

Thursday, December 15, 2011

15/12/11

The other day I was in a public restroom when the toilet just suddenly flushed while I was still on it. Automatic toilets. I forgot about those. My reaction was probably something out of a movie, momentary pure surprise and terror.
My friends keep making fun of the comments I make. I’ll say things like “it’s so weird how people write the month first, then the day second in a date” and my friends make fun of me because I say these things as if I never took part in them. My friend was going to the grocery store and asked if I wanted to come. I forgot that I hadn’t been to a real grocery store yet. By the end she told me she would just wait in line until I was done wandering around in wonder. I forgot that grocery stores here sell really cheap sushi—it’s amazing! And the variety in America is absurd, why in the world do there need to be 12 different variations of baked beans? They are all pretty tasty though. And what’s craziest to me I how cheaply you can buy any kind of food—spaghetti and meatballs, casserole, potato salad, sandwiches—already made and ready to eat. I was raving about how amazing it is that you can buy a slice of pizza that’s ready to eat for so cheap. “Think about it! Think about how much work went into that one slice of pizza! Someone has to take care of the cow and then make the cheese, someone had to make the dough, someone had to pick and cut the vegetables! And in the end you pay less than $2 for the slice!” My friend responded, “yeah. That’s why whenever you yell ‘America!’ everyone responds ‘**** yeah!’”
At a rest stop in New York I got to spin around in the first snow I had seen in almost three years, since maybe February 2009. And I made and threw a long-awaited snowball.
Speaking of accents, the Boston accent is really hard to understand when you haven’t heard it in two years.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

27/11/11

Yesterday we went shopping and a couple times I felt like I was in the scene from “Love Actually” where Mr. Bean is extravagantly gift-wrapping the necklace. I bought a pair of earrings that were already on a holder. The saleswoman put them on cotton in a box and then wanted to put the box inside a bag. I told her I didn’t need the bag. She seemed perplexed, but I just wanted her to stop making so much trash! I mean, I could have just thrown them in my purse!
This evening I went to our local honky-tonk country bar to see the country legend Billy Joe Shaver play live. He put on a great show and for me it was a crazy dose of culture shock! The funny thing was, I had a terrible time understanding his very twangy country accent when he was speaking. I haven’t heard English spoken like that in over two years.

26/11/11

America has been less shocking than I expected, there have just been small and strange things that I guess I had forgotten about. When I was on the Emory campus earlier this week I think I stopped to drink out of every single water fountain I walked by. Just the idea that there is this fresh, cold, FREE, potable water everywhere—it’s incredible and frankly too good to pass up. I had completely forgotten about twist-off beer bottles—in Mozambique they don’t exist. I keep wondering why all the drivers are sitting on the wrong side of their car and feel a constant general confusion about which side is the correct side to be driving on. I can’t believe how smoothly cars accelerate here! And I’m disarmed every time waiters are friendly and helpful, in Mozambique a vendor or server will often make you feel like you are a huge inconvenience.
I find it difficult to remember that I have been gone for two years. Perhaps because I went to boarding school and then away to college, since I was 14 I have constantly been leaving for short periods and then returning home. So now I have trouble convincing myself that it wasn’t just another one of those times. I keep saying things like “oh you got a new car!” or “wow that building is new!” To which people respond, “actually it’s about two years old…” The little kids have grown up into real people and many people are engaged or have more kids than when I left.

17/11/11

This past week a group of ten of us have been in Maputo for COS (Close of Service). Two of us are coming back for another year, but they rest of them are now RPCVs—Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. It’s been wonderful to get to spend time with these people before they all leave, I just wish it could be our whole group together. We have spent a lot of time this week reminiscing about our first days, weeks and months in Mozambique, recounting the funny stories, and speculating how so much could have happened in two years that flew by so quickly.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

14/11/11

Yesterday I went to church at the sister’s place that is the equivalent of where I lived for the past two years in Inharrime. The Salesian sisters in Namaacha have an orphanage, secondary school, and primary school and have been there for maybe 50 years. They are one of the main houses of the Salesian sisters in Mozambique and I think all novice sisters in the country spend a year or two there. The mission in Inharrime began construction only eight years ago, so most of the sisters I lived with the past two years have spent at least a little time in Namaacha, and some of the older ones 20 or 30 years. I was talking to a friend after church, this woman is white Portuguese and grew up in Namaacha and attended the sisters’ school. She spent Christmas and Easter with us in Inharrime and has been there one other time to visit, which is how I know her. I had stopped by to introduce myself to the sisters a few days earlier and while I was waiting, all of the girls from the orphanage huddled around to talk to me and touch my hair and skin. As soon as she heard there was an American from Inharrime she came running up to where I was sitting, “Anata, I knew it had to be you!” After church I was talking to her about finding someone trustworthy to check on our house and feed Amendoim the three weeks when Anna and I are in the states. A young woman walked over with a big smile on her face and because she was wearing a nun’s habit it took me a second to place her—she was one of the girls in training who had lived with the sisters in Inharrime the first six months I was there. I had loved her and was disappointed when she left, but yesterday I learned that she had since become a sister and I’ll be seeing a lot of her this coming year!
The neighborhood kids tease Amendoim mercilessly, standing outside the gate and barking at him. And he’s just two young to just ignore them, so he whimpers and cries and frantically wishes they would play with him. We have yelled at them multiple times, but it only makes things worse. A few days ago I got a ride with Peace Corps to my house and when I saw them outside I made an exasperated comment to Ludovina, a Mozambican training leader with Peace Corps. “I’ll talk to them” she said. She got out and yelled at them. When they started to run away (she is a fairly formidable woman) she told them to get their butts back over there, and then she gave them a thorough tongue-lashing in Xangana. It worked for a while, but the next day the little heathens were back at our gate.

10/11/11

Yesterday I turned in the keys to my house and drove away from Inharrime. I was able to get a ride for all of my stuff all the way to my house in Namaacha and to Maputo for me and Amendoim, Ann’s former dog and our new dog. I was worried about getting Amendoim (means “peanut” in Portuguese) to Namaacha because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get him into a chapa. Luckily I am very persuasive. I showed up with the dog and confidently walked over to the chapa. I was told that dogs couldn’t ride on chapas, but I calmly and repeatedly assured them that it was okay. Once I had convinced them that the dog would be riding on the chapa, they told me to buy a row (four seats) and sit there with the dog. I soothingly and repeatedly told them that I would buy the two front seats and the dog would sit on the floor between my legs. They were adamant that the front seat is for humans only, but I eventually soothed them into agreeing with me and Amendoim and I got our front seat on the chapa to Namaacha.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


english theater competition last weekend

my english theater group

one last picture of Ann and me with the girls

dinner Friday night

integration

Marcinha, the littlest one (a.k.a. the devil)

our oil/pot/stove fire on Saturday

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

08/11/11

Tomorrow I leave what has been my home for the past two years. It sucks. The next phase, including going back to the states for the first time, will be great, but I am sad to see this part of my life ending.
My colleague said today, “you’re leaving tomorrow? But you haven’t given me your hair yet! What are you going to do with our hair?” I laughed, “oh, it’s YOUR hair?”
One of the girls appeared to get fairly mad at me today because I was leaving. I explained that I had been here for two years already. “You should have to stay for ten years!” decided another girl. The angry girl didn’t agree, “No! Thirty years!” The other girl volunteered “if not ten, at least five years.” Angry girl wasn’t having it “NO! Thirty!”

06/11/11

Moz 17 is now in week six of training and on their site visits this week. Erin is hosting two girls who came yesterday. The same as when I went on site visit two years ago—it’s just such a mental health check, such a relief to see volunteers living normal and fun lives and eating good foods and doing normal things. Training has its merits, but it is very orchestrated and very stressful to live as a guest in someone’s house where the culture and customs are different, therefore almost everything you do, you do wrong.
Today we went up to Maxixe to meet up for lunch with 8 other volunteers and their visiting trainees. Since Becky who hosted me on my site visit two years ago extended, she is still here and met up with us today. And we ate lunch at the same restaurant that we went to two years ago when I was just a trainee!

05/11/11

Last night we all went to dinner in town: Erin, Ann and me, Donna and Luis who were in town visiting, one of our friends from Inharrime, Sandra, who we buy our vegetables from, and Gil, a Portuguese guy living and working in Inharrime. Donna speaks very impressive Xitswa (the local language where she lives) so she and Sandra were speaking to each other in local language—a mixture because Sandra lives here and thus speaks Txopi, but she is originally from an area where they speak Bitonga, and both are fairly close to Xitswa. My Txopi is not conversational like Donna’s is, so I would just pick out the occasional words and phrases I knew. When we hang out with Gil we normally speak in English because his Portuguese accent is so strong it’s easier to understand his English than it is for us to understand his Portuguese. Plus, he makes fun of our “bush Portuguese.” But tonight Sandra would yell at us to speak in Portuguese so she could understand. Idurre and Oscar, two Spanish volunteers from the mission, came to the restaurant to eat so they joined our table. Donna and Luis, both Latino, love the opportunity to speak Spanish, so they kept switching into Spanish with them, though their Spanish differs greatly from Spain Spanish. And thus we had a great mixture of languages. Sandra was quizzing Ann’s Txopi and asked where she works. Ann didn’t know the word for hospital, so Sandra said it. I shook my head, “that’s not hospital in Txopi, you must be speaking Bitonga.” “That was ballsy!” Oscar said to me.
While Ann and I were waiting for the others to arrive we were sitting out in front of the restaurant on the main street. A kid selling corn on the cob saw us and started yelling at us unnecessarily loudly to buy some. I teasingly yelled back equally unnecessarily loudly and we kept this banter up for a while. “Hey hey come grab some corn” he kept yelling. Then a teenage boy selling phone credit yelled “hey mulungu, com grab this” and grabbed his balls. I jumped up “are you **** kidding me?! Do you not have any respect?!” The lady standing next to him selling things whacked him and then yelled to me “no, he doesn’t have any respect.” A whole chorus of women selling things then began to reprimand him loudly and he, apparently embarrassed or sorry, vanished within seconds. I was happy to see people defend me .
Last night Gil was using his phone as a flashlight and dropped it into Ann’s latrine. He was upset because the sim card in that phone was the one from Portugal. I called my colleague who knows everyone and the next day he came over with two guys who said they could get it would for 200 mets (about $7). They tied a hoe to a long palm tree branch and got it out—the whole process took about 4 minutes! They actually got the phone to turn on again, but we just put it quickly in a plastic bag to give back to Gil.
Tonight we were making onion rings (thus deep-frying in oil) on charcoal outside. The fire had gotten a little too hot so Erin left it to cool down for a few minutes. Then we looked outside and there was a huge fire blazing---the coals, the stove itself, the pot, the oil. Two years ago Ann and I set my wall on fire and our reaction was panic and for Ann to frantically ask where the fire extinguisher was (the only ones I have ever seen in this country are at South African houses/lodges). Tonight Ann’s reaction was to laugh out loud and shout “quick, who has a camera? Someone get a camera!”
On my way home one of my primary school REDES girls yelled out to me and waved as I passed. She was sober and didn’t seem to be up to anything too bad, but it made me feel sick to see this 5th grader (she is 14 years old) out on the street at 10:30pm on a Saturday night 3 miles from her home (she lives near the mission).

Friday, November 4, 2011

Things that didn't exist when I left America

I started this list last week (see right). This past weekend at the English theater competition we brainstormed and came up with an impressive list. To almost every item people would exclaim “What?!” or “what/who is that even?” Without fail Jasmin was a fount of knowledge and would fill us in—having left the states a mere six months ago, she was the one-eyed man in the land of the blind.

04/11/11

The past few days at work I have been helping with the 10th and 12th grade student files. 10th and 12th grade are exam years, so they will be taking national exams next week, thus each student needs to have a form filled out with their information. I was put on this job because my other colleagues are finishing grades, whereas I don’t have any, but I also suspect I was put on this job because everyone gets a chuckle out of hearing me say all these African last names. My Txopi lessons definitely paid off though, just helping me to be familiar with the types of sounds. My colleagues by now are pretty used to me thinking the most ordinary things (to them) are strange and taking the weirdest things for granted. And all my strange questions. The forms we fill out list their parents’ names and we copy all of the information from their birth certificates. I learned that maybe only two-thirds of kids have the same last name as their parent (father, unless he is dead or gone then mother). There are obviously a lot of kids where one parents is dead, so that part is just left blank. And some kids where the father is written as “unknown.” We had one file where the mother was written as “unknown.” “They fill these out at birth right? How can the mother be unknown?” I asked. My colleague opened his mouth to answer me and then thought about it for a second “yeah, you’re right. That is strange.”
As one of the most computer-savvy people I have also been working on digitizing the students’ grades. It’s a step in the right direction, but as of right now I am not sure why we do it because we don’t substitute the digital version for anything, we just end up making a fifth copy of the grades. Last night I was still working at 5:30pm when my director gave me a soda and an egg sandwich. “Uh oh, this cannot be a good sign” I thought to myself.

03/11/11

This morning I ran into Irmã Dolorinda, the head sister of the mission. “What are you doing now?” she asked. “Right now? I am going here.” I responded. “No not right right now. Are you leaving here?” “Yes, I’m leaving next week for Namaacha and then America.” I responded. “No, like today, will you be here? Can you do me a favor?” she asked, slightly exasperated. Sometimes I really miss operating in a language I feel completely comfortable in.
My colleagues continue to say things that require me to respond, “but you know I am leaving next week, remember?” Then they are shocked and say “already?!” “Yes, my contract was only for two years.” And they respond “but you haven’t been here two years already. Have you been here for two years? Already?”
One of my colleagues basically begs me daily to cut my hair and give it to her. Women here love to weave hair into their own. This doesn’t seem weird to me at all anymore, unlike when I first arrived two years ago. I am surprised because usually the red and blonde hair is coveted, mine is kind of boring because it’s already the same color as hers. But she still really wants it. And the other day an argument sparked between her and another colleague over who I was going to give my hair to.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

29/10/11--English Theater

Today was the Inhambane province English theater competition. We, my group and Erin’s, were supposed to leave at 4:30am but when the chapa still hadn’t arrived at 4:45am I called him. Obviously just awoken he asked “am I supposed to come now?” “You were supposed to come ten minutes ago!” I yelled. But amazingly he was there within 5 minutes. A few of our students showed up a little late (this is Mozambique, after all), but by the time the driver arrived everyone was there and we set off for Massinga, where the competition would be.
Most of the buses and cars in this country originally came from Japan and they have vestiges of their history like stickers or stickers, in Japanese, explaining how to open the door or the maximum capacity. The chapa driver turned on the tape in the player and suddenly I perked up—it was Hikaru Utada’s hit album “Automatic” album from 1999! In other words, it was the hit album by a Japanese pop star the year I lived in Japan with my family when I was 12 years old, an album that I still have and listen to. This tape clearly came with the bus and had been in the player, maybe stuck in there, for 13 years. I rocked out the whole ride; I don’t think anyone else enjoyed the music quite as much as I did.
There were 15 different English theater groups from around Inhambane province at the competition. Each group had between 5-10 students and it was such a pleasure to see so many students excited about speaking English. Throughout the day the students spoke predominantly English, excited to be around other speakers and proud to show off their proficiency. One group was actually a REDES group that decided that they wanted to form their own all-girls English skit.
Anytime a bunch of teenage boys (sadly most groups were about 70% boys) are writing a skit you would expect it to be pretty goofy. This is no surprise and it’s not a bad thing either. But one thing that bothered me today was how light and goofy the plays were at times when they were discussing and portraying very profound and serious topics, such as rape. And perhaps what bothered me even more was the audience’s ability to forget that they were watching the portrayal of a rape and laugh at the actors’ antics during the scene.
My group didn’t win any prizes, but I was incredibly proud of them. The performance they gave today was one of the best ones they have ever given. My colleague and counterpart had come with us, but he had an event with his wife’s family mid-morning, so we had requested the first time slot and planned for him to leave after our group performed. But unfortunately, in true Mozambican fashion, many of the groups were late and we started about 1.5 hours behind schedule, so he wasn’t able to see our group perform.
On our drive home a young man about my age was standing right on the yellow line on the left side of the road. He looked to his left, didn’t see anything, and took the first step of a sprint into the road, right where our chapa would be in a second. At the last moment (and after he had already started to move) he looked right, saw our chapa, and stopped. Our chapa missed him by feet and the mirror on the side of the bus missed him by inches. Everyone in the first two rows (all PCVs) screamed and the driver looked like his heart stopped—mine certainly had.

28/10/11

Yesterday during our REDES meeting some of the girls asked me if Rihanna was married. I said no so they asked if she had a boyfriend. I said I didn’t know but she used to date Chris Brown (also a very popular artist here) but she broke up with him when he hit her. “Well what happened?” they wanted to know, “did she provoke him, who started it?” I was floored. “It is NOT a question of who provoked who or who started it. There is NEVER a reason for a guy to hit a girl!” They thought about this for a second and then agreed with me. But I see this often here with people I know fairly well, who are sgood guys who would never hit a woman—unless she did something to provoke/deserve it.
Today we had our last REDES meeting and we watched “Alice in Wonderland” in Portuguese and the girls got some snacks with some of the money they have made from their earrings. After the movie a few of the girls presented me with a small necklace and earrings they had gotten me and told me that they would miss me and our group meetings. How do I even tell them that REDES was the reason I got up some mornings, and it was the best part of my experience here?
One of my English theater kids and students stopped by my porch yesterday to return an English book I had lent him. In English he said, “teacher thank you. You have given me many things and improved my life, I will not forget you.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Ann's three REDES girls who we took to the beach with us last week

The two littlest ones in the orphanage. The one on the left, I affectionately call "little devil" because, well, she is. And the one on the right, though you can't see in this picture, has a small bald spot because she found some used gum, chewed it for a while, and then got it stuck in her hair.

the Inharrime Girls at Casa de Mar

26/10/11

I was supposed to take the biggest german shepherd from the mission to my house in Namaacha next year. But when I went to speak to Irmã Lucilia about it this morning, she said we would have to change the plans because she thinks someone has been poisoning the dogs and she is worried about the safety of the mission. I had noticed that the dog I was supposed to take had appeared sick the past few days. The dogs are the only thing that really protect all the people on the mission (which at night is only young girls and a handful of women), in addition to all the electronics in the house, in the two schools’ secretary offices, and the computer lab of the high school. In addition to how sad it is that people would poison these dogs, it’s obviously quite worrisome to know those people are out there and plotting something.
Without going into too many details, I am sad and frustrated. I have a friend in my community and church who I trusted and thought that they valued me for who I am and as a friend. But recently I have felt that they were trying to take advantage of me because, despite the extensive time I have spent with them as a community member, they still have the conception that because I am white and American I have money and it is my mandate to come solve their problems. I went to talk to Irmã Lucilia about it and get her advice and she confirmed that this has happened before and this person is always asking for things. It’s not that they are a bad person or even that they don’t consider me a friend, but just that they also see me as a way to profit personally. I wonder how long I would have to live here for people to just see me as one of them, or will I always be different?

gettin my hair did. (it took me a good 10 minutes to untangle it afterwards)

25/10/11

The new science lab at the high school (finally built but not actually functioning) is built a little into the ground, so one can walk up to the veranda area and then jump down a few feet onto the porch. Thus, the windows of the building, at normal height when you are standing on the porch, appear to be at ground level when you are up on the normal ground. Which means they are the perfect height to serve as full-length mirrors for primary school children. Every day you can see large groups of kids dancing in front of these windows or doing other things and laughing at their reflections. For people who are too little to see themselves in regular windows, not that there are many glass windows in this country anyway, in a country where there aren’t many mirrors larger than a hand, this is probably the first time they have been able to see their entire body reflected.

Monday, October 24, 2011

24/10/11

We went back to Casa de Mar this weekend, this time with a few friends. Mary and Des weren’t there unfortunately, but friends of theirs who own a lodge in a town close by took us out there and picked us up. The beach was fantastic, as always, the weather was perfect, and I had a great time with friends. But it’s bittersweet knowing that this is one of the last times I will see them for a long time.
Today is the last week of classes, which means the last week with my REDES group, the last week with my English Club, the last meeting with my current events club, and the last time seeing a lot of these students.

20/10/11

During today’s Txopi lesson we read prayers from a hymnal that I know in English and Portuguese. I think my brain was very confused, even more so than it normally is. We read the Hail Mary and Our Father prayers and the Nicene Creed. I obviously don’t understand a large majority of the text, but can pick out words like “father, sky, earth, body, first, people,” etc. But I still recite the Nicene Creed in English every Sunday, maybe because I don’t say it often enough or it’s too long for me to have memorized in Portuguese yet, so when I read it in Txopi I translated it into Portuguese and then into English. On the other hand, the Our Father has become some muddled mixture of English and Portuguese and I am unable to complete the Hail Mary in English, even if I start in English it becomes Portuguese by the end. Now I have another language to add to the confusion in my head!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

19/10/11

Yesterday I called Barclays bank to find out if the names on the REDES account had been changed yet or not. I gave the guy our bank account number and asked him to read the names on the account to me. He read me my name and the names of the other two financial directors from my group, meaning that the name-change hadn’t been processed yet. No surprise, nothing happens too quickly here. Then he read a fourth name of a girl—and I have no idea who she is! One of the joys of an organization like REDES where leadership turns over annually and there is no institutional memory!
Today was a holiday, as it marked the 25th anniversary of Samora Machel’s death (he was the first president of the Republic of Mozambique and this year is Samora Machel year). It’s the fourth consecutive week that we have had a holiday and about two weeks ago it stopped being a nice break and started being very disruptive to everyone’s schedules. We went down to the lagoon for Jasmin’s first time and took three of Ann’s REDES girls with us. We had tried to do this twice before but had gotten rained out both times. The weather today wasn’t fantastic, but we were able to spend the day at the water and the girls had a great time.

Monday, October 17, 2011

17/10/11

Last week and today have been third trimester exams (they spilled over into this week because last Wednesday was teacher’s day). Since I missed Monday and Tuesday of last week for the REDES meetings, I wasn’t put on the schedule of teachers to control exams. It’s just as well though, because for any given exam either a teacher doesn’t show up, or one teacher has been put on the schedule twice during the same time. Controlling exams is frustrating and annoying when it’s not boring, though I think that students at my school cheat less than students at other schools. I caught one of my REDES girls cheating, which is frustrating. But as always when I catch a student cheating, I get the impression that I feel worse about it than they do. One of my colleagues caught a student with a cheat sheet (she had failed last year and was repeating and apparently the test was the same as last year) so he confiscated the test and wrote “fraud” and zero points on it. I was honestly pretty surprised to see someone so concerned about cheating, since a lot of my colleagues don’t even stay in the classroom while they are “controlling” exams. But the discipline’s teacher seemed pretty flustered by the situation when she passed by the classroom and told the student she would get the opportunity to retake the test. Now, when I control exams (as opposed to two years ago) I am much less strict because I feel like it would be unfair to the one class that has me, while all of their other classmates taking the same exam are using cheat sheets and talking to each other. I just try to confiscate cheat sheets before they can be used.

14/10/11

This afternoon I was sitting in my room working when I heard what sounded like gunshot. Since this is not the first time this has happened, I knew that a kid had thrown a rock onto my metal roof, from the sound it made, a rock at least the size of a fist. Annoyed, I went out onto my porch to confront the group of primary school students walking home. When I demanded to know who had done that, the group of kids all pointed to one girl. I asked her name and the other kids told me. I wanted to know her last name too so I could talk to her director tomorrow, but she wouldn’t speak and the other students didn’t know it. More annoyed, I walked toward her to find out her last name. And the little brat took off running. I was beyond annoyed. One, you’re really going to make me chase you? Two, you really think you can outrun me? Please. Once I caught her I grabbed her wrist and marched her back to the primary school to talk to the director (one of the Sisters at the mission). She wasn’t in the school so I turned and marched her up to the main house of the Sisters. By this point I had about 40 kids following us, yelling at her and otherwise generally enjoying the situation. As soon as the primary school director saw me with this girl she sighed, apparently this girl is a huge and constant problem in the school. Since we were in the Sisters’ courtyard and no longer at the school, I had told the primary school students who were following us that they couldn’t enter, but they kept edging closer and closer, trying to blend in with the girls who live in the orphanage and listen to their colleague get reprimanded. “There’s no meat here! Scam!” the director yelled at them, laughing. I’m sure this girl’s behavior won’t be any better in the future, but at least she and a good number of the primary school students know better than to ever try to outrun me.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

13/10/11

Last week I was sitting on my porch when an English colleague walked over with an exam and asked if he could ask me a few questions. I though, YES, finally! I am a native English speaker, the only one at the school, and in the past two years NONE of my colleagues have asked me for help or even to proofread their exams. And often their exams are rife with errors, which is really frustrating. This particular teacher’s English is quite strong, but I was still able to help him with a few doubts. One question read: “I would not be able to sleep if I _______ to bed right now” and the options were “go,” “had gone,” “went,” and “would go.” I told him it was “went” and he said, “yes that’s what I thought, but then I got confused because went is past tense, but the word ‘now’ indicates something happening in the present.” My completely unhelpful response was “hmmm, yes that is quite confusing…”
Turkey, the bird we eat at Thanksgiving, is called “peru” in Portuguese. With my current events group we were reading an article about the ambassador of Turkey (the country) returning to Libya. Whenever we read an article (written in Portuguese), we find it on my map (written in English) so that the students can get an idea of what they’re reading about. I asked my student to find Turkey on the map and he pointed to Peru, the country in South America. A few minutes of confusion and explanation followed.

REDES photos!

Check out the REDES Flickr site (address at right) to see pictures from the last two Inter-group Exchanges, including pictures of the painted wall!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

12/10/11

Today is Teacher’s Day in Mozambique, so there are no classes and most schools have a celebration for the teachers. I am about to head home after a long but successful handover and planning meeting for REDES. I am no longer the National Financial Director of REDES! It was a great learning experience for me, but it was a second full-time job which was stressful and difficult to juggle. I am really happy about the PCVs who are taking over the national positions, including my successor, they are an incredibly competent and driven group.
The robbers also stole the passport picture of the PCVs who is taking over as financial director of the central region, something we need for the bank to change the names on the account. She is currently out of the country, so I was afraid that this hitch would pause the entire name changing process, kind of a big deal since all the current financial directors (whose names are on the account) are leaving the country in about a month. Luckily Peace Corps keeps a picture on file of all of us that they snapped the first day we arrived in Mozambique, so I was able to take that picture back into the bank yesterday.

10/10/11

Last week 8 PCVs were staying together at a colleague’s house when three men with machetes broke in and demanded to be given all money and valuables. One male PCV was injured when he was hit across the back by the broad side of the machete, leaving a large welt. Reports were filed with the police and a guard was hired to make the house safer. Four nights later four PCVs (two who were there the first night) were staying in this same house because it’s near an airport and they were traveling. The same three men waited for the exact moment when the door wasn’t fully locked, knocked out the guard, broke in again wielding their machetes and took all valuables and money again. A situation like this is particularly terrifying because it’s clear that in both situations these men were watching these PCVs for a while, waiting for the opportune moment to break in. Even more terrifying is how brazen they were, marching into a house with multiple male PCVs, and then returning a few days later. It was an incredibly traumatic experience for these PCVs and we are all doing what we can to support them.
Definitely not the most terrible effect of these events, but the one most pertinent to my life was that the REDES central region checkbook was stolen, including three unused checks inside. As the men were leaving it appeared they rifled through the bag, discarding what they didn’t want, thus many of our REDES receipts were collected on the side of the road, dirty and out of order. I went to the bank immediately that morning to cancel the stolen checks. We weren’t too certain that these guys would know what to do with a blank check, but we were nervous since they had stolen the entire book which was full of examples of how to fill one out and the necessary signature. Since the entire book had been stolen we didn’t know the numbers of the stolen checks, but the lady was sympathetic and helpful and, using the amount of the last check from that book we had written, was able to figure out the numbers of the checks that were stolen. I also attempted to flag the stolen checks so that, if these guys tried to cash one of them we would hopefully find out their names. The people at the bank didn’t seem to understand exactly what I was attempting to do, and it was made even more complicated by the fact that I was in Maputo, but the checks were stolen in a different city and would probably be cashed there. By the end I had convinced the man, but we’ll see if the system is good enough to notify someone in Maputo when a marked check is cashed.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

03/10/11

I’ve been teaching origami to kids in one of my gender groups which include many former students of mine (both math and English) and some of my REDES girls. We always hear about different learning styles, but it’s fascinating to see these kids learning such different things in drastically different settings. It’s intriguing to watch students who pick up English instantly who are absolutely unable to fold paper so that the ends are even. Or my students who really struggled in math who are incredibly precise in their folding. Or even last year, watching some of my better students struggle with Sudoku, while other students got it immediately.
I had a great meeting with my current events clubs today! During the first time only one girl came, so I got to talk to her one-on-one about everything. She didn’t know what a couple words meant (missiles and budget, for example) so we got to discuss topics outside of just the news articles, and I felt like I was able actually make her a more knowledgeable person.
With the second group, the students all had physical education in the afternoon and thus were in no hurry to go anywhere, so after we had finished discussing the news articles, they turned to the world map and started talking about it and asking questions. I told them the story about how Iceland and Greenland got their names and they thought that was hilarious. They asked me if it was true that people in America didn’t have housemaids like here. I explained that throughout the world, it is common in low-income countries for people to have hired help, since the cost of labor is so low. But in places like America, the cost of labor is high and the cost of machines that do the same labor (washing machines, dishwashers, etc) is comparatively low, it’s not as common. I didn’t even begin to try to explain how so much of the labor in their lives (that maids do) doesn’t happen in America, like carting water, lighting charcoal fires, etc.

Peace Corps 50th Anniversary Photo Contest

Check out winning pictures from Peace Corps' 50th Anniversary Photo Contest, they are fantastic! (make sure you click on all the different sections)
http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=about.fiftieth.photo_contest.choice

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

04/10/11

The 9th grade girl from the orphanage who got pregnant and left a few months ago just called, her baby daughter was born yesterday! I don’t know exactly where she lives, but she lives in a suburb of Maputo so I am hoping to figure it out since I will be living fairly close next year.
English theater is going well, we finally decided on the 10 students who will perform in the competition (including three girls, up from one last year!). It’s frustrating to have to exclude dedicated and hardworking students, but we had a large number of 12th graders who hadn’t participated in the past year, so at least that choice was easy. And one of my English colleagues finally showed up today! The two teachers who worked with me last year were great, but neither of them teach at my school anymore and I hadn’t been able to get any of my new English colleagues to actually show up to a meeting yet this year (though every day they would promise me they were coming).

My primary school REDES group

Ann's REDES groups

The t-shirts from the last Inter-group Exchange in September (the ones that were stolen)

01/10/11

Today Ann and my primary school REDES groups had an Inter-group Exchange (our fourth here in Inharrime, my fifth total, and our LAST for the year!). Ann actually has four groups at the primary school, so there were 56 of them and then 8 of my girls, which is the group that I assist my 12th grade REDES girl facilitate. This girl, Marcia, is phenomenal, she is incredibly passionate about REDES and dedicated to the two groups (one she participates in and plays a big-sister role in, one she facilitates). The morning began with Marcia leading all the girls in REDES and girls’ empowerment songs, and also welcome songs for when our two guest speakers arrived. Then we had a question brainstorming session in preparation for the two guest speakers. While we waited for the guest speakers to arrive my group presented two dances they had prepared, and then a large dance party ensued. At the Inter-group Exchange in September all of the girls had learned the “Cha Cha Slide,” so all 69 of us danced it together. Then Ann’s girls taught mine how to sew bows out of capulana, so each girl got to make one to take home with her.
The two guest speakers were a nurse and the director of the primary school where Ann’s groups are. They answered all of the girls’ questions candidly and really stressed the importance of an education and waiting to have children. The girls responded really well to her and Marcia and Ann’s two facilitators did a great job of keeping everyone animated. After the guest speakers we paused for lunch. After lunch Ann’s girls taught mine how to make earrings (the same earrings my secondary school group makes) and each girl got to make a pair to take home with them. You can tell the girls had a good time because we could hardly get them to go home at the end of the day!

The signature REDES clap

Girls listen to the guest speakers at our Inter-group Exchange on Saturday

29/09/11

Welcome to Moz 17 who arrived in Maputo today!
I caught the two littlest girls from the orphanage outside the front gate today. I reprimanded them for being out there alone and brought them back inside. Marcinha proudly lifted up her skirt to show me her underwear. She wasn’t wearing shoes but oh well. The other one wasn’t wearing underwear, but at least she had shoes on!
This afternoon a few of my 11th grade students stopped by my porch to hang out. One of them had a bandage on his head so I asked what happened. He grinned and responded “they caught me with the boss’ daughter.” He told me that now that I wasn’t their teacher anymore, he could be my teacher. “What don’t you know teacher?” he asked. I told him I know everything. “I can be your Txopi teacher!” He asked in Txopi if I could speak Txopi and I responded in Txopi “I speak a little Txopi.” The group of students here squealed and yelled in amazement.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

28/09/11

Coming back to Inharrime I needed to get to the edge of town to catch a bus, so I flagged down a passing car for that short ride. As I was shutting the door the driver said “I want to marry you” and I almost got right back out again, but I told myself to suck it up, it was only a two-minute ride. “I need you marry you, you see?” and he showed me his two ring-less hands. I just held up my hand where I wear a ring. “But it’s on the left hand so it doesn’t count” was his response. Creepy AND dumb, well that’s an unfortunate combination.
This morning a girl from my peer-advising group knocked on my door. She held out sunglasses and asked if they were mine. When I said they weren’t she said, “but they guy said they belonged to you.” I eventually learned that a white woman who had caught a ride and gotten out at our school had left these sunglasses behind in her ride’s car. Turns out they were Raquel’s the Spanish volunteer who lives here. She was happy to see her sunglasses again, and surprised that the guy came all the way back to return them through a chain of people and that they actually got back to her.
Raquel recently tried to change a $100 bill, but the exchange places in Mozambique don’t accept bills older than 2006 or something (when the bills changed and the president’s heads got bigger). I have a PCV colleague who is heading back to the states this week to support his father running an Ironman race, so we were able to get him to change it for Meticais and take it with him. But this happens all the time to people who come from America with perfectly legitimate dollars and find they are useless here.

25/09/11

Today I ran my first marathon! We (a bunch of PCVs) had been planning this marathon for almost a year now and it had been rescheduled and relocated numerous times, but it finally happened today in Guijá and Chokwe districts of Gaza province. The number of participants had also changed throughout the year, but today there ended up being four of us: Jenna, Anna, (both from Moz 14, my training group) and Joe, a Moz 16. We awoke early and were out at the “starting line,” the Guijá hospital gate, by 4:45am. Right on time, Ally and James (both Moz 15) pulled up on their bicycles to take our water bottles, chocolate, bread, etc—they were our support for the day. We expected them to leap-frog us: go to a couple places along the route and be there to hand out water, etc when we passed. But they biked all 26.2 miles right next to us cheering us on, taking pictures, handing us requested water, Gatorade, toilet paper, bread, and chocolate and, when it started raining and we all took off our ipods, singing to us. They were fantastic and a huge reason we all finished! And after the marathon James decided that he wants to run it next year, so Anna and I will get to be his (and whoever else runs it) water girls on bicycles.
We set off in the dark and got to see a beautiful African sunrise as we ran. The route had been planned by Jenna and was exceptional, we ran on a paved road for only a mile of the entire run. The rest of the marathon was on sparsely populated dirt roads/paths on which I think we were only passed by a total of three cars. I live in a fairly “urban” area, by Mozambican standards: a large town, an area where many white people pass through, directly on the national highway. So it was a pleasure for me to run on all these back roads, it felt like what I had envisioned the “Peace Corps Africa” experience would be like. One boy stood on the edge of his yard staring at the 6 white people passing, bewildered and half-asleep. We laughed that he would probably later wonder whether he had really seen us or not. The houses and terrain look very different in this region of Gaza than where I live and I loved getting to see them. The houses are made of clay and often painted with beautiful designs using different color clays. I was wearing a high-visibility yellow tank top and had lent Jenna my hi-vis t-shirt, and Joe was wearing a yellow shirt. Only Anna was wearing a light blue tank top, so when we ran past a man wearing a hi-vis shirt she stopped to ask him for it. He refused but it was a nice jersey, not just a regular t-shirt, so we weren’t too offended and ran on. We ran across a dam in a river where Jenna said there are sometimes hippos, but unfortunately none came out for us today. One truck pulled up next to us and offered us a ride. September 25th is a national holiday so in one small town we ran by the town monument right in the middle of their celebration. Right as we were about to pass they started singing the national anthem, so we stopped and sang with them (whenever the national anthem is being sung here one must stop and stand at attention). It didn’t feel great for the muscles, but they loosened up again after a few minutes.
At about mile 14 Valerie, Clancy, and Jen, three other PCVs, and Peter, a South African friend, met up with us in a truck, having left from our finish line in Chokwe. They drove along with us the remainder of the way and at a couple points Clancy got out and ran with us in her skirt and Chacos, including the last half-mile. That beer (accompanied by water and Gatorade, of course) we had after the run was one of the best I have ever tasted in my life. After a nice shower we went back to Guijá and met up with a ton of other PCVs who had come from all over Gaza province to meet up for lunch that day. A stiff knee, a sore hip-flexer, and some serious chafing, but definitely worth it!

Another picture from the beach at Casa de Mar. There aren't many beaches left in the world where you can be the only person as far as the eye can see.

From Casa de Mar last weekend. The view from the front of the chalet where we stayed.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

24/09/11

After leaving Namaacha and meeting up with Anna in Maputo, we headed together to her site, Hokwe. To get to Hokwe (and then Chokwe and Guijá, the other towns we went to after) you go up to Macia on the national highway and then turn in and travel a hundred kilometers inland—something I don’t do very often. A lot of Mozambique is situated along the national highway, including my town of Inharrime, whose main road is the highway. Few roads that lead inland are paved, so traveling inland is long, tedious, uncomfortable, and not something you do without a good reason. So today I ventured farther from the Indian Ocean than I ever have within Mozambique!
We went first to Anna’s hometown Hokwe, a tiny little town in the district of Chokwe. (Usually when I tell people my colleague is from Hokwe, they, never having heard of it, assume I’m an ignorant foreigner and correct me: Chokwe.) Anna had been in Maputo for medical reasons, so she needed to drop off some things at home and get her running stuff. Her town is the opposite of mine: no paved roads (granted, my town has only one, the highway), tiny, quiet, a short row of shops. In her town there is only one store that sometimes sells phone credit, as opposed to Inharrime where you can’t walk two steps without tripping over a guy selling. Every single person in town knows who she is though, and it made me wish a little that my past two years had been spent in a smaller town. I have been in Inharrime for two years and chapa drivers still assume I’m a tourist going to Maputo and vendors still try to rip me off. On the other hand, I can buy almost everything I need in Inharrime, whereas Anna must stock up each time she leaves. From Hokwe we left for Chokwe and then Guijá. I was struck by how different the landscape there looks, as compared with where I live. Inharrime has rolling hills and trees everywhere: mango trees, tangerine trees, cashew trees, orange trees, etc. Chokwe district is flat and mostly grasses and shrub brush. There are many rice fields there and during the drive a crane rose out of one and flew next to the chapa for about 30 seconds.
We arrived in Chokwe, which was a huge shock for me. Chokwe is a real town! It has a main street, paved sidewalks, streetlights, even a park with swings and a merry-go-round. But within minutes of being there we were reminded why the smaller cities are preferred by PCVs. A crazy man picked up a brick-sized rock and made as if to throw it at us. He just giggled as he put down the rock and watched us cross the street and speed away.
We crossed the bridge into Guijá, Chokwe’s small neighboring town. Guijá is a district capital and not as small and remote as Hokwe, but it is small enough for everyone to know the three PCVs who live there and as the two ladies in the market chattered excitedly about them I felt a small pang of envy again. We went to Jenna and Elisabeta’s house, where we met up with them, Joe, James, and Ally. Some good catching up and a large pasta meal to prepare for the marathon tomorrow!

22/09/11

Yesterday I traveled down to Namaacha to help with the Training of Trainers they are holding currently for the people who will be working with the new Peace Corps Trainees who arrive next Thursday! Since I have experience teaching math, I was asked to come down and work with the math trainer, who is brand new this year. Math as a division within the education sector was only created last year, when I went through training we only had English, chemistry and biology. There are little to no teaching tools or examples to use with the math trainees, so my job was to help create some of these. Peace Corps uses a teaching methodology called Community Content Based Instruction, which attempts to utilize local materials and concepts and help the students understand how the subject is both related to and necessary for their everyday lives. Needless to say, this is a little difficult to do with some math topics, but we were able to come up with a pretty good list of examples.
Being there and hanging out with all of the trainers was great because it was such a different environment from when I was in training. Partly because I was there to work with them, rather than be their student, and mostly because I can actually speak Portuguese now. A lot of the trainers are new, but some of them have been around for years and remember me as a trainee. My chemistry trainer is still there and as great as ever. He still remembers some of the model lessons and experiments I did during models lessons and told me, “when you came you never spoke at all and I was afraid you wouldn’t last here, but now I can see you are doing so well!” The trainers were practicing giving the lessons they will be giving the trainees in a short time, and during these lessons one trainer (who has been there for years, including my training) got a kick out of doing an impressively realistic impression of an American Peace Corps Trainee, complete with the accent, mannerisms, and all of the strange questions we would ask.
While I was in town I stopped by to visit my host family, of course. I have said this before, but it’s unbelievably better to be back in Namaacha actually being able to speak Portuguese. As one other PCV said during our COS conference, “I feel like I can finally be myself and express my personality in Portuguese.” Baby Anata is still pretty scared of me, but apparently she is shy around all strangers and at least she didn’t cry this time, she just did a fair amount of hiding behind her mom and peeking at me occasionally. She walks and runs now and is saying a few words. And the rest of the family is still great, my brother is excited to start primary school next year. And we are all excited to be such close neighbors next year!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

20/09/11

Yesterday a couple of the younger girls tattletaled that the youngest girl had gone pee in her underwear that morning and hadn’t changed them yet. Since this is the same one who I caught peeing outside twice last week and thus this is becoming a health and hygiene issue, I told her to change her underwear and I would be checking later if she had.. (Right now as I am writing this I looked over at her I asked “what’s that in your mouth?” She shook her head no and ran behind me, obviously to spit it out. Then she ran back and said “look, I don’t have anything!” ) I found her 30 minutes later and she still hadn’t, so I reprimanded her and told her to go change. A few hours later she still hadn’t changed so I took her inside with me for a time out and to wait for the sister who had the keys to the dormitory to return from school. While we were waiting for the sister she fell asleep and I had another meeting, so I left her there sleeping. After my REDES meeting I saw her again, this time in a brand new clean outfit! “She changed!” I said to the Spanish volunteer who had been there while she was in time out. She rolled her eyes and said “yeah I know, I bathed her and washed her underwear.” One of the other little girls (the other one I caught peeing behind the building last week) never wears underwear. This afternoon I walked up to a group of the younger girls and these two proudly pulled up their dresses, “look sister Anata, we’re wearing underwear today!”
This morning we had our first Math and Science Club meeting. Only one student came to participate, but by the time we got to the more interesting experiments, a small crowd had gathered. There are few things better than watching kids get truly excited about and inspired by science. I did a small experiment where simple soapy water propelled our “boat” across a tub of water and each time there were ahs and shrieks from the students watching. Maybe, hopefully, I can get a couple of these kids really interested in science.

Monday, September 19, 2011

18/09/11

In December of 2009, during one of our first weeks in Inharrime, Ann and I caught a ride with a South African couple, Mary and Des. They seemed to be impressed by what we were doing here and told us that if we contacted them in the off-season we were more than welcome to visit their beach lodge. We contacted them once February of 2010 and again in early 2011 but never heard back from them, so we thought no more of it. Then last week I received a phone call. “Scooter?” a South African voice asked. “Yes?” I was thoroughly confused. “This is Mary from Casa de Mar, I have been trying to find your number for a year now!” She apologized profusely and explained that they hadn’t meant to dismiss us before, but they had gotten tied up and then lost our numbers. They invited us out to their lodge for the weekend since it is low season and they had only one other guest. We arranged to meet up Jangamo, the small town nearest to their lodge. Ann and I arrived before Mary so we got beers and waited at a place there. When a white woman pulled up in a nice car we assumed it was her, but we weren’t certain, it had been almost two years since we met her! She also remarked that we looked different, possibly referring to the fact that I was bald when she met us!
We had a wonderful time. Their lodge is breathtakingly gorgeous and they are really interesting and kind people. Casa de Mar—check it out. We got to enjoy nice dinners and conversations with them, and the scenery where they live is beautiful. Both they and the lodge remind me of how Tsene was with John and Yvette. It’s not over-developed at all, but placed in the middle of the bush with great care taken to disturb the surroundings as little as possible. At one point Ann and I were expressing our gratitude for their generosity and hospitality. Mary simply replied, “whenever my own children are abroad I pray to God that people there are taking good care of them as if they were their own children. That’s what I am doing.”

16/09/11

A few weeks ago an elephant showed up in Inharrime district and was destroying a number of houses and farms. People called on the police to help them and they called upon a South African man who owns a restaurant (the delicious one in Quissico I am always raving about) to come get rid of it. Once the elephant was dead it was a huge deal for the district. Almost all of the neighborhood chiefs got together for a ceremony to eat the most prized parts of the elephants and then, from what I could tell, each got to take some of it back to their neighborhood. It was the talk of the town for a couple days and some guys spent the better part of a day driving around town and out to my school with its head.

My 12th grade REDES girl who also facilitates the primary school REDES group presenting a poem in French about Samora Machel at the last public holiday.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

15/09/11

We have now recovered all but three t-shirts!
This morning I caught the two littlest ones in the orphanage peeing outside behind a building. This is a pretty common occurrence and they definitely knew they were in trouble as soon as they saw me. I caught the littlest one peeing in the garden last week too. Yesterday afternoon during my English lesson with the little girls, one of them was climbing on a 4-foot wall and toppled over the edge and landed on the other side on her head on concrete.. Luckily kids are resilient, so after a few minutes of crying on my lap and a reading of “Madeline,” she was ready to play again.
English theater is coming along really well. And the best part, we have five girls and at least a few of them speak very strong English (as opposed to last year when our sole girl’s English was mediocre). The only downside is that for the competition our group can only be 10 students, so we will have to eliminate quite a few of the approximately 16 students who show up regularly.

Walking some goats in the early morning haze. The babies are never tied up because they stay near their moms. But I and other PCVs are always so tempted to steal them because of this--they are just too cute!

Monday, September 12, 2011

12/09/11

Today I pulled all of my REDES girls out of class to talk to them about the t-shirt situation (with the school director’s permission, of course). They were all appalled by how many shirts were taken, but unfortunately weren’t able to give me any concrete information. None of them said that any of them took any, thus so far it looks like only girls from Ann and Erin’s groups took shirts. I believe them when they say they don’t know anyone else who took shirts. This isn’t to say that my group is simply made up of better people, but we have been a group much longer so they have a lot more at stake in the group and know me better. More importantly, they are a very tight-knit group and know each other too well for someone to have taken shirts without anyone else knowing.
We caught the little twat who stole my capulana on Saturday (Ann and I had brought a bunch of capulanas for the girls to sit on in a couple of the stations. Apparently one girl had taken the liberty to tied it around her waist, I saw her at one point and wondered why she was wearing my capulana. But I was too busy to do anything about it. Then she left wearing it). Luckily we had a video with her in it, wearing it, so Ann and I showed the video to our REDES girls and they were able to identify her by name. The stealing of t-shirts of inexcusable, but I can understand why they did that. But why in the world would a girl steal a capulana? That is one of the only things that people here have plenty of, and mine wasn’t even a new or particularly nice one. Again, she didn’t think she had stolen it, but only finally admitted it when Ann told her she wasn’t leaving until she heard her admit she had stolen the capulana.
My English lessons with the little girls from the orphanage feature one brilliant little girl who looks forward to the lessons and asks me every day if we will have one, and five of them who run away and do their best to be scarce during these times. But the one girl’s retention rate is impressive and it makes working with her incredibly fulfilling. Right now she is standing on my porch yelling “good afternoon!” to everyone who passes and occasionally runs in to knock on my door to ask how to say something in English
On Friday Anna, Naomi and I ran 18 miles. It’s a pretty incredible feeling.

10/09/11

Today was the big Inharrime Inter-group Exchange that we have been preparing for for weeks now. It was overall a good day, but with some very high highs and some pretty low lows.
Because there were 130 girls participating in this exchange, we had recruited many PCVs and colleagues from our schools to help us out on this day. We divided the girls into 22 groups for the purpose of painting (each group was responsible for a design) and the groups were scattered between 9 stations, to reduce the number of girls out on the highway painting at a time. Two of the stations were painting, to give them sufficient time, then we had jump rope (it was supposed to be double-dutch, but they didn’t quite get the hang of that), flower making, peanut butter making and eating it, discussing making the transition from secondary school to primary school, dancing the “Cha Cha Slide,” writing cards, and playing soccer. We had someone in charge of controlling time and signaling a switch every 45 minutes and had people distributed between all the stations. The restaurant made a HUGE pot of beans and had lunch ready for everyone when they showed up in three groups. Organization-wise, things went well. And or the morning, we had been able to keep people not associated with the exchange out of the soccer field and away from the wall.
At 1pm a bunch of men soccer players showed up at the field to play a game. We politely informed them that there were no soccer games today, since we had already arranged with the chief of sports for the town to have the field at our disposal from 7am-4pm. They didn’t respond as politely, so things got a little heated after. We called the chief of sports to come tell these guys that they were wrong and needed to leave, and we continued to tell these guys that there was not going to be a soccer game today. But Ann and I couldn’t do much to physically stop 30 grown men from entering the field, so I despaired a little—even though we were right, I thought we might lose this battle. But I had forgotten that I had 130 girls on my side. That’s when something amazing happened. Completely on their own, with no encouragement or instruction from any PCVs, the girls took it upon themselves to ensure that there would be no soccer game today. They began singing and dancing in the middle of the field. Then they took it upon themselves to steal the soccer balls from the boys and bring them to Ann. At one point a player, out of frustration, picked up his soccer ball and ran with it away from the group of laughing girls chasing him. Ladies and gentlemen, the birth of rugby. One of the head players with whom we were having head-on confrontations with most often at one point said “screw this, we’re just going to play.” All of the REDES girls responded by starting a chant “mark up the goal, I wanna play too!” and chanting, stomping and clapping in circles around him. And I don’t care how manly you are, having 100 girls chanting and circling you is pretty disarming.
Finally the heads of the soccer commission of Inharrime showed up. The players yelled to them to get us off their field, they had a game to play. The head guy responded “this team doesn’t even exist, we haven’t created the teams yet! There are no soccer games today, the field is theirs today!” Hah. Then the chief of sports finally showed up and he also said that we had the field until 4pm today. But just because the men were wrong doesn’t mean they were going down without a fight. There was a lot of yelling about where to have the games now and how we were messing everything up. Somebody suggested again (this had been suggested about 30 minutes prior) that they move to play at my school. People were okay with that, but then where would they play the second game? Trying to be helpful, I suggested they come back here since we would be done at 4pm. This started a whole new round of yelling about how it was too late by then. I kicked myself for trying to help and promised not to do it anymore.
In the commotion earlier, a hot-headed soccer player hit one of the kids provoking him. Luckily it wasn’t one of our girls, but a boy who had wandered in, since his sister was participating that day. Apparently his mom lives close because a few minutes later, amidst all the other craziness happening (girls singing and chanting, men yelling, us arguing) a furious mother came storming onto the scene. She demanded to know which player had hit her child and when she found him, she took off after him. The guy, being a spineless slug, ran away from her. The mother and a bunch of REDES girls chased him around the field for a while, but he then disappeared into the neighborhood/woods behind the soccer field. And we never saw him again. She talked to the captain of his team, but I couldn’t tell if he was going to actually do anything. And this guy had been one of our biggest problems today, so I didn’t have high hopes. As she was leaving, she politely apologized to us for intruding on our day.
Eventually all the commotion calmed down. The players left for another field and we were able to get the girls back to the stations. We were never able to get all the spectators out of the field after that point though. And only one soccer player pointed out that what we were doing that day was to make their field look nicer. I’m glad somebody noticed.
I was feeling great about the day. The wall looked good (thought it needs touching up) and everyone had a good time. Then I walked over to where Ann was sitting and it looked like she was going to cry. We had gotten shirts for the girls for today, we charged them 40 Meticais per shirt (a shirt costs 150 Meticais), thus Ann and I fronted the costs. There had been leftover shirts which we were going to sell to other people who wanted them, but apparently a bunch of the girls had untied the bags and gone through them, stealing about 40 shirts. Looks like Ann and I won’t be eating this month. We implored the girls who were still there to let us know if they knew who had taken shirts. Ann got word of one girl, so she went to her house to confront her and her parents. Then, we were sitting at the restaurant when a bunch of my girls ran in. They had gotten about a kilometer out of town when they had heard of a girl who had taken shirts, so they ran all the way back to tell me. So Ann and I set out on what would end up being, in Ann’s words, “the worst scavenger hunt of life.” We went to the girl’s house and she gave us two shirts, then told us her friends who had also taken them, but she claimed not to know where they lived. We were about to leave when her grandmother and mother asked to talk to us. They explained that they had no idea where she had been today and other days. Apparently she returns home every day after dark and says she was at a REDES meeting (her meetings are once a week and end at 1pm), she forged her mother’s signature on her permission slip, and stole the money to pay for her shirt. Her mother was so fed up with her that she decided to help us on our quest and ended up being out savior tonight. She informed us that her daughter did in fact know where her friends lived, so we set out to one, two, three, four houses. All of the girls blamed one girl who had taken the shirts, then distributed them to others. But Ann, their mothers, grandmothers, and I repeatedly told them that they were just as culpable, since they had ultimately taken the shirts without saying anything. We were really lucky the mother came, most of the conversing was done in Txopi. We recovered eight shirts that night. What upsets me the most is that not a single of the girls thought they were stealing. They kept saying, “I didn’t steal it, I took it.” Luckily there was a full moon tonight, since I had jumped up so quickly from the table at the restaurant and didn’t have a flashlight, cell phone, or even a single Metical on me. If you forgot about the circumstances, it was actually a really nice night to be out walking where there is no electricity, and we got to see a lot of Inharrime I’ve never seen before. I never knew before coming here that the moon can cast such strong shadows.

08/09/11

Two nights ago I slept at Ann and Jasmin’s house, so I went running from there in the morning. Ann lives near the other secondary school (where Erin teaches) so I ran past there and then out of town on that road, passing many students coming in on their way to school. At one point an older boy, probably 12th grader, was riding his bike into town down the other side of the road. When he saw me he swerved over to my side of road and rode straight toward me. I wasn’t going to move so I just hoped he wouldn’t hit my kneecap straight on. He swerved out of the way within 6 inches of me. Son of a -----.
Within the last couple days the price of phone credit went up. It drives me crazy. Phone credit here is sold in 20 Meticais, 50 Meticais, and 100 Meticais amounts (they are little stubs with the value written on it, and you scratch off a code on the back). I am sure it’s not the individuals in Inharrime who sell credit who are at fault, but Mcel, the phone company. But still the fallacy in their reasoning kills me. If you were selling me 50 smiley faces, then you could sell them to me for whatever price you wished. But you can ONLY sell 50 Meticais of credit for 50 Meticais!

The pyramid. Three of those girls are Ann's REDES girls.

07/09/11

September 7th is holiday in Mozambique, to commemorate the signing of the Lusaka Accord. My two REDES groups had been preparing dances to present at the town celebration, and I had arranged things with my colleague who coordinates that. He told me to show up at 6am, so I did, with my book. My REDES girls showed up around 7:10 and he showed up at 7:45. But it didn’t matter because all the important people didn’t show up until 8:15, thus the celebration couldn’t start until then. I was told that our school, Laura Vicuña, had been allotted 30 minutes for our presentations. In addition to my three groups who were dancing (the secondary school group had split into two separate dances) there were a couple students presenting two poems about Samora Machel in French (Samora Machel was the first president of Mozambique and this year has been named Samora Machel year), but 30 minutes was going to be plenty of time.
The students from primary school where Ann has her REDES group were presenting gymnastics, and some of Ann’s REDES girls were part of the presentation. Their presentation of awesome, especially the pyramid they made (I will post a picture). Finally it was our turn. Mozambicans are incredible dancers and they are continually dancing. But despite how great of dancers they are individually (actually, largely due to that) they are pretty awful at synchronized dancing in a group. Very rarely can you get everyone doing the same steps at the same time. One group danced a song, then a poem was presented, another group danced a song, then another poem was presented. This probably took about 12 minutes. When my third and last group went to the middle of the “stage” to present, my colleague said that they couldn’t present, there was no more time. I reminded him that we had arranged for three dancing groups and that we had been promised 30 minutes, which we were still way under. He said that the important people we saying they were tired and because it was already so late we needed to cut it short. I was furious—it was THEIR fault we had started so late. I don’t understand how someone can do that. They screwed up by being so late, but then they want to tell a group of 14 year olds they can’t perform the dance they’ve been working on for weeks because they messed up. The worst part was, of course none of them apologized, so I was the one who had to go explain to my group of 14 year olds that they wouldn’t be presenting their dance today. I was fuming.

My current events group finds on a map of the world the locations they have been reading about. I have really enjoyed working with this group, they have been able to have a couple very thought-provoking discussions.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

04/09/11

Today we got together with from girls from Ann’s REDES group who volunteered to help us prime the wall we’ll be painting on Saturday. And since it was six young girls and three white girls, we had to deal with a constant barrage of crude men all afternoon. At one point a pickup truck with four young men pulled up next to us just to ogle. Ann told them to leave but they didn’t. I told them that if they didn’t leave I’d throw paint at their car. They just laughed. So I threw paint at their car. Not quite far enough to hit it, but close enough to make their eyes widen and make them stop laughing. They yelled at me as they drove away. Another truck turned around to drive veeeeeery slowly by us a total of three times.
When we were about halfway through painting, a men’s soccer game started on the inside of the wall we were painting. Some of them were harassing us and some of the girls, emboldened by Ann and me, yelled back at them. Then, as we were standing there painting, a small rock that someone had thrown hit Ann’s sunglasses. Another one landed next to me a little while later. I was annoyed but there was nothing we could do, there were at least 100 guys inside the stadium and who knows which one threw it. I was glad that Ann wasn’t hurt, but I thought that maybe if she had been nicked by it and had started to bleed, then I could have called the police chief on her personal cell phone and raised hell. It wasn’t until hours later that night that I realized, today guys threw rocks at us and we just shrugged it off, like boys will be boys. And not because it’s okay, but just because we don’t expect anything better from them. That’s pretty messed up.

03/09/11

September 3rd is Laura Vicuña day, she is the patron saint of our secondary school and the entire mission is usually referred to as the Laura Vicuña Center. We were scheduled to begin the festival at 7am, but then the day before we were informed that the government had designated today as the day for a national peace march. So at 6am my colleague who also lives within the mission and I walked to town for the peace march. We waited until 8:30am; still nothing had happened. The police chief has passed by earlier and said she would be back, but she wasn’t sure who was going to lead the peace march, since the administrator and other town leaders were out of town. By 8:50am apparently my director was fed up with waiting, so she piled everyone affiliated with my school—students and faculty who had turned out for the peace march—into the large mission truck and we headed back to school to start our festival. Thus, we “started” two hours later than we would have otherwise, and, since this is Mozambique, we did not start right at 9am by any means. The festival opened with a mass, followed by a theater about the life of Laura Vicuña, followed by presentations from students. One of my REDES girls recited a poem in French, some students performed a song they had written specifically for this day and our school, and our two REDES groups performed dances. There was a male faculty vs. female faculty soccer game, but I wasn’t able to play because I had to stay to coordinate the music for the REDES groups. The last event of an otherwise good festival was the student-faculty soccer game. And at the end of a day that had passed with few problems…a student’s head collided with another person’s head and he was rushed to the hospital with his head bleeding and one fewer tooth.
Yesterday I ran 16 miles (okay I had to walk some of it, I hadn’t run anywhere near that far in too long). I get the impression that often when I tell my students how far I ran, they just don’t believe me. But today one of the girls in my peer-education group saw me run past Chongola, the next tiny little town up the road where many students at my school live. It’s about 7 miles away so suddenly there was proof that I wasn’t just an idiot white person that doesn’t know how far a kilometer is! Instant respect from all of the kids in my peer-educators group.

Friday, September 2, 2011

31/08/11

Monday morning Ann and I showed up at the administration building for our meeting with the administrator and or the head secretary. We sat down to wait and heard some singing outside. Ann checked it out and said “I have no idea what it is, but everyone from the hospital is there.” After we had waited for a while, a nice woman (the same one from last week) came over and said that we would have to wait a little longer, because the administrator was going to take part in the ceremony outside. It turns out it was National Blood Donation day, so, as with all Mozambican holidays, people came to the town monument and there was a ceremony of placing flowers followed by speeches. We have a brand new town monument which is really beautiful. After all of that was finished we finally got to meet with the administrator in his very nice office. We discussed the mural and then he told us to go talk to the chief of sports, since our mural will be at the town stadium. The chief of sports has been really nice and helpful, he is arranging with the police to help guide traffic that day (the wall we are painting is directly on the national highway. Great publicity, but yikes!) and he was helpful with designs. We are going a little crazy trying to figure out getting all the necessary supplies, getting 150 people fed that day, and making sure nobody gets hit by a car, but it will all be worth it!
Tuesday was the end of Ramadan (sorry I don’t know what this is called). In southern Mozambique at least, most shop owners are of Middle Eastern descent. Many of them have been here for generations and are definitely “Mozambican,” but they are clearly not completely ethnically African. They are also all Muslim. Thus, on Tuesday, as far as I could tell, not a single shop in town was open (and by shop I mean real cement building with a door, luckily all the little stands were still open, because these are run by the ethnically African Mozambicans).
At Irmã Dolorinda’s request I have started English lessons with the littlest girls here in the orphanage. They don’t retain too much from lesson to lesson, but everyone gets a huge kick out of when they say “good afternoon!” Once, a girl got too excited and said “good sisternoon Albertina!”
This afternoon I was sitting on my porch when a student from the primary school passed me and said “good afternoon Sister Agnes.” I laughed. Sister Agnes is the director of this girl’s school. She is also black, wears glasses, and always wears her nun’s habit.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


I put more pictures on the REDES Flickr site (address at right), so check them out!

My colleague gives a girl painting tips

7am and headed to Chidenguele!

27/08/11

Today was the big REDES (Rapariga em Desenvolvimento, Educação e Saúde—Girls in Development, Education and Health) Inter-group Exchange between my secondary school group, Shannon’s group and Naomi’s group (two other PCVs). For the Exchange, Naomi’s group and my group traveled to Chidenguele, Shannon’s site, to meet up with her group and to paint a mural on a wall in the soccer stadium there. We were scheduled to leave at 6am. At about 6:15am the bus showed and most of the girls had assembled at the meeting point. We had to wait a few minutes and send two girls to the houses of other girls to retrieve them, but we had everyone by 6:35am. Then we set off for the other meeting point (since my school is about 3 miles out of town, some of the girls live here near the school and some of the girls live in town). Everyone was there already! Except for one girl. Nobody had seen that girl yet, but somebody said that she lives near my school, so we went back out there and sent someone to her house, but they were told that she had gone home to the bush for the weekend. I tried calling the guardian who had signed her permission form, but either the person’s phone died right when I called, or they hung up on me and ignored my calls. So at 7am we hit the road, only one person short. This is actually the third time since being here that someone just hasn’t showed up the morning of a trip. And I really don’t understand it because these trips are literally once-in-a-lifetime events for these kids (some of my girls had only been through the towns we passed once or twice before, and this is significant since we were going south, ie toward Maputo). Last year one girl didn’t show up to go to the REDES conference and one girl didn’t show up to go to English Theater.
About 20 minutes out of town the driver pulled over to get “gas.” We have gas stations in this country. But another common form of filling your tank is at little makeshift places along the side of the road. When the large trucks carrying gas drive by on the highway, people bribe the drivers to stop and let them siphon gas out. Then they display this gas on the side of the road in old water or cooking oil containers. I had asked a male colleague of mine to arrange the bus we rented for this day, since he had arranged the one for our English Theater competition last year. He asked if he could come along, not to hang out with us, but to just spend the day in the town of Chidenguele, and then to be let off in Quissico on the way home, where there was a large festival going on. I let him come and he turned out to be a huge help all day. He yelled at the driver for me when he made this stop he should have done before picking us up. And when the driver demanded the second half of the payment in the morning (rather than at the end of the day) and I refused, my colleague called the bus owner and sorted things out.
The day went really well, and it taught me a lot about what we need to do to prepare for our next two mural paintings. We had 52 people there and I believe everyone got to do some painting, and the girls had a great time painting, painting themselves and each other, dancing, and spending the day together. We had lunch at a small place there (one of two restaurants in town) and—wait for it—they actually had all the food ready when we showed up! Two of Naomi’s girls gave a talk about having good relationships with other people, and then we got back to painting. We didn’t quite finish everything on Saturday, but Shannon and her girls will finish it up for us.
On the way home, late and in the dusk/dark, the driver pulled over to pee on the side of the road. All of the girls suddenly had to pee so I reluctantly let them off. Another bus coincidentally pulled up beside us for a pee stop too. Since all 15 of my girls had gone into the grass on the side of the road in front of the bus, I walked around to the driver’s side and turned off his headlights. Then I heard squeals. Turns out that one of the disgusting guys from the other bus had taken a picture of all of my girls peeing. I wasn’t too worried because it was far too dark for any picture to come out on a good camera, much less a phone camera, so I reminded the men what revolting dogs they are and herded the girls back onto the bus.