Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Learning Portuguese, and Also Some English

We are approaching the end of the first trimester of school and I can’t believe it. I feel my effectiveness as a teacher has improved but still has a far way to go. I feel my Portuguese has significantly developed but again, still has some room for further improvement, as evidenced by the pedagogical director blatantly insulting my “inability” to speak Portuguese in front of about 2500 students as I was announcing my informational meeting for the girls youth group I am starting at our school. But aside from this mishap, and the concomitant issues I had with my students semi-rudely correcting me during class that day, I had over 50 girls show up to ask me more about my group. So I guess I did indeed get the message across. We have our first meeting on Wednesday and I’m hoping for the best. The program I am starting is volunteer-run nationally throughout Peace Corps Mozambique, but Gurué has just never had a group. It is called REDES (Raparigas para Educação, Desenvolvimento, e Saude- or Girls for Education, Development, and Health) and though we have yet to officially decide on our group’s focus, we will probably do a variety of things like sports, theatre, HIV/AIDS awareness, community volunteering, or perhaps even an income generation project like sewing or building a chicken coop. I am pretty excited about it. Should be fun.

Best ride of the many I have gotten in my recent travel to Ilha de Moçambique (Mozambique Island, what used to be the capital before Maputo and an awesome beach and historical landmark) and other places:
-A work truck that stopped every 5 minutes to run a generator they were towing behind them to measure some unidentifiable quantity on a computer inside the truck, turning a 2-hour ride into a 4-hour ride, but it was free, raining, and I was safe and dry inside. Success!

Also, pineapple and avocado season is ending, which breaks my heart. But we are now entering orange season, though I must note that the word in Portuguese for orange is laranja for both the color and the fruit, and yet surprisingly, the "laranjas" are green. I don't get it. 

Our second unit in class was relationships. Instead of giving them a test to evaluate their knowledge, I assigned a composition where they had to choose one person in their life with whom they have a relationship (family member, friend, boyfriend/girlfriend, teacher, etc) and use all the grammar points and vocab we had learned to write any number of things for a composition. As much fun as grading 240 English language learners’ essays are, I would like to share with all of you the best of the best statements proclaimed by my lovely students prior to any corrections.

“Her fat is beautiful”

“He is my land god”

“She tall, clear, black eyes, big foot”

“I came by this way just to speak about my best friend. I consider him as a brother and this young angel I’m talking about studies here in this school…”

“My husband advises that I cannot have other guys”

“My father her name is Paulino”

“Just now that we are students she must use the condom to prevenir of the different sicks and others situations by example HIV/AIDS”

“Our relationship is very simple and well because we love each other all days”

“I grow up in his hands”

“He likes to spend his rich time computering”

“She treats her sweetheart as he enjoys”

“He has 16 years old and walks very sad because smoking leave he very tired”

“He give advice. Not have more than 2 girlfriends”

“The tongues that she speaks are: Portuguese, Cisena and Inglesh”

“We listen to music’s and sometimes we drink bears”

From the two essays about me, since I told them they could interview me if they wanted:

“My Teacher Ana he is honest, friendly, and funny” (and clearly also a man…)

“Our Teacher Ana is fair because she treats everybody the same and does not have any favourites” Boo-yah.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Safe and Secure...Except for Shoes and Pão

The safety and security chefe (important boss man) for Peace Corps paid us a visit last weekend to check in on the increasing number of safety concerns in Gurué (beyond my shoe problems- but don’t worry, nothing major has happened to me). We also meant with the commandante (police chief) to attempt to discuss the situation. Who knows if anything will come of it but it’s a step I guess. And the Peace Corps chefe bought us meio-frango (half-chickens) at a restaurant in town. Such a treat. But it must be noted that a half chicken in Mozambique is not of the same proportions as that in an American restaurant, though this was still a momentous and actually protein-filled occasion.

Speaking of robberies, I was reading in my room the other day and my roommate was in the living room, which has a view of the front door if sitting in certain spots. All of a sudden I hear “VOCÊS!” (YOU!), which, in this tone is what a mãe (mom) might say to some misbehaving children to get their attention and scold. I popped my head out of my room to find out that a group of crianças (children) under the age of 5 had been inside the doorway of our house holding a pair of men’s shoes. My roommate had successfully scared them off before they could take anything of ours, though we were unable to get from any of the witnesses (mostly teenage boys) who they were or where they lived, even though I would bet anything that they did know and just decided to mess with us brancas (white girls). We think that the parents of these kids have been sending these kids on shoe stealing missions and then selling the loot. No, shoe-stealing is not life-threatening, just annoying, especially since we know it is solely targeted at us, seeing as Mozambicans leave tons of things on their porches and clothes hanging to dry outside and very rarely, or almost never, does someone dare to snatch it. And just this past weekend, I was reading on my wicker couch in such a position as to be unable to see the front door. I heard a rustling from my kitchen and jumped up just in time to see some kids running off with my (pão) bread. My friend who was staying with me ran after them, scared them, and they dropped the bread. Really though, Gurué- children are our lidrãos (robbers)??? And they have the guts to actually set foot inside our house with us in it to steal things. Gutsy, stupid, or brilliantly effective?

Another sketchy instance in Gurué happened a few weeks ago as well. We were sitting in town, hanging out at about 1pm on a Wednesday (I love my early school days) when we see a group of about 10 guys in raggedy clothes and no shoes (what would probably be proper attire to work in the machambas- fields) carrying catanas and enxadas (machetes and hoes- machamba tools). This was nothing out of the ordinary as it is machamba season, until we realized that three of the guys were also carrying AK-47s. Uniformed security guards and policemen have guns in Mozambique but to see a civilian with an unconcealed gun was far from comforting (as it would also have been in the US). We aren’t sure what was going on, and haven’t heard about any violence but still were not too thrilled to witness this scene.

You can see the school from our house and there is class consistently from 7am to 9pm everyday. Furthermore, there is absolutely no such thing as a substitute teacher here so students mill around if their teacher didn’t show up for a lesson, which is a fairly regular occurrence. Because of this, we constantly have kids that we know and that we have never met pedir-ing (asking for) things from us- water, to use the bathroom, bread, you name it, and we are forced to negar (reject) them. I get pedir-ed all the time walking to town, which can get irksome, but it is far more annoying when I am minding my own business in my own house and have to talk to some random student who is only there because we are weird and foreign and different. The other teachers definitely don’t get pedir-ed in this way. Granted, we do tell our students that they can always come over to ask questions, practice English, use our dictionaries or other grammar materials, etc, but I guess they don’t understand where to draw the line. The students also have to do limpeza (essentially, cleaning) on the school grounds where they take machetes to the grass and make everything look nice. I am certainly a fan of this because it gives them some semblance of responsibility over their education and their school, but it also means that kids stand atop the little hill directly in front of our house and stare into our house because apparently, we are such a spectacle we are worthy of this sort of attention. Awesome. And because of the constant licensas (the word Mozambicans use to announce they are at your house- people don’t knock or have doorbells), I have to remain formally dressed until dark, which goes against my usual proclivity for wearing pajamas whenever I am at home.

When a person wants to get rid of trash here in Mozambique, they have to burn it. We have a shared lixo (trash) pit a little ways in front of our house but nobody ever really burns the lixo in it- it mostly disappears from kids picking through it to make toys and dogs scavenging for food. The little kids make these awesome toy cars that they attach to sticks and drag around out of the plastic flask-sized gin bottles and four bottle caps. But I find it a little awkward when I see what I know could only have been my trash (like American gum wrappers, my earl gray tea packets, etc) floating around the school grounds/in front of my house.
I’m not really sure why, but we are never told anything that is happening at the school, which is kinda nice when I accidentally miss a teacher meeting. But it is less nice when I miss something important. Mozambique’s Minister of Education from Maputo was ostensibly coming to Gurué a few weeks ago and I found out about this about 1 hour before he was supposed to arrive. But I made it there on time and proceeded to wait around for a good 3 hours. Then, some of the teachers decided to follow the parade of all our students into town to greet the Minister. We then waited in town for 2 hours with literally every student in the city (the little ones were practicing their dance performances for the Minister so that was pretty cute) but then it began to get dark and he still hadn’t shown up. I decided to go home, which ended up being the right decision because the Minister never actually made it. His visit may or may not have just been a rumor. Typical.

Speaking of education, my classes are going along. I’m unsure as of yet how effective I am as a teacher, as I am still getting the hang of interacting with teens in this formal and foreign setting. Sometimes a lesson will go great and I will think that perhaps they have learned something, and then the next day, my next lesson will totally bomb, totally reversing the previous sentiment. But, just yesterday, I had the students work in pairs to solve problems on cards I made by using the sentence structure, “You should…” “You must not…” You had better…” etc, and after working for a while with a duo of girls, they finally constructed just one sentence, and all I did was say “Awesome, great work” and give a thumbs up as I moved to the next desk. Their smiles seemed to go on for days. I guess those are the moments to cherish.

I had some out of town guests last weekend and we made pizza from scratch. It was delicious, seeing as pretty much any culinary exploit is possible in Mozambique if you are willing to spend the time (no shortcuts available here) and the money (for those rare luxury items like cheese, though this particular cheese was a little odd in both taste and texture), and are willing to possibly make a sacrifice on certain items and use others as substitutions. Most importantly, however, I got over my fear of eating the wild mushrooms people sell here, because we put them on the pizza and I am still alive and well. Take that, potentially poisonous fungi.


Also, my roommate brought home literally 75 guavas the other day after traveling outside Gurué. Heaven.

But, I will say that I have exactly 8 infected mosquito bites on my legs that essentially look like small pox. I will spare you the rest of the gruesome details on that one.