Friday, July 13, 2012

And on to Pemba

Day #4: Sucky bus ride and Alto Molocue
Buses in Moz serve as transportation for both people and stuff. Massive amounts of stuff. Of course, on my 4 am bus ride to Alto Molocue, I got stuck in the corner seat in the last row. Thankfully I had a window, but due to the amount of stuff (and people) in the aisle, I never left the bus. For 13 hours. It was pretty hellish as I also made the unfortunate decision to wear jeans – a good choice at 4 am in the mountains, but a very bad choice at 1 pm. This trip should not have taken nearly this long, but my bus driver drove really fast and stopped a lot, for very long periods of time. This allowed me a chance to become best friends with the Zimbabwean women next to me who are scandalized that my parents would let me move to Mozambique without first getting married (they were 30 and living with their parents) and really confused about why I was taking a bus instead of a plane (bus ticket = 40 dollars-ish, plane ticket > 400 dollars). Anyways, made it to Alto Molocue, stayed at another PCV’s house, made and ate tacos. Slept.

Day #5: Back of a truck, slowest chapa ever, Nacaroa
Left Alto Molocue at a semi-decent hour, Sam helped me find a boleai, leading to rumors that we are married (I was asked by the police at the checkpoint two hours outside of Alto Molocue if I was Sam’s wife. Mozambican fofoca is ridiculous). Anyways, my boleai was a seat in the back of a truck. Which normally would kind of suck, but was amazing because 1. I was really tired of sitting 2. Zambezia is beautiful. So I had a lovely 3 – 4 hour ride to Nampula. And then I made the poor life decision to take a chapa instead of boleai-ing to Nacaroa. While the chapa left in a relatively quick manner, I was crammed into the front with Mozambican guy and my large backpack, in a seat that more or less straddled the gearshift (awkward) and did not have a back. So while the guy next to me was pestered about his white girlfriend (me), I attempted to arrange myself in the seat so that I wasn’t being felt-up every time the driver needed to shift gears. The chapa driver decided to fill the car up to the max and we proceeded down the road at a roaring speed of probably at least 50 km/hr under the speed limit (unclear what our actual speed was because the speedometer didn’t actually work). When I finally got to Nacaroa, I had lost circulation in my leg and basically fell out of the car, much to the amusement of my fellow travelers. Found Katy, ate fried rice, discovered that I now had a reverse sock tan line due to wearing leggings while sitting in the back of the truck (win), slept.

Day #6: Nacaroa
Katy had to proctor an exam in the morning, so I walked with her to the secondary school and dropped off our dead cell phones with the nuns on the way (Nacaroa’s five hours a night of electricity decided not to work when I was there. Apparently they ran out of fuel for the generator?). I walked around the market a little to buy veggies for our nut roast taco salads and stuff for hummus. My attempts to buy bread failed because they had just run out (in Nacaroa there is a guy who makes bread in a giant clay oven in his backyard), so the guy told me to be back at 9. I of course knew this meant 9:30 – 10, so I went back to Katy’s house, caught up on my celebrity gossip magazines and headed out around 10 to go back to the bread guy’s house. The bread still hadn’t gone into the oven, so I sat around and waited. And am now pretty much best friends with Nacaroa’s bread guy. Also, another Nacaroa accomplishment was that I lit the carvao fire for cooking by myself. In under ten minutes. Without the use of gasoline. Victory. Despite the fact that I definitely appreciate the fact that Inhassoro has electricity, I envy the fact that Katy does not have any neighbors who enjoy blasting their music at all hours of the day and night – the neighbor behind my house is currently going through a 5 am LMFAO phase.

Day #7: Boleias and Pemba
The next morning we headed out for Pemba. Nacaroa doesn’t have a chapa stop, but is basically right on the main road, so Katy and I headed that way, hoping that we would look pathetic enough with our large backpacks that some kind soul would let us ride in their car. We finally got a ride part way to Pemba that was in a super chique car with air conditioning and everything . . . but afterwards we ended up stranded. So it took about twice the normal amount of time to get to Pemba. When we arrived in Pemba, I tried to book my bus ticket back on Sunday, however there apparently aren’t any buses that leave on Sunday. So I booked my ticket from Pemba to Vulanjane (the crossroads to Inhassoro) for Monday, arriving on Tuesday. This bus seemed a bit more organized and because I was booking my ticket so early, I managed to get a front row window seat. Then we headed to Christina and Ellen’s house (lucky for Ellen she was actually visiting the US at the time) and explored a bit of the city and Wimbe Beach, which is about a 20-minute walk from their house.

Day #8: The Beach
Katy had to leave on Sunday morning, so we headed to the beach for most of the day on Saturday. I was attempting to even out my bizarre reverse sock tan line – an endeavor that was not successful (it seems to be a reoccurrence of my high school self’s ever-present shin guard tan line). It was still much warmer in Pemba than in Inhassoro (where it’s been hovering around 60 degrees some nights . . . embarrassingly enough I’ve started wearing long johns to sleep. This will be a problem when I move back to the states), so the water felt amazing and it was just wonderful to not be sitting in any type of moving vehicle. After spending pretty much the whole day at the beach, all of us (at this point poor Christina had collected more PCVs, there were 5 of us in total) headed back up to the house where Eric – who had just returned from a vacation in France with his family – shared a massive amount of AMAZING cheese with us. It was so good, and made me really want a 5-pound block of Tillamook cheddar cheese.

Day #9: The Beach (again)
After Katy hit the road, the Lona, Eric and I headed down to the beach again in search of seafood. Our trip was unsuccessful (although we would later find lobster), so we ended up walking along the beach and through Pemba, finding soft serve ice cream along the way of course. The rest of the day involved another beach session (and the continuation of my inability to get rid of the reverse sock tan line) . . . and then I got sick. Luckily, this was just the headache kind of sick, not the I-ate-bad-food kind of sick, because I had a bus to catch at 4 am the next morning.

Day #10 and #11: THE BUS
I got on the bus from Pemba to Maputo at 3:30 in the morning and began a journey of epic proportions. Nothing really exciting happened – but it took 27 hours to get from Pemba to Vulanjane. And it kind of sucked. Not as much as Maningue Nice sucks, but it was still icky. Luckily I was able to sleep on and off for most of the trip, subsisting mainly on tangerines and bananas since I was still not feeling all that great. The people I sat next to weren’t even too bad until the last guy. Who kept falling asleep on my shoulder. But the most exciting/scary part of the trip was that when I paid for my ticket, they accidently left off a zero when they wrote out the ticket – the destination and origin were correct, the price was just off. In the US I really don’t think it would have been a problem, I had obviously purchased the ticket. But they freaked out about it about halfway through the bus trip, at one point even told me that they were going to have to kick me off the bus. In what was basically the middle of nowhere. If I were Mozambican, I’m pretty sure that I would have been kicked off the bus. However, finally they got in contact with the Pemba office (after I had a panic attack for a good hour or two) who confirmed that I had purchased the ticket for the correct amount. So, on Tuesday, at about 7 am, I finally made it to Vulanjane, got a chapa into Inhassoro, and made it back home . . . only to find out that I didn’t have electricity or water because one of the wires had split when the mission had moved the generator. Fun stuff right there. Luckily my empregada had already swept my house free of all of the bees that had been killed by the guard’s baygon sweep the day I left.  

Friday, July 6, 2012

On the road again . . .

After conselho de notas I escaped with some Italian friends to Gorongosa National Park – one of the only places in Mozambique where you can still see the wildlife that Africa is famous for. After years of war and mismanagement, Mozambique is working to restore the parks and hopefully rebuild the wildlife population. So, early in the morning I woke up ready to go camping for a few days in the park before beginning my trek to the northern part of Moz. Since it’s winter here the days are relatively short and I woke up before sunrise to get things ready. (Backstory: I have a bees’ nest close to my house that has become increasingly active) As I was getting ready a couple of bees were buzzing around the lights, coming in through the gap in my roof (see rat story). It wasn’t that big of a deal until all of a sudden my house was full of hundreds of bees, all swarming around the lights. So I ran outside, awkwardly standing in the doorway to my house as a couple of Mozambican women who were getting water stared at me. I got the guard to help me spray Baygon (a crazy toxic bug spray that will probably eventually give me cancer) and cart all of my stuff outside. Luckily no one was stung and as of today the gap in my roof is partially filled in, which is cause to celebrate since I've been trying to get it closed for 6 months.

Day #1: Gorongosa
We all headed to Gorongosa – about an 8-hour drive from Inhassoro – and set up our tents only to find that the only food source (a restaurant) inside the park (the nearest town was 3 hours away) only has buffets on the weekend. And the buffet was 700 mets a person . . . which is approximately 10% of my monthly income. For one meal. Needless to say I had a momentary freak-out, after which we convinced them to make us sandwiches for lunch and dinner. Drove around a bit and saw the ruins of an old Portuguese cotton factory, warthogs, various types of antelope, and baboons. Next week I'll post pictures

Day #2: Gorongosa
We left in the morning for a drive to the town of Gorongosa (to get real food) and a drive up Mt. Gorongosa to hike to the waterfalls. The drive was super bumpy, but we made it up the mountain (oh how I dream of the US’s paved roads) and the walk and waterfalls were gorgeous. Plus we saw pineapple fields – though I’ve known for a while that pineapples grow on bushes, I still find the plants hilariously awkward. Plus, they wrap the pineapples in hay as they grow so that they don’t get sunburned. I don’t see many other non-Peace Corps Americans in Mozambique so was surprised to learn that the other guy on our tour was from Maryland . . . apparently NASA just installed some kind of equipment in the park. Unclear. We made it back to the camp and made s’mores with the rest of the marshmallows that had been sent from the states (you can’t get marshmallows in Moz). They were awesome. If you have any desire at all to send a care package, please include s'more supplies. You'll be my favorite person.

Day #3: Gorongosa and Chimoio (Mozambique’s Independence Day)
On our last day in the park we went on a game drive, not really expecting to see much since the park is definitely still in the rebuilding phase. BUT WE SAW LIONS!!! There were either 2 or 3 female lions and a male lion. It was very exciting. We also saw a ton of monkeys, warthogs, impalas, and baboons. But weirdly no elephants (that is one of animals that most everyone says they see in Gorongosa). Even if we hadn't seen any animals, just driving around that area of Mozambique was awesome as the plants and terrain are completely different than what we have here in Inhassoro. After the game drive we headed out and the Italians dropped me off at the crossroads for Chimoio where I stayed with a PCV and celebrated Mozambique’s Independence Day with spaghetti, cake and pumpkin pudding. I caught a bus at 4 am the next morning . . .

Conselho de Notas

As an industrial and commercial school, my school has different breaks than the secondary schools where most PCVs work. This is both a benefit and a detriment – conferences aren’t scheduled during our breaks (because no one else has them) which gives us more time to travel. However this also means we have to miss school for PC conferences. We aren’t usually able to travel with other volunteers, but this almost always guarantees that the volunteers will be at site when I pass through. Over the last month, Estrela do Mar hasn’t had classes and after making through the much dreaded conselho de notas, I fled Inhassoro to visit some friends up North – spreading New Girl episodes and the Hunger Games movie as I went. But that’ll be the subject of the next blog – this one is dedicated to the joy that is conselho de notas.

Conselho de notas is something I had been dreading for a while. Most of the secondary school PCVs miss the first couple of conselhos due to the PC conference schedule. Since we’re on a semester system instead of trimesters, I am not so lucky. There was a mid-semester conselho in April . . . but the school forgot to tell Zach and I about it, so we missed it (and thanks to Aunt Mary’s visit in August, I’ll miss it again. Halleluiah!) But there was no missing this end of the semester conselho. In the US computers take over most of the functions of a conselho de notas, which is to verify that the grades have been recorded correctly in about 4 different places – namely by reading aloud columns of numbers while the teachers attempt to check that all the grades are correct (with between 20-50 students in each of my turmas, each of which have three different grades to be verified, I will probably have nightmares about numbers being shouted at me in Portuguese until I am old and gray). Anyways, the first part of conselho is just making sure that everyone calculated their averages correctly and properly copied them in the various books. Then we get to the fun part – reading each student’s grades, assigning them a behavior grade and, if needed, discussing whether or not any of their grades should be changed. This time the discussion wasn’t too heated because students can only fail at the end of the year. I imagine that the end of the year conselho will be pure hell . . . I really don’t want to change my grades as I feel that if you put forth pretty much any effort in my class (and don’t cheat) you’ll pass. If I can understand chemistry in Portuguese, my students should be able to as well J

Basically it was three days of this craziness after which everyone led me to believe that I was done for the semester. Luckily I didn’t escape right away, since when I went back to the school at the end of the next week (to check for the tenth time that I did not have to do anything else before traveling), I found out that I had to sign all of the grade sheets and that a number of my grades had been changed by the directors to improve the school’s pass average. Actually, I feel kind of bad for the directors of my school. They talked about how they weren’t going to change grades, but the reality is that if they don’t achieve a certain percentage (which is almost impossible with the insane curriculum we are given) the district will say that the teachers have stopped teaching and close the school down. So, while I know this is not a battle I can or want to fight, I’m worried about how it’ll affect my students’ ongoing lack of motivation – if they can fail the assignments and still pass the class are they going to make any effort at all?