Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My New Home - It's Official!

So it is now official, I am going to be living in a town called Gurue
(pronounced goo-roo-ay) in Zambezia province in the north of
Mozambique. Gurue is in the northwest section of Zambezia, nearer to
Malawi and the province of Niassa. Zambezia is the second most
populous province and the HIV/AIDS prevalence is 13% (for all of
Mozambique, it is 11.5% in comparison with less than 1% in the US).
According to everyone who I have told where I am going to live, Gurue
is absolutely beautiful: it is surrounded by mountains, making it a
lush, green kind of temperate microclimate that is one of the coolest
and rainiest in the whole country. Dating back to Portuguese times,
Gurue is a major exporter of tea and is almost entirely tea
plantations. There is also great hiking in the area, with the highest
peaks in the country. Tea and hiking: two of my favorite things so I
am set.

I am going to be living with a girl from last year’s training group
and will have a site-mate that is a health volunteer also from last
year’s group. Two of my friends actually live the next town over
(about 4-5 hours) so I am happy about that as well. I am most likely
going to be teaching 11-12th grade English and computers. I am happy
to be teaching the older grades since my school has 6000 students and
the classes for 8-10th grades have over 120 students per class whereas
11-12th grades have closer 70 or 80 (there is a National Exam after
grade 10 that you have to pass to continue on to 11th grade, so
inevitably, there is a large drop-off in enrolled students for 11th
and 12th grades). And teaching computers will be cool as well because
I will get to teach in Portuguese and these technical skills are
totally beneficial and useful for the students. If they know
computers, they have better prospects for getting a job. Additionally,
they don’t have computers in their home, so they are mostly super
excited at the prospect of using them at school. Who knew I would ever
be considered qualified to impart official knowledge about computers
to anyone? But, as with everything in Mozambique, my teaching
assignment could change a million times before the first day of school
in February.

Overall, I am definitely happy with and excited about my site
placement. I am just about ready to get a move on and move in next
week. We are finishing up Model School and have started having
language lessons in the local language of our regions, which for me is
Elomwe. Mostly all we have left of training is a Thanksgiving potluck,
a big festa (party) with all the host families, our final Portuguese
oral language test, World Aids Day activities, and some last
administrative and medical sessions. Then we swear in next Friday,
December 3 at the US ambassadors house (it will be televised here!!)
and I leave Namaacha for good and fly to a conference with all the
other North volunteers that weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Actual Hands-On Learning

Last week was probably the best week I have had of Pre-Service
Training. Now that we are winding down, we are actually able to leave
the classroom and do some stuff hands-on. On Monday, we spent the
morning at an orphanage, simply playing with small groups of kids. My
group had the little ones, like ages 2-5 which was extremely
challenging since they cannot infer what you are attempting to
say/explain through your developing Portuguese, like the older kids
can. But they were so darn cute that it didn’t really matter. One of
the orphanage employees taught us how to play the Mozambican version
of Duck, Duck, Goose, so we made it work.

On Tuesday, when I left at 7:15am, some girls showed up to braid my
host-mom’s hair. When I returned at 7:00pm, they were still there. And
not even close to being done. Probably because I was staring at them,
they asked if I knew how to braid hair, which I don’t since they were
making a weave, so they said I should learn. They showed me and then
made me do a braid. It looked terrible, and I do not think that it
stayed together so I am just waiting for the day when I see the braid
I made fall off of my host-mom’s head. But they brought us an ata
fruit, which is I believe indigenous to Mozambique and probably the
most delicious fruit ever. Too bad ata trees are super rare so you
have to know someone who has an ata tree and practically beg them to
give you one since they do not bear much fruit.

Then on Wednesday and Thursday, we learned probably the most useful
thing we have learned since arriving here: perma-gardening. A subset
of Perma-culture, perma-gardening is a way of planting food to
maximize production in minimal spaces. By using locally available
tools everyone uses in their machambas (fields- everyone here pretty
much is engaged in some sort of subsistence agriculture), and locally
available seeds/seedlings (no imported, genetically modified anything
needed), this method can quadruple the output while utilizing an
eighth of the space. Essentially, you dig the plant beds doubly deep
so that healthy roots can be established, plant the seeds or seedlings
in a bio-intensive pattern, and enhance the soil with compost, manure,
the usually thrown-away charcoal bits at the bottom of the bag (most
everyone uses charcoal to light their stoves here), and the ash from
the bottom of the stove. Also, there is a way to divert and
effectively store the rain that comes in droves one day, drowning
plants, and then is non-existent the next, starving the plants. I had
no previous gardening experience but could probably pull this off,
meaning that people who have grown up around machambas (aka everyone),
will be great at it, if they can wrap their head around not planting
in rows and putting in the extra labor at the beginning (though it is
comparably less work in the long-run). The guy who taught us, by
having us in groups of 20 each actually create a garden, works for
Peace Corps Tanzania, and has taught this technique to groups in 15
African countries. He is trying to really build this up as a method of
empowering people by showing them how to maintain their own food
security. And it is 100% sustainable.

And on Saturday, in lieu of language class, we had a cool cultural
exchange and went to visit a curandeiro (I guess the best translation
is a traditional witch doctor?). Ironically, my 101 degree fever was
clouding my ability to listen to the curandeiro’s Portuguese and glean
any info about traditional healing techniques. I did catch, however,
that there are 120 curandeiro’s in Maputo province alone (of the nine
total Mozambican provinces), and considering there are only 600
doctors in all of Mozambique, that is a pretty high differential.

And finally, after devoting my whole weekend to watching almost the
complete series of Arrested Development due to having the flu, we
started Model School on Monday. My lessons went well I think, though
the eighth grade did not make much of a showing and I only taught to 6
students in each class, different than the average of perhaps 70 I
will most likely have. The next two weeks should be very interesting.
Already I have seen what teaching here may be like. Even with only a
limited number of students, I can see that there is a significant
discrepancy in previous knowledge and ability due to so many students
being passed along to meet Millennium Goals and continue to receive
outside funding. The students do not have books so they have to copy
everything from the board into their notebooks, both meaning I must
devote class-time to have them do this, and also, I must create an
organized, pseudo-textbook chapter section on the board every rank.
There is a lot of emphasis in the school-system here on rote
memorization and less on independent thinking, so students can spout a
definition at you but may not really understand it and most likely
will not be able to explain it in their own words. But its still a
good time.

Hope you are having a fabulous week before Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bringing it back...

Today, a few friends and I took the trek into Maputo, the capital city. The wondrous joys of chappah rides was in full force today, as at one time I counted 24 people crammed into a van that I believe was originally manufactured with enough seats for 15. We are currently at a restaurant with free, albeit slow, wifi that serves hamburgers and milkshakes, and has a bathroom stocked with real flush-toilets, toiletpaper, and soap. I have not yet been to a restroom in this country with just any one of the above. It is literally like a dream come true even though it is probably the worst tasting version of American food I have ever had. Where is some Barney’s when I need it? We are at a small shopping center at the outskirts of the city and went to a real ShopRite, which is like a Target or big Longs. It has EVERYTHING! At first, the fluorescent lighting was a little overwhelming but then, we only had to grow accustomed to the outrageous prices. Most things were the expected U.S. price if converted to American dollars, so a $3 notebook is a huge rip-off considering my paycheck during training is $40 every two weeks. We have only been here six weeks and already, a 20 minute excursion to a normal grocery store was the most unnerving experience of my life.
But, in other news, I passed my language exam. That means that after five weeks of training, I have achieved the level that they expect from us before they send us off to our sites. But, I personally, would like to be more confident in my language skills by then so I am looking forward to the next four weeks of practicing. Looking back on it though, my first few days and weeks here consisted of appearing to listen intently to what one of my family members was saying but in actuality having absolutely no idea, and then responding “Sim, sim” whenever they were done, even though I had no clue what saying yes would mean in the context of what they had said. This is why I believe my host family thought I was married for the first week. So, I now feel like I can say most of what I would like to say, even if in simple terms, and am feeling pretty good about that. And to bring it back to the original intent of my blog:
Not much exciting other than language tests happened this week. We were assigned our turmas for our Model School. In Mozambican secondary schools (normally 8-12th grades, but sometimes they only go to 10th grade) break up grades of students into turmas, of anywhere between 40-120 students, and each turma is assigned a room, and the teachers go around to the different rooms/turmas to teach their lessons while the students stay in the same place. I am teaching English to some of the 8th grade turmas. Over the two weeks I will be teaching four lessons on: classroom vocabulary and useful phrases for the classroom, superlative adjectives, vocabulary for places around the community, and making a map of the community. Should be interesting.
Last night, I was trying to explain to my host-mom that most people in America only speak one language well. She was absolutely floored and said, quite accurately, that in this sense, Mozambique is a “farther ahead,” as she put it. Most people in Mozambique are bi-lingual, if not also tri- or quatri-lingual (they can speak the local language, Portuguese, and perhaps English, French, Swazi, etc). My host-mom said she wants to learn English and is planning on going to back to school soon, within the next few years, to complete her high school degree at night school (she dropped out of the eighth grade to have her oldest son). I was totally thrilled for her when she shared this with me.
I guess I am really getting used to life here since I have no stories to share of language barriers, a lack of knowledge about cultural norms, or anything else that is potentially considered humorous, usually only after the fact. But, Happy November, Go Giants (of course, a bay area team wins a championship the moment I leave…), and I am happy to be a part of a state that did not allow a certain candidate to buy her governorship!