Thursday, March 31, 2011


Happy birthday Cam!
In a homework assignment I asked the students to write four sentences describing their feelings about initiation rites. One boy turned in the following: “I’m feeling well in my initiation rites. I’m feeling very well in my initiation rites. I’m feeling bad in my initiation rites. I’m feeling normally in my initiation rites.” Not exactly…but I felt like I had to give him a few points because he did do exactly what I had asked. And I feel partly to blame because last week we did a lesson on adverbs, which he seems to have pretty much down.


Our printer/copy machine broke sometime over the weekend—inconvenient timing because this week is final exam week for the first trimester, so the one and only week during the trimester when we want to print an exam for every single student in every single discipline. Yesterday my pedagogical director kept running back and forth between our school and Erin/Emma’s school on his motorcycle (they are about 5 miles apart) to ask them to print tests, and then having to run back because five minutes before the given exam would start, we would realize we were about 30 tests short. Or situations would happen where we had maybe 400 copies of a given test, but we needed like 450 copies, so the teachers of that discipline would decide to just have the teacher controlling the test write it on the board, rather than using the printed versions since there weren’t enough.
So this morning they decided to suspend tests until next week when our machine will supposedly be back. So tomorrow through Friday we will have normal classes (I am interested to see how many of my students and colleagues actually show up) and on Monday we will resume exams.
Erin’s birthday is on Friday, so we were planning a weekend at wonderful Tsene with some of her closer friends. But just today her group got put on Standfast (where they can’t leave their sites, per Peace Corps orders) because their visa situation is still being resolved. We will still have a wonderful weekend, but I wish she could celebrate it with some of her closer friends.
A student found me after classes and asked me, “what does wherefore art thou Romeo mean?”

Sunday, March 27, 2011


It continues to be in the 90s everyday here, which is unseasonably hot and miserable for March. It sucks. Sign up for December, but with the expectation of release by now.

Friday, March 25, 2011


Last night I went up to Inhambane and spent the night with a Lauren, a PCV who lives there, so I could go to the bank first thing in the morning to close out the REDES grant from last year (since we can’t receive our next grant until this one is closed. The REDES account, and mine too actually, is a Barclays account, and Inharrime has two banks but neither of them are Barclays). I needed to transfer the leftover money from our account back into the PAO’s (Public Affairs Office of the US Embassy) which is inconveniently at a different bank, complicating the process. Even though I was all prepared with the official form, the man said it would take a few days to make sure the other end received the transfer and I should just stop by next week. I explained that I live 90k away, so just “passing by” the bank isn’t that simple. They said I should just go to Quissico which has a Barclays bank and is only 40k away. I laughed and said they don’t even have a computer in that bank, how would they know if this bank-to-bank electronic transfer had actually gone through? I think the guy took pity on me because he took my number and told me he would call once the transaction was complete, and he also agreed to fax the confirmation of transfer to the PAO.
After the bank I ran a few errands, getting the things we can’t get in Inharrime. Things like canned chickpeas (we are making hummus on Saturday), good hot sauce, balsamic vinegar, yogurt, and Styrofoam cups (for our upcoming Women’s Day Celebration). Last stop, I went to pick up all 50 t-shirts for our women’s day celebration which turned out really nicely. (Ann, Erin, and I paid 150 Meticais for each of these 50 shirts which we will charge each of our REDES participants 10 Meticais for and each woman in the community 20 Meticais for. We are more than happy to make this sacrifice since my girls are incredibly excited about the shirts and our Women’s Day Celebration is looking to be fantastic. But we are Peace Corps Volunteers and $75 is more than a fourth of our monthly salary…so if anyone out there would like to help us finance the t-shirts we will happily accept your help!)
I wore my backpack on this trip since I knew I would be returning with so many things, though I usually avoid using my backpack at all costs, even if it means having to use one or two huge shoulder bags. My capulana bag allows me to fit in as much as my light skin will allow. But a backpack screams tourist and when I wear one, it seems as if even people in my own town don’t recognize me.
I got a ride home with someone very very high up in the government. At one point a policeman at the police checks they have everywhere here waved him over but he sped up and blared his horn at the policeman scoffing, “they can’t order this car to stop!” He told me about a year he spent in America. Apparently the US State Department sponsored a year in America for representatives from a ton of different countries (Mozambique, Swaziland, Sri Lanka, Puerto Rico, Senegal, etc), and they spent the year in tons of different places in the states (everywhere from Washington D.C. to San Francisco to Reno to Des Moine), seeing how life, jobs, and government in America work. He was in Texas when 9/11 happened. I was interested to hear about these things happening by our government in our own country that we never even know about. He started talking politics and was telling me about a beautiful speech that Obama gave in Brazil. “We Africans liked Bush” he said “because he gave Africa tons of money! But now Obama doesn’t have any money.”


I finally gave up on waiting to receive my other teaching hours and went ahead and scheduled the second English Club that would meet in the mornings, for students who have classes in the afternoon. Today was our first meeting and 18 students showed up! So many that we had to bring over another bench and a couple chairs. And one of my English colleagues came too, in addition to Ronnie and me. It was wonderful! I was asking the students what they had done over the weekend and one boy told us how he had visited his friends in the bush and gone alligator hunting with a bow and arrow with them. And all the Mozambicans thought this was as strange and hilarious as I did. I asked him what exactly you do with an alligator once you catch it. he admitted he didn’t know and had never caught one, but his friends eat the meat. I asked, if they were hunting with a bow and arrow, how exactly did you kill the alligator? He laughed, he hadn’t made it that far but assumed that his friends knew.
I brought up this story in the afternoon English Club which started a conversation about hunting. One student told me about a method of hunting here where people here mix the sap from two different kinds of trees and boil it, making a natural homemade glue. They put this glue on sticks and then put these sticks in trees, so when birds land on them they can’t fly away. I love that in English Club I learn more about Mozambican culture than I have before, all while my students practicing speaking English.
We read a text about looking after the environment in class, so I asked the students what global warming is. I was pleasantly surprised that at least a few students in each class knew both what it was and how it was caused.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I have read that in some cultures where virginity is very highly prized, if a man wants a woman but doesn’t think the woman or her family will accept him, he will kidnap and rape her. After this, the family will often agree to marry her to him, since she is now tainted and no other man will have her. I have never heard of this happening here and frankly virginity doesn’t seem to be a big deal here, so I didn’t imagine it would. In Inharrime very recently a similar situation happened, where a girl was kidnapped for a few days, and afterwards the fathers convened and decided she would marry him. And the man is someone I know fairly well.
The littlest munchkin at the orphanage (the one who I said was afraid of white people) is slowing warming to me, now sometimes she’ll wave to me (I don’t think she speaks much Portuguese). Yesterday she came running up to me and stopped a few feet away from me. Then she slowly approached me and I wasn’t quite sure what she was going for, so I held out a hand. But instead she slowly toddled up to me and hugged my legs. Then she gave me a half-smile and ran away again.


Definitely the hardest part of being a Peace Corps Volunteer is that it is a 24/7 job. No matter whether you are teaching, walking down the road, having a beer with friends, or sitting at the beach, you are always a Peace Corps Volunteer and everything you do reflects upon both the Peace Corps and America in general. And it can be exhausting. When I am napping and students come knock on my window because they want homework help, I can’t tell them to scram (well at least I have to do it politely). When I am walking down the road at the end of a long day and I don’t necessarily feel like greeting every single person I walk past, I still do it with a smile. When the men at the bar/restaurant are harassing us and I would really like to tell them exactly what I’m thinking, I remind them how rude they’re being and we relocate. When I am running and all I want is one hour where I can zone out and the kids keep running along next to me and I really just want to send them tumbling into the brush, I focus on each stride and greet and wave to each person I pass.
A South African man asked me where I was from today. When I said America, he responded “well obviously, but where?”


A Mozambican man was talking to me today and asked me what I thought about the situation in Libya. I was pleasantly surprised that he had even heard of the situation, since so few people here read or watch or check the news. He told me that he doesn’t think democracy works in Africa, that Africans want, need, and even love dictators. He said that in places like America and Europe democracy works because the people are educated and open-minded, but here in Africa people need to be told what to do. He said that Samora Machel (the first president of independent Mozambique) was a dictator and it was exactly what the country needed. He said that Africa has had chiefs and kings for so long, and that the people can’t adapt to a new system and are not ready to make the necessary decisions.
In class we had learned family vocabulary, so for an assignment I asked the students to draw their family tree and to write ten sentences describing it using family vocabulary. It was obvious that some students simply had no idea what they were doing, but from the assignments that coherently done, I learned that allegedly 7 of my students are married and 4 of them have children (marriage in Mozambique is generally what would be called common-law in America, they live together and often have a child or children together).
One of the women who works at the mission recently gave birth and apparently there has been drama because the baby is very light-skinned and the man she lives with is claiming it’s not his, but a white man who lives nearby. The baby is clearly not white, this is ludicrous. Also in my limited experience, it seems that a lot of babies are pretty light when born and get darker with time.


A blood donation team came to our school today and one man working for them passed by my classroom and asked if he could quickly address the students. He explained to them that giving blood is a very important and good thing and that anyone older than 15 was eligible to give. “So anyone from age 16 to” he waved his hand to indicate a really long way off “60 can donate blood.
The word “teenager” was in a text we read in class today, and my students didn’t know it so I explained where the word is derived from. It’s kind of strange and it’s uniquely English concept—I guess I have never even thought about it before.
A female student came to my door tonight and told me she needed to talk to me. She addressed me informally which was way out of line, but it was 5:20pm on a Friday and I was too tired to deal with it. “Can you give me shorts?” she asked. At first I thought she was late for P.E. or something, but then I remembered school was over. “To lend you or to give you?” “To give me.” As politely as I could muster I told her to have a good weekend and shut the door.
Tonight we cooked Thai red curry and it was pretty delicious. Okra has been in the market recently and it adds such a nice crunch to dishes.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The view from Quissico, the next town south of me. It is one of the most beautiful views in the world, with two bright blue lagoons and then the ocean beyond them.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


This morning I heard a goat bleat outside my window and immediately got annoyed and angry. Whose goat what is, why was there a goat inside the mission and next to my house, and it better not poop next to my house. I think there was a time when my first reaction to a goat outside my window might have been surprise or something other than annoyance.
A student sitting outside the school yesterday called me mulungo. I calmly smacked him on the head and instructed him that I would never hear him use this word at our school again and in the future he would always refer to me as “teacher” or “miss teacher.” When he tried to blame someone else or look away I hushed him and grabbed his face to make sure he understood I was serious. And with a smile I told him I would see him tomorrow. As I was walking away I heard a by standing student say “Hah, she won that one!” This is actually the second time this year a student has called me that which is strange because I don’t remember it happening last year. But perhaps it is because both times they were eighth graders, the only ones dumb enough to do that, and last year the eighth graders were my own students.
Out of nowhere it has gotten miserably hot again. Yesterday I went through three different shirts before 5pm. And I don’t even sweat that much in comparison to other people.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


There is a brand new little munchkin at the orphanage who has been here less than a week. She is tiny, basically reaches my knee, and her stomach is huge and must be so full of worms. She is still a little wary of white people, but is warming up to me. With all the tons of volunteers and benefactors who have been around the past couple weeks, I’m a little scared of white people too at this point.
Last week we read English translations of three Mozambican poets and in one of the poems, the poet describes many things that he associates with Africa. On an English exercise this week I asked my students to name three things that they associate with Mozambique. I got some strange and annoying answers (strange as in the Mediterranean Ocean, annoying as in tons of students copied so I also got many “medaerrtn ocen” and such). But I also got some answers like: traditional medicine, witchcraft, poverty, traditional dances, and coconut trees.


Down in Xai-Xai for REDES work this past weekend, Anna and I saw a kid walking around wearing an Peace Corps English Theater t-shirt!
One of the shop owners from town gave me a ride back out to the mission today and Dire Straits’ “Solid Rock” was playing in the car.
The good news is that I finally got class lists so I could enter the grades from and return the three tests/exercises I have had for about a month. Bad news, I still can’t get a schedule for my morning classes I will pick up, which means I still can’t schedule my other English Clubs, to the dismay of the students who ask me on an almost daily basis. My mom has sent me a number of children’s books in English, so I thought it might be fun to read some of them with my English Club. The first one I chose was "The Story of Jumping Mouse," a Caldecott award book that I remembered as one of my favorites from my childhood. And it was still a powerfully beautiful book…but with all the colorful writing, metaphors, and deeper meanings, I think my participants got just completely overwhelmed and lost. After struggling through it for almost two weeks, we finally finished today and began "Nate the Great and the Missing Key." They love this one. They can read the short sentences and relate to a young kid who is afraid of a dog.
They hadn’t heard about the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan, so we talked about that today. It’s hard to imagine something when you have absolutely no basis for it (a Mozambican saw a video of skating once and remarked “that doesn’t look too hard”). I have never been in an earthquake, but I have grown up seeing hundreds of videos newsreels, movies, and pictures of earthquakes, so I have some idea of what it must be like. But I think I finally got through to them a little when I described the waves that were taller than houses and that came inland further than Inharrime is inland. They seemed pretty horrified by this thought.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


This morning on my run a woman tried to feed me breakfast. And I was tempted, but politely declined. My runs remind me of the opening scene of “Cool Runnings” where the main character is running through the Jamaican countryside and all the kids laugh and run along with him and all the women working laugh and call out to him. Except people think I am even funnier than people in the movie thought he was, because I am a white female.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Today during English Club the students were telling me about their weekends. One boy told me about a ceremony traditional to the area that I hadn’t known about, and it was such a wonderful experience to learn about this while listening to him describe it in English (and Portuguese every once in a while when he got stuck). When a woman gives birth, she and the baby stay inside the house for four weeks, during which time other family members stop by to visit, help out, and do the chores she would have normally done. At the end of four weeks she is finally allowed to leave the house again, at which point they throw a small party in her honor to celebrate. This was the party my student was telling me about—his mother gave birth to a baby boy four weeks ago.
We changed our REDES meeting times again, this time to a free period at the end of the school day, so all of the girls would already be at school. And this finally seems to be working—they all show up and show up on time. We talked about being present at meetings and participating in extra-group activities. They all said that someone would have to have been present at all of the meetings in the previous month. When I reminded them that if we had something planned for right now, only one of them would have been able to participate and they said it was okay—they didn’t deserve to.
Our REDES group is planning to present a small theater piece at the Mozambican Women’s Day (April 7th) celebration at the town monument. Marcia, my participant/Facilitator discovered the Maya Angelou poem “Still I Rise” (translated into Portuguese) and fell in love with it, so now we will also present that. We just began talking about these two things yesterday and during today’s meeting three girls presented the poem beautifully (not by heart yet, but they knew their parts) and they basically ran through the entire play. I was blown away. It was such a great meeting, the girls were all fairly focused and being productive, but were also energetic and being a little silly, the meeting was a wonderful mixture of productivity and ridiculousness and giggles.
Today is Fat Tuesday so tonight the sisters and the girls celebrated Carnival. Maintaining last year’s tradition, I “painted” (with markers and glitter pens) the faces of the girls and everyone wore loud and ridiculous outfits. There are some benefactors of the mission visiting from Swaziland and Portugal, so they had brought some nice cheese and meats which were a great surprise. One volunteer gave the girls some long balloons that fly around making a fantastic noise, so the refectory was filled with shrieks and squeals of all the girls chasing them around. And, because this is Mozambique, dinner was followed by a dance party.


Yesterday we got a ride with one of Erin’s colleagues who used to live next door to her but now ironically lives next door to Ann. He was with his buddies who work for HALO trust, a demining organization in Mozambique. We have been seeing their cars, t-shirts, and tent cities for 17 months now, as they move around the country deactivating landmines left over from the civil war. At Ann’s request, I asked one of the guys if he would trade his shirt for hers, a “Green Beer Day” t-shirt from Miami of Ohio. After a bit of cajoling he agreed, and from that point on he thought it was the coolest and funniest thing he had ever done. He told us that he would ask for t-shirts for Erin and me and next time we were in Maputo we would have to call him to get them. We can’t wait to get our cool new t-shirts! And we carefully instructed him that his new t-shirt was a party t-shirt, so it was to be worn when having a good time.

Friday, March 4, 2011


March 3rd is the day that class lists are finalized (finally) for the year. Today during one of my lessons the director of that class came in to write down everyone’s ages, so I continued writing on the board during this. Most of my students are 17, 18 and 19, but one student responded that he was 21, and I whipped around in such shock that a lot of the class laughed at me. There are a couple 21 year olds. And when a couple students responded that they are 22, I must have registered complete shock on my face, because the whole class erupted in laughter. I am 24.
I have one REDES (Girls In Development, Education and Health) participant, Marcia, who is in the 12th grade this year and absolutely wonderful. She is always enthusiastic about everything we do and really embraces the REDES mission, so at meetings and events she wants to actually discuss and learn things, rather than just chat with friends. She has also taken on the role of big sister and leader within the group, since all of the other girls are in the 9th grade. The problem is that all of my 9th graders have class in the afternoons, so we meet in the mornings, but she has classes in the morning, so she can’t make it to our meetings. So, thanks to helpful suggestions from other REDES PCVs, I asked her if she would be interested in starting her own REDES group at the primary school that she would be Facilitator of and I could help out with. She was immediately enthusiastic about this idea so I gave her the REDES Manual to look over to prepare to go present the idea to the director of the primary school. Apparently she did nothing but pore over it for three days straight (her brother is in my English Club). Yesterday we went to the primary school to present the idea to Irmã Agnes, the newest sister at the mission who is the director of the primary school. She seemed receptive to the idea but she asked if we could give her something in written form. Marcia was immediately chagrined but it took me a second to realize—right, this is Mozambique, such an overly formal culture, of course we needed to prepare something written. So Marcia came back this afternoon with a beautifully written description of what REDES is, what she hopes to do this year with her group at the school, what ages the girls should be, etc. Irmã Agnes told us she would talk to teachers and get back to us on Tuesday or so with a group of girls.
As we were leaving the primary school I wanted to tell Marcia about the idea Ann and I had for a Women’s Day (April 7th) celebration, but I could hardly get a word in because she couldn’t stop excitedly talking about things she had discovered in the REDES manual. I (and other PCVs) have always considered the REDES Manual pretty useless and un-helpful, but to Marcia, she had discovered a whole new world in this manual. She excitedly told me about a poem that speaks about being a woman, how we should prepare it for the celebration. She had a long list of other activities and discussion topics that she couldn’t wait to try out with the REDES girls. Her enthusiasm is amazing—all PCVs wish we could coax as much interest out of the Mozambican women (mostly teachers) who we recruit to facilitate our REDES groups with us. This year I will focus my energies on helping her lead this group and develop her leadership and facilitation skills because I think she will be a great group Facilitator and, more importantly, I think she will continue to have REDES groups long after I am gone.
I still haven’t received my schedule for the mornings, but I get asked on a daily basis by students and colleagues when we will begin our morning section English Club. Schedules are hard enough to deal with here, I don’t want to set a time until I know my schedule, so I don’t have to change the meeting times later. But I think students think I am trying to give them the brush-off. I just wish I could get my schedule!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Today in class a student sneezed and another student said, “bless you.” I was ecstatic. They have also mastered “sit on the floor” in English. The small victories.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


A few days ago the young man who works in the secretary’s office at the school approached me and explained how his community in the bush about an hour from the school is building a new Catholic church and, though the local diocese has contributed some funds, and each member of the community has contributed some, they will still come up short. He was wondering if I knew of any way we could raise funds for this project, or any people I could ask. I explained that it would be difficult since, as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I really shouldn’t be involved in things pertaining to religion, but I would try, especially since this building would in many respects be a community building, much more than a religious building. How much money were they short, I asked? He started hemming and hawing and told me that a donation couldn’t really be given a numerical value since it should come from the heart and anything that truly comes from the heart cannot be measured. (Mozambicans have a way of getting extremely philosophical when all I want is simple answer. Once I asked a colleague how much it would cost to rent a truck to transport building supplies and he drew me a diagram that included the supplies, the starting point, the ending point, the truck, and the voyage before he finally—and with some urging—gave me a number.) I told him he needed to give me a number, I needed to know if I was asked for 5 Meticais or 5 thousand Meticais. He laughed at this but it took about three more cycles through this conversation before he would give me a number. He eventually said 7,000 Meticais—but any donation would be appreciated greatly in its generosity, whether it was more or less than this amount. I was expecting him to say much more, at 34 Meticais to the dollar (I’m not positive what the exact exchange rate is today), this is about $206. If there is anyone reading who can and would like to donate some or all of this money to this community, please email me, I will provide you with pictures throughout the whole process, and the community would be incredibly grateful.