Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Professora Ana's First Day at School

Last week, we had the opening ceremonies for the 2011 school year, and
it was your typical Mozambican affair. They demorar-ed: an all
encompassing, absolutely necessary for Mozambique verb that signifies
the concept of Africa time: they stalled, dillydallyed, took forever,
etc. I was told to show up at the extremely vague and worrisome hour
of “cedo” (early), but since I clearly had no idea what that meant, I
showed up at 7am (when the school day starts), but only at 9am did
they have me make a bunch of changes to the schedule. By 10am, they
finally shoved all the teachers into the auditorium room thing, and a
whole bunch of students and parents followed. Now, let me tell you,
there is nothing like spending a few hours time in a confined space
with upwards of 1000 people in the sweaty heat of mid-day in a country
where few people wear deodorant. The ceremony finally began a little
while later, with the chefes (essentially, important people; in this
case, the school director and two representatives from Gurue’s
district government) making a grand entrance to us all standing and
singing a welcome song. I was constantly nudged to sing, but my excuse
for not singing was actually valid this time because I didn’t know the
song, but apparently, my clapping along did not suffice.

Then we went right into the Mozambican national anthem: I think that in my less
than 4 months in Mozambique, I have sang their national anthem more
times than I have sang the American national anthem in 22 and a half
years (baseball games included) and we will sing it pretty much
everyday before the school day starts so I will only increase my
exposure to it. Gathered from my observations of Mozambicans, I have
learned that to sing the Mozambican national anthem there are certain
expectations: you have to stand straight, with your hands at your
sides, looking straight ahead with a stone cold look on your face.
There is to be no smiling or appearing to enjoy yourself or you WILL
be scolded- this is a gravely important matter, the singing of the
anthem, and you must demonstrate it as so. You must also sing loud,
though this is confused by the fact that because you are attempting to
keep such a serious face, you can barely move your lips. And the
kicker, since I am usually fighting back a snicker (because I just
love singing so darn much…), is that when they sing the chorus, they
don’t just sing it once. No, that would be logical and efficient, both
of which are not tenants of Mozambican life. But they sing it TWICE
between each stanza, meaning that this is the longest song in history.
Anyway, enough ranting.

After the anthem, there was a series of speeches that I didn’t put
much effort into listening to, because listening to Portuguese in a
room with bad acoustics is a challenge for me, but I did glean that
one was rattling off a plethora of statistics from last year’s school
year, another was a dramatic reading of the entire school rule book,
and then they opened up the floor to anyone who wanted to add a rule,
or present a worry/concern/question they had. One parent talked for 23
minutes (yes, I timed him) about how his eighth grade daughter did not
enroll in time and thus could not attend school this year because all
the spots filled up so fast. I feel for you man, I really do, but 23
MINUTES??? Finally, after my nails had taken a severe biting-marathon,
one of the chefes officially announced the school year open. I was
free! Nope, that was just a tease.

They have apparently started a new tradition this year of planting trees to mark the beginning of the
year. I am all for planting trees, but I was starving. So I awkwardly
hung out at the back of the teacher group as they planted about 15
trees. Then, for the second time, I thought we were done, but no, the
school director claims so everyone can hear him and points at me,
“You, Teacher Ana, you are new this year so you have to plant a tree.”
Fine, o senhor director, I am happy to plant a tree if that means I
can go home and eat lunch. But, apparently, a white girl digging a
hole, putting a plant inside the hole, filling it with dirt, and then
pouring water from a bucket into the hole (all via fiercely guided
instruction) is hilarious to Mozambicans, and they kept shouting, as
if on repeat: The arvore (tree) is named Ana, and then laughing more.
I’m not sure what was so funny, but now a tree bears my name in
Mozambique. I have left my mark.


And I must also note that they will wait weeks or months to name a
baby here, but the tree MUST immediately be named after the branca
(white girl) who planted it.

School was supposed to start the day following the opening ceremonies,
but true to form, we were still tweaking the schedule and thus were
unable to start. Instead, I met with the four other second cycle
(11th-12th grade) English teachers to do dosificacao (essentially,
planning out what we will teach through the first trimester). Clearly,
all the other disciplines finished the entire year’s planning in the
time it took us to finish half the first trimester.  Our planning
sessions take so long because each topic inevitably turned into a
philosophical and esoteric (shout out to you Mark B) debate about why
we are teaching students each of the topics. “What is the objective of
the passive voice?” Well, the curriculum says we need to teach it, so,
we are going to teach it, is my answer. But, seeing as nothing is ever
simple in Mozambique, that did not suffice. So, we had to continue our
planning the following day as well, but that meant I could postpone my
first teaching day even more, and thus, I didn’t complain.

Then on the first day that I was actually going to give lessons, a
blood-curdling scream came from outside our window. Some small child
was literally screaming her little behind off for a good 45 minutes.
Normally, Mozambican kids don’t really cry or throw fits, or anything
of that nature. We therefore thought we had something like a loss of
limb situation on our hands. Finally, we couldn’t stand it anymore,
mostly worried that something was horrifically wrong with this child,
so we asked our neighbor what was happening. Apparently, a 6-year old
girl didn’t want to go to school, and this was her reaction. Well,
menina (girl), I feel ya. I don’t want to go to school either. I felt
like I was going to vomit on each and every one of my 240 11th graders
throughout my four classes.
Thankfully, I did not.

And I survived. I survived my first day of teaching. I taught three
duplas (double-block classes) to three of my four turmas (classes).
Naturally, not all the students were there, so it was a good way to
ease into the whole process, with the classes at about half capacity.
Since the teachers are the ones who rotate classrooms in Mozambique, I
enter the class when all the students have ostensibly already arrived.
They all stand up, and we exchange the following (because this is
English class):

Good morning class.
Good morning Teacher.
How are you today?
We are fine, thank you.
I am also fine, thank you. You may sit down.

It’s a somewhat awkward interaction but it is how they show respect
for teachers and get ready to learn so I will always make them
complete the exercise. Starting next week, I will probably start a new
“word of the week” where every week, they will have to use that word
in the greeting. For example, if the “word of the week” is fantastic,
they will have to say: We are fantastic, thank you. And I can respond:
I am also fantastic, thank you. Anything to liven up the monotony of
Mozambique. And teach vocab.

But back to my first day. I think it went ok, except that in my first
class, when writing the date, because that is standard procedure in
Mozambique, I wrote: Tuesday, January 25, 2010. As one shrewd student
pointed out, “Teacher, 2011.” Awesome.

I am, however, gradually getting a feel for speaking slowly and
annunciating, and deciding which parts of what I am saying need to be
translated into Portuguese. No student has corrected my Portuguese yet
so that was a plus. We went over the rules, including that I will
close the door and not let them in class 10 minutes after the class
begins, because otherwise, they will stand outside the class and
interrupt me to ask if they can enter, which I find rather irksome.
Before 10 minutes, they are allowed in without asking. One of my
classrooms, however, does not have a door, so I’m not sure what I will
do about that one yet. Then they had to answer some questions in
English, both for me to get to know them and also to evaluate their
level of English. One question was “How old are you?” I went over my
answers to the questions to show them the proper sentence structure.
But to answer this one, I said, “I am very old. I am 99 years old.”
They all laughed. But if they knew I was only 2 years older than some
of them and potentially even younger than others, well let’s just say
it might be detrimental to my attempts at classroom management.

The last and most complicated question was “What did you do during the
holidays?” so that I could see if anyone was actually able to answer a
question in the past tense. Only a handful did so successfully, as I
expected. My favorite answer to this question, however, was “water and
Fanta.” Whatever floats your boat buddy. But we shall have to see how
it goes when I am ultimately presented with the prospect of imparting
actual knowledge, aka tomorrow.


  1. Yet again, you are an amazing writer!!! You capture the Mozambiquen flow of life so well. I think I cried a little on the national anthem part I was laughing so hard. But anyways, congratulations on starting school!!!! It sounds very intimidating with those huge classes. Good luck with you lessons, even if you don't feel like you are imparting any knowledge, I'm sure your students will learn a lot just by exposure to you speaking English in class. Keep up the good work.

  2. Annabelle you are so amazing and observant. Sounds like you're getting the ball rolling even with some minor setbacks. I'm looking forward to more funny student stories...keep being a rockstar!!!

    <3 Emaline

  3. Congrats Ms. Ana on your first teaching day! It will get less intimidating from here and you'll be able to really evaluate all the ways you and your students are improving. Also, it must be nice to finally have a schedule! Somehow settling in that way makes it feel like home. Love your writing and always look forward to your posts. Miss ya!