Elections, Teaching, and Mato Living in a Chique House

“Life has so many ways of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all or by having everything happen at once.” –Paulo Coelho

This year is an exciting year to be in Mozambique. Not only did FRELIMO, the ruling political party, and RENAMO, the opposing party, sign peace accords and finally stop the fighting and raids on each other, but it is also the year of elections in Mozambique, which will take place on October 15th. There are 3 parties with presidential candidates: FRELIMO, RENAMO, and MDM, a breakoff party of RENAMO. On August 30th, the campaigning started.

Even in the states, I’m not a huge fan of campaigning. I believe the goal there has become to humiliate the other party and expose lies or false promises more than to present one’s views. This campaign of negativity—and really the whole political atmosphere in the states—frustrates me to no end. It is equally as frustrating here, but for different reasons. Whereas in the states we have many opportunities to watch debates, look online, and participate in discussions about the views of the political candidates, here the information is rarely available, and mostly lies when it is. I asked my students how we can find out more information on the political parties. They said there are some ways, but everything is a lie anyways, so it’s better to just vote for who you like best (though I’m not sure how they figure it out). Our students are required to campaign for the ruling party and told to vote for them. I’m not sure if it’s legal or not here, but it’s definitely an order that restricts their freedom of voting/thinking. I’m sure this isn’t representative of all Mozambique, but it frustrates me to see such restriction of thoughts and ideas in a political atmosphere.

Politics aside, teaching here has been going well. Caitlin and I taught our students about co-teaching (planning and teaching with another person) and had our students teach lessons in small groups. Some groups were really good and had a great dialogue. Others not so much. The other day I taught how to read aloud. While it may seem a simple skill, it’s a lot harder when you don’t have access to books for a young age and have not had the example of read alouds in school. I read The Little Engine that Could, and my students loved it. After, we played follow the leader to learn about prepositions and they pretended to be a train. Who says adults don’t like to act like children?

Our students playing follow the leader as a train around the football field

Our students playing follow the leader as a train around the football field

We also did a unit where we talked about gender roles in Mozambique. It was definitely interesting. The students, divided into men and women, drew a poster showing the stereotypes of the opposite gender and acted out a short skit to show behavior. The women’s poster just said, “Mozambican men like to drink.” Their skit was about a group of men who were smoking and drinking and womanizing. The men’s poster depicted a woman in a capulana, traditional wear for women, but their skit was about a woman sitting and ordering her husband around. Interestingly enough, some men arrived at the house and began to tell the husband that he wasn’t being a good man. It’s ironic that the men’s skit about what a woman does turned into a commentary on what makes a man. I think it tells a lot about how Mozambican men think.

Boys being Girls

Boys being Girls

Girls being Boys

Girls being Boys

We discussed why it was harder to be a man/woman in Mozambique. The men thought it was harder to be a man because you are expected to work and be the sole earner in the family, so if you can’t find work or provide for your family you are looked down on. The women thought it was harder to be a woman because you are doing manual labor all day: cooking, cleaning, hauling water, taking care of children, laundry, etc. It was also interesting to see the intense stereotypes that they all had. One boy in my class, for example, said that men and women could never be equal because women will always spend a lot more money than men because they need makeup and hair products and clothes and will expect the man to provide for them. Women thought that men only cared about sex. The majority of my class, at least, was optimistic about men and women being equal in society in the future. Hopefully this taught them something about their own stereotypes…

I’m also planning on talking about HIV/AIDS in both my IFP classes and in JUNTOS. It turns out kids have huge misconceptions about HIV and have often been receiving conflicting information from different sources. Their schools tend to focus on things such as that tripping and falling on a knife that an infected person cut themselves on being a strong transmitter for HIV when in reality less than 10% of cases in Africa are caused from blood getting into a cut/wound. I’m hoping to dispel some of these myths and further educate these kids…

The big change in my life recently has been a lack of electricity, and therefore water. It’s definitely been a difficult 3 weeks. I was sitting at our table on my computer a bit over 3 weeks ago when I heard a noise like an explosion and the power went out. Turns out the transformer blew up. Because this is Mozambique and things take a long time, we need to order a new one from another country and go through all the paperwork to import it first. The rumor is that we won’t have power until January. In addition, because the water pump runs off electricity, we no longer have running water in the house. My life just dropped down from posh corps to not-quite-mato. Luckily, the school has a generator. This means that I can go to the guardhouse at night and recharge my laptop/phone. This also means that the water tank/reserve can be at least partially refilled at night so we can get water on the IFP campus itself. Even though we have to haul water, we often don’t have to haul it far—maybe 200 yards. It has made us a lot more conscious about how we use water.

Our life now has become thus. Sometimes we wake up early to get water before it runs out. Sometimes we can get it in the afternoon or at night. In the morning we’ll wash dishes from the night before (since it’s harder to see at night, we leave them to soak). If we have to do laundry (maybe once every week or every other week), we use as little water as possible and only rinse once instead of twice. We use the dirty laundry water as toilet-flushing water. We’ve got a bucket in the kitchen for washing water, 2 buckets in the living room for cooking and boiling/drinking water, a bucket in the bathroom for washing water, and a dirty water bucket in the bathroom for toilet-flushing water. When we bathe, we use as little water as possible. If I am washing my feet, I often use water we used for cooking, such as drained water from pasta. Believe it or not, we use A LOT less water than the other Mozambican trainers here.

At night, we cook over a coal stove. I’ve surprised myself by having a lot of success in general lighting the stove. It takes a while to heat up and to boil water and all, so I usually light it around 5pm when we won’t eat until 7 or 8pm. I’ve had a lot of success making things though, such as sweet potato curry, pasta with garlic sauce, scrambled eggs, soup, and fried rice. Around 5:45pm when it gets dark we light candles in our house so we can see. My headlamp has also come in VERY handy with the coal. Rich and I have taken to watching our way through the office, so we’ll usually watch an episode or two after dinner. Sometimes I go to the guardhouse and let my students use my computer. Sometimes we go to bed before 8pm. It’s definitely been a complete change in environment.

This is how we cook

This is how we cook

I’m hoping that the situation will, in fact, be resolved soon, but it seems nothing will happen until after the elections next month because our director is so “busy” campaigning. There have been a few times that the reserve tank has become empty, or the generator has run out of fuel. Word now is that the nearest well may have dried up. We can only hope that something will change soon. It’s definitely been a low point in my service the past few weeks, but now that I’m getting used to it and I’ve got hope for the future, I’m finding my positivity again!

And because cuteness…

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Portuguese word of the day: Bomba (pump)

Macua word of the day: Wipa (to sing)

French word of the day: L’eau qui coule (running water. I need to figure out how to say this in Portuguese!)

Agosto, Agosto, rushing on by…

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” –Jack Kerouac

It’s been a while since I’ve had Internet, electricity, and time to write, and so much has happened in my life! Where to begin?

A few weeks ago, I woke up at 5am to go out into the bush with my JUNTOS kids. We met at 6am with our tools and walked about an hour out to an uninhabited area with lots of grass and some trees where we proceeded to cut down some trees to build our shelter where we could have meetings. It was a lot of fun, though I couldn’t stay long because of my library program.

Carrying back the trees we cut down for JUNTOS.

Carrying back the trees we cut down for JUNTOS.

Woo JUNTOS!

Woo JUNTOS!

That was also the day Brianna, the new volunteer, arrived. She is a Moz 22er replacing Colin, our sitemate who finished his service last month. We had a nice dinner with her and the staff who brought her, and visited her at her house the next night before heading to our friend’s birthday party.

The Cuamba-ers minus Caitlin

The Cuamba-ers minus Caitlin

That was an interesting night. Dona Roquia, one of the women in town, was turning 46 (already a grandmother of 7!) and hosted a big party. She had invited a chefe, a police chief, from another city. Since he was an important person, we couldn’t eat until he arrived. It took a while. After he did though, it was a lot of fun!

The next week was testing in the secondary school. As usual, it was a headache. Since I teach 10th grade French and the province doesn’t have a curriculum for 10th grade French, I was lucky in that I got to design my own curriculum and my test. I was unlucky in that I was told conflicting things… I was told I had to write it, and then I was told it was already written without me. I was told it had to be the same as the others, and then I was told it could be different. In the end I got my way—my kids took my test instead of the easy one the other teachers had written. Unfortunately, I was not there to proctor it, so they all cheated. You win some, you lose some…

The next week was a lot of fun because Cuamba got visitors! First Rayna came on Tuesday after a lot of difficulty on her way here. Eventually she got here though! Fei arrived on Wednesday. They both were able to come to my class on Friday. My students loved talking to them! On Friday morning we climbed Church Mountain again, showing off one of the main sights of Cuamba. On Saturday afternoon Lauren got here. Caitlin also got back from her trip to Nampula. We had dinner all together at Dona Roquia’s before heading off on the train bright and early to our EGRA conference (community library program). The air conditioning on the train was broken, so we got to buy things out the window, which was fun. The train also ran out of gas about 6 hours in, so it was stopped for 2 hours waiting for more to arrive… We still managed to get in around 6:30pm though, so it wasn’t too bad!

On Top of Church Mountain

The conference we were attending in Nampula was for a program through USAID called Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) or Livro Aberto (open book). It is the community library program I started a while ago aimed at teaching children how to read. We were supposed to go with our Mozambican counterpart, but my counterpart’s permission (being a student) was redacted two days before leaving, so I was the only one without a counterpart. As a result, though, I got to work with a very nice Portuguese volunteer.

We did a lot of talking about the essentials of the ideal community library: Reading out loud, Individual reading, and other interactive learning activities. A program should be fun, educative, and constant. We had some practical experiences working with our counterparts and using the books, and we had some real practical experience going to a school and actually forming the reading group with kids. That part was a lot of fun, and it was nice to see everyone again. I can’t wait to get my books delivered!

Reading in our library program

Reading in our library program

Modeling a library program for our counterparts

Modeling a library program for our counterparts

EGRA 2014!

EGRA 2014!

On Sunday we had my JUNTOS group event. It was kind of confusing and disorganized: I hadn’t been there in 2 weeks because of the conference, my counterpart hadn’t been in 3 weeks, and although they had been meeting, the communication wasn’t super clear. Despite this, we showed up at 2:30pm. We began trying to sell some bracelets and food and playing games like throw the penny on the plate, a type of bozo-buckets with empty peanut butter jars, and find the coin under the jar lids. The kids loved that. After a while, my kids presented their theater pieces. They had one skit about women getting married too young and one about the mistreatment of orphans. After each they had a small discussion. People seemed to enjoy it. All in all, I think the event went well, despite not making any money…

People watching our play

People watching our play

A Skit about premature marriage

A Skit about premature marriage

This next month will be very interesting because the campaigning starts. It has been very heated here amongst the different political parties. It doesn’t help that there isn’t a great way to find out the positions of the different political parties in Mozambique, so a lot of people just vote for what they’re used to. At the IFP, kids are essentially required to vote for a specific party and campaign for that party. I’m just hoping they don’t have to skip class… either way, be prepared for political ranting to come.

Portuguese word of the day: Fugir (run away/flee)

Macua word of the day: Yowima (fruit)

French word of the day: Tasse (coffee mug. I love how there is a difference between that and a normal cup, unlike Portuguese)

Student Teaching, Secondary Projects, and Muapula

“Doing what you like is freedom. Liking what you do is happiness.”

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything! My life has been a whirlwind of primary and secondary projects here in Mozambique. I’ve been waking up at 6am, preparing for my lessons, teaching straight through the day, and falling asleep at 9pm at night (or sometimes even earlier…). I’m finally getting a chance to relax with classes being over at the secondary school, so I’ve got a bit of time to write.

Although I am only teaching two days at the secondary school instead of my previous 3 days, my weeks have been very busy. I am now teaching an additional class per week at the IFP (English grammar) and I am observing my students there in their student teaching. How strange is it that I am essentially a student teaching supervisor? It is definitely an interesting experience thinking back to my own student teaching.

During my student teaching, I started out going twice a week the semester before I would be full-time in the classroom. I was the only student teacher in the class, and I was working with the teacher I would be teaching with the next semester. When I was student teaching that was my sole responsibility aside from a seminar class once a week. I spent an entire semester in the classroom, slowly accumulating more classes until I taught full-time for about a month, then I started giving classes back. During that time, I taught maybe two hundred lessons in different subjects. I was observed 3 times by my supervisor and every day by my cooperating teacher, I had 3 conferences with them both, and I wrote weekly reflections, as I learned that self-reflection is one of the most important skills of a teacher.

My students, however, have a completely different experience. As their teaching program is only one year, they spend their first semester observing and their second semester teaching. Since there is a lack of teachers and English classes, only 5-10 people end up teaching per week. There is only one English teacher at each of the two primary schools our students are teaching at, meaning that in the month our students have been teaching, each one has only taught 1-3 times. In addition to this, our students are oftentimes nervous because all 16-17 of our other students are also sitting there watching their lessons. Sometimes my students outnumber the elementary school students, since only 20-30 of the 60 students in the 6th grade class show up. My students teach in classrooms where the students don’t have desks and sit on the floor. Some don’t even have books.

One of my students teaching in a 6th grade class

One of my students teaching in a 6th grade class

My students prepare lesson plans before teaching, but they struggle a lot getting enough practice into their lessons. It also doesn’t help that while they are writing lesson plans and student teaching, they are also learning full-time and taking 7 different classes. I admire my students for their dedication and determination, but I think it would be a lot better for them if they had a program of at least 2-3 years. In my opinion, it is impossible to learn how to teach when you are only able to teach 10 lessons before becoming a full-time teacher.

These are some of my students

These are some of my students

Another exciting thing that began this month is the commencement of our community library program. I applied for and received a grant through USAID to begin a community library in the bairro near my house. I, along with some of my students, will be teaching children of 2-3rd grade to read. We’ve started our sessions by reading a book in Portuguese, then by splitting into small groups to work on letter sounds and recognition. In two weeks my counterpart and I will be going to Nampula to learn literacy-teaching techniques. We will also be receiving 150 books to use next month!

The first steps to our Library Program

The first steps to our Library Program

Another secondary project of mine, JUNTOS, is also coming together. My group is in the final stages of preparing our community event, a big theater performance focused on educating the community about the dangers of alcoholism and drug use, premature pregnancy, and the unjust treatment of orphans in the community. My students themselves identified these problems and created skits to show how they are problems in the community, and will give a talk/have a discussion about what we can do to change these problems in both Portuguese and the local language of Macua. We will also be raising money thorough selling things such as cakes, popcorn, bracelets, and bags, and through carnival-type games and (hopefully) face painting, which I will be introducing to Cuamba! Our event will be at the end of the month, so stay tuned!

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to escape the heat of Cuamba for a bit and head up into the mountains and the mato of Niassa. Caitlin and I went with one of the American missionaries in town to a mission camp located in the small town of Muapula. It was very interesting to see how the South African missionaries there live. They mostly speak Macua because the locals don’t even speak Portuguese well. They have a number of cows and sheep and produce fresh milk and cheese (!). Those missionaries have been living there for over 15 years and have adapted well to live there. They told us stories of when elephants used to wander through the mission and when they could hardly travel because of terrible roads. The roads weren’t great, but at least they were travelable. We relaxed and ate well, went for hikes and spent a lot of time reading, grading, and visiting with the others there.

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Nicki, the woman who lives there, took us to see the school they run. I was very impressed in terms of a primary school in Mozambique. They had nice big classrooms, desks for their students, big blackboards, and even a small library.   They also ran a preschool that seemed to cater well to the students. They also had a small playground! I was very interested in the school. Unfortunately, they will be closing the school at the end of the year due to conflict with the government. Because their students are at a higher level than your average 5th graders, they believe that the government sees them as competition and won’t allow them to continue. They will, however, be continuing to run the preschool next year. Hopefully we will get to return at the end of the year to help them clean up the school!

The Preschool

The Preschool

Doesn't this look like a fun playground?

Doesn’t this look like a fun playground?

After such a relaxing time in Muapula, it was difficult to return to the hectic life here in Cuamba. With finals approaching, I was running all over the place. I wrote my final for my 10th graders, and then was told they would be using the standardized final instead of mine. Unhappy with this (I didn’t feel it accurately reflected my students learning from this trimester and I was somewhat bitter after having been ordered to write a final and then told it would not be used), I asked the ped director if he would use mine for my classes. He agreed. As I could not proctor the exams, however, my students cheated a lot. I am still looking for ways to get through to them on why cheating is bad…

This coming month is bound to be busy with my IFP teaching, the conference in Nampula, and my JUNTOS event. I’m sure it’ll pass in a flash!

Portuguese word of the day: Prova (test)

French word of the day: Interro (quiz)

Macua word of the day: Kophia (I arrived)

JUNTOS Workshop

“If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent a night with a mosquito.” –African Proverb

Two weekends ago was the JUNTOS workshop for the Niassa province. As I’ve said before, JUNTOS is a youth group aimed on education youth and communities about topics such as leadership, self-esteem, puberty and reproduction, violence and abuse, communication, HIV/AIDS and sexual health, and income generation. JUNTOS stands for Jovens Unidos No Trabalho para Opportunidades e Succeso, or Youth united in the work for opportunities and success. It is an organization that I believe strongly benefits its members, Mozambican and American.

As the new Niassa coordinator of JUNTOS, I was one of the people responsible for planning the workshop. Event planning, as it turns out, is MUCH more difficult in Mozambique than the U.S. For one, none of the places to stay or restaurants have any sort of e-mail or website. You either have to have their phone number or go to them directly. Sometimes even calling them does not work and it is essential to go talk to them in person. Matt, the former coordinator, is closer to Lichinga and handled most of that while I worked on the curriculum side of things.

On Thursday July 3rd I left my house in Cuamba around 4am. After walking (and some running from dogs) to the chapa paragem, I managed to catch an almost full chapa to Lichinga. I was there in about 6 hours. I got a pastry and a latte at a café (a sign I was in the capital city of our province!) and waited for one of our Mozambican leaders. He picked me up and we went to the pensao. After talking to the Dona there and arranging to rent all 16 of the rooms the next night (for 36 people), we went to her mother’s house to inquire about food options. It turns out her mother was a cook and was willing to offer us a better price than the restaurant we had arranged with. Afterwards I did some shopping and exploring of Lichinga as I waited for Matt to get in. I even got a chance to meet up with one of my Mozambican friends from Cuamba who was going to the University of Lichinga.

The next day we got up bright and early and went to a stall in the market for breakfast. Turns out it was delicious and affordable, so we asked the man if he’d be willing to do breakfast for 54 people the next two days. He agreed, and with that, food was set!

We went to the bank and withdrew A LOT of money, then did our shopping and printing. When my JUNTOS groups got here, I went to meet them and lead them to the pensao. We got all the printing and shopping done in time and headed back to settle in. It being the 4th of July, we kicked off our conference by performing the national anthem for them (quite badly)… We did an introduction and taught them a cheer, and then they had sessions on self-esteem and leadership led by one of the Mozambican counterparts. She even used her group to perform a small play. Afterwards we headed out to the courtyard to eat a delicious dinner of rice and chicken stew and relaxed before bed.

The next day we got off to a late start because of a late breakfast. The Mozambican counterparts were great though and immediately started some games. We played Human Knot, which they had fun with, then went in to learn about sex and gender, puberty and reproduction, communication, violence, malaria, and diversity. I think the diversity activity was one of my favorites: the students stood on a ledge and jumped off if the statement applied to them. It was a lot of fun. We gave them their shirts and headed back to the pensao.

Human Knot

Human Knot

One of the IFP students, Esmeralda, teaching about puberty and reproduction.

One of the IFP students, Esmeralda, teaching about puberty and reproduction.

A Diversity Activity

A Diversity Activity

The Cuamba JUNTOS groups

The Cuamba JUNTOS groups

That night, each group performed something specific to their group, which was a lot of fun. We had a group that showed their photojournalism book, a group that sang, a group that gave a lecture on HIV/AIDS and demonstrated how to use a condom, and quite a few theater groups. My IFP kids did a hilarious skit where they were students in a class and the teacher was teaching the geography of Mozambique. One of my students was a map of the country. My other group did a skit about violence towards women. Being a group of all boys, I got a knock on the door asking if they could borrow a dress from me…

One of my students as the Map of Mozambique

One of my students as the Map of Mozambique

My bairro group performing their skit

My bairro group performing their skit

PCVs and Gelane

PCVs and Gelane

On Sunday things went a lot smoother. We started with some teambuilding games. Afterwards, one of my students taught about HIV/AIDS. He had a great game where someone in the middle was the person and he had others representing the immune system. He added people as HIV attacking the immune system as the others were all throwing a tennis ball and trying to hit the person. It worked really well! We also talked a bit more about leadership and self-esteem. We made a Self-Esteem Wall where they could write shout outs to each other and also taped a paper to each person’s back so they could write nice comments to each other. They LOVED it, and it was a lot of fun for us. We answered questions from the folder of questions and took the post-test (they took a pre-test and a post-test to measure change in thoughts) then headed back for a final lunch. Eventually we crammed 21 people in our chapa to head back home. It turned out to be a huge success!

HIV simulation game

HIV simulation game

Kids writing nice comments on the papers on their backs

Kids writing nice comments on the papers on their backs

JUNTOS Niassa

JUNTOS Niassa

Woo JUNTOS!

Woo JUNTOS!

The Chapa back

The Chapa back

Some of the misconceptions they had during the conference surprised me, especially when they stuck to their opinions even after we gave them the facts. Some examples are as follows:
-Puberty and development are the same for everyone and are purely physical.
-Women cannot get pregnant on their period or before starting puberty.
-It’s equally easy to be a man as a woman in Mozambique.
-Women who have condoms are “easy”.
-HIV can be spread through mosquitos like Malaria.
-Violence only exists against women.
-Homosexuals don’t have any sort of real relationship
…and many others that I am now forgetting. I wish we’d had more time, but in the end I think they all gained a lot from it and met a lot of new people.

My group finally made it to Cuamba at 10pm on Sunday night. They were still super motivated though, and insisted on doing the cheer before leaving. My IFP kids all walked me to my house in high spirits before saying good night. It was a fantastic weekend, and I’m excited to see where my JUNTOS group goes from here!

JUNTOS

Also, here’s a website a few friends of mine posted on Facebook.  This describes how I feel about traveling… http://masedimburgo.com/2014/06/04/17-things-change-forever-live-abroad/

As for my words of the day, since we talked about sex and gender, they all mean woman/man

Portuguese word of the day: Mulher/Homem

Macua word of the day: Muthiana/Mulopwana

French word of the day: Femme/Homme

Malawian Adventures!

“A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” –Lao Tzu

The IFP is on holiday for two weeks, so Caitlin and I decided to go on a trip to Malawi. Our original plan involved a trip through Tete and Manica and making our way back to Mozambique. Once we realized we only had 5 days, we decided to only go to Malawi. We were going to spend a night in Blantyre, the financial capitol of Malawi, a night in Zomba, a mountain town, and two nights at a safari camp in Liwonde. Despite our planning, our trip ended up nothing like this.

Caitlin and I got to the chapa paragem at 5:15am. We easily found one going to Mandimba, the border town, which left by 6:30. We were in Mandimba by 9:30 and met a friend who helped us to change money and get a bike boleia across the border. It was strange sitting on the back of the bike while it rode the 10km to the border. We got our passports stamped and were on our way.

Right away we were ushered into a rather luxurious and spacious chapa, which took us to the crossroad town Mangochi. There, we navigated another chapa going to Blantyre. It was about 6-7 hours to Blantyre, so we relaxed and enjoyed the beauty of Malawi. It is probably the most beautiful country I’ve visited, from what I’ve seen. When we got to Blantyre, we were dropped off at Limbe, which is the chapa stop about 10k from Blantyre. We asked our driver where our hostel was, and he offered to take us there for 150 kw (about 15 meticais or 50 cents). On the way, he drove through a bunch of back roads, picking up a group of about 30 workers on the way and then dropping us off. As we approached our hostel, the driver asked for money. When I handed him 200kw, he told me it wasn’t enough and that I in fact owed 1500kw. He claimed that the gas was just that expensive, and that we were receiving special treatment. When we refused to pay it, he drove us to a policeman who was patrolling the street. After yelling at him in Chichewa and explaining his side of the story, I explained mine in English. In the end, the police officer yelled at him. Turns out if he wanted to charge us that much he should have taken the main road and shouldn’t have picked up the workers. In the end, we only paid 250kw, but it was not a great introduction to transport in Malawi…

We met up with Tania and got some delicious dinner. Afterwards we got a few drinks. We met a Malawian/British man named Roy who grew up in Malawi but now lives in England. We talked to him for a while and he introduced us to his Malawian cousin, Foxy. He tried to convince us to come to Mulanje, his hometown, rather than going to Zomba the next day. Eventually, being exhausted, I went to bed.

The next day we woke up and took a delightfully hot shower. We got some breakfast pizza and walked around a bit. At one point, everyone was lined up on the side of the street. Wondering what was going on, we stayed to watch. Turns out the new president of Malawi had just gotten married in Blantyre. He was parading through the streets, so we saw him and his new wife drive by! That was pretty interesting.

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The president of Malawi

We called Roy, our friend from the night before who was coming to Blantyre, and we went back to take a nap. When he got there, he took us to Blantyre’s shopping mall. Unfortunately the cinema had closed, but we had a good time at the bookstore, the Shoprite, and the Game, a store like Walmart. It was such a culture shock! We got some coffee, and then headed back to the hostel. After freshening up, Roy took us to this cool bar in a residential area. Turns out it used to be someone’s house, but it was deemed haunted, so no one can live in it. It was really cool! Afterwards, we went with him to a wedding reception of a family friend. It was really random, but a lot of fun! We crashed this Greek-Malawian wedding and had a great time!

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Coffee :)

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Caitlin and Tania with Roy in the haunted bar

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Tania and her new friend Ballz at the wedding

The next morning we took off for Mulanje with Roy. The mountain was BEAUTIFUL. Malawi in general is, but he was right when he insisted we go there. He drove us to his plot of land where he is building his future house. He was sad because a bunch of his mud bricks had been ruined the night before by the rain. We decided we would build him 100 each. He didn’t believe we actually would, even as we took off our shoes and stomped in the mud.

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The process for making mud bricks isn’t too complicated. First you dig up the dirt so it is pretty loose. Then you pour water on it and stomp it with your feet until it’s about a wet cement consistency. Next you pack it into molds of 4 bricks each and flip it over all at once to dry. This is as far as we went, but later on after the bricks are dry, they are cooked in an oven and then laid. Sure enough, we made 300 bricks in about 2 hours. It was a lot of fun for us, and very amusing for the passing Malawians.

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Us with our 300 bricks and the kids who were watching us

After cleaning up and a quick lunch, we headed up the mountain. We went to a place where there are natural pools, which were beautiful and so serene. Tania did fall in, but it was still a fun time! Afterwards, we hiked up to the waterfalls a ways up. Those were beautiful, and I think we all would have swum if it hadn’t been so cold! We went and got some dinner and drinks and met up with Foxy again.

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That night we stayed at Roy’s grandfather’s house. He was such a sweet old man, and very welcoming. They made us breakfast the next day before our next adventure out to the tea fields. We went to go see another waterfall on the other side of the mountain. To get to it, you drive through these gorgeous tea fields, which may be the most beautiful place I’ve seen in Africa. We drove around a bit, then hiked up to another waterfall. When we got back, the empregado had prepared a traditional Malawian meal for us of couve (chinese cabbage?), pumpkin leaves, chicken, and nsima. Yum! We took a nap on the couch and played some very confusing card games with some of the kids who lived in the house. After another drink and some debating, we went to bed.

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The next day Roy kindly drove us to Blantyre to be on our way. We got a ride with a man who said we would pay 3000kw (about $8.30) all the way to the border town of Chiponde. When we got to Mangochi, however, he decided he was stopping there and wanted to be paid the 3000. He escorted us to a pickup truck that wanted us to pay 2500kw to Chiponde rather than the 1000 we paid the other way. We refused both, so once again we were driven to the police. This time he agreed with our driver, and we agreed to pay provided he dropped us off at a place we could stay.

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We ended up staying at the Hot Pot Lodge were we paid 1500kw total (about $1.33 each) for a small guest house with a twin bed and a toilet. It was all pretty hilarious to us. We took off early the next morning for Chiponde, and were able to get an open-back chapa (pick up truck) where we rode for an hour and a half with 30 other people hugging boxes of fish and bags of onions. When we got across the border, we found a truck delivering cabbage and potatoes to Cuamba, so that is how we rode back, on top of bags of vegetables. We made some new friends, namely crianças on the way, and even a new Mãe who was selling us for flour, a metical, and a papaya. We made it back on Wednesday around 3pm, later than we had originally planned, but it was a blast! We did nothing we originally planned, but we wouldn’t change it for the world.  Now back to work.

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The most comfortable ride home.

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There are always kids looking at us…

Portuguese word of the day: Camião (Truck)

Macua word of the day: Wemela (to speak)

French word of the day: ingenieur (engineer, one of the options for my students characters)

Reflections on Six Months at Site

I’ve been at site 6 months and in Mozambique for 8.5 now. I can hardly believe it! I spent my 6-month anniversary at site proctoring exams and conversing with my students in conversation club. Since I love quotes so much, I thought I’d reflect on my first 6 months as a true Peace Corps Volunteer through a few quotes I feel sum up my experience.

“Little by little, one travels far.” –JRR Tolkien

There is an expression in Portuguese that is heard a lot: pouco a pouco, or little by little (vakhani, vakhani in Macua). Although it is an expression in English, it is far more used here. I’ve found that if I want anything to get done, I have to do it little by little. A lot of times it feels like I am not accomplishing anything. Sometimes it is frustrating if something throws a wrench in my plans halfway through. Sometimes I get really excited about something and try to rush it, meaning it falls apart quickly. There have been a lot of frustrating experiences here, but looking back over all of them, I can see how far I’ve come, as a person if nothing else. Things move at a snail’s pace here. Meetings are pushed back until the following week. Classes are cancelled because a presidential candidate is in town. In the end, though, Mozambicans still get somewhere. As for me, I have learned that going little by little has allowed me to grow as a person and get to know the Mozambican culture a lot better.

“Today, give yourself permission to be outrageously kind, irrationally warm, and improbably generous. I promise it will be a blast.” –Sasha Duter

This was one of the hardest things I experienced when first coming to site. As an American, a traveller, a young woman in a foreign country, I tend to be pretty distrustful. I wanted to make friends when I first got to site, but I was so put off by all the people who were asking me for money, asking for my number, or just staring at me. I had never had that kind of attention directed at me before, and it made me uncomfortable. On top of that, it led me to mistrust the motives of almost everyone I talked to. By finally opening up and trying to be a kind and warm person (I still am careful about what I give, which I’ve learned from experience), I’ve been able to make some Mozambican friends and get to know some people outside of work. I even got invited to the baptism party, which was a lot of fun! Even though I got taken advantage of at times and I am still generally stared at and pursued in a way that makes me feel uncomfortable at times, opening up to people, asking questions, and trying to learn has brought me many more friends.

“If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place.”

This quote is essentially about initiative, something I’ve always struggled with. I still find it hard to ask for things, or to put others’ opinions aside and go for what I want. While I still struggle with this, it is something I have improved in, mostly because initiative is something essential for a PCV and something lacking in Mozambique. In Mozambique, at least as a PCV, nothing will be done for you. YOU have to take the initiative to start projects, to find out when school meetings are, to meet other people. Luckily, I, at least, learned skills such as problem solving and making connections during my time in school; skills that are strongly lacking in Mozambique and that cause a grand lack of initiative in general. While I have found some motivated people, many just don’t know how to get what they want, or even exactly what they want. In the bairo near my house, for example, there is a big problem with alcoholism because people’s attitude is, “I can’t get a job, so I should drink instead.” That is why I started a JUNTOS group in that bairo: to try to encourage the youth to work and develop initiative and leadership.

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” –Albert Einstein

Being a teacher, this is one of my favorite quotes. It recognizes that everyone has skills or interests that make them good at something, yet it is not always recognized as productive in society. In Mozambique, students are often ridiculed in front of the class if they make a mistake. If they fail a semester at the IFP, they are kicked out. Mozambicans have a strong emphasis on perfection in every subject area. Without this (or good connections or money) they will not succeed in life. This quote is what I have trying to impress upon my students as future teachers. It is important to value the skills your students have and use those skills to motivate them to succeed. If nothing else (because class sizes of 120 can be difficult in terms of individualization), I am trying to encourage them to encourage and support their own students rather than ridiculing them. Or at least, show up for class…

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day: Begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered by your old nonsense.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is a big one for me here in Mozambique. At first, I used to dwell over my days even days later. Every day here contains small frustrations, sometimes on the part of the country or the people, or sometimes they’re you making a fool of yourself. Sometimes the directors change your classes without scheduling you. Sometimes you trip and fall in front of 40 construction workers, 20 children, and about 5 of your students. The best thing to do is to leave it in the past and continue on to new days. Every day holds frustrations, but the key to living a happy life is being able to move past those and start the new day with high spirits.

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” –William James

This is a big one, especially for a Peace Corps Volunteer. As I said in an earlier post, I didn’t join the Peace Corps in order to save the world. I knew that wasn’t realistic, and that would be a big weight for my shoulders. That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t think I’m making a difference. I strongly believe that even influencing or knowing people just on an individual level makes a difference. It widens their world and yours, and helps you both to encounter a different culture. Those two things and the volunteer bringing their experiences back to the U.S. are the goals of the Peace Corps; change on a small scale, or little by little, rather than striving to end poverty.

My first six months at site have had their ups and downs, but overall it’s been a blast. I’ve started teaching in a secondary school and a teacher training institute, I’ve formed a JUNTOS group, I’ve learned about Mozambican customs and taken part in ceremonies and celebrations, and I’ve made friends with people from Mozambique, as well as the rest of the world. I’m excited to see what the next 18 months bring! Plus, Friday is my birthday!

Portuguese word of the day: Junho (June)

Macua word of the day: Khole (Monkey)

French word of the day: Comme si, comme ça (I’m ok. It’s my student’s favorite phrase)

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Reconnect Adventures through Nampula (and Cabo)

“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” –Tim Cahill

On Friday May 2nd we began our two-week trip full of visits, conferences, and meeting new people; our first trip out of the province in nearly 5 months and the first time we saw friends from our training group. Because the day before had been a holiday, we had to buy our train tickets the morning of. The ticket window opened at 3:30am, but the line was already long when I got in it at 3am. Luckily I was able to get my ticket pretty quickly and could take a short nap before boarding the train around 5am.

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Mozambique is beautiful!

Although the train left at 6am, it did not get to Nampula, a city 330 km away, until 7:30pm. The 13.5 hours was quite long. I did, however, meet a very nice French woman who was traveling through Mozambique. I’m not sure how I keep meeting French people in my travels… she ended up spending the night at the same hostel as us and going out to dinner with us, which was fun.

The next day we headed to Montepuez, a beautiful town in Cabo Delgado in the north. The town is the second biggest town in the province, like Cuamba, and has 4 volunteers, as Cuamba does. We stayed with Jeanette, the first volunteer from our group we’d seen in months, Anna, her roommate, and their adorable new puppy. We stayed for 3 nights and spent a lot of time relaxing, playing with the puppy, eating delicious things (hamburgers, pumpkin curry, egg sandes), and watching Frozen. We had a funny exchange with some kids who we couldn’t see out of the window one night. We went to the fast food restaurant in Montepuez, which actually looks like a fast food restaurant in the U.S. As unimpressive as that may sound, we were in culture shock from the plastic tables and big hamburgers. It was a lot of fun!

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Giving the dog a bath

We also climbed the mountain in Montepuez. It was beautiful, but a challenging climb at times! We sat at the top for a while and looked out over Cabo. By midday on Monday, the house was cheia of volunteers. Nick, Salomé, Jordy, Jen, and Arden joined the 4 of us, so it was quite a full house! We celebrated Arden’s birthday with a giant tub of ice cream and a few drinks.

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The next day we left bright and early for Nampula to attend our Reconnect conference. It was strange thinking about the kinds of things that shocked me while we were driving. I hadn’t driven on paved roads for months and it had taken me forever to get anywhere in Niassa, yet here there were paved roads with drainage systems for the water. On top of that, the road had bus stops and cross walks. That just blew my mind so much more than the buying bras out the window, goats being walked on leashes across town, or the three marriage proposals I got on the way. It’ll be interesting going back to the states…

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Paved roads, bus stops, crosswalks… what is this madness???

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Nampula and Reconnect were really good. It was nice to hear about the struggles and successes of others in our group. It was so great to see everyone again too. On top of that we had some free time to explore the city, we got pizza and Chinese food, and we were able to take a hot shower! It was quite an exciting week!

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Acting out a play in a demonstration of an early grade reading program

On Friday after the conference finished, we headed to Ilha de Moçambique (in a very crowded chapa) for the Norte Forte Beer Olympics, a tradition of Peace Corps Mozambique. Normally it’s North vs. Central vs. South, but since there is a travel ban on the middle section of the country, north was forced to have our own. We competed in provinces. Since there were so few representatives of Niassa province, we were paired with “Team Others.” I think we got 3rd place, but it was still a lot of fun and I got to meet a lot of new PCVs. I also got to see Ilha for the first time, even if it was a very quick visit. I did jump off the pier, having to nervously navigate myself around sea urchins on the way out. It was fun.

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Bridge to Ilha

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Team Others Feat Niassa

On Sunday a bunch of us headed back to Nampula for the JUNTOS Leadership handover. There I got to see some awesome 21ers from the south and central who hadn’t been at our Reconnect and catch up. We did a lot of planning for JUNTOS, and I officially became the Niassa regional coordinator and one of the Public Relations people. It was sad to say goodbye and to head back to Nampula.

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The new JUNTOS Leadership Team

On Thursday we took the train home. This time it only took 11 hours. It was then that we found out that the school was not able to open the file with our grades on the flash drive we had left for them. As a result, they gave all our students the administrative grade of 13/20. I was very angry. Some of my students had gotten higher grades, which they deserved and were not reflected there. Some of my students did not take my class seriously and failed. If they passed now, what is to motivate them in the future? I went in to bring my grades and ask they be changed, but they were not.

I showed up on the first day back at school to begin teaching, only to find out 5 minutes into my lesson that my schedule had been changed. I no longer had any 11th grade classes. It was another week until my schedule got finalized, so I didn’t start teaching at the secondary school again until this week. I am now teaching 2 classes of 10th grade French. The students have never taken French before, so they are starting from the very beginning. It was interesting: my students are significantly younger than my 11th grade students. It’ll be interesting to see the difference in maturity levels.

Overall my time has been somewhat frustrating since I’ve gotten back, but I’m getting through it one day at a time. I’ve got about 3 weeks left before the end of the semester at the IFP and my birthday!

Portuguese word of the day: significação— meaning. I use it a lot.

Macua word of the day: Khole—monkey

French word of the day—riz—rice