Teaching and JUNTOS

“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.” –Steven Furtick

I had a conversation with a friend tonight about how we felt like we weren’t really doing much compared to the other volunteers. You see a lot on facebook or on blogs (like this one, I guess) and it makes you feel like you’re life isn’t as exciting as everyone else’s. Everyone wants to brag about their successes and share them with the world. It feels good and is absolutely something people should do. We just sometimes need to remember that life is not a competition, and even when we feel we are not making a difference, we are. My quote of the day for my students was ““We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if that drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.” –Mother Theresa. I find this to be such an inspiring statement, and it aligns with one of my philosophies about life: that even a small or seemingly insignificant action makes a difference. I have had some tough days here, and I believe I am reaching one of the points in my service that will be mentally tough to get through. Hopefully I can find the strength within myself to continue, and I hope all my fellow volunteers can as well, because we are making a difference.

I have now been in Mozambique for 6 months. It seems so long, and yet so short! We are just coming to the end of the first trimester (finals are next week) and I am just getting my JUNTOS group started, yet it has been half a year since I’ve seen my best friend, hugged my mother, pet my dog, driven a car, swam in a pool, eaten bacon, used free wifi that actually worked pretty well, been in a shopping mall, lots of things I once took for granted. It is strange to think about all together, but individually the lack of any of these things has not hurt my life too much. Sure I miss my family, friends, dog, and home comforts, but it has been much easier to adapt to life in Mozambique than I would have thought a year ago. If I’m going to be completely honest, the things I miss most are paved roads and regular supplies of different kinds of cheese…


We made corn starch goop with our crianças…

Teaching is going well, though I cannot emphasize enough how different it is from teaching in the U.S. or France. I have found the lack of resources and time to be particularly frustrating, especially with exams coming up next week. The way students here have final exams is through a provincial exam, which makes me nervous. My students are a year behind where they should be in French, plus a few weeks due to my late start date at the secondary school. There is no way they are prepared for the test, but I have done the best I could. My job is to teach them French, not to prepare them for a test which does not accommodate for the challenging learning environment in northern Mozambique. Teaching at the IFP, where I have more resources, smaller class sizes, and more interested and dedicated students is going much better. I hardly ever have discipline problems and my students show up to my study sessions. We have done plays and I have them presenting vocabulary words as a kind of first step to teaching. In June they will start teaching lessons, so I am excited to observe them in the actual classroom.

Two weekends ago was the JUNTOS Training of Trainers. It was held in Metangula, which is a town in northern Niassa on the lake (Lake Niassa/Malawi, the 3rd largest lake in Africa). It was probably the most beautiful town I have visited in Mozambique: the mountains that came right up to the lakeshore, we drove through the mountains for an hour and a half to get there, it was gorgeous! To get there, however, we took busses which took about 9 hours total to get there and had to stay overnight in Lichinga. Coming home, the roads were just terrible: dirt roads wrecked by rains. It took us 9 hours to get 300km. Just the sight of the lake though was probably worth it. That and the refreshing cold weather we experienced! The training was a really interesting experience: we did sessions on leadership and running groups as well as sex ed, HIV/AIDS, and malaria prevention. Some of the conceptions of the Mozambicans, such as my counterpart who believed the first woman got HIV from having sex with a dog, were really interesting to hear. They had a lot of questions, which was awesome. It showed that they were learning, and that what we are doing is actually needed. I am excited to work with my own group and hopefully educate them and change some perspectives!




I am also excited to be the next Niassa coordinator of JUNTOS! That means I get to plan this year’s workshop in Lichinga and run the training next year. Handover is coming up right after our reconnect in Nampula next month. I’ll be working with Science Fair in Mozambique as well, and may start a REDES group (woman’s empowerment group). We’ll see! I’ve also got my first Mozambican party coming up this weekend and no secondary school lessons to plan for a month since it’s just finals, correcting, break, and conference, so I’m looking forward to what’s to come!


Making personal flags!

Portuguese word of the day: Sautaque (accent)

Macua word of the day: Nyuwo (formal you, its just fun to say!)

French word of the day: beaucoup (a lot)

Vakhani, Vakhani (little by little)

 “Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”

I can’t believe it’s already mid-march and I’ve been in Mozambique almost 6 months.  For some reason, it doesn’t feel like it’s been as long, especially when compared to how I felt being in France for 6 months.  Maybe it’s because I’m only in my 4th week of teaching…

Teaching has been going well.  The IFP and the secondary school are two completely different worlds though.  As I said, I have 83 students in each of my classes at the secondary school, both classes with multiple students with learning disabilities.  They are in a room with windows that don’t close all the way and only a blackboard, which is hard because the students’ learning depends on them copying down what I write correctly.  I do not have access to a copier, so all of my tests must be written out on the blackboard.  While I am writing them, I am also trying to check to make sure my students are not cheating off each other, as they are crammed 3 into a desk made for 2.  Today I gave an exam.  Out of all my students, I gave 27 zeros for cheating.  At the same time, I think I am a different kind of teacher for them: I allow them to make up half the credit by rewriting the test with correct answers, I try to get them involved in activities that get them moving, and I show up to class 100% of the time, unlike some Mozambican teachers.  I’ve also started a French Club of sorts.  I sit at the library on Monday and Friday afternoons and invited my students to come with questions or just to study or practice speaking french.  Surprisingly, I’ve had a good amount of students show up! Granted, a good amount is about 20 out of my 166 students, but still!


An activity I did to teach my students body parts


Part of my French Club (they got really excited to learn I could put their picture on the internet)

At the IFP, my teaching situation is completely different.  I have only one class of 33 students.  All are respectful, and most are eager to learn.  I have a VERY wide level of ability in my class, but the students all do their work and copy down the information when asked.  They are also a bit older and more mature (in general), so it is possible to have a more easy-going manner in class.  While I can’t print/copy, I do have access to a document camera and a smartboard.  I have not yet tried giving a test, but I hope there will be less cheating… I am quite enjoying teaching though!

I’ve also started a JUNTOS group, or a group focused on educating youth in HIV/AIDS, other health topics, staying in school and education, and using community resources through a medium of art.  We have not had any lessons or lectures yet, but we’ve gotten a group of kids together and actually had a lot who showed up! We played games, got to know each other, and introduced the objectives of the group.  It was a bit difficult, especially since many of the kids are still learning Portuguese (they speak the local language, Macua), but I’m excited to see where the group goes!


First JUNTOS group meeting


Games at our JUNTOS meeting

Last weekend we celebrated Caitlin’s birthday, AKA the Festa de Cátia.  The day started out with some of our crianças bringing her a “cake,” which was really a sheet of ice decorated with flower petals.  They also brought her flowers and a bracelet, and helped us decorate our wall.  We had a nice relaxing day at home, then headed into town for dinner at Nelley’s house, a French girl who lives in Cuamba.  It was a lot of fun (though we did make a lot of pasta…) and after we went to our one “discoteca” in town.  It was a fun night!



Festa de Catia dinner

The other big news is that yesterday we got a cat!  We inherited him from Alexis, one of the other volunteers in Niassa who will be leaving in a few months.  His name is Willie.  He ranges from being super cuddly to scratching us… but we’re hoping he warms up to us soon! He also spends most of our time either in our bathroom or outside where we let him roam around… he found his way back though, so that’s a good sign! I’ve never owned a cat before.  I’ve definitely confirmed that I prefer dogs, but I’m sure I’ll warm up to him soon!


Portuguese word of the day: Bastante (enough)

French word of the day: Mes cheveux (my hair): for some reason my students can’t remember this…

Macua word of the day: Omwene (king)

TED Talk of the day (back thanks to Caitlin for giving me lots of downloaded TED Talks): http://www.ted.com/talks/rita_pierson_every_kid_needs_a_champion

A Vida Começa!

“Another belief of mine: that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.” –Margaret Atwood

It’s been a fairly busy few weeks for us here in Cuamba.  After the start date of the IFP was pushed back AGAIN due to late results, we decided to get away for a weekend and went to a nearby site, Mechanelas.  Of course nearby is relative: their site is 90km away from Cuamba, but it took us nearly 4 hours to get there because of the roads and even longer to get back.  We stayed with one of the volunteers there, met some of their friends, went to a soccer game, and ate at the one restaurant in town as well as the market.  Even though it rained the whole time, it was nice to get away for the weekend.

On the way back, our chapa broke down 15km outside of Cuamba.  Because of this, it took us 6 hours to get home in total.  We were stopped at a small matu village where they hadn’t see very many white people, as we learned when we attracted a crowd of about 50 crianças yelling “Makunha!”  Being the teachers we are, we decided to use the opportunity to teach them some Portuguese and English.  It ended up being a nice morning, and we did eventually get home.


Caitlin teaching some Crianças 

The following week wasn’t too eventful: we had meetings at the secondary school about starting there, we had a rather inconclusive meeting about English lessons at the IFP, and we decided to hire an empregado, or a maid, of sorts.  He comes once a week and mops our floors, cleans our lawn, and does some of our laundry.  Originally we weren’t going to hire anyone, but we caved when we realized how hard it was to care for our lawn… and in paying him we’re helping him finance his education, so a win for all!

Last week we started classes at the secondary school.  I’m teaching two turmas (classes) of French, and Caitlin is teaching two turmas of English.  We both teach 11th grade—two doubles and a single of each class, which is a total of 9 hours per week.  Each class has about 80 students on the roster, though our classes tend to fluctuate between 55 and 70 actually present.  In Moz, the students stay in the same class while the teacher changes.  Both of my classes are in a building behind the main school building.  I have a chalkboard and a notebook, which is about the extent of my materials.  I also had to ask a lot of people to get any sort of books or curriculum guide…


It’s been difficult teaching French, which is not my first language, in a language I am still learning (Portuguese).  It’s been hard to separate the two, especially since they’re fairly similar.  It also doesn’t help that my students haven’t had the two years of French they should have had by now.  I taught some descriptive phrases and the verbs to be and to have.  When I assigned homework, however, only about 5 kids in each class did it… Other than that, I haven’t had too many behavioral problems, though I have taken phones away and made kids sit on the floor.  That’s embarrassing for them because they get chalk on their uniform.  I’m looking forward to next week and seeing what that brings!

We also are finally getting things started at the IFP.  We decided that I’d be teaching Language Use, which is a grammar class.  I only have my students here at the IFP for about 4 hours a week, which is kind of silly seeing how this is my primary job… The students didn’t get here until Friday, 2 weeks later than they were originally supposed to start. We had our opening ceremony yesterday, which was definitely interesting.

True to Mozambican standards, the ceremony itself started about an hour late.  They had us (the formadors) and some of the students line the driveway.  The students sang and danced as the Cuamba representative from the Ministry of Education approached (it ran on his time since he was the chefe).  When he got here, they held a traditional ceremony to bless the ground before having the actual ceremony.  For that, we all knelt around a tree while a curandeiro chanted and put an offering of corn flour.  Some of the teachers offered money.  It was short, but interesting.  Afterwards, we went into the gymnasium where there was the actual opening ceremony.  This one was not very interesting.  It was two hours of teachers getting awards, talks on statistics, and listing of rules.  By the end, most of the audience was falling asleep.  Eventually it ended and we went outside to take pictures.


Students lined up outside the IFP



Other than that, we’ve mostly just been hanging out with the crianças around the IFP.  One day we had a discoteca going with music and dancing.  Sometimes we watch movies.  Sometimes they just braid our hair while we do work. At this point, they’re comfortable with just walking into our house and hanging out, which can be a good thing and a bad thing.  Today we baked a cake with them.  Needless to say, they were in our house all day and the cake was gone by later that night…  I’ve made a few friends around Cuamba and started to plan my JUNTOS group: a youth group that encourages kids to stay in school and educates them about health. Next week I start teaching at the IFP, so I’m bound to get a lot busier!


Our Crianças with the cake we made


Braiding my hair is the favorite activity…

Portuguese word of the day: Custa muito! It means that it costs a lot, but it’s an expression Mozambicans also use for something that is difficult.

French word of the day: s’appeller: it’s the French verb for “to be called” and one of the verbs I taught in my class this week.  Je m’appelle Madame Sama!

Macua word of the day: Mwana (child) or Anamwane (children)

Thoughts on Interviews, Intelligence, and Vegetarianism

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” –Plato

This past week we had interviews at the IFP.  If a student wants to become a teacher in Mozambique, they must first finish school up through tenth grade.  They then (or maybe after twelfth) apply for entry into a teacher training college, or IFP (Instituto de Formação de Professores).  To do this, they take a national exam.  If they pass, they interview with a panel of 3 teachers who give them a score out of 20.  These scores, combined with the test scores and some sort of “secret” scores in Maputo determine whether they’ll get in or not.  If they get in, they undergo a one, two, or three-year education program to be a primary school teacher.  Ours is a one-year program, meaning the students will be expected to get a teaching job and teach in one year.

There are two options for students applying: Regular (Portuguese, social sciences, math, science, technology, methodology, bantu languages, music/art, and gym) and English (English, technology, methodology, bantu languages, music/art, and gym).  Caitlin and I took part in the panel of interviews for the Curso Ingles.  Because we’re new and they don’t trust us, we weren’t an official part of the panel.  Rather it was made up of our English colleagues, two formadors here at the IFP, and one high school English teacher.  We sat up on a platform and interviewed the 35 candidates applying for the English program.

It was very interesting how the process was set up.  They were sorted alphabetically, but by first name.  Individual students would come in, give us their identity cards, and then be asked to introduce themselves.  They would be asked why they wanted to be a teacher, and then would read a short paragraph to prove they can read in English.  Next they would be asked a series of questions—some general knowledge (random trivia) questions, some on sports or entertainment, some on technology, some on society, some on Health.   We also had slips of paper from which they would pick a question, and we reserved the right to ask questions of our own.  Here are a few examples of questions students were asked:

-Do you carry good remembrances of your primary school?  Would you like to talk about that?

-What is the purpose of the bridge Armando Emilio Guebuza?

-What is the name of the conference hall in Maputo?

-Talk about your background education.

-Is a fish an animal, a mammal, or a reptile?

-If you could redo the past, what would you do better?

-What is heavier, 1kg of sand or 1kg of cotton?

-Talk about an animal with a tale.

-Say 10 things about yourself.

-What is the role of a traditional Mozambican woman?

-When is the world cup taking place?

-Mention some sexual transmission diseases.

The teachers interviewing with us focused a lot on if the candidate was married, and, if not, why not.  They also spent a lot of time grilling them on why they wanted to be a teacher until they admitted it was a job.  It was interesting to see, and uncomfortable for me at times.  Sometimes our colleagues made the candidates sing or dance for us.  By the end of the interviews, all of us interviewers were just exhausted, and I felt like it became more the teachers trying to make it for our entertainment rather than a serious interview.  I felt bad for those kids.  I also felt bad because the test was not designed to be culturally appropriate in all areas of Mozambique.  One of the questions that stumped every person who got it was about explaining if vegetarianism was a good idea or not.  The thing is, vegetarianism doesn’t exist here.  It can’t really exist here: you eat what you can get.  I’m not saying that the meat processing industry in America is ok or anything, but vegetarianism is really a developed-world concept.  Before this I never really thought about vegetarianism being a matter of privilege, of people who can choose what they eat and still have access to all the proteins they need, but it is.  There are good reasons for being a vegetarian, but it is not something that even an educated African adult understands.  None of the kids interviewing knew the word, and were not able to empathize with vegetarians once we explained it.  They didn’t really understand why the word existed.

Overall, the students had a similar level of English to my students in France last year.  They made similar mistakes, such as “I have 19 years old” and other direct translations.  There were some very good ones, some in the middle, and some very bad ones.  One girl could not even understand the question “How old are you?”  A surprising amount didn’t know things such as when the world cup was or what exactly democracy was.  That was more surprising to me.  While we were grading, our Pedagogical Director came in.  He asked us to give everyone a minimum of 10, especially the girls.  That’s when the politics came into play.  Caitlin and I said we were not comfortable having people who could not speak English in our classes and expected to teach English in a year.  We were told we didn’t have a choice, and that didn’t mean those students would get in.  In the end, I believe the grades were still changed…

Because the English program had fewer candidates, they lasted only a day and a half, half as long as the regular interviews.  Me being the curious person I am, I decided to sit in on some of the Regular Curso interviews.  It was interesting, especially since one of the interviewers decided to be frank with me before the interview started.  He explained that someone would be coming by with names on slips of paper, and that those kids were the kids we would have to help because they were friends or family members of formadors here at the IFP.  He said he knew it wasn’t exactly ethical, but that’s how things were done here and so, being here for 2 years, I would have to get used to it.

At first I was a bit taken aback, since I definitely don’t agree with cheating or dishonesty, but I can see his point.  There is a cycle of poverty here that is very apparent in the bairro around the IFP.  Even though these people have a lot of money, they still have a fear of their loved ones falling into this cycle.  They do anything they can to prevent it, even if it means dishonesty.  Here it isn’t as bad because it’s just doing what they have to to survive and have a happy life.  They aren’t thinking of the country or how these actions are perpetuating the cycle of poverty (unqualified candidates get into school, go to teach in neighborhood schools but do not do a good job, children do not learn and fall behind, when they grow up they are stuck without some of the critical thinking and language skills that they need to advance in society), but just caring for those they love.  That doesn’t condone it or make it ok, but I can understand.  I won’t participate, but at the same time I am a guest here and I will not be able to change the world.  There will just have to be some things I accept, or fight on my own terms.

In the Portuguese interviews they were asked some general knowledge questions (what is the name of the hino nacional, what 3 movements formed FRELIMO, what are the districts in Niassa), a few math questions (50+10-10, 30×7, etc.), and they would annotate a sentence or read a passage.  Sometimes they had to identify vowels, conjugate verbs, or even do pushups.  It was interesting.  Some people on the list only had to write their name on the board or answer a few questions.  Others were asked to name the national ministers.  One kid was sent out and told to arrange himself better because his shirt was untucked.  I only saw one attempted bribery: a woman who came up at the end and tried to hand them 100 meticais (about $3, but still a lot of money here).  They refused it.

It was surprising to me to see how many simple (in my mind) questions the students got wrong.  The first student asked what 30×7 was said 10.  One kid couldn’t conjugate the verb “dar” (to give).  Quite a few didn’t know what a consonant was.  I was kind of put-off by the interviews until talking to one of our American friends later that evening.  She brought up the thought that Mozambicans generally thought we were stupid for not knowing how to grow beans or grate a coconut with a ralador.  Those things are more important and relevant to their lives than math and grammar problems.  It was quite humbling, and made me remember how last week I bought a pineapple and didn’t know where to grasp it to break off the stem. Meanwhile, there were some Mozambican women laughing at me on the side, one of who came over to help me.  I must have looked like an idiot to them.  In the end, it’s a different kind of intelligence.  One is not necessarily better than the other, but they both serve different purposes.  In America we tend to devalue technical knowledge and informal education because you need the formal education and book learning to get most high-earning jobs.  In Mozambique, you need to know how to plant your machamba and cook over carvão to survive.  I know I’m speaking from a point of privilege and can’t entirely relate, but I think it’s important to recognize that all forms of intelligence are important.

Portuguese word of the day: Entrevista—Interview

Makua word of the day: empá—house

French word of the day: Entretien—Interview

2 Months in Cuamba

 “I have no special talent.  I am only passionately curious.” –Einstein

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but not too much has been happening.  Mozambican students were on summer break until this past Tuesday, February 4th.  Since I’m teaching at a college with a different schedule, I’m still on break for a few more weeks.  What have I been up to?  Not much.  We’ve made a few friends, bought a few things, and continued to adapt to life in Cuamba.  We’ve been continuing to tutor some local children in reading, and have now met the other family of American missionaries in town.  We also visited one of the mission schools and had a great time playing with the kids.  We learned the Mozambican rules to checkers: pieces can move backwards or forwards, and kings are kind of like bishops in chess in that they can move any number of spaces diagonally.  It was quite interesting to play, and pretty tricky to win!


A checkers board with bottle cap pieces

We also made friends with the children who live at the IFP with us.  We play “saka” (tag) or “chipe-chipe” (hide and seek).  They try to braid my hair, though that stopped after they tried to curl my hair around a comb but got it stuck… It can be a lot of fun, though it gets tiring when they’re outside our house yelling “Mana Sama! Mana Catia!” while we’re eating dinner.  We’ve become pretty well known around the IFP and along the road to town as the somewhat crazy akunha who play with kids and walk a lot.


Our Crianças


That was fun to deal with…

We’ve also become known around town for a project we may be starting.  We were approached by a friend I had met about working to improve the community between the IFP and town.  I brought up the grant Caitlin and I want to apply for that would provide books for a small library to encourage reading amongst young children.  He really liked that idea, and also mentioned how a sports/youth club and a preschool were also things the community was lacking in.  We came up with plans for a community center, and he took off running with the idea.  Before we knew it, we were scheduled to visit the church to see if the community itself was actually interested.

At 7:30 Sunday morning we headed to the church.  We sat through part of the children’s mass (in Portuguese) before he called us up to introduce the idea (though he did most of the talking).  We tried to make it clear that we are not positive that it is possible and that we would need help from the community to make it happen.  We did the same thing at the beginning of the second mass, which was in Makua.  The community seemed interested and receptive, so we are going to try to make it happen! Today we met to plan out materials and a budget.  We’re looking at having two rooms: a small library/classroom and a bigger meeting room/preschool/sports club.  It looks like it’ll take a lot of work and planning, but we’re hoping it is possible (though his dreams of an aquarium and basketball court may not work out…).  I will be keeping y’all at home updated as we continue to plan, and I hope it works out!  I will also be asking for board games, books, soccer balls, classroom materials, etc, so if you have old toys laying around or happen to see anything at garage sales, set them aside for me!


The church, outside of which will be our community center!

Otherwise, life’s been pretty decent here in Cuamba.  We started interviews this week picking students for the English program, which will be a whole separate blog post.  We’ll soon be starting our Portuguese lessons.  Other than this, we haven’t travelled much—our main travel has been between the IFP and town.  The bridge we usually take got flooded a few weeks back, completely destroying it on the sides.  Right now people can walk along the edges if the water level isn’t too high, but cars can’t past because the road on either side of the bridge no longer exists- it’s just completely washed out.  We’ve been pretty lucky in getting boleias, or rides to town, mostly to the fact that we’re young, white females.

Caitlin and I get a lot of attention in and on our way to town precisely for this fact.  It’s been really interesting, being different-looking from most people around me.  Unlike being a minority or immigrant in a developed country such as the United States or France, being different is in my favor, and means I have to check my privilege a lot.  I was born a lot richer than the majority of people here.  Despite the fact that I am making less than a third of what my colleagues here at the IFP are making, I am still probably making eight times what some of the people on my walk into town make.  In addition, I don’t always have to walk into town because people notice me and, me being a young, white female, are more likely to give me a ride if I flag them down.  Because of this, it’s been easier for me to make friends with people who have more money and have cars.  It’s hard to balance in that I feel guilty—some of my friends in the bairros can’t catch these boleias because they don’t look like I do.  Sometimes though I just don’t want to walk into town… Because we’re white, many Mozambicans will drive us out of curiosity, and because we’re young women, older, white Portuguese or Cuban men who are doing construction and electrical work in town will drive us out of curiosity.  It’s significantly easier for us to get rides than our male site mates or Mozambican friends…

The attention has definitely been strange though.  As we walk through the neighborhood or along the roads, we are followed by shouts of “Akunha!”, or white people in Makua.  Children run out to see us and follow us around, shouting out a combination of “Salaama,” “Como esta,” and “How are you” in their staccato voices.  They aren’t rude, they’re just looking for some attention, and are thrilled if we respond.  Adults as well, will sometimes shout “Salaama” to try to throw us off and see what we say.  Sometimes we respond to them in Makua and they get really excited or laugh at us.  I don’t think we’re presenting a negative image because we do like to respond, but it can kind of be grating on us with people trying to test us or trip us up all the time.

It’s also morally difficult to respond to people asking for money.  I’ve been told not to give money from the beginning and then people won’t try to form friendships based on you giving them things.  In that way, you can choose when you give gifts and not feel you have to as a moral obligation to keep the friendship going.  On the other hand, I do have more than a lot of people, and I do feel really guilty! I’ve decided instead to invest money in things such as the community center that everyone can use and to try to get to know people and integrate myself into the community.  Hopefully this will help people to accept me and help me make some real friends.  I kind of have a host family in the bairro near our house that is teaching me Makua!

I’ve found myself having to be very trusting here in a new country.  If I ask for directions or take out my phone to give someone my number or get in someone’s car, I have to be able to trust them to help rather than hurt me or take my things.  It’s been a humbling experience, having to ask for help all the time, and I’ve definitely been nervous at times.  Overall, I think I’ve become a lot more open as a person, and I hope to continue to grow as I live here.  Of course I take caution and don’t completely trust everyone with everything: for example, Caitlin and I still don’t allow people in our house aside from our site mates.  After getting a lot of calls and texts and “I miss your face and your voice”, I’ve also begun prefacing the exchange of phone numbers with Mozambicans with an “I don’t want a boyfriend or husband right now, so don’t call me repeatedly” speech.  It isn’t entirely successful, but I’ve also gotten very good at ignoring my phone…  Because of this, we haven’t made too many Mozambican friends, but we’re getting there slowly and gaining a better fluency with Portuguese.  We’ve also met a lot of people just by being open to curiosity and willing to talk.  I’m hoping that once we start classes in 2 weeks we’ll get better at speaking, busier, and get to know more people!



Portuguese word of the day: Trançar- to braid, not to be confused with Trancar- to lock. It makes more sense than the French…

French word of the day: fermer à clé- to lock, or literally, to close by key

Makua word of the day: kintuna (? I’m not actually sure how to spell in Makua, but that’s what it sounds like).  It means I want/I like/I need.

A New Year in Moz: Life at the Lake and the Start of Work

“In the end, it’s not going to matter how many breaths you took, but how many moments took your breath away” –Shing Xiong

I’ve come to realize, even before coming to Mozambique, that I’m very fortunate for the opportunities I’ve had or been able to have in my life.  Simply from being born into an American family to having enough money to be able to go to college to the experience of traveling France and Europe, I’ve been dealt a good hand.  At the same time, I’ve found a lot of opportunities can come simply by being open, making connections, asking, and putting forth the effort to work hard and be a kind person.  By no means do I wish to discount my privilege or claim that these are opportunities open to everyone—especially since coming to Mozambique has made me aware of socio-economical gaps more than ever before—but rather that people who have access to these opportunities often do not take them.  I still struggle with being held back by stereotypes, shyness, and overthinking, which prevents me from taking many opportunities, but I’m hoping Mozambique will make me a more open and flexible person.

One of the opportunities we had through our fellow Peace Corps Volunteers in Niassa was the chance to go up to Lake Niassa for New Years.  Lake Niassa, or Lake Malawi as it’s known in Malawi, is the 3rd largest lake in Africa and runs part of the border between Mozambique and Malawi.  The Niassa PCVs were heading up to a lodge in the making owned by 3 Swedes and a Frenchman.  We happened to meet one of the Swedes and his Portuguese girlfriend through another PCV over the Christmas holiday, and were able to negotiate a ride with them in the car they were renting.  It was good that we did.  Rather than travelling 8 hours in a crowded chapa over terrible dirt roads, it took us about 6 hours to get to Lichinga, the capital city of Niassa province in an air-conditioned, private car.  The roads were still terrible and only allowed us to go about 30-50 km/h on some parts, but we got there in relative comfort.


The drive up was beautiful with all the greenery, mountains, and natural land. Niassa, the province with no stoplights, no supermarkets, and one paved road, is the forgotten province of Moz: home to prisoners of war from the civil war, some of the poorest citizens, and the rare but occasional landmine.  The capital city, while small and underdeveloped for a major city, was nice.  We got a drink with some expats there before heading out to the lake.  After driving another two hours over terrible dirt roads, we made it to Meponda, a town on the lake.  From there, we boarded a small boat which took us to the Swede’s lodge.


The lodge is beautiful and pretty isolated, 10km from Meponda and 2km from the Malawian border.  They are planning on making it a weekend getaway-type attraction for people from Lichinga.  The lodge consists of a bar on the beach, 3 “huts”, which have thatched roofs and curtains as walls (where we slept), a kitchen with a coal stove and dutch oven, and a back house made of brick.  We were sleeping right on the beach, which was a beautiful sight to wake up to.  They even had a generator which they turned on at night.  I could probably live there; at least for some time.


Where we slept


The bar


We swam and snorkeled in the crystal clear waters.  I swam to Malawi, or at least near the marker (I couldn’t tell exactly where it was).  We read, relaxed, and napped in the sun.  We had large bonfires on the beach.  We even saw families of monkeys that live in the trees surrounding the lodge.  One night we saw a tarantula on the bar counter.  It disappeared somewhere near the bar…  On New Years, there was a big group of people there.  At that point, there were 8 PCVs, 3 Swedes, 2 Portuguese, 1 South African, 1 Zimbabwean, 2 Tanzanians, 1 Indian, a family of Mozambicans, and 2 dogs.  It was quite the night! We roasted a goat for dinner and enjoyed a Mozambican meal prepared by the empregada who was there.  Afterwards, there was lots of dancing and partying.  After celebrating New Years on the Champs-Elysees, it wasn’t bad!


My view waking up


Structures where people watch out for monkeys that try to eat their crops


The goat we roasted for New Years dinner


Me and my Roommate



By the end, I didn’t want to leave.  We went back to Lichinga and stayed for a night before setting out for Cuamba again.  Over that short holiday period I met a bunch of new people and experienced a new, beautiful part of Mozambique.  Because of this adventure, I now have new contacts, as well as possible invitations to go back to the paradise that is Lake Niassa! We’ll see what else 2014 has to offer!



This week, we started work.  I learned I will be teaching Writing and Grammar at the IFP.  Used to the national and state standards and mounds of resources available in American schools, I was surprised by what I found here.  I was not expecting nearly as much, the Mozambican education system being what it is, yet I was still expecting more than 2 binders for 6 classes.  I will have to do a lot of lesson planning and figuring out what works.  We also learned we would be proctoring national entrance exams today and tomorrow.

I expected cheating with the exams, but not quite so blatantly.  Today, while giving the exam, the other proctor took a copy of the test, wrote out the answers on a sheet of paper, and gave it to one of the students.  Caitlin later told me that in the room she was in, teachers had pre-written out answers and were handing them out to certain students, not-so-subtly tossing their papers out the windows.  One of the proctors even approached her and asked if she had any “amigos” she wanted to help.  I am hoping that, at least for my 30 students, I will be able to instill some sort of appreciation of honesty, even though I am aware I cannot change the culture of cheating in Mozambique, or even in my IFP.  I am interested (and slightly nervous) to see how my moral boundaries are pushed when it comes to academic dishonesty these next two years…

Looking back at last year, it’s amazing how much has changed.  I’ve lived in France, traveled a lot (12 countries, not including ones I just passed through or was on the corner of), been a Fulbright finalist, accepted an invitation to the Peace Corps, ran a half-marathon and did a sprint triathlon, taken the longest plane trip (15 hours) and bus trip (19 hours) of my life, left my job at the GPD that I’ve had for 8 years, and moved to Mozambique.  It has been quite a full year, and I have so many new friends and memories to cherish because of it.  Sure I’ve missed a lot—weddings, births, graduations, birthdays, etc.—and I do wish I could have been there, but I wouldn’t give these experiences up for anything.

And because I did this last year, here is my (shortened) list of New Years Resolutions:

-I will practice and improve my drawing and artwork

-I will eat healthier and learn to cook a bigger variety of foods

-I will start running again and start training to run a marathon

-I will make an effort to visit other PCVs and other places in Mozambique

-I will learn to play guitar

-I will improve my Portuguese and learn at least simple greetings in Makua

-I will stay on top of my teaching and work to inspire my students

-I will keep up my blogging and do my best to stay inspired, involved, and active in Mozambique and in my community in Cuamba

-I will make Mozambican friends as well as PC friends!

Portuguese word of the day: Feliz Novo Ano- Happy New Year! Or Boas Festas, which means Happy Holidays but really means “give me something.”

French word of the day: Meilleurs Voeux! Best wishes!

Bem Vindo a Cuamba!

 “When someone makes a decision he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made that decision.” –Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I learned I was going to Mozambique on May 2nd of this year, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect.  I’d heard of Mozambique, but not much aside from the name.  I didn’t know it was a Portuguese-speaking country.  I didn’t know that it had thousands of miles of coastline and beautiful, untouched beaches.  I didn’t know that it was the 3rd poorest country on the Human Development Index, and the poorest country that the Peace Corps operates in.  Nevertheless, I accepted my invitation and got on a plane to Africa three months ago.  About a month ago I received my site placement and learned I would be spending the next two years of my life in Cuamba in the province of Niassa, which is the least developed province of Mozambique, or “Mozambique’s Last Frontier” according to one of the guidebooks we found.  So basically, I’m in the least developed province of one of the least developed countries in the world.  I’m bound to have some interesting experiences!

Despite this, I still do live in a pretty chique place.  Cuamba is the second largest city in Niassa, so it’s got a lot going for it.  Although there are no paved roads in the city, it is on one of the country’s only train lines (it figures I would be placed here, right?), so it has a lot of fresh produce and a good amount of people.  It’s got stores, which have exotic goods such as frozen chicken, chocolate, hot sauce, and sprinkles (we’re still looking for the soy sauce and powdered sugar…).  It’s fairly close to Malawi, someplace I plan on visiting as soon as we’re allowed to leave the country, and only a 3-5 hour chapa ride away from Gurue, a beautiful town in the mountains which apparently has a lot of stuff you can’t get here and where we will be spending Christmas.  It may not be the most accessible site, but Cuamba definitely does have its perks.

Caitlin and I got to Cuamba the only way us PCVs can from Nampula: a 10-hour train ride.  You could drive, which might take less time, however the road between us was deemed unsafe and is one of the areas we are not allowed to go in the country.  The train ride was fine by me though!  We sat in first class, which was air-conditioned and had cushy seats (a big deal).  It’s probably about the equivalent of a second class TER in France (a bit nicer and more spacious than the second class TGV).  There is a second class and a third class on the train where you can buy things out the window.  The third class, however, does not guarantee you a seat (can you imagine standing for 10 hours?) and can be dangerous.  The train left at 6am, and got into Cuamba (the end of the passenger line) around 5pm.  At all of the 27 stops, people are along the side of the road selling fresh produce, fried foods, bread, etc.  It was a very long ride, but a beautiful one.


When we got in, we were picked up at the station (with all of our stuff) by a school car, a couple of students, and the two other volunteers in our town, Rich and Colin.  They drove us to our new home at the IFP (Instituto de Formação de Professores).  It’s a good thing they did, because it is far!  We had a nice dinner of rice and matapa prepared by a woman in town before heading back to our house to set up.



Half our driveway…

Our house is really nice by Mozambican standards.  We live on school property, which is really safe.  It helps that the driveway to even get in is 0.5 km long.  We live in a house that is part of a block of 4 houses, and has 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a living room.  We are lucky enough to have running water and electricity (we have a shower! Not a hot shower, but a shower) even if they do go out on occasion.  We’ve also got a good amount of stuff left by former volunteers, such as dishes, a table, and water containers.  We spent the first part of the week cleaning (an ongoing process) and chasing the lizards out of our house (we were fighting a losing battle.  They live with us now).  By Wednesday we had our stoven (stove + oven), so we could cook!  Our school does have a computer lab that has 5 computers with Internet.  Whenever we can get in, we have free Internet!  There is also a “smart” classroom here with a SMARTboard and document camera.   Other than that, I’m not quite sure of the materials and resources available to us.  We were pulled spontaneously into a school meeting one day, but one that was summing up the previous year and did not give us much information for next year.  I guess we’ll see: vamos ver!



One of our pet lizards


Laundry Day…

We are about 7km from town, which means it takes us about an hour to walk into town and buy groceries or walk around.  We recently bought bikes, but they need to be fixed up before we can ride them into town.  The walk isn’t too bad though.  We walk through a neighborhood called Mendoza.  The houses are mostly made of mud bricks with thatched roofs.  The children there have not yet learned Portuguese and mostly speak Makua, the local language.  We’ve gotten used to the shouts of “Nkunha!”, or “white person!” as we walk by.  We also get a chorus of “How are you?”s, the one phrase they know in English, shouted after us.  We try our best to be friendly and greet everyone we meet in order to establish a good relationship in the community, especially as we pass through it every day.  That being said, there have been numerous marriage proposals, pedirs for money, and we’ve even been videotaped.  I never realized how much I would stick out just for the color of my skin.  It’s definitely an interesting experience, and its definitely made me think about how poverty and what you are exposed to influence how you approach differences.  I can see myself writing more on this another time…



We haven’t met too many people in the community, but we did meet an American missionary who lives here in Cuamba and has recruited us to help teach kids how to read.  We went to her house twice last week to work with a group of 5 students, ages 7 to 14, on learning to read in Portuguese.  It has been difficult, since a) their reading level is so far below where it should be and b) we are still learning Portuguese, so things like letter sounds are difficult for us; but we’ve enjoyed teaching again and having something to do.  Because we’re in the southern hemisphere, the kids are on summer break now and won’t resume school until February.  Until then, we’ll be learning about our community and settling in.


Some of the kids I was tutoring

One of the things I miss most about home is snow and Christmas.  It is HOT here.  When the sun is shining, it blazes down without any relief from a cool breeze.  It is hard to get into the Christmas spirit when lying on your floor drenched in sweat, and everyone at home knows how much I love snow… but we’ve been doing our best to find Christmas spirit here! We don’t have an actual tree, but we did draw one on our wall in chalk.  We’ve watched about every Christmas movie we own, and we made Christmas cookies (which turned out like Christmas biscuits, a bit) and hot apple cider.  We also had a Christmas dinner of chicken tacos and cinnamon rolls… I’m definitely going to miss my family and friends a lot over the holiday season, especially since this is my second Christmas away from home.  Just to think—two years ago this time I still hadn’t attended the meeting that sparked my decision to apply for the Peace Corps, and now here I am, living it up in Africa! Feliz Natale a tudo! Merry Christmas (and happy holidays), everyone!


Me drawing our Christmas Tree!


Portuguese word of the day: A Casa: house.  We can now say “vamos para a casa”, or we’re going home!

French word of the day: La Maison: also house.

Makua word of the day: Salaama.  Literally translated, it means health, but it is used as a greeting, like “how are you?” here.