On Saturday mornings we go to a nearby primary school for our educational outreach program, where I work with the grade sevens. We sing warm-up songs (my many years as a camp counselor paying off), play math games, study the world map, have dictionary races, and read, basically anything that is both fun/interactive and educational. We have a rule that we speak only English during our group time, which I constantly have to remind them about. We were doing a math game in which only two people are playing at a given time, so I let the others chat quietly as long as it’s in English. I saw a few of the girls giggling and writing something, but after I had ensured they were speaking and writing in English I let them continue. Eventually they passed the note to me (picture below) asking me if we could play musical chairs. I obviously couldn’t say no when they had asked like this, and in English, so we ended today with a lively game of musical chairs.
One thing that is remarkable about this note is that they described the game, since they couldn’t remember the name. This may not seem like a big deal, but this is actually a skill that needs to be learned, and it’s not something that many people here can do. Last year I was reading an article in the Peace Corps office when I came across a word I didn’t know: fecundidade. I asked the Peace Corps employees in the office (Mozambicans, but highly educated Mozambicans) what the word meant. Well fecundity, obviously. I didn’t know what that meant, so I asked them to explain the concept. None of them could, they just kept repeating fecundity as if I was a moron, so I finally unearthed a dictionary. It meant fertility. I was blown away that none of my highly educated and intelligent colleagues could say something along the lines of “it’s the number of children a woman has.” There are some things I have always thought of as being inherent, not a skill to be learned. But being here has taught me that instead so many of these things are incredibly rooted in culture and the way people in a society are expected to think. So this is why I was doubly pleased by this note from my students.