Tuesday, October 22, 2013

And we're fallin' fast

Fair warning: This is not a happy blog post. While it is true that I will be COS-ing in a few short weeks and am so excited to travel and visit family and friends, this is not that post.

Two weeks ago one of my students passed away. I showed up to school for the morning assembly (we all gather in the courtyard for the national anthem, prayer, and announcements) and there my school's director announced that a pregnant, sixteen year-old student had died the day before. She had gone to the hospital for medication earlier in the week, where they had apparently given her the wrong medicine, causing a miscarriage. The hospital in Inhassoro couldn't help her, so they sent her to Vilankulo (she probably took a chapa as we don't have ambulances) and she passed away after getting to the hospital. The death was completely preventable had she been given the right medications or lived anywhere near an adequate hospital.

This announcement was made without warning - some of the students obviously already knew, but it came as a complete surprise to many. Her death was so sad, and what made it even worse was the lack of surprise/outrage/so many other emotions that would be felt in a society where the death of a sixteen year-old girl is not a common occurrence. In the US, her close friends would have most likely stayed at home for a day or two, school counselors would have had open office hours to talk to grieving students, and teachers would have been told to watch for signs of emotional distress. Here, we said a quick prayer and went to class. My English students said "I'm sad, Teacher" and then moved on to describing what had happened that weekend.

This is not the first reminder of the omnipresence of death in Mozambique. Every Monday I ask my English students "How was your weekend?" so that they can practice speaking in the past tense. And all too frequently at least one student will mention that their mother, father, aunt, uncle, or cousin passed away. Even after two years, these statements make me stop in my tracks. What do you say (in Portguese) to a student whose father died yesterday? When "I'm sorry" doesn't even begin to describe how you feel? When you just really want to tell them that they should go home and be with their family? These sentiments are difficult in English.

I sometimes worry that I am becoming desensitized to death and innumerable other things that are simply accepted here. That I should have been more strongly affected by the death of my student. That I should have something to say to my students who have lost family members.  The other day when a teacher walked into a test I was proctoring and smacked three kids on the back of their heads because they didn't have their ties on, should I have protested? Done something else other than standing there dumbfounded?

These past 27 months in Mozambique have been a learning experience. However, there are some things that I never want to learn. I never want a student's death not to affect me. I may never have the words to properly explain my feelings, but I want my students to know that this reality is not acceptable. That hitting a student for not wearing their tie (when they also aren't wearing shoes because they don't have the money for them) is not normal. And that a death of a teenager should never be a commonplace event. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

It's waiting there for you

43 days left in Mozambique . . .

At the beginning of September, almost all of the Moz-17 PCVs headed down to Maputo to stay in a very nice hotel and learn all about re-integration, the steps we'll go through to become a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, and how to find a real job when we get back into the States. While we could have used more information about what we consider to be the more important readjustment issues (what exactly is instagram? snapchat? do people use google+? are genie pants an actual trend? and what in the world is YOLO?), the conference tried to address common issues and how other people have successfully made the transition.

This whole transition issue is rather overwhelming. I have great post-PC trip plans (Ethiopia, DC for Thanksgiving, train to Milwaukee then Albuquerque then Tacoma) . . . but after that I still have January to August (at which point I will hopefully begin law school). Yes, having that kind of time to transition will be nice. But really, can/should I just sit in Sequim for nine months? Will I find someone who will hire me even if it's only for a couple of months? Summer internships? And all of the other job-related issues that I've managed to avoid since moving to Moz that somehow are still sitting there waiting for my return.

Not only am I theoretically supposed to find some kind of employment/get into law school/etc, but there have been engagements, weddings, babies, job changes, grad school acceptances, graduations, and cross-country moves . . . all of which I've missed. Not that I would have traded my Peace Corps experience, even teaching chemistry, for anything. But at times it feels as though everyone has suddenly grown-up while I've been stuck in a sort of limbo for two years.

So, in preparation for my return, I'm going to ask everyone to be a little patient. When it takes me twenty minutes to type on a text on an iphone. Or when I continue to start sentences with "when I was in Mozambique . . . "And don't be too shocked when I lament the lack of hitchhiking in the United States. So, fingers crossed for a successful last 43 days . . . and hopefully a blog post or two more.

Miss you all. See you soon!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Tell me, how long you gonna stay here Joe?

So about a month ago I left you all hanging on the edge of your seats, waiting for the next installment of tales from Allison's summer vacation. And this of course was where the trip became really fun.

I stayed with some PCVs in Cuamba and the next day woke up bright and early to catch any form of transportation heading towards the Malawian border. Niassa was my 10th province to cross off the list for a good reason - it's basically the Siberia of Mozambique. The unpaved road between Cuamba and the border was like driving on those extremely bumpy lines they put on the side of roads in the States (can't remember what they're called). Except this continued for upwards of four hours. Then I got to the border town and had to use my favorite form of transportation - the bike cab - to get across the border. When you think of a bike cab you probably think of one of those bikes that are sometimes used in cities - the ones that have more or less a carriage/cart attached to them for passengers. This was not one of those cabs. You know the thing they put on the back of a bike to carry groceries? Yep, that's what I was sitting on for about 30 minutes while some poor guy peddled me across the border. Of course I also had my rather large backpacking backpack that weighed at least twenty pounds. So it was the "driver", me in the grocery spot and then my backpack. I was fairly positive we were going to flip.

When I had fully recovered from the most awkward form of transportation I have yet to use, I got to the Malawian side of the border. And realized that I do not like travel in Malawi. Unlike in Mozambique, the chapas (minibuses) from one place to another have no set price (for example, in Mozambique all chapas that go from Inhassoro to Vilankulo charge 80 mets) and I seemed to meet all the wrong people. As far as I understand Malawi has two national languages, but everyone refused to speak to me in the one I understand (English). At one point in my ridiculously long journey to Blantyre there was someone speaking a local language to the guy sitting next to me who would then translate into Portuguese. Which seemed to kind of defeat the whole purpose of travel in an English speaking country

When I finally made it to Blantyre, it was dark, I was exhausted and I never wanted to take a Malawian chapa again. Made it to the hostel and realized that I did not have enough money to pay for the room and they did not take cards. So one of the workers walked me out to the cash machine in front of the hostel. Of course, that cash machine had no money (but deducted money from my account anyways, fun times). So the security guard had to walk with me for about twenty minutes to find a functioning ATM. The next morning I woke up bright and early in order to get on a bus that was going to Zimbabwe (it had to cross through Moz and would be the easiest way to get to my next destination). At 4:30 I was more than ready to go, but the bus people claimed that the only bus going to Zimbabwe would be leaving at eight. Okay, fine, not great, but whatever. The driver said we'd definitely make it to the crossroads for Chimoio by 2pm, giving me plenty of time to make it to another PCV's house.

That was obviously a blatant lie. The bus did not leave Blantyre until almost noon for reasons still unknown to me as the bus manager informed me that since I was in Malawi I should be able to speak their local language and that he didn't have to translate anything into English. By this point I was basically freaking out. And things only continued to go downhill. When we stopped at the Malawian side of the border I got out of the bus, had my passport stamped and was back on the bus within ten minutes. It took everyone else almost three hours. It wasn't because they had problems with their passports or visas, it was just that no one got into the line until we had been sitting there for two hours. After all of that nonsense (plus another bus breakdown or two) I made them drop me off in Tete City where I stayed with two other PCVs who had been evacuated from their sites due to the ongoing political situation. Tete was my 11th (or 10th, depending on how you count) province which officially means I have visited (and stayed in) all eleven-ish provinces! YAY!

Actually this is where my trip was supposed to end. In theory, I was to travel to Chimoio the next day and bus/boleia it down to Inhassoro. But this is Mozambique and we really like to keep things exciting around here. So nothing went as planned. As I had previously mentioned, the opposition party had blocked a very key point in the (only) road that runs from the south to the north of Mozambique. Which also happened to be my only route home. As of now I believe the road is still blocked, military convoys are being used to ferry people across the blockade. But back in the beginning of July we had no idea how long the road block would last, so the PCVs in the Sofala province (the province where the incidents were occurring) and I just sat in Chimoio, waiting for news of when we could go back to site. We made up projects to keep ourselves busy such as bagel-making (best bagels I've made in Moz) and had a great Fourth of July party thanks to the variety of foods that are available in larger cities (I made brownies that were topped by a layer of peanut butter cream and then a layer of chocolate fudge. Win.). And I ended up staying there for a week. At which point Peace Corps put me on a flight to Maputo and the next morning I got on a bus to Inhassoro (only to have there be a traffic accident so I couldn't make it to Inhassoro on the same day and stayed with Laurie and Chris in Mapinhane.).

And so concludes the epic summer break trip in which I passed through all but one province (which is pretty impressive considering the travel conditions in this country). At this point I resolved never to leave site again . . . a promise that was a little difficult to keep as on August 25th I headed back to America, to the great state of Minnesota for Anna's wedding. While the travel itself was a little crazy (I've never had a bag lost before and on this trip the airlines managed to lose and recover two) it was so great to be able to be at Anna and Jeff's wedding (I can't imagine not being there). Plus I got s'mores and a Costco run out of the deal :)

And now I'm back at school . . . where things are crazy, but quickly coming to an end. We're almost done with the third quarter, all of the Moz-17 PCVs have our close-of-service conference in September, there are only 82 days until I'm a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I have started working on finding a some form of post-Moz employment, and law school applications are slowly but surely being put together. And depending on the day I feel both completely ready to head back to the States and so beyond unprepared. So here's to the next two and a half months in Moz (and to me having a life plan for once I get back!)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

She took a midnight train (that actually had a specific destination)

After spending some time in Ilha I headed back to Nampula so that I could buy my train ticket and head towards Cuamba. I wanted a second class ticket (not nearly as chique as it sounds - third class is basically a more horrible version of a chapa - people, chickens, goats, pigs and massive quantities of food all stuffed into an unimaginably tiny space. Whereas in second class you actually have your own seat, an exciting rarity in Moz travel) so I arrived at the train station at 1 pm so that I would be ready for the ticket sales to open at 2 pm. Of course, nothing in Moz ever goes as it should - a security guard "took me under her wing" and wouldn't let me get into the line to buy tickets. I assumed this meant that she would slip around back and get me a ticket once the gate opened . . . but no. When they started selling tickets my new bffl security guard grabbed my hand and pulled me to the front of the line. SO AWKWARD. I had been within the first two people at the station, so most people didn't gripe too much about the fact that I had just cut everyone. But it was just annoying and so awkward - I was completely okay with standing in line for an hour and tried to explain that to the guard, but she just didn't listen/maybe thought she was doing me a favor? Anyways, later I ended up meeting two Swiss girls both of whom bought second class tickets at around 3:30 pm meaning that everyone I had cut had ended up with the ticket they wanted as well. Feeling slightly less guilty about the whole thing.
Back at the backpackers' I met some girls who were also going to be traveling the train the next day. This was WONDERFUL because the train was the part I was looking forward to traveling with company and since my travel buddies hadn't been able to make it, I was a bit bummed out. We got to the train station at around 4:30 am, probably unnecessarily since in second class you have an assigned compartment and the train was to leave at 6:00 am. The train is now my favorite kind of travel in Moz - it actually left ontime (!!) and the compartments were so large - there were only six people in each compartment and no one even tried to cram themselves in with us. The landscape was beautiful, travel from Nampula to Cuamba is pretty much only by train, the roads are completely unpaved and in some places don't even exist so we didn't see any cars, just village after village. At each stop it seems as though everyone living in that area rushes to the train holding up anything and everything that they think the passengers would want to buy. Did you forget your toothbrush? Need a lifetime supply of tangerines? Carrots? Fried treats? And in case you can't get enough food from the side of the rails, there is also a dining car on the train. I know. Crazy. A dining car. On a train in Mozambique. They only serve the typical Mozambican fare - 1/4 chicken, rice, french fries, and salad, but it was still wonderful. Plus the landscape in northern Mozambique is completely different than southern Mozambique so everything seemed a bit more interesting (photos to come . . . still haven't found a camera cord that I can use). Basically the train was awesome and I would highly recommend it for your next Mozambican adventure :)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Takin' everythin' in my stride

On June 7th I packed up my LSAT books and headed down to Joburg to take the LSAT with three other Moz PCVs. The LSAT went decently (and now on to law school applications), but the important part is that Joburg is AWESOME. Most people talk about the crime, etc, but for pcvs it was like a winter wonderland (literally since it was 4 degrees Celsius and I was freezing). There was a McDonald's (quarter pounder with cheese and oreo mcflurries, don't judge), a movie theater (The Great Gatsby in 3D), froyo, and other amazing things that cannot be found in Moz. Despite the fact that Bank of America decided to cancel both my cards (BoA for the win), Joburg definitely made up for the whole I-have-to-take-the-lsat thing. I headed back up to site and had a little over a day to prepare for my next great adventure - which according to usual moz fashion, did not go quite as planned.

I headed to Beira on the 17th on an awkward boleia and stayed the night in preparation for my flight the next morning which was just a little too earlier to make same day travel to Beira possible. Of course then my flight ended up being delayed for 4 hours . . . so I definitely could have made it to Beira that same day. Oh well, a great familiarity with the tiny Beira airport could end up being useful one day (I suppose). My flight was straight to Nampula, and I stayed the night there before boleia-ing out to Pemba. Which brings me to the awesome summary of my travel in the North - I went from Nampula to Pemba, Pemba to Ilha and Ilha to Nampula and spent under 10 dollars on travel across over 650 miles of road. Plus the rides I got were infinitely safer and more interesting than chapas or buses. Win.

Anyways, I made it to Pemba and stayed with some fellow PCVs who teach at a teacher training institute. I read, made awesome food (a chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting made a reappearance), and sat on the beach for awhile. Of course this was also the part of the trip where I tried to re-piece together my original travel plans. The Moz opposition political party had created a roadblock across the Rio Save and there had been a couple of violent incidences in the area . . . meaning that my two original travel buddies, who were planning to travel up to Pemba from Maputo on the day the roadblock was implemented, couldn't travel anymore. So I was a sozinha traveler. Not the end of the world, but definitely the quieter route.

After Pemba, I a) remembered that I had a camera and should probably take pictures and b) headed to Ilha de Mocambique. Ilha is a pretty amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site and I took a ton of pictures (some of which will hopefully make an appearance on this blog tomorrow if I'm able to find a camera cord). You can read more about Ilha and its history here: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/599. The first day I more or less roamed the island, took lots of pictures (I had visited Ilha before, but for some unknown reason had failed to take pictures) and visited the old fort (built in the 16th century by the Portuguese). On my second day on Ilha, I went with some other people from my hostel out to the Island of Goa and across the channel to a peninsula. The water was wayyy to cold for my moz climate adjusted self (I have become such a temperature wimp it's embarrassing - I'm from the PNW and grew up playing in the Pacific/Strait for heaven's sake!), but the trip on the dhow was beautiful and it was a nice way to spend the day before starting another long stretch of travel.

Next post . . . Ilha to Nampula, Nampula to Cuamba (and hopefully photos!)

Monday, July 1, 2013

So close, so close and yet so far . . .

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I left site (A) on the 17th in order to get to Beira (B) for my flight from Beira to Nampula (F) on the 18th. I found a cheap flight earlier in May and I was SO excited not to have to repeat the epic bus journey of 2012. As indicated by the somewhat depressing song lyrics, the trip didn't quite go as planned. Basically, when I arrived in Beira I found out that the opposition party in Mozambique had attacked a place outside of Beira, I hadn't seen anything out of the ordinary and was fine - luckily I was not traveling overland, so thought that I had nothing else to worry about . . . Until I got to Nampula and found out that as of the 20th the opposition party would be blocking the road that goes across the EN1 - basically the only connection between southern Mozambique and the northern portion of the county. Which also happens to be the only way I can get back to site. Fun stuff right there.
In summary, the rest of my trip went decently well and I'm slightly obsessed with the train between Nampula (F) and Cuamba (G). I was kind of hoping that this hullabaloo would be over by the time I needed to get back to site - but no such luck in that department. So I'm stuck. In Chimoio. Which at least is a bigger city, but I really really really just want to be home. Not even home in the US, but home in Inhassoro, sleeping on my plywood bed (I no longer use a mattress because it basically folded in half everytime I laid down and screwed up my back. I'm obviously the coolest person you know) and eating massive amounts of eggplant from the school's garden. But I'm on school break until the 22nd of July, so I'm not missing classes like many of the other PCV evacuees. And PC is being very proactive about evacuating people and making sure we're all safe.
So, I'm in Chimoio for the foreseeable future. Which means that I'll be uploading some awesome blogs all about my trip. And if I can find a cable/card reader for my camera, there might even be photos involved.
Think positive, peaceful thoughts for me <3

Monday, June 3, 2013

I Thought By Now You’d Realize, There Ain’t No Way to Hide Your Lyin’ Eyes: Cheatin’, Moz-style

After over a year and a half here, the cheating never fails to frustrate/surprise me. On the good days it just makes me laugh. On the bad days it makes me blush in frustration (I really need to get over the whole blushing thing) and tell kids off in English (although my angry Portuguese has gotten much better, there are some situations that simply call for a flurry of English words). I know that I’ve written about cheating at school before, but this is my official:
1.     Sit on your notebook. Your teacher will never notice (they’re obviously too busy talking on their telephones or correcting tests to properly proctor a test anyways). And blatantly staring at your lap for an hour is completely normal
a.     When the teacher happens to notice that you are sitting on top of your notebook (not the easiest thing to conceal from even the least observant teacher), stall. Lie. Protest your innocence until the teacher forces you to stand up. Then state that you were just sitting on a notebook that happened to be for that subject – you definitely weren’t using it to cheat.
b.     The more advanced option to sitting on your notebook is to put your notebook down your shirt. It is unclear how useful this method actually is, but it’s always fun to try new cheating strategies! Plus, it’s not as though anyone will comment on the fact that suddenly your stomach is rather rectangle-shaped.
2.     Write on your hand. And then stare at your palm for a half an hour because you managed to smear the writing and can no longer read what you wrote. Or (my personal favorite) write information that is completely pointless for that particular exam. A chemistry exam on atoms and calculating the number of protons, neutrons and electrons? You should definitely make sure to have the definition of chemistry written on your hand, something along the lines of A=Z+n would be completely pointless.
3.     Slip your exam review work INSIDE of your test. There is no way your teacher will ever know that you have extra pieces of paper on your desk (the fact that they’ve told you that you can’t even use a piece of scratch paper is completely meaningless).
a.     When the teacher calls you out about using the review work to cheat say that you just forgot to turn it in and that you hadn’t even looked at the sheet.
4.     Write equations and definitions in the smallest writing imaginable on tiny scraps of paper. Spend all the time you could have spent studying writing tiny notes that generally aren’t even all that useful.
a.     As soon as the teacher announces that it’s time for the test, bring out your cheat sheet. Keep it on your desk in plain site.
b.     Crumple your cheat sheet in your hand and hold it there during the test. If the teacher catches you, you have several options to escape getting a zero on the test:
                                               i.     Shove the note in your pocket (or down your shirt, in your mouth, or in your neighbor’s sweatshirt hood – be creative!). Swear that you weren’t cheating but mysteriously refuse to turn out your pockets
                                             ii.     Throw the cheat sheet across the room – the teacher will spend all of her time trying to find it and will forget who was cheating
                                            iii.     Use the good old “it isn’t a cheat sheet senhora professora, I was just using it to review.” Forget that you really can’t review in the middle of the test.
5.     Use classroom materials to disguise your cheat sheet. Do you sit next to the window? Drape the curtain over your desk to cover the note – it’s not as though something that out of the ordinary will arise suspicion.
6.     Put your cheat sheet INSIDE your pen. Doesn’t matter that the note will once again have to be so small as to make it completely illegible, what matters is that you outwitted the teacher.
7.     Pass calculators back and forth with the correct answer on them. Put the fact that not everyone can afford a calculator so teachers have to let them share to good use!
a.     When your teacher stops letting you use a calculator during tests, do it anyways!
8.     Talk incessantly through the entire exam. The teacher is so old she must be going deaf. And if you speak in xitswa, she’ll NEVER know that you’re talking (if you can’t understand a language it means that you also can’t hear when someone is speaking).
9.     Whatever you do, don’t stop cheating, the thrill/vague possibility of getting a better grade is worth all of the effort and almost certainty of getting a zero

We just finished yet another semester and all of the fun testing that goes along with it. I have mixed (yet very sarcastic) feelings about the cheating that is so prevalent throughout the exam period – for a large number of disciplines the students are expected to memorize insane amounts of information with little or no actual comprehension expected, so I can’t say that I don’t understand the motivations behind the cheating.

I’m getting ready to travel to Johannesburg to take the LSAT and will be traversing across northern Moz towards the end of the month (we don’t start classes again until July 22nd!), meaning that my blog posts might be more delayed than usual. But hopefully I’ll have lots of pictures and updates upon my return to Inhassoro. Then I have all of July to get my law school applications put together before I head out to Minnesota. Also, I would appreciate any finger crossing/prayers/other good luck rituals on the 11th, I think I finally have the hang of this logic game thing, but I’m still looking forward to never having to take another practice test!!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

You better make up something quick . . .

Last year I couldn’t stand teaching English. It sounds ridiculous. When I came to Moz, my assignment was to be an English teacher. I went through a 10 week training in order to be a good English teacher. And then I arrived in Inhassoro and was told I would be teaching chemistry. Not only would I be teaching chemistry, but I would not be teaching any English classes and would be the only chemistry teacher. This completely freaked me out – but luckily I had almost two whole months to figure out the chemistry thing before school started.

Because I live in Mozambique, the teachers’ extra hours were cut right at the beginning of the school year (teachers here have to teach 24 hours of classes a week to be considered full-time – in the years before if they taught more than 24 hours they would be paid overtime) and, understandably, no one wanted to teach extra hours for free. So I got stuck with a third year English class that hadn’t had any English classes that year since it had taken the school administration about two months to figure out the whole horas extras debacle (two months of twice a week classes, by that point they had missed almost sixteen classes).

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the nine students in my English class. It was the waiting/bartending group, so they really wanted to learn English, never cheated during tests, and were generally good kids. But I had over 300 kids in my chemistry classes . . . and nine kids in my English class, using a curriculum and lesson plans that I had to plan two months into the year. It sucked and I felt awful, but I just couldn’t devote nearly as much time to my English lesson plans as I had to devote to my chemistry plans. With chemistry I was able to get into a rhythm – I taught the same lesson eight times. Boring, but for someone who had never taught (or communicated in Portuguese) it meant that my lessons substantially improved and that I was able to become comfortable with teaching chemistry by the second semester. With English, however, I would give a lesson once, and then write another one. And repeat. All of my English students passed the national test, but I was not satisfied with my lesson planning or engagement with the material until about a month before the end of the year.

This year is different. I fought really hard to only teach chemistry this year – I didn’t want to have that one token English class that I just didn’t have time for (especially since this year I’m also involved in other activities outside of school as well as attempting to get my life together before moving back to the states). But this is Mozambique and despite having the schedule all put together, the Friday before school started I had four of my eight chemistry classes taken away and was given three third-year English classes. And I was not happy about it.

Luckily, teaching English this year has been a pleasant surprise. I expected it to be like last year – dreading to put the lessons together and having to sacrifice English lesson planning in order to put together chem lessons and to grade a fairly large stack of seemingly never ending chemistry assignments. But with half as many chemistry students and an already planned curriculum I am able to devote so much more time to my English students. True, I have under 40 English students and between 150 - 200 chemistry students, but the balance has become much more reasonable and I’m actually happy with how my English classes have gone this year. It’s most definitely not perfect, my lesson plans probably could be much more inspired and innovative, I could spend many more hours giving after school help and correcting endless essays and other homework. But I think I’ve finally made my peace with teaching English and every time I have a student tell me that they are “wonderful” today (instead of the route and oh-so-tiresome, “I am fine and you?”), it makes me feel as though maybe, just maybe, I am actually balancing teaching chemistry and English. Whatever it is, I might actually like teaching English. Maybe even as much as I like teaching chemistry. Basically those last two sentences should make you think the world is one crazy place.

Also, the most important thing happening in my life is that tangerine season has officially begun! Which means that winter is just around the corner and I'm back to sleeping under blankets, eating oatmeal in the mornings, and feeling cold (although those of you in the midwest might disagree, this is truly a wonderful thing). 

Random Note: I have been in an ongoing war with my blog font. But despite my best efforts it keeps changing back to the same font. I give up, the cursive stuff isn't what I want, but I refuse to spend more time fighting it (if you don't see the cursive font, that's a good thing). 

Monday, April 1, 2013

I'm not much into health food, I am into champagne

This past weekend I made the trek (five hours for what in a private car would be a little over an hour . . . apparently I looked like a super-sketchy hitchhiker that day as no one would stop) to Mapinhane for Passover 2.0. This is actually the first holiday I've celebrated twice since site placements (Thanksgiving was in Namaacha year 1 and Inhassoro in year 2), so it was awesome to reflect on how much things had changed in the last year. While Passover was amazing last year, this year it involved eight people and twice as much food/etc as the year before (I'm quite proud to say that I contributed a flourless chocolate cake with a fresh passion fruit syrup - Martha in moz for the win). While last year's Passover seems simultaneously FOREVER ago and like yesterday, the fact that I am able to teach chem in Portuguese without grasping for dear life onto my notebook (and not trembling with fear every time someone has a question) is just one example of how much has changed and how much I have learned.

Rewinding the calendar a bit (to the day before) another example of how much more confident I am about life/Portuguese/chem/school/etc is that I was actually able to respond when my vice-principal started chewing me out. Usually I am so upset/close to tears that the only language I am able to speak is English - which does me absolutely no good as she doesn't speak any English. The Thursday before I headed to Passover I stopped by the school to finish entering my grades in the livros de turma (books containing all of the info for every class). I had a quick question about the format and since I'm trying to have more positive interactions with the vice-principal, I went to ask her about the correct way to fill in the book. Of course, despite the fact that my grades are infinitely better than they were last year (97% pass rate in English!), she started yelling at me for the zeros that I had given my students for cheating and told me that they made the livro look ugly (which obviously should be my chief concern in life). I replied that they had cheated and that's the way I run my classes cheating = zero. The students are informed in advance and if they choose not to study it's their own fault. She told me that, while she understood, there are always two ways of looking at things and that the district office was going to say that I wasn't a good teacher and they may decide not to have Peace Corps Volunteers in the future. Of course this was her oh-so-passive aggressive way of saying (yet again) that I fail as a teacher. But this time I was finally able to confront her about the whole thing and informed her that I'm one of the only teachers that is there every single day and in the classroom for the full 45 minutes and that if she has a problem with my teaching she needs to talk to me about it (plus I know the district won't decide to not have pcvs - they haven't paid teachers on time for the last four months so I'm fairly certain they need all the free help they can get). She got really flustered (victory!) and said that no, I must have misunderstood her, she thinks I am a wonderful teacher (lies, but there is only so much I could address in one conversation). Anyways, the conversation went on and she still probably thinks I'm the worst teacher at the school, but I feel SO much better now that I was finally able to calm down enough to argue the point in Portuguese.

I spent Easter in Inhassoro, in one of my favorite churches in the world (check out the pictures that I posted in an earlier blog post). After spending thirty minutes during mass on Holy Thursday kneeling in prayer on a hard wooden bench (American Catholics are much less intense about this whole kneeling/long mass thing), I was slightly concerned about the rest of Semana Santa. But Easter mass was wonderful (albeit without a live goat being carried to the altar as part of the offering - I was kind of disappointed). And I made a passion fruit cream pie for dessert - another Martha in moz moment. Although I'm looking forward to masses in English instead of Xitswa when I get back to the States, I'm going to miss the enthusiasm and genuine happiness that is present in every mass here (if anyone knows of Catholic Masses in the States that involve clapping during the songs and carrying live goats to the altar, let me know).

And the best news of all - it's almost tangerine season 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

No matter what we get out of this, I know I know we'll never forget . . .

I'm still working on finding a balance between sporadic "was she sold in exchange for goats?" and oh too frequent "look at me! I'm a PCV in Moz" blog posts. I'll probably figure this out sometime around October, so bear with me.

Last week I turned 24 (or 51 if one of my students is asking) and celebrated with a spice cake with white chocolate cream cheese frosting (I've got the Mozambique baking thing down) on the day of and PCV friends who visited during the weekend. But the most exciting part of February 28th was the fact that I have two brand-new baby cousins (first cousins, once removed to be precise) to share the day with!! Can't believe I won't officially meet them until November-ish . . . we might be spending a lot of time together next year as nanny-ing for them is my current back-up plan for life in the States (at least for the 9 months before law school will theoretically start).

Other tales from Moz . . .

1) One of my English students asked if he could be excused to go to the bathroom in the middle of class. As I said sure, another student stood up and asked, "do you have to go POOP?". Remember that both of these students are in their early 20s and think they are oh-so-cool. I was basically rolling on the floor laughing. Probably need to work on being more mature.

2) We finally started taking attendance this week (sounds much less exciting than it actually is). I was about to mark a girl absent in one of my classes when the rest of the class informed me that she was at the bank. This of course didn't really change my mind about marking her absent . . . until I found out that the teacher before me had sent her to the bank (a ten minute walk at my American-pace) to deposit money for him, so that he wouldn't have to do it in his free time. SERIOUSLY!??!!! She missed about half of my class because the line at the bank is almost always at least 30 minutes long. And I was furious. Not with her (I know it wouldn't have gone well for her had she refused to go to the bank), but at the teacher. Not only did he make her leave his class (no wonder my students don't always value classroom attendance, apparently the teachers don't either) but he did this knowing that she would miss at least part of my class. I'm going to attempt to have an adult conversation with him about this on Monday . . . we'll see how that goes.

3) This week we're singing Party in the USA in my English classes - should be entertaining

4) Also, major life victory. A significant portion of my English students have started saying "bless you" when someone sneezes. This is amazing because they don't usually say anything in Portuguese when someone sneezes and until last week looked at me like I was crazy for saying "bless you"

5) Another exciting moment. They put in new chalkboards in our classrooms (exciting, but not the main point) and the students decided to put the chalk on the ledge on the top of the chalkboard. Which doesn't really work for me. As I was standing on my tiptoes, attempting to reach the chalk, one of my students said (in English) "Teacher Allison, you should play basketball." And then started cracking up because she was so proud of her sarcasm. YAY!! Some of my students might actually understand basic sarcasm by the time I leave :)

6) I'm so over scorpions. I've found three in my house over the last week. Not a fan. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

We're not gonna take it. No, we ain't gonna take it. We're not gonna take it anymore.

I debated whether or not to write this blog . . . but then I went out to dinner with friends for Valentine’s Day and ran into one of my fellow teachers and his valentine’s date, a fifteen year-old female student. So any and all reservations I had over writing about sexual harassment/gender relations here disappeared almost instantly. And I felt fairly nauseated. So here goes my rant . . .

I am completely aware of the fact that I look at sexual harassment through the viewpoint of an American female. Before moving to Moz, I knew that the gender dichotomy here would be very different than it was in the States. While I theoretically understood the differences, I didn’t understand how much they would affect my everyday life.

I don’t walk to the market between noon on Friday and Monday morning because the likelihood that I will be grabbed (anywhere from my arm to my ass) or verbally harassed increases exponentially. I am much less open in Portuguese than in English (which is saying something since I’m definitely not an emotions person in English) – I wish I could be more friendly to people, but I’m quite simply tired of having every male with whom I have an un-hostile conversation assume that it would then be appropriate to ask me; to have sex with them, my age, how many children I have, why I don’t have any children, and what my cell phone number is. I’m tired of the fact that once I answer these questions (no, 23 or 50 depending on how annoyed I already am, 0, because, and I don’t know) a group discussion on which of the lovely gentlemen in the crowd should be the one to impregnate me almost always ensues.  

Despite all these interactions, I’ve never felt physically threatened (although I did yell at a guy in English for about 5 minutes after he grabbed my butt) and Inhassoro is a very safe place. However, on an all too frequent basis I reflect on the fact that Moz has one of the highest percentages of women in elected office and am completely flummoxed as to how this is even possible. It isn’t as though things completely change once you enter the workplace. Recently I went on a teacher’s curriculum-planning trip to a nearby school (nearby meaning 7 hours each way). The car was filled with about 50% male and 50% female teachers all of whom are more educated than the average Mozambican. Despite the fact that we were obviously not in a locker room, the topic of conversation ranged from demonstrations of sex moves that a male teacher would be performing on his wife that night, discussions of the clothing choices of a female walking by and even a brief interlude about who the most attractive female students are. And none of my fellow female teachers did or said anything. Which, after seeing their interactions with the male teachers over the past year, really did not surprise me, but served as an ongoing reminder of how fundamentally unequal men and women are here.  

One of the most difficult parts of this past 17 months has been the ongoing harassment – both directed towards me and even more so in the interactions between my female students and the male teachers. Unfortunately this is all too commonplace and practically embedded in the education system here – many teachers don’t even try to hide the fact that they’re dating students. While I can work with the girls to improve their self-esteem and let them know that they don’t have to date teachers to get good grades, I’m not here to force things to conform with my worldview and know that if I said anything to my school’s directors they’d probably shrug and ask what they’re supposed to do (actually there is a good possibility that my vice-principal would laugh and remind me that this is Mozambique). On each and every national or provincial test my students take (some kids take up to 15 a year) there is a little quote on the top about ending sexual harassment in the school system. A nice touch, but not one of the teachers’ meetings or morning assemblies has ever dealt with the issue – it’s not as though my school (or any school that I know of for that matter) has a counselor to whom female students could talk to about these issues. Plus teachers here are notoriously hard to fire - one of the Portuguese teachers at my school stole thousands of dollars from the primary school when he was the director, if he still works for the school system, how can I expect a teacher who dates minors to be fired?  

And as the last portion of my rant, I am not a menina (girl) but would really prefer to be a mulher (woman). The fact that men over the age of sixteen are “men” but females are still “girls” until they turn thirty is ridiculous. I live by myself, on a different continent than my family and have been fully self-sufficient for over a year (and before that was living over 3000 miles from my family) – I’m fairly certain this qualifies me to not have a debate over whether or not I’m a menina or a mulher every time I tell someone my age. I would also really appreciate it if guys (students, random people on the street, other teachers) would please stop staring at my knees. I know they are somewhat scandalous, but really on a good day they would probably be called knobby and on a bad day they would be called Dobby knees. They aren’t sexy in any sense of the word, and your staring just makes my life more awkward than it already is. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Here we are now, entertain us . . .

The school year is set to start on Monday (and I get to go back to being the crazy/somewhat entertaining white teacher lady). Zach and I will actually be attending a PC conference filled with yearly doctors appointments (yay!) and won't be back until the second week of school . . . which is actually an okay thing as none of my students will actually be there until week two or three. Win.

In the lead up to the first day of school, we have had several "informational" teachers' meetings. One of which was centered around making sure that the school had the correct education level listed for each teacher. This really has no meaning to me as the only impact education level has is on your salary. When we first arrived at the school a year ago, we were informed that we were on the N2 level (N1 being the highest, N4 being the lowest), but no one really explained the system. Even when we were on the N2 level, Zach and I were two of the ten teachers on the N2 level or higher. Out of almost fifty teachers. There is no doubt that some of the teachers who are technically on a lower pay grade than I would be (if the Moz government actually paid me) have much more teaching experience and are great teachers, but it is still difficult to imagine teaching calculus to 10th graders when you only have a 12th grade education. Coming from a schooling system where all of my teachers (that I know of anyways) had at least four years of college and go through what seem to be fairly thorough certification programs, I have been rather perplexed about the required levels of education for teaching in Mozambique.

As it turns out, due to our four years of college, Zach and I are actually N1s. Which means we are 2 of the 4 teachers at our school who have spent four years at a university (it also means that I could be called Senhora Doctora Allison). Some of the teachers I work with really are quite amazing - teaching in Mozambique is difficult and I can't imagine teaching here without some basic teacher training, so their work is all the more impressive. And while I know that going to college is out of reach for many people here - there aren't enough universities and it represents a very large financial burden with very few opportunities for scholarships or any type of financial aid - I just can't help but wonder how students ever sum up the motivation to attend college. How, in a town where 12th grade isn't even offered, does a student even manage to apply to universities that are located in cities they've never visited? I'm guessing that some small, isolated communities in the United States still face some of the same difficulties, but I can't imagine not knowing anyone with a bachelors degree.

I strongly believe that education is and should be one of Mozambique's highest priorities. But what constitutes a good education? Does your chance at a good education immediately fly out the door when class sizes are between 50 to 90 students? Do you have to have teachers with college degrees? Is an eighth grade education sufficient to teach second grade students? What can a country do to get more teachers when there are very few people with bachelors degrees that are willing to teach/live in the sometimes fairly rural communities with secondary schools?

After a year here I definitely don't have anything close to a coherent opinion on the education system here other than, it's complicated.