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. 

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