I love to read. In fact, I’m kind of obsessed with reading.
While I’ve always know, as least theoretically, that a lot of people do not
grow up with books in their homes, I’ve never really thought much about it.
However, Mozambique is one of the places where very few people have books in
their homes, or really any access to non-academic books. My host family in
Namaacha had a bible and Xangana to Portuguese dictionary – which actually was
probably a lot of books for most families. Part of the problem is how expensive
book are, I went into a bookstore in Maputo where paperback classics translated
into Portuguese were about twenty US dollars, which is a crazy amount of money
to expect people here to pay for a book. Finding books in Portuguese is another
part of the problem and this is combined with the struggle to find Portuguese
books that are relevant to people in Africa.
A program called Books for Kids – Africa provided each
volunteer in my group with 50 children’s books, all of which are in Portuguese
and written for an African audience. The books are awesome and most are quite
beautifully illustrated. Zach and I have divided our books between the
preschool in our front yard and the youth center and this past week I started
to go into the center to sit with the kids and read. It was awesome! Probably
around 40 kids passed through over the 3-ish hours I was there, some stayed for
10 minutes, but some just camped out for an hour or two. I helped a couple of
kids with their books, one girl was reading one of the very few English books
that the center has (the content was a bit too much for her understanding, but
it’s still good for her pronunciation). I’m going to try to be at the center a
couple of times a week so that kids get a chance to use the books and hopefully
really learn to enjoy reading – sounds corny, but I really cannot imagine
growing up without access to books. Even if Sequim’s library felt small at
times, it’s looking pretty ginormous from here.
Anyways, if you or anyone you know has any interest in
sending kids books in English (they can be new, used or pretty much anything in
between) to Mozambique, please let me know. I’m hoping to be able to expand the
school’s library (which currently consists of only about 50 or so textbooks) as
well the youth center’s. The English books are wonderful for the kids’
pronunciation and will hopefully really help with their pronunciation and comprehension,
as we don’t have any English textbooks either in the library or the classroom.
Kids definitely are not coddled here in Mozambique. While they are obviously well loved, parents here just don't worry nearly as much as they do in the States. I frequently see five year olds that have their infant siblings strapped to their back with a capulana while their parents are off at work or doing some other household activity. But the most blatant example of this is when the preschool students (the preschool and I share a front yard) leave for the day. In the States, there would be crowds of parents waiting to pick up their kids . . . but here the five year olds attempt to help the three year olds find their way home from school. This surprisingly usually works out fairly well, but sometimes has sad results.
The other week, Zach was basically given a 3 year old girl to take to the mission . . . but the preschool had already ended. And no one knew who the girl was. She didn't speak any Portuguese and when asked in Chitswa where she lived, she just shrugged. Anyways, I ended up watching that girl for about two hours or so, until the mission's empregada carried her home. Apparently her parents finally found her the next morning.
This week I was walking from the school to my house for lunch and I ran into another little girl who was about three years old and was just sobbing. It was really sad, and I couldn't just keep on walking. So, guessing that she either leaving or going to the preschool (they have an afternoon and a morning class), I grabbed her hand and started walking towards the compound. She continued to sob, so then I just picked her up and continued to walk down the hill. At home, this would probably be cause for concern, and I still kind of feel like I'm stealing a child, or that someone is going to run after me. People definitely gave me some odd looks, but no one said anything about the fact that I was walking down the hill with a child that obviously was not my own. Luckily, the preschool teachers did know who this little girl was, she had just gotten lost on her way from home to school and I can only hope she also made it back home!
As I traveled to Vilankulos last weekend to post my other
blogs, I was reminded of yet another thing that is different in Mozambique. The
length of the (only) one lane road leading into Inhassoro is lined with red and
white striped poles – which I had never really given a second thought about
until the other day when, in the middle of grading, it felt as though we were
having a minor earthquake. I was a bit confused, especially as they continued
over the next couple of days. But then I met a couple of employees of the
de-mining crew that is living in a camp outside of Inhassoro. Apparently the
mini “earthquakes” that I had been feeling for the last week are so were
actually exploding landmines. The road between the EN-1 (one of the main roads
in Mozambique) and Inhassoro apparently cuts directly through what (to me,
anyways) seems to be a fairly large minefield. Although, thankfully, I have no
frame of reference for the size of “normal” minefields - so my judgment might
be completely off.
While it’s obviously great that Mozambique is dealing with
the problem of landmines, it’s a bit petrifying to think that the entire road
that my chapa barrels down to get to the EN-1 is even more hazardous than I
previously thought. These landmines are also one of the more salient reminders
of the fact that Mozambique underwent a devastating civil war that ended less
than twenty years ago and that, as a stable independent country, Mozambique is
still fairly young. I try and remember this when teaching/the education system
The newest development in my life as a teacher is the
addition of one third year English class to my schedule. During training I used the word "sorpresa" a lot . . . and it seems to be the ongoing theme of my Peace Corps service. While I don’t think
the class will be too difficult to teach (the students already have a pretty
good grasp of the language and as a third year class there are only between 10
and 20 students), I’m a little freaked out by the addition of another lesson
plan as chemistry planning already occupies a good portion of my time. It’ll be
nice to have another small class where I might actually be able to learn the
students’ names, but we’ll see how this whole second subject thing goes.
I am currently teaching my chemistry students about atoms
and elements . . . and how to calculate the number of protons, neutrons, and
electrons in each atom given a certain set of information. Neither math or
science are my strongest subjects, but these are the most basic of algebra
problems – A=Z+n (usually you have to solve for n). It took me about half the
class to explain how to solve this equation and took the whole forty-five
minutes to get through five problems. I’m a bit nervous for what’s going to
happen when we start balancing equations. But this ongoing difficulty with any
form of math means that I almost start dancing (and definitely start singing
alleluia in my head) every time a student finally gets how the problems work.
For their first assignment, my students did an experiment
that used iodine to see which foods had starch. We don’t have any lab
equipment, so the experiment was done in my Tupperware containers, but actually
seemed to go fairly well. During the lesson before I had gone over the format
of the lab report that the students needed to turn in for their first grade. I
gave them all of the needed information, the only information they needed to
provide was their name and class, their thoughts to complete the hypothesis, to
fill in the table of data, and to write their own conclusion (all of which were
pretty much spelled out for them). I also offered office hours where they could
come down to the mission to talk to me about any questions they may have
regarding the lab report. When only three students came to talk to me, I
started to get a little nervous.
Sure enough, over half of my students failed their first assignment.
It’s hard because I don’t know if they just didn’t understand my Portuguese, if
this kind of assignment was just completely new to them, or if they just didn’t
care. I’m guessing it’s some combination of all of these factors, but I am just
rather frustrated with the results. I am offering students the chance to redo
the exam, but thus far very few have taken me up on the offer. Some students
did do very well on the lab report, so that’s encouraging.
The first time I washed my clothes by hand I decided that I
needed an empregada (basically someone who comes does the household chores). However,
when I got to site, before school started, I really had nothing else to do, so
laundry and cleaning weren’t that big of a deal. Plus, my house is super small,
so cleaning really doesn’t involve that much. In my post-rat world, where I am
now teaching chemistry and English, I really just don’t have time to do laundry
(which takes a whole day and requires that it be sunny . . . somewhat difficult
even during a fairly dry rainy season). So Zach and I finally found an
empregada, Rosa, who started work this week. And (so far at least) she is
fantastic – my clothes are cleaner than I am able to get them by hand and she
even irons J
Plus, while we really only wanted someone to wash our clothes, apparently
that’s not normal, so she’ll also be stopping by once a week to clean our
houses. Yay!! After the rat finally seemed to have disappeared I did a major
house cleaning (bleaching pretty much everything), but it’ll be really nice to
have someone to help get rid of any evidence that the rat ever existed.
It seems as though my “friend” has finally either died or
just peaced out. After a month of visiting my house every night, I am almost
positive (but don’t want to try my luck) that the rat is finally gone. Thank
the lord because I’m pretty sure I was close to becoming delirious from the
lack of sleep. One of my PC friends in Mozambique has an ongoing rat problem .
. . and I have no idea how she manages. Even after a month of dealing with the
rat, I still wake up at pretty much any noise – meaning that since it has been
fairly windy lately, I wake up a lot to the sound of mafura falling on my tin
roof (which continues to scare the heck out of me).
During this past month I have perhaps become a bit more
crazy – there was a phase when I was convinced the rat was making a nest inside
of my mattress (this was due to my dad mentioning that the rat might be nesting
in my house and a friend in the North who found a mouse living in her
mattress). However, I’m also proud of my craftiness. Towards the end of the rat-insanity,
I was very frustrated with the rat’s ongoing walks along the top of my mosquito
net while I was sleeping. Because I don’t have a ceiling (just a roof) I had to
attach my mosquito net to the roof beams . . . which the rat used to get into
the house. So I marched over to the local hardware store (where I’m pretty sure
they think I’m crazy) to buy 2x2-ish pieces of wood which I then sawed into 6
foot long pieces to create my new canopy frame. Plus, I also talked to the
Padre and at some point they are going to put cement in the gaps in my ceiling
(helping put a stop to any future rat problems while also helping with my
ongoing war against sand/dirt/leaves). And my latest care package from my
family included a bunch of sticky traps, although the only thing I’ve managed
to catch so far is a small lizard – actually kind of sad.
At least one cat stayed in my house every night for about
two weeks, and I’m continuing to sleep with the lights on. The cats aren’t
staying in my house any more (thank goodness) and if the sticky rat trap stays
empty for the next couple of days, I might even try to sleep without the
lights. Big steps.