Thursday, April 28, 2011


Yesterday was the first English Club meeting after the holidays, so we were talking about what everyone had done for the holidays and for Easter weekend. One kid, one of my bigger personalities, had everyone rolling on the floor as he told an outlandish story about flying up to Nampula city to visit his white Brazilian girlfriend named Rita and then his adventures on the bus trip back (not true, but in English and extremely entertaining). I had lent the book “Matilda” to my best English speaker right before the holidays and apparently he read diligently the whole week and finished it! (He is the brother of my oldest REDES girl who I am training to become a group facilitator and helping to start her own REDES group in the primary school, so apparently awesomeness runs in their family.) I asked him tell everyone else a little bit about the book, so he started summarizing it down to every last detail. “This girl Matilda spends most of her time at home alone because her parents are always gone. Her dad sells old cars and he is a bad man, and her mom is always gone playing bingo and I don’t know what that is, but she is always doing it.” One of the difficulties of reading stories from America is trying to explain all of the culturally-rooted details that my kids here in fairly rural Mozambique have difficulty wrapping their minds around.
Yesterday during our REDES meeting a song came on and the lyrics were “we ready, we ready.” One of my girls got a huge grin on her face and said to me, “big sister, listen, they’re singing about us: ‘we REDES, we REDES!’”

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Today Margarita (who used to be the littlest in the orphanage but is now the ringleader for the munchkins) counted the bracelets on my arm (9) all the way through correctly without skipping or adding numbers! It was the first time I had heard her do this! It’s amazing to remember that when she arrived here 15 months ago she didn’t speak a word of Portuguese and wandered around in a daze, crying most of the time. Now she walks around like she owns the place and will be years ahead of her classmates when she begins primary school next year.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Happy Easter! Ann and Erin came out to spend the Easter weekend here at the mission since it has such a warm and family-like feel, it’s a great place to spend holidays.
On Friday I went running. I ran out three miles and then back three miles—and had a young man ride his bike next to me the entire three miles back. He initially rode past me on the other side of the road, but he kept looking back at me and then eventually slowed down to my pace and biked along at my pace on the other side of the road. I was annoyed and wanted to tell him to get lost, but like a good PCV I breathed deeply and continued to smile at and greet everyone I passed. After two miles he biked over to my side of the road and said something. I had my headphones in so I pulled on ear out, “what?” I asked, annoyed. “Where are you running to?” he asked. “Laura.” (Most everyone knows my mission as Laura Vicuña Secondary School, or Laura for short.) “Where are you from?” he asked. “Listen, I’m not here to converse” and I put my headphone back in my ear. He took the hint and biked back over to his side of the road and continued to bike along at my pace all the way back to the mission. When we get there I took a sharp turn and sprinted behind his bike into the mission, so he wouldn’t be tempted to try to start conversation again.
Ann bought us a pack of cookies that we were thoroughly enjoying. At one point, one fell and broke open and I saw a little bit of mold on the inside. We both laughed and shrugged, oh well. And yes, we finished the cookies.
I was looking at capulanas in stalls in the market. One young man selling said “look over here at this side, they are the prettier ones!” “You mean the more expensive ones” I responded. He smiled, busted. “But of course the prettier ones are the more expensive ones right?”
A Spanish volunteer who was here a few months ago left with me a balloon kit that he hadn’t had time to use with the kids. Since today was Easter, we decided to break out the kit with the girls. Turns out I make a killer balloon dog. And my hat isn’t half-bad, neither is my sword. Add balloon shape-making to my list of strange-and-not-necessarily-useful skills I have acquired while in the Peace Corps (others include prying a window open with a garden hoe to break in when you have locked the keys inside, scraping out the insides of a coconut and makinge coconut milk, shaking out peanut coverings using the wind, changing the plug on an appliance cord from a Chinese plug to a Mozambican one, killing and de-feathering a chicken, smelling out a dead rat, etc). On that subject, a few weekend ago out at Tsene (which is very remote) a fellow PCV Jon’s flip flop broke. Since he didn’t have another option for the rest of the weekend until we left Tsene, he successfully tied it together with palm leaves.
Since we are taking the GMAT in July, Ann and I have been making vocabulary flashcards and keeping them on us at all times. Apparently people here don’t use flashcards. The people who have seen me use them (including my colleagues) have been completely mystified as to how this method of studying works, even after I explain it. I also try to use it as a teaching tool, since we are taking the test in July, but have started studying already (in a country where people study the night before or the day of). Even one of the Sisters who I love and who is really hard-working and motivated has come up to me a couple times and asked me to help her with English. I tell her I would love to and she said, great, because she has a test on Thursday. Sorry, but there is nothing I can teach you in three days that you didn’t learn in a semester of classes.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Today for Good Friday we walked the Stations of the Cross before going inside the church. Three of the littlest girls had fallen asleep before we even got inside, Margarita actually falling asleep while she was walking, so I eventually just picked her up and carried her. Once inside, one girl actually fell off the bench at one point, reducing everyone to giggles.
I forgot to write about this before, but it happened a few weeks ago. Local languages are strictly prohibited from being spoken in the schools here in Mozambique. Last year, teaching math, I could hear right away when someone spoke in Txopi and they were immediately kicked out of class. It was easy when teaching math because the only language anyone should be speaking in the classroom was Portuguese, thus I could tell immediately when anything but Portuguese was spoken. But this year, teaching English, I honestly can’t tell sometimes if my students are speaking Portuguese, English, Txopi, or Pig Latin. One day I was writing a story on the board and the students were copying and chatting mildly as they did, which I didn’t mind. I thought I heard Txopi a few times, but I wasn’t positive so I didn’t say anything. At one point I was certain that I had heard Txopi so I turned around the sternly reminded them that, while the maternal languages are an important part of their heritage as Mozambicans, within the schools they are strictly prohibited. I reminded my students that, in order for Mozambique to develop as a country and stand a chance at competing with the rest of the world, they must speak Portuguese, their only unifying language, and they must speak it well. Then, I told them that the next person who spoke Txopi would be kicked out. About 40 seconds later I clearly heard Txopi so whipped around and asked the class who it was. When nobody offered a name I turned to the class leader and said, “chief, who said that?” He said he didn’t know so I said, “fine, get out.” When he protested I explained to the whole class that, unless somebody told me who had spoken, he would get kicked out of the lesson and afterwards I would move to the vice-class leader, next the leader of hygiene for the class, and so on. One boy raised his hand (actually one of my best English speakers and students). I asked him if he knew who had spoken, he said, “yes teacher, it was me.” I told him to leave and he did quickly and quietly, without making a scene or complaining. I was annoyed because he had been specifically warned, but I was impressed by his maturity in taking responsibility for his actions.


This past week there were no classes as it was the break between the first and second trimesters. But in Mozambique school breaks don’t mean vacation for the teachers, only the students. During these breaks the teachers come into school every day to complete grading, an incredibly tedious process because schools are huge here and everything is done by hand. Every single grade for each individual student (about 2000 in my school, and my school is one of the smaller ones) in every single discipline (about 10, depending on what grade they’re in) is written in pencil in four separate locations by the director of that class. (So, for example, last year as director of class 4 of 8th grade, I wrote out all of the grades for my 50 students in four separate places). Once this is done the teachers split into teams of three or four. In these teams we check all of these pencil-written grades to make sure they all concord, one person dictating the grade and everyone else verifying. Then we go back through and “paint” all of these grades, writing over the pencil with a blue pen, once again checking to make sure all of the grades in the separate locations agree. It is a tedious process, to say the very least. I am not director of a class this year (I think this was due to a fortunate oversight where I slipped through the cracks in my move from first cycle, 8th-10th grade, and second cycle, 11th-12th grade. Aside from hating the class I was director of last year, I also don’t think it is very helpful to the students to have a PCV as a director, because so many of the issues we have to deal with are very culturally-based).
Over the weekend one of our colleagues was hit by a car while he was riding his motorcycle and is in very bad shape. I haven’t heard any progress reports recently, but I believe he had hit his head, and he had been sent to the provincial hospital to be treated. His 8th grade son is a member of my English club, we are all praying for his recovery.
I took over his class for the week, completing his grading. We encountered a problem with this only once, when a student’s name was written on one list as “Octaviano” and on another list as “Octaviana” (yes, odds are that this student was the eighth-born in their family), thus changing from a male student to a female student. Since a lot of the class statistics involve gender (how many girls and boys, how many boys passing and girls passing, etc) this was a big problem and threw off my numbers initially. When we finally realized where the problem was, it then took a while to find a teacher who could say with certainty whether the student was a boy or girl. (The classes at my school have about 50 students in each of them and many of my colleagues teach at least 10 different classes, more in disciplines that only meet a couple times weekly. Thus many of my colleagues know few of their students’ names, normally just the best and the worst students get remembered and all 45 of the others get lost in the shuffle.) I got lucky this grading period though, I got put in a group with two other very work-focused colleagues, so we sped through our work (whereas many times last year we struggled to get everyone in our group sitting down and not on their cell phones at the same time).

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I can finally write about this! Those of you who know me well might have wondered a little when I mentioned a few times I was embroidering, here is the story. One of my friends and former teammates was in a terrible accident last year, so another friend organized the making of a quilt for her for her birthday. She organized for all of us to prepare one quilt patch each that would eventually all be conjoined into the quilt. When Guy and Anat visited me I embroidered my patch as quickly as possible (and embroidering for the first time in my life) because I wanted to send it back to America with them, since I don’t trust the mail system here. But before they headed stateside they visited family in South Africa and on their last night the backpack containing my quilt patch was stolen. So I made a second one. I made it very quickly and sent it as soon as possible, since the mail system is so unreliable here. I sent it from my post office here Inharrime, nicely demanding that they put the postage on the package and place it in the appropriate “out” box while I watched. And then I prayed. But it didn’t arrive and didn’t arrive. My wonderful friend who had organized the whole project didn’t want me to be left out from the quilt, so she replicated my patch using the picture I had sent her (and this was amazing of her to do, thank you Julie, but my patch was incredibly intricate so she wasn’t able to replicate everything and she would have been insane to try). But today I received an email—the patch had arrived! I am so happy and relieved.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Irmã Albertina, my school director, returned yesterday from her 40-day pilgrimage in Jerusalem. After a big hug the first thing she said to me was “oh my goodness you got so dark!” I laughed and tried to deny it but at that moment we both looked down at where she was holding my hand—and we were almost the same color. I told her that I thought she had gotten lighter without the African sun.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Because of the holiday last week, I just had my second Txopi lesson yesterday. It is interesting what my tutor has taught me in the first two lessons. We have obviously covered the basics (hello, my name is…), but I thought it was interesting that two of the other things I was immediately taught were, “my father is…” and how to respond to the question “what do the people look to when they awake in the morning?” (they turn to the work that must be done). I thought these were interesting because they are so culturally rooted.
I mentioned that my brother will be coming in June, so my tutor taught me how to introduce him and say that he is 18 years old. And thus I learned about the counting system. They have names for numbers 1-5. Then numbers 6-9 are named: 5 plus 1, 5 plus 2 and so on. My brother’s age, 18, is 10 plus 5 plus 3. I have noticed before that when people are talking in Txopi, they tend to say things like numbers or days of the week in Portuguese, mixed in with their Txopi. I guess this explains why, since Portuguese numbers are much simpler.
Apparently when the girls from the orphanage went to the beach a few weeks ago, some of them were able to catch about 30 tiny little fish that they have been keeping in a large can, hidden behind one of the dormitories. And they have been successful in keeping them alive so far, digging up worms and other bugs to feed them.
I called Barclays bank today because the PAO (Public Affairs Office of the US Embassy who gives us, REDES, our money) still hadn’t received the fax confirmation of the money transfer, despite the man telling me he would do it on that day, and a woman telling me she would do it when I called a week later. So today I explained that I was calling about a transfer on March 25th and needed the confirmation faxed and to please please please actually do it. The woman asked for the fax number and then told me she would take care of it. “Wait” I said. “What are you going to fax, how do you even know which transfer I am talking about?” She laughs and replies, “oh you’re that girls group right?” Well they aren’t very good at keeping their promises, but the Barclays in Inhambane knows my voice now!
On the trimestral exam the students were asked “how should students treat litter in the school yard?” Reading their answers I realize that, they don’t fully understand the meaning of the word litter, they think it refers to anything dirty. So a lot of them wrote about how, if we don’t keep our school yard clean, we will get diseases. I do like his mentality because litter in Mozambique is awful, but some of my students listed diseases they could get from litter and included malaria. First thing next trimester, we are doing a lesson on malaria.


I went down to Maputo Sunday to get some work done in the office using the internet and printer. But of course the printer was out of ink and the internet was spotty, oh well. Tonight the Ambassador threw a party to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Peace Corps, which was the real reason I had come down, my picture had won for the category “In the Community.” I posted the picture back in January I believe, I have baby Anata on my back and we’re talking to my host grandmother. The party was wonderful. All of the contest winners were there, including Mozambican students who had entered and won the art and sculpture competitions, so Peace Corps flew them down to the party as their prize. Their names were printed in the program, their artwork displayed, and they were called on stage for recognition—it really must have been one of the most phenomenal experiences of their lives. Also at the party were all of the RPCVs in Maputo (honestly, like half of the people in the Foreign Service), so I got to talk to a ton of interesting people.
I have tried and tried to upload videos of my girls from the Women’s Day Celebrate, but the internet has not been fast enough yet, and the videos simply never load.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Senhora Joana, the Inharrime Chief of Police

My girls during the theater piece

Timbila, the traditional wooden xylophone-like instrument, and dancing

The back of the administration building. the crowd forms a large square and the activities take place in the middle. It's a little awkward because all the VIPs sit on this stage, so all performances face toward them but then actually have their backs to the majority of the people.

On most holidays, after the formal ceremony things are moved behind the administration building for performances by local singing, dance, or theater groups. Here is one women's singing group performing a skit about male-female relationships

Every national holiday is celebrated at the town plaza with a wreath-placing ceremony

Everyone loved our shirts

My girls and facilitators at the beginning of the day


Today is Mozambican Women’s Day, the day my REDES (girls in development, education and health) group has been preparing for for over a month. They had prepared a poem, a theater piece, and a song to perform for the public at the town’s ceremony at Inharrime plaza. Everything started about an hour late, of course. My girls were pretty far down in the schedule, so by the time they were called, many had wandered off or weren’t paying attention, and one girl had even decided to go home for a little bit. So when the MC for the day called them up, they were so discombobulated and missing so many key people that they didn’t enter, so the MC moved on to the next group. I furiously ran back from my picture-taking place and reamed them out, reminding them that they were not only representing our REDES group, but also our entire school and this was frankly shameful. We found two of the missing girls and made a substitute for the other who was missing. I menacingly threatened them with what would happen if they didn’t go out and perform beautifully when they were called again, and then left to find the MC. I apologize profusely to the MC and assured her that we were ready to go next and thankfully she was gracious about it. And they did wonderfully. Three of the girls recited “Still I Rise” (in Portuguese) by Maya Angelou. Six of the girls performed a skit about a girl whose parents try to force her to drop out of school so she can marry a rich guy, but her friends advise her parents to allow her to continue studying and she ends up being a successful doctor. And the song was wonderful. The MC announced us as the REDES group from Laura Vicuña school and also that the following celebration would be sponsored by REDES. Also, Erin had made a large pink sign saying REDES with the emblem that my girls proudly carried around the whole morning and brought out during our performances, so it was a great publicity day for REDES as an organization.
Afterwards Ann, Erin, and I had planned an Inharrime Women’s Day Celebration of Women as an Inter-group Exchange for our two groups, and also to be an open ceremony for women in the community. As I have mentioned before, Erin, Ann and I covered the cost of getting 50 t-shirts made for this day and sold them for 10 Meticais to each of our girls. The idea was to have about 30 leftover to sell to women in the community, and when we ordered the t-shirts that was how the numbers worked out. But Erin and Ann’s group grew from about 6 to 12 participants, and mine grew from about 12 to 21 participants. So after group facilitators and guest speakers, we ended up with 7 shirts leftover. The shirts are awesome and also only 20 Meticais so of course everyone wanted one (men included), and a lot of women were upset that they didn’t end up getting one. We had to do a raffle basically for the remaining t-shirts to be fair and avoid the bloodbath we feared. The Mozambican facilitator for Ann and Erin’s group had the fantastic idea that all the facilitators should get the same capulana to wear on bottom, so all six of us facilitators (I have two in addition to myself) looked great and matched with our yellow shirts and capulanas.
We invited the Inharrime chief of police, doctor, and prosecutor (who are all women—go Inharrime) to be our guest speakers and guests of honor for the day, joining us and the girls for lunch. I had braced myself for the possibility that at least one of them wouldn’t show or that some catastrophe might happen. But it was perfect. The three wonderful guests had a great rapport with the girls, came prepared, and gave amazing talks in each of their respective areas. We had had a question brainstorming session with the girls for each speaker beforehand, and this really helped get the ball rolling, so thought-provoking questions were asked and the speakers answered thoughtfully and candidly. In addition to our 33 girls and the 6 of us facilitators, 21 women and girls from the community came to hear the speakers, which was awesome. We ended up ending an hour early because everyone had been there since 7am and the girls from my school needed to study, but it was the perfect amount of time.
Except for the one glitch when my girls didn’t appear when called, the day really couldn’t have gone better. I am so happy with how well everything went and how much everyone enjoyed it. And I am relieved it’s over.


Today as I walked by a classroom, one of my male students leaned out the window and said, “teacher, you are dressed to kill today!” (we recently learned this saying in class). Teacher-student relations are much different here than in the states, so he wasn’t out of line in saying that, but I still found myself torn between feeling really uncomfortable and also happy that he had retained information from a lesson.
Erin, Ann and I went shopping today for all of the supplies we will need for our Women’s Day celebration tomorrow. There ended up being so much stuff that we couldn’t carry it all, so we hired a man with his square flat-bed wheelbarrow that is common here. It turned out to cost only 30 Meticais for him to take all of our stuff to Erin’s house which was wonderful, but might turn into a bad habit!
When Ann and I got back to her house she put the key in the door and turned it and turned it and turned it. The key kept turning, but it never actually caught and unlatched the deadbolt like it was supposed to. So Ann went and found two neighbor boys who have some experience in carpentry. We had pried one window open with her hoe (I am constantly amazed by how handy I have become over here), so they tried unlatching the door through the window with a long stick, but the problem was that the actual deadbolt was locked and nothing would unlock it other than the key. They boys wanted to cut out the metal grate in one of the windows so someone could climb through and unlock the door from inside, but luckily Ann had just called our safety and security officer for Peace Corps and he advised against it. Since we were being no help, Ann and I eventually went over to the shade, laid out our capulanas that we always keep on us, and ate some oranges. After about 20 minutes, the boys were able to open the door, having had unscrewed the lock and forcing in through, bending it enough that the door would open. As like in America when you lock your keys in the car and call AAA to get the door open, I was a little bothered by how quickly and with few tools they were able to open the locked the door. But then again, anyone trying to get into Ann’s house wouldn’t go through the door. They finally got the door open right at 12pm which was frustrating because all stores here close for lunch from 12pm-2pm, so Ann had to wait until 2pm to go buy another lock and find a man to install it. Never a dull moment here.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Munny (my friend from Bowdoin College) cooking us delicious Mississippi shrimp gumbo


We spent the weekend at Tsene to celebrate Erin’s birthday. Even though Erin was actually sick for all of Sunday (we think she had sun stroke), I think everyone still have a wonderful time, and it’s pretty impossible not to at Tsene. Tsene Lagoa (Tsene Lagoon) is so named because tsene means salt in Txopi and it is incredibly salty (much more so than the ocean). On Sunday Yvette took some of us down to the salty lagoon for cleansing mud bath. When you get down next to the lagoon to smells awful, like sulfur. You wade out a few feet but the salt changes the consistency of the sand so you just sink in, so as soon as possible you belly flop in and swim out. You float so easily which is great because you can just relax on top of the water without trying. Stepping down once you’re out in the lagoon is kind of disconcerting because the bottom feels spongy or like what I imagine walking on a cloud must feel like. Then you let your feet sink down into the mud and you pull the mud back up with your feet. The mud looks like canned dog food and smells like boiled eggs, so it can be difficult to convince yourself to rub it on your face. But you rub it on your face and your shoulders and arms, and then just float and let yourself relax completely. Like I said, the water is so incredibly salty that you can cross your arms and still float and even when you are trying rinse the mud off your face, it’s difficult to stay underwater. And it stings your eyes, even if you keep them shut!

Friday, April 1, 2011


Happy birthday Erin! As soon as I can figure out how to cut out the first 35 minutes of the video where we wait for her to come out of her room, I will post the video of the prank we pulled on Erin. Despite the fact that she was born on April Fool’s Day, this was her first prank ever. So we took our work very seriously. In Mozambique they call April 1st the Day of Liars, so I told my class about the prank we pulled and they thought it was pretty of funny.


My friend from college, Munny, is visiting this week, she stopped by on a many-month tour of southern Africa. She came to my English Clubs today which was fun because although the students were really shy and didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to talk to her and ask her questions as much as I would have liked, they did somewhat. When she said she is from Mississippi one boy said, “oh, isn’t that a river?” which I found surprising. And she told them a Mississippi joke which, after a few retellings in a mixture of English and Portuguese, they found pretty funny. She told them about her travels, including visiting Robben Island, the famous prison on an island off the coast of Cape Town, where many political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, were kept during the times of apartheid. And shockingly, not a single one of my English Club participants knew what it was.
Some of the boys told me the story of how Inharrime got its name. Apparently Vasco da Gama got caught in a storm once, so came into Inharrime via the lagoon. When he arrived, he asked what the name of the place was. Apparently the locals thought he was asking about the crocodiles (which there allegedly used to be many of) and so they said “it’s a crocodile” in Txopi, the local language, and it sounded like Inharrime. I later asked my Txopi teacher and he told me the same story, but the animal was buffalo. I’ll have to keep asking around. But fascinating. I asked why many towns (and our province) start with the sound “eenyah” (written: Inh-). They explained that “ee” refers to something, like “it is…” or “this is…” and many of the towns in the province were named under similar circumstances, the Portuguese misunderstanding to what the locals were referring. Once again, I am learning more than ever before, all while my students get to practice their English!
Today I had my first Txopi lesson! Finally! My head hurt afterward from everything I had learned and all the new sounds I was trying to make. And my tutor kept trying, without much success, to get me to make the whistling sound. But it was fun and I am excited to learn!