Friday, August 26, 2011

And the Point Goes to...

As the original theme of this blog was Annie versus Mozambique and I have kinda trailed off on this effort, I thought I would bring it back in the epic (yet, not so epic) battle of Gurué, my old site, versus Invinha, my new site.

Distance Traveled by the Average Student to Attend Classes Everyday: Point Invinha
-Yes, at my new school, kids come from all over the bush, super far away, by foot, many by bike, and a select, rich few, by motorcycle. For my first day of survey, a few students wrote they live in neighborhoods up to 20km away. Now that is some dedication to the normally sub-par education most students receive here in Mozambique if I have ever heard of some.

Quality of Teachers: Point Invinha
As opposed to my old school, we have to wear our batas, (the teacher lab coat uniform, I even got yelled at for not buttoning mine on a abnormally hot day) and teachers show up on average 50% more than they did at my old school. This means, that I am not the only teacher teaching during the last two class periods of the day and my students don’t resent me for my consistent attendance, Yipee! We have teacher meetings I am actually informed of and teachers can even be found lesson-planning in the teacher’s lounge (crazy I know). 90% of the teachers are young, this being their only first to fifth years teaching, and they are enthusiastic. It really is rather refreshing.

Quality of School Grounds: Point Invinha
-I am provided with chalk! And garbage cans! And every student sits at a desk and not on the floor! (granted, they share the desk another student, but at least there are enough desks to do so in each class). But no, they do not have books, so, per Mozmabican usual, the whole of the learning that goes on is from chalkboard to notebook.

Cute Children: Point Invinha
-All my neighbors have children under the age of 8 and they are adorable. You only have to say Tia Ana to me and I melt. They always bom dia me and come to play, I love it. Also, a student dropped off 2 one month old puppies on our porch, and we have been babysitting for a few days, so the neighborhood kids have not left their perch on the porch, playing with and holding the puppies. Cuteness abounds. The kids also love to play with our turtle, aptly named Cargado (turtle in Portuguese) who lives in our compost pile. (sometimes I even surprise myself by the true things I am able to say about my life here).

Availability of Food: Point Gurué
-You really can’t buy much in Invinha, so I try to get a ride to the city a few times a week to buy things, print, etc. Its mostly just a time-consuming hassle, but by no means impossible.

People I Know and Like: Point Gurué
-I still keep up with my student groups in Gurué twice a week and offer tutoring once a week since they all complained to me that their new teacher does not explain very well. They are always happy to see me in the city, I think only because they liked me as a teacher but not that I made them do work and try. What a concept.
So with a score of 4-2, Invinha wins. It is a great town and a great school, and really the only thing holding me back are my old students. But I’m sure the new ones will be just as awesome as time goes on, once they get to know my teaching style and get used to the crazy white lady in front of them.

In other notes, it is the dry season here and hasn’t rained in months. Thus, it is also building season. Everywhere in the bush people are putting mud-ish goop in molds to make bricks and adding on to houses or building one from scratch. The poorer people use more mud to hold the bricks together, and the richer people use cement and even build brick ovens to heat the bricks and “make them strong,” or so I’m told. If you are super rich, you put a layer of cement on the outside of the bricks, case in point, my house.

I went to Mass at the beautiful church on the hill on Invinha the other day and had dinner with the nuns that run my school. Bishop O’Dowd High has trained me well. Luckily, I chose a day that was doing Mass in Portuguese and not in Elomwe, the local language, so I could pretend I wanted to follow along.

I also finally got a bed in my new house. It is made of bamboo and relatively comfortable. But as luck and Mozambique would have it, the guy I contracted to make it, misread his measurements, and made it exactly one foot too narrow and one foot too short for my mattress. So it's an interesting squeeze.

And as no blog post is ever truly complete without a funny English class moment, here is mine of the week. Since we have been reviewing parts of speech (because they are in 11th grade and don’t know the difference between a noun and a verb) I wrote a MadLib on a big sheet of paper and we filled in the missing words as practice. I asked for a plural noun and a student said “child.” When asked to make that plural, he correctly responded “children.” Good job, student! But, when I placed this word upon the paper, I realized, we had just created the sentence, “My hobby is collecting children.” Oops. Especially because there is a legend in the neighborhood that this certain creepy Portuguese man who lives in the city steals children. My bad.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Mark and Debbi Take on Mozambique


We have been home for a week now and we are still processing all the sights and experiences we encountered on our trip to Africa. First let me say that it was an amazing trip and how wonderful it was to see Annie for the first time in 10 months. She guided us through her new homeland with ease. From amazing meals (chocolate pancakes to homemade tortillas to musafaca (a traditional zambezian dish of lentils, rice, coconut milk and spices) to her mastery of Portuguese, each day in Mozambique offered insights into Annie’s daily life. We shopped in the local market, drank local beer, collected water each night, visited her classes and even took bucket baths! The countryside was full of many different landscapes and housing options.

We then spent 3 days at a private game reserve bordering Kruger Park in South Africa. We observed the " big 5" as well as numerous other creatures and birds. The baby elephants and observing leopards mating were just 2 of the drive highlights, fabulous meals rounded out our stay at Idube Lodge. Have you ever eaten ostrich?

On to Cape Town,  a very beautiful city. The picturesque waterfront and surrounding areas reminded us alot of San Francisco. The 2 ½ hour drive to the Cape of Good Hope was beautiful with baboon and ostrich sightings as well as stop by a penguin habitat. Baby penguins are a close second to baby elephants on the cuteness scale. There are amazing gardens at Kirshtenboch in the center of a residential area of Cape Town.

Words really can’t describe our 3 weeks in Africa..It was a trip of many eye opening contrasts…..we have many photos and anecdotes to share….
Now off to Florida to celebrate Arthur’s 90th birthday!


Debbi does an excellent job of briefly describing our three weeks in Africa. The travel and experiences were an eye-opening look at poverty and prosperity and included many things that I will never forget. Seeing Annie with her students was inspiring and a powerful reminder of how much I love her. The trek through Mozambique  (from the cities, to the mountains, to the coast) at first created a kind of culture shock but developed into respect for the people who can live and, in some cases, thrive without water coming into their house and living on $1 per day.  I am proud that the United States sends volunteers to help these people. I asked other Peace Corps Volunteers if other countries had programs like the Peace Corps and the only other country was Japan.

The traveling to and from Africa with 18 hour plane rides and even longer travel periods were exhausting and difficult.  The bodily system changes with added medication for malaria and concerns about the drinking water created some uncomfortable times but both Debbi and I faired rather well.

The pleasures of the luxurious safari including lodging and meals were great. The 12 hours of driving in the bush and, of course, the animals made that experience very special. It was amazing that our jeep could pull up in front of wild animals and it would not faze them. If they were sleeping they might open their eyes and look out, but then would just go back to sleep. The leopards mating just continued their activities as jeeps from the lodges pulled up (not more than two jeeps at a location at a time) and pulled away. The rangers have radios and tell each other where the animals are located. However, we were just lucky to see a zebra and giraffe. 

Cape Town was, again, a slight reverse culture shock because it is a cosmopolitan city with lots of tourists and restaurants. The coast line was beautiful and baboons were plentiful and acting out for the tourists. There are signs all along the highway saying “Baboons are wild animals, do not feed” but they seemed to get along by stealing food from motorists who stop to take pictures of them. The government has hired Baboon Tenders to chase the baboons from the road and make sure tourists don’t harm the baboons or visa versa.

I look forward to sharing more of our adventures with you.

I need to thank:
·      Debbi for helping me through the travels. I could not have made it without her.
      Annie for going into the Peace Corp and giving me an opportunity to visit somewhere I never would have gone. I will never forget these experiences and you made it possible.
      Emily and Mike for sending us off from D.C. and welcoming us home after traveling for 25 days. I felt like I was home when I reached your home and it was a good thing because I literally passed out the first night back.

     Enjoy and keep smiling. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Goodbye City Life. Hello Mato.

I have officially said goodbye to city life. I now live in the mato (aka, the bush).

About three weeks ago, our house was broken into. Nothing was stolen and no one was hurt, but the resulting attempted break-ins with the stolen keys along with other incidents that have happened to previous volunteers in my town made Peace Corps feel that moving us out of the city was necessary. I now live 15km outside my old town of Gurué in the small, small, small, (emphasis noted?) town of Invinha.

I moved in with one of my best friends, Allison, who is finishing her Peace Corps contract at the end of the school year (December). I will be either commuting back to the city to continue my old classes and/or taking over some classes of the overworked teachers at Allison’s school for the next four months. Then, next year, I will replace Allison as the Invinha volunteer.

Though I am not happy to be leaving what was my home for 8 months, to be leaving my students who I have come to really enjoy teaching, to be adjusting to a new site, new neighbors, new coworkers, everything, Invinha was my first choice if a move was necessary. Being here, I can still commute to the city (and by commute, I mean, essentially hitchhike) to work with my girls group and English theatre troop, and keep in contact easily with people in Gurué, all of which are extremely important to me.

Invinha is a small town that pretty much exists because of the secondary school. About 25 of the 35 teachers live in a teacher’s neighborhood, and the only food that can be bought in the “market” is onions, tomatoes (maybe), coconuts, (maybe), sugar, oil, and other extreme basics. So I have to go into the city to buy the “luxury” items, like rice and wheat flour, that I will inevitably want. My house is pretty much the same, concrete with a tin roof, no running water, and a water-dump-flush toilet. The pump I get water from is about 2 houses away, which is awesome, but I will have to learn a whole new set of water-pump politics (whose turn it is, when I can go, etc etc), which shall be interesting. There is no cell service, so we have a landline phone, circa 1992. It is pretty legit. So I will be slower answering emails and not very able to respond to texts unless I happen to be in town. My house is also on a dirt road that goes between Gurué and the next big town, which means, lots of dust gets EVERYWHERE whenever a car or motorcycle drives by. The people-watching, therefore, is more than excellent from the porch. Also on the positive, I brought my big refrigerator (YAY!), and Allison has a dog. So I am now the proud owner of 2 trash-eating, dust-covered, chicken-chasing, absolutely lovely, loving dogs.

And the best part of the Invinha Secondary School: it is a Catholic school run by nuns. Yes, thank you very much Bishop O’Dowd High, my Catholic education is certainly coming in handy…in Mozambique. But I do like me some Mozambican church music, and, because it is a Catholic school, the classes are much smaller, the community is much tighter, and the demographic makeup of the students is either RICH or literally taken from the bush (making for some interesting interactions). But the school and town are much smaller and more supportive than my previous big city livin’, so it will be good. Or so I hope.

I think I always wanted to live in a small town in Mozambique, and Invinha is pretty darn great. No, I would rather not move, but if I had to, Invinha would be it. Though the fact that I LITERALLY live in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but the sporadically-placed mud house and subsistence farmers between me and the possibility of purchasing bananas and eggs is pretty daunting. It shall be interesting.

We have begun making our own peanut butter from the roasted peanuts in town. Skippy and Jif here I come.

The only truly legit grocery store in the entirety of the north of Mozambique, ShopRite (a South African chain) burnt down a few weeks ago because, apparently, they weren’t paying the workers sufficiently. So the workers burnt it down. Now where I am supposed to get my spices, oats, and shampoo? Granted, it was 8 hours away on a good day, but still…it is pretty sad.

And finally, I helped with a WONDERFUL girl’s empowerment conference last week connected to my girls group. We talked about many things from HIV/AIDS stuff to public speaking to nutrition to women’s rights, and study skills. For all you camp people, imagine Camp Kesem or UniCamp but with more of an emphasis on condoms, periods, and why not to sleep with teachers. Seriously though, it was amazing.

 Me and my girls at the conference.

 New brothers. 

 My new home.

The Gurue crew at the Provincial Science Fair.

 Third-place winner! My student! (sweet Obama shirt- CHECK!)

Mom and Dad in Cape Town