Yesterday I was playing Scrabble again in my English club, this time with different students. I wasn’t sure how the game would go because these students are only in 10th grade, thus their English is understandably not as good. I did the first word to give an example, and explained how their subsequent words would have to use letters that were already on the board. One student took all of his letter pieces and started laying them down into what didn’t look like a word, so I thought, oh no, he totally doesn’t understand the game. I reminded him that he couldn’t just put the letters down at random, that he had to make a real English word. He responded “but isn’t ‘erosion’ a word?” Wow. Yes. I felt chagrined and like a bit of a jerk!
One thing that I think Americans have the most trouble adjusting to in Mozambique is the fact that there is no concept of personal space. Now I hardly even notice when a person bumps me as they pass or sits down “next” to me and basically sits on my lap. But what I, and many other PCVs, find most disconcerting is how often people reach out just to touch us. Like the way you reach out to gently poke Jello, just out of curiosity and to watch it jiggle, I get touched like that all the time. Anytime I walk past the primary school kids (and they walk directly in front of my house, so this is daily) one of them will inevitably reach out to touch (not grab, just touch) my clothing. This morning on my run I ran by an eighth grade student who participated in science fair and as he was saying hi to me he reached out and touched my arm. This afternoon in class, one of my troublemakers was making a lot of noise. Not wanting to disrupt the class, I simply moved closer to him and put my hand on his desk as a warning. But then he reached out and touched one of my fingers, catching me completely off guard. And one of the Mozambican women we work with for REDES is constantly (when she isn’t hugging us) stroking or grabbing our faces and running her hands through our hair.