Monday, April 25, 2011

Passa em Cima

The Portuguese word for Easter is Pascoa, and the Portuguese word for Passover is Pascoa dos Judeos, or literally, Easter of the Jews (yes, our holiday is only in reference to the Christian holiday that happens at the same time of year). I personally prefer to refer to this particularly wonderful holiday as Passa em Cima, which is the literal translation that I semi-invented of to pass-over in Portuguese. But, nonetheless, my favorite holiday was indeed celebrated here in Mozambique. Last weekend, we combined Jewish Passover with Lebanese Easter, in what we coined as our Judeo-Christian Spring Holiday Party. The cultural exchange was exemplified by our alternatively dipping homemade matzah with charoset (essentially, Passover salsa) and homemade hummus, as the appetizers to other delicious dishes from both traditions. The food, the company, and the sharing of traditions were fantastic. Though we did not partake in any real seder (the Passover service), I told the extremely abridged version of the Passover story while we cooked and we altered the typical Passover toast of “next year in Jerusalem” to “next year in Beirut” to complete the cultural exchange. Aside from the 6 Peace Corps Volunteers in attendance, the two Mozambicans kept raving about the food, though they were initially a little skeptical of the “sauce” we told them to dip their crackers into. I would venture to call the extravaganza a success. Maybe next year, we will graduate to a more complete seder.

Prior to the celebration of Passa em Cima, I spent 5 glorious days in a fancy hotel with hot showers, full-length mirrors (!), Indian buffet at every meal, and air-conditioning. I didn’t realize I missed real showers until I had this opportunity, but the return to the bucket bath actually felt like home. I was at a hotel for a Peace Corps conference meant for the volunteers in my group to check in about how we have been doing teaching and integrating at site, to bounce teaching ideas off each other, and to exchange experiences, stories, and above all tips. I only missed one day of the festivities due to a high fever that resulted from bug bites that got infected from showering in the water here. But I survived, though I’m sure that will not be my last incident like this. We were all very excited about the prospect of the fast wireless Internet that is free at the hotel, but as luck/Mozambique would have it, the internet was down in the entire city of Nampula until our last day of the conference. Typical, but did I mention the showers, mirrors, and food?

The end of the conference also means that the second trimester of school is about to start, but I definitely feel more prepared to teach more effectively this term, as my students are adapting to my “weird” style and different accents in English and Portuguese, and I am getting into more of a groove lesson-planning. But we shall see.

Upon arriving home after the conference, we realized that someone had done limpeza around our house. Limpeza is in this scenario is gardening/cutting down all forms of plant life that have been growing, albeit occasionally a little out of control, all around our house. It is just a cultural difference in that I like the ambiance of having greenery around my house while most Mozambicans find it unseemly. But hey, I will take the free yard work, though whoever it was did throw away all the veggies and herbs my roommate had planted in pots on our back porch, which is more than unfortunate.

A word on Mozambican banks: the lines to talk to a teller or use the ATM are generally OUT OF CONTROL. Lines are hours and hours long because everyone gets paid at the same time of the month and it is extremely rare to actually be able to use a debit card to purchase anything, thus making cash a necessity. Furthermore, lines take forever because my town, which is pretty sizeable, has only 1 bank that most people actually go to, which does not suffice. But the most horrendous and egregious reason for the long lines is that I figure my average time spent at the concrete ATM machine is about 37 seconds, but the 40 people ahead of me in line will inevitably take on average 5 minutes each. I did, however, save the entire line some hassle today by not believing that the machine was broken and “forcing” my card through the slot and then proceeding to show the next 10 people behind me my technological “trick.” Leave it to the weird foreign girl many people in line had previously been staring at to save the day.

Happy Belated Easter and Passover! Boa Pascoa e Boa Pascoa dos Judeos!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Spring Break! (or I guess here, Fall Break!)

The first trimester is over, which means a break from school and the standard, “how did it all go down in your first four months?” Peace Corps conference. But conference means hotel, which in turn means, showers (and hot water!), delicious food, air-conditioning, and seeing all the Education volunteers in the north of Mozambique, all of which I am thrilled about.

The end of the trimester also means final exams. Since all the students take the same subject exam at the same time throughout the week, all the teachers proctor for each other, which means two things. One, I have very little control over what is going on during my tests, leading to a tremendous increase in cheating. And two, that I have to proctor other classes and students that I don’t know and that don’t know me, leading to a pretty universal lack of respect from students (because I am basically a substitute teacher in that moment, and foreign and weird and with mediocore Portuguese communication skills) and my failed attempts at curbing their cheating on tests basically designed for them to do so. I am glad they are over to say the least. The only comic relief of the week was when one of my students turned in two tests, with increasingly failing grades. Sorry buddy, nice try though.

My favorite method that I came up with to attempt to halt cheating during exams, was when I was making rounds to all my classes during my test to answer questions. The sides of our classrooms that face the hallways do not have glass in the windows/doors where they conceivably should. So, I would stick my head in the back door, scare the hell out of the students next to the window by asking them what they were doing as they were cheating, and then remarking that “Estou sempre assistir” (“I am always watching”), which though semi-creepy, may have had at least the temporary effect of limiting at least  those students’ wandering eyes.

The last two weeks, I have been involved in the making of two delicious feasts: one with homemade ravioli, gnocci, and spaghetti sauce, and the other with burritos with all the homemade fixings, including tortillas and tortilla chips. Such a treat.

Also, it poured rain all weekend, which means, I couldn’t really leave the house unless I wanted to get soaked. So, inevitably, boredom ensued. And in a boredom that I would wager that only Peace Corps volunteers can fully understand and appreciate, I did a great many “productive” things to pass the time, including reading two books in two days, making two huge, full jars of piri-piri (extremely hot chili sauce) that left my hands stinging for days from chopping so many hot peppers, making the best power-hour song line-up with all the songs painstakingly edited to contain the best minute of each, and inventing the world’s greatest game. For this game, all you need is a buddy and an I-pod. One person will say any word (preferably an adjective, but any word will suffice) and the other person will search the I-pod for the song that best encapsulates and defines that word. We played for about five hours one night. Best word/song pairings: “brittle” with N’sync’s “Tearin’ Up My Heart,” “success” with Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” and “confident” with Eminem’s “Without Me.” Try out the game and you will not be disappointed. Official name and games pieces will be for sale soon.

 View from the back porch. Beautiful Gurué

Sauce and (as of this photo) uncooked couvi ravioli

 Mexican feast!!!

Sunday, April 3, 2011


My school puts out a monthly school newspaper as part of a Peace Corps program called JOMA, (JOvens para MudançA- young people for change). For the past few years, the volunteer in Gurué has worked in conjunction with a Mozambican counterpart to teach the students about journalism and give them the opportunity to publish their work and show it off at specified distribution spots around town. Since the computers in the school’s computer lab have not been working, we have just started up for the year in the past few weeks with the few computers that are in fact functioning. This past week we had planned a day for the kids to type up their first articles, so I show up at the specified date and time to open the lab and help the students. We had a surprising number turn out, all super excited to get the JOMA year underway. But as luck would have it, the school didn’t have any energy. No, there wasn’t a power outage, it’s just that no one at the school had bought any recently (since electricity here is pay as you go), so we couldn’t use the computers. We came back later in the day, still no energy. And again on Monday morning and afternoon, it was still out. Typical.

 Similarly, I had my first REDES meeting last week and had 17 girls show up! But, I am unsure how it went, on account of my Portuguese, the cultural differences in how I am accustomed to running a meeting, and the general inclination for girls to be passive here. My second meeting had four girls, none of which repeating from the week before, and we had a great time playing random games and doing get to know you activities. I’m not sure how much my negligible return rate had to do with failing at my first meeting or just the girls being busy the next time, or simply just forgetting. But as long as I have at least a few people each week, I am happy, as I am still figuring out how I can best integrate and utilize this new program in my site.

The health volunteer at my site has been working towards starting these two afterschool program centers for orphans. Yesterday was the opening ceremony for the centers and I went to help out. Not only was I super excited that her counterpart had given me an official shirt for their organization to wear (it is super stylish here to wear badly screen-printed org shirts), but I was also going to be able to play with a bunch of cute kids. And it didn’t disappoint. The kids were awesome and I got to help them with their nametags and check them in. Then, I was sent on a mission to pick up the snacks and cake. The hired driver for the day took me on errands around town to pick up all the stuff, and just as I was thinking how great it was to actually run errands in a car, we got a flat tire. Again, typical. But the event went off mostly without a hitch and I got to take photographs of all the presentations (because no Mozambican event is complete without seeming hours of slowly reported speeches thanking every person even remotely involved. Twice.) and the songs and dances performed by the kids. Overall, a very exciting and adorable day.

The students have first trimester finals this coming week, which essentially means a lot of proctoring tests in classrooms with three students squished to a desk, failing to curb the rampant cheating. But I did my best to limit the cheating on my test by spending my own money to print three different versions and making it a little too hard to compensate for the inevitable wandering eyes and cheat-sheets.

Mozambicans will often buy clothes and sport them proudly without realizing that it is a woman’s pair of jeans and they are a man. Or that their shirt is a Seattle Mariner’s jersey and they have no idea who that is, or that their shirt is from some random American fundraiser or organization they have never heard of or can’t even read because it’s in English, or one of my personal favorites, as a teenage boy often sports around here, that they are wearing a shirt that says, “Cheerleader Mom.” But the best of the best random, out of place article of clothing that I have seen in Moz was a guy whipping past me on a motorcycle the other day in a graduation cap. Sweet.

In other news, food news that is, peanut season has officially commenced, meaning the streets are littered with boiled peanut vendors. Having never before tried a non-roasted peanut, I was at first a little thrown off, but am now absolutely addicted.

Also, I bought a coconut today to make some coconut milk and proceeded to drop it immediately after I paid the lady for it. As luck would have it, it split open and started leaking the coconut water stuff everywhere. Now, I probably could have traded it in for another one but I was unsure what was appropriate, Mozambican market etiquette in this scenario was, so, I pretended nothing happened (though the white girl covered in coconut milk was clearly a spectacle for everyone around to watch interestedly and shout things in Lomwe) and continued on my way home, leaving a trail of liquid the whole way. I had no less than 8 random Mozambicans between the market and my house ask me why I had purchased an already open coconut. Awesome. And then later, I was sitting on my porch, ralar-ing the coconut (using the Mozambican contraction that is specially designed for the one job of grating coconut) when one of my students walked by since apparently she lives in the neighborhood behind my house. And after she laughed at me for how slowly I was ralar-ing, she offered to help and finished the job in about one-tenth the time it would have taken me. Just another reason why Mozambican women are my heroes.

Speaking of which, Mozambican Women’s Day is Thursday, April 7, so I am looking forward to putting together some sort of REDES program that day and potentially playing in an all woman’s soccer game to celebrate.