Thursday, March 22, 2012

Photos - Church and School

The Catholic Church

Estrela do Mar - My school


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.  

Friday, March 16, 2012

Helicopter Parenting . . .

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!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Lions and Tigers and . . . Landmines? Oh My!

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 frustrates me.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Teaching - The Sorpresas Continue

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 "Cush" Life

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.

The Rat Situation

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.