Monday, June 20, 2011

New Beginnings for the Start of Winter

We learned in training about what our options and resources are for
our students with disabilities, learning or otherwise. The answer?
There are none.

If a volunteer had the knowledge, training, and resources to diagnose
something, I guess, then more power to him or her to help these
students. But I, like the vast majority of other volunteers do not
have that ability. By the time students reach the 11th grade, which is
the grade I teach, if they have a learning disability they have most
likely dropped out because there is no support. Basically, it sucks. I
have no way of knowing if one of my students has a learning disability
but even if I did, I honestly don’t have a realistic way of helping.

Though it is not a “learning disability,” there are plenty of students
with poor eyesight and no glasses. So how are they supposed to see the
board? (The board being the only form of textbook and thus ostensible
reference or study material they have.) I have one such student. He
rarely comes to class and when he does he can’t see the board even
from the front row and while squinting. But we know he’s a good kid.
So my roommate and I decided to take action. We talked to him about it
and he said he has trouble coming to class because when he does, he
goes home with horrible headaches from all the squinting. So we gave
him an extra pair of glasses we had at our house that we thought might
work. Obviously, they are not a perfect prescription but he has been
wearing them for the past two weeks and hasn’t missed a class. He is
working extremely hard, has no more headaches, and thus also has the
ability to actually see what is being written by the teachers,
allowing him to, and what is that word again? Oh yes, LEARN. This
could be something that potentially significantly changes or improves
his life. I’m super excited for him and to see how this affects his
academic performance, self-esteem, you name it.

On a slightly more embarrassing note, I was locked out of my house the
other day while de-fleaing and de-ticking my dog. I was sitting on the
porch with no shoes on and no keys when the front door slammed,
locking me out. Luckily, I generally keep my phone in my bra and
therefore I could call my friend who has a spare key at her house on
the other side of town. But I still had no shoes. And though it would
not be at all uncommon for someone to walk around with no shoes here,
my feet are definitely not Mozambican-ized and weathered enough to
withstand the piercingly hot and rocky terrain. So I can now add
“asking the neighbors to borrow shoes” to the list of the crazy things
the white girl does.

I find it interesting that a lot of Mozambicans find me more strange
when I do the same things they do everyday, like lets say, grate
coconut, cook on a charcoal stove, sweep my yard with a reed broom, or
even (and how dare she!?) walk to town to buy some vegetables, than
when I do something totally new and different to them, like have a dog
that lives in my house, read a book on my porch, or offer tutoring to
any student who wants it. I guess they expect me to do things that are
weird and crazy, so it amazes them when I do something they are so
accustomed to. The white teacher cooks dinner!? Who knew…?

We started teaching computers this week in addition to our other
lessons. After putting it off for a trimester and a half, we could not
do so any longer. According to our school director, we have “enough”
computers that are “working” to service the 11 classes of 60 students
each. And by “enough,” I mean, we have 11 computers. Yes. 11. For 660
11th grade students. And by “working,” I mean usually about 8 are
working on any given day out of the 25 that make-up the computer lab.
So if each class is divided into three subgroups based on ability,
then two students share each computer. But hey, two is better than
six. Computer class is mostly only a chore because the ratio of
computers to students means we have to repeat each lesson no less than
33 times throughout the year. And the lessons are super boring because
the vast majority of students have never used a computer before. So we
started with the parts of the computer, how to put your hand on a
mouse, how to click a mouse, how to double-click a mouse, and what the
basic buttons on a keyboard do. It is enthralling… The upside of it
all is that though it may be semi-painstaking for us to teach, I am a)
practicing a lot of Portuguese everyday and learning new vocab, and b)
the kids are extremely excited and attentive during lessons because
using a computer is new and cool. The faces and reactions they had
when we actually let them turn on the computers for the first time
were priceless. They more frequently show up on time and have even
been known to ask for more during the last 5 minutes of class when we
had tried to be nice and end class early. Every teacher’s dream, I

Finally, it is lettuce season. And therefore, the season for SALAD!
With actual lettuce. Not just any salad with whatever veggies I can
find and use to pretend I am eating salad, but an actual
semi-romaine-like-lettuce salad. And so now the next task is homemade
salad dressing.
And, as a last side note, I had to use a blanket last night for the
first time since training. Hello, winter in one of the coolest regions
of Mozambique!

Also, according to my student, I am “heavy calm.” Thanks?

Monday, June 6, 2011

A New Addition

Yes, we adopted a puppy. And he is awesome.

Our friend’s dog had puppies two months ago, and we promptly reserved the cutest male of the litter (we don’t want to have to deal with pregnant dogs or puppies…) and he was finally handed off to us about a week ago.

His name is Bowzer and he is currently learning how not to pee in the house and the standard dog commands. We are planning on teaching him the dog commands in Portuguese so that ostensibly the neighborhood kids can also tell him to sit and stay, meaning they will hopefully not throw rocks at him as is the fate of most Mozambican dogs. I have also recently become truly obsessed with my cement floors, since they make cleaning up after a non-house-trained dog quite easy.

In other news, the unit we are doing in class is “Made in Mozambique,” aka buying local products. In order to introduce the unit, I brought in a grab bag of items from our house and we played a guessing game about which items were made in Mozambique and which items were not while simultaneously learning new vocab. It was easy to find food items that were grown here, as most produce is, but finding packaged items not imported from South Africa proved more difficult. The three items I found in our house that were actually manufactured in Mozambique were beer, cigarettes, and condoms. Telling? I think so.

The Catholic secondary school near where I live had some big festa last weekend that I went to mostly for the free food and Mozambican church music (so pretty). I got to meet one of the two bishops that oversee my province of Zambezia. And get served pig. No, not pork. I say pig because a platter was brought to me with a roasted pig’s head on it. To not offend, I asked for a little, and was promptly given a humongous piece that was 99% pure fat. Lovely. We also went early to help set up for the “banquet” luncheon, and were put in charge of making the potato salad. Apparently, according to the nuns, I did not lather on a sufficient helping of oil or mayonnaise. Sorry I’m not sorry.

We fired our empregada, cleaning lady, because she a) does a terrible job cleaning the house and b) steals from us. So out she goes. But now we will be doing all the chores ourselves (except we will outsource clothes-washing because I am terrible at it and really have no desire to improve). The only chore I am really not looking forward to is sweeping the dirt in front of my house with a reed broom. One of the girls in my girls group asked me the other day during our meeting if I had a broom. I said yes, and she told me I needed to do a better job sweeping. Apparently you are not allowed to have leaves fall from your trees in front of your house. But maybe I will learn how to make cool patterns in the dirt like all the Mozambican women. Definitely a useful and applicable life skill.

And finally, I have an abscess on my left bicep. Did I know what an abscess was before coming to Mozambique? No, I did not. It is quite unattractive and prompts the majority of Mozambicans to make a comment. But hey, at least they have stopped commenting on my infected-mosquito-bite-ridden legs. But no, random Mozambican stranger, I do not know why I got an abscess and nor do I want to go to the local hospital to get it drained (I know, gross). I am just hoping it doesn’t get worse so I don’t have to go to the Peace Corps doctor to get it taken care of. Just add it to the list of weird skin infections that are the plight of Mozambique.

My girls group had an exchange with another girls group this weekend. True to form, 8 girls showed up at my house at 7:00am on Saturday, when we had found out at about 6:58 that the guy we had asked to drive us has malaria and thus cannot take us anymore. So, we went to the road to wait for a truck to drive by with enough space to take us to our destination. We were very lucky and got a ride after only a few minutes. As my friend always says about Mozambique, “Things do not go well. They just go better than expected.” But, we had a good day of playing games, cooking lunch (tacos and pizza with homemade cheese!), and doing some activities about gender and HIV/AIDS. Overall, it was a great day. And I will never fail to be impressed by the work ethic of Mozambican women. We said, hey, let’s wash the dishes and 4 girls jumped up and completed the task. I said, hey, we have to walk to the road and wait for a ride, and the girls took it amongst themselves to carry all the food, pots, and pans, and even a crate of sodas on their heads. 

The Crew  

 My students!

Showing off their tortilla making skills 

Cooking Time 

The new Man of the House, Bowzer