Holidays, Travels, and Teaching

“So plant your own garden and decorate your soul instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.” –Jorge Luis Borges

It’s been a while since I’ve had time to write. My life recently has been quite busy! After the JUNTOS Workshop, I had to finish up my grades and the semester at the IFP and prepare French work for my students. Then I left for the JUNTOS handover in Chimoio! Because transport was difficult, this was a 3-day trip for me just to get there—a night in Nampula, a night in Beira, and finally Chimoio on the third day. It was fun, getting to see different parts of Mozambique! Beira is the second largest city in Mozambique, and is a big port city. We didn’t see much, but we got a small tour on the way to our hotel and later on walking around. It’s got it’s own Chinatown that is actually owned by China, as well as a giant abandoned hotel where a lot of people now live. It’s a very interesting city. Chimoio too is an interesting city. We didn’t see much, but it reminded me a lot more of the states than any city I’ve been in in Mozambique. Maybe it’s due to the large expat population and proximity to Zimbabwe…

Our JUNTOS handover went well. I think people taking the new leadership roles were pretty confused, but then again, so were we last year… Afterwards, I had the opportunity to travel a bit in the south of Mozambique and meet up with a bunch of fantastic friends who hosted me and showed off their sites. It was interesting how different some things were in different parts of Mozambique, including construction of houses (circular huts or bamboo shacks as opposed to mud houses with thatched roofs), behavior (more educated people and conversations, women wearing shorter skirts/pants), and transportation (lots of big buses, pretty regular chapas). It was a great experience!

The Old and New JUNTOS Leaders!

The Old and New JUNTOS Leaders!

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Afterwards, I met Caitlin in Maputo and we flew to Zimbabwe! We landed in Harare and made our way to a hostel, where we stayed that night. In Zim, they’ve used the American dollar since their currency collapsed. It was weird using dollars again! The next day we took a bus to Bulawayo, another big town, and then an overnight train to Victoria Falls. The train car had 4 beds and a sink that turned into a table… it was nice having a place to lay down compared to the Cuamba train! We made it to Vic Falls town around noon and checked into our hostel, then went to look for bungee jumping deals. Unfortunately we didn’t find any, but we did find great coffee!

The Train to Vic Falls

The Train to Vic Falls

The next day we visited the falls. They were beautiful! We were only in the park for about 2 hours, but we walked along the falls, got soaked by the mist, and watched people bungee jump off the bridge! Afterwards, we took a stroll back to town, accidentally passing through the historic Victoria Falls Hotel, which was very much above our price range. It was very fancy! It was the 4th of July, so we made a burger and fries feast for dinner and hung out at our hostel. The next day we took a bus back to Bulawayo and then to Harare, where we stayed a night before getting on a bus to Tete in Mozambique.

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It was interesting coming back to Moz after Zim. The people on the bus were VERY distrustful of Mozambicans. When we arrived at the border post, they announced that Mozambique was a dangerous place full of thieves, and that we shouldn’t take money or valuables off the bus. Funnily enough, Caitlin and I felt relief coming back to Mozambique. There was a lot more trash though as soon as you crossed the border…

We managed to catch a ride from Tete city to Angonia where we spent a few days at the IFP and even went into the English class. It was fun to see how Tania teaches her class compared to us. After, I spent a day in Zobue before making my way across the dreaded Malawi back to Niassa. In my opinion, Malawi is a beautiful country that is best appreciated from a private car and not public transport. I made it across Malawi to about 30km from the border on my own route by 3:30. The border closed at 6. I should have been at the border with plenty of time, right? Wrong. I got there right at 6pm because we had to wait for the minibus to fill up and then it broke down twice. Luckily the Mozambican border guards were awesome and let me across. I also managed to find a car pretty quickly that was going up north, so I made it to Massengulo in less than 2 hours.

Massangulo!

Massangulo!

I spent a few days in Massengulo, a pretty town a stones throw from Malawi, with Vanessa, a volunteer about to COS. We relaxed and cooked and watched movies. It was a nice welcome back to Mozambique. Finally I made my way back to Cuamba and the IFP. It was nice to be back and hear everyone shouting my name and greeting me again!

Being back in Cuamba has been great so far. We’ve got a new director who’s really cracking down on the unprofessionalism and corruption, which I think has been great. I’ve also organized my schedule so that I have Fridays off! My IFP students have been doing well in class and actively participating in our conversation club. Our highlight of last week was watching Youtube videos and playing Never Have I Ever (the switching chairs version). I found out my EGRA program has been continued by one of my JUNTOS kids, even though he has his own school and no help! I was incredibly touched when I found that out. I’ve also got my JUNTOS group ready to distribute mosquito nets next week and planning their English Theater play. My French class was happy to see me, telling me, “Madame Sama, we missed your smile!” when I walked through the door. They’ve also been very actively participating in French Club!

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EGRA

EGRA

This month I also started observing my students in their student teaching! I’m at a new school this year—Maguiguane Primary School—Observing 9 of my students. They have 40-60 students in their classes, but at this school they actually have desks and full chalkboards. My students are still figuring things out, especially classroom management. Turns out all of the windows are broken and some teachers don’t come to class, which means that a lot of kids will either be running past the classroom making a lot of noise or else standing at the (nonexistent) window making comments about the makunha in the classroom. They’re doing a pretty good job in general though, and I’m excited to see how things progress!

One of my students teaching

One of my students teaching

I’ll be heading home next week for 11 days for wedding and birthday festivities, yikes! I don’t know how I’m going to react to being back in the states, and I’m actually pretty nervous. People at home should be ready for me and my changes, including but not limited to me stating the obvious, being amazed by simple things like laundry machines and hot showers, not showing my legs above the knee, being more blunt than normal, and wearing a sweatshirt in 75 degree weather. Get ready, USA!

French word of the day: Une pêche- a peach. We’re watching a video where they talk about peaches.

Portuguese word of the day: a média- the mean or average. All my students want to know their média for the trimester.

Makua word of the day: ovoreiha- to get sick

JUNTOS Workshop and Other Fun Things

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn.” –Benjamin Franklin

Life has been busy and stressful for me recently. Last weekend (my birthday weekend!) we had our JUNTOS workshop. As the Niassa JUNTOS coordinator, I was in charge of planning and running the workshop, which has been quite the experience!

We decided to have our workshop in Metangula, my favorite town in Mozambique. It is right on Lake Niassa and has mountains which come right to the edge of the lake. Beautiful! To get there, however, is a full day of traveling for me. I left my house at 5:30am to get a ride. Unfortunately the car broke down, so I ended up getting into Lichinga around 5:30pm, about 5 hours later than I had expected. Luckily, my replacement coordinator and another volunteer were there to do all the printing and buying of materials! That night I stayed at a volunteer house in Nomba. The view was beautiful, but it was really cold!

Metangula is gorgeous!

Metangula is gorgeous!

The next morning we had some apas and sat down to plan some things out. My Mozambican counterpart and I got on a chapa around 11am to head to the lake and work everything out in person. When we got there, we went to the hostel we had rented out for the event, but found they had given some of the rooms away! This resulted in us running around town trying to find other hostels to host kids. In the end, we worked it out amongst 3 places, but it was quite stressful! We also went to talk to the district administrator. He made us wait for half an hour, then yelled at us for not e-mailing him first before he realized we weren’t using people from his district. He then shook our hands and let us go. Oh Mozambique…

The kids began arriving in the late afternoon. We split them up, let them settle in, and had some dinner. After dinner we were all exhausted, so we let them have some bonding time and rest. We spent the entire next day doing sessions. The topics were Self-Esteem, Leadership, Puberty and Reproduction, HIV/AIDS, Malaria, Abuse and Violence, and a new section on Sexual Orientation and Identity. We played some games and had a blast! There were also a TON of questions that kids put in our question folder, which was great! That night I celebrated my birthday, which I had mostly ignored because of the conference, with a few drinks with friends near the beach. It was a lot of fun!

Group Hug!

Group Hug!

Diversity Games

Diversity Games

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The next day we woke up and had some more stress as we tried to hunt down bread for breakfast. We finally found some, and the kids were able to eat and finish up sessions on the beach. Afterwards we drove to a beach they could swim in. They had so much fun! They were doing acrobatics into the waves, and a number just waded out and had a good time jumping into the waves. It was a long 8 hour ride back that got us home in time to crash, but it was definitely worth it going to the beach! We also gave the kids a treat and watched Lion King and Space Jam on the way home :)

Me and My JUNTOS Group!

Me and My JUNTOS Group!

At the beach!

At the beach!

Other than that, we’re finishing up our semester here at the IFP. I officially finished my classes today for the semester, meaning I have the next 2 weeks off. I’ll be traveling a bit in Mozambique for our JUNTOS handover, and then going to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe! I’m definitely excited for that! My mosquito nets are also finally in to distribute to the community of Mendoça in Cuamba! I got 750 nets to distribute to about 250 families, and we’ll be doing follow-up visits to make sure they’re using them properly. My library project is going along slowly but surely, and our IFP crianças are as cute as ever! We even made a cake with them for Dia da Criança (Childrens day). These last few months are moving fast!

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Portuguese word of the day: Ciume (pronounced see-oom-ie) means jealousy. My JUNTOS kids kept saying it and I had no idea what it was!

Makua word of the day: Oloha- dream. I might get the word dream in different languages as one of my next tattoos…

French word of the day: Eglise- Church. The cathedral in Nantes burned down today L

One Trimester Down, Six Months Left!

“When you come to the end of all the light you know, and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: Either you will be given something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly.” –Edward Teller

I’ve really dropped the ball in terms of blogging. I had been doing so well! Between teaching, secondary projects, and traveling I’ve been quite busy! Here’s what I’ve been up to for the last month and a half.

The new year with our new students is going along. The students have been working on Phrasal Verbs mini-lessons where they each teach 2-3 phrasal verbs to the class (a verb+preposition that changes the meaning; ex. Run into= to meet). Those have been going along, though they have trouble staying within my time limit. My students also did campaign projects where they each created a political party with a presidential candidate and ran for president of Paradise Land, the corrupt country of which I was the president. It was very interesting to see—many of their campaign strategies mirrored campaign strategies I saw from the presidential candidates last year. For example, they often promised things that were way too big to be possible (giving everyone a bike, building homes for people affected by flooding, free mosquito nets for everyone, etc.). They also focused a lot on patriotism and loyalty to Paradise Land without saying much about party ideals itself. The students had chances to ask the different parties questions too after their presentation, so it was a good way to see them respond under pressure! It was a fun project, definitely, and there was even a political party called Peace Corp! In the end, the political party Greenpeace won.

I had a fun time integrating the project with my TICs class by creating a number of votes for each party (as if Paradise Land had 25 million people) and using that data to teach addition of big numbers and creating graphs on Excel. It was really interesting for the students to see the numbers represented visually! Otherwise, my students in TICs are working on simple research projects. Since we don’t have much access to internet, students are creating their own surveys and surveying colleagues and community members in order to gain some data off of which they can draw conclusions. I don’t expect the “research projects” to be very professional by any means, but I’m excited to see what they come up with and what kinds of conclusions they are able to draw from their “pesquisas”!

Since my last post I’ve also taken on an additional 4 classes of TICs, bringing my total number of turmas to 6. I now teach more TICs than French and English combined! It’s difficult with these classes because, since the semester is almost over, they don’t really have time to do a research project. Their teacher has been sick for over a month as well, so they are starting really at the beginning. Back to teaching students how to click and move the mouse… at least this time I have some former experience to go off of. At the moment I’m teaching them what a thesis statement is and how to make folders. We shall see.

Aside from all my teaching, I’ve been quite busy. My JUNTOS group still meets every Sunday. We gave a lecture about Malaria to over 120 people from the community, and are doing a mosquito net distribution in the community. The 231 families we surveyed are currently short about 1300 nets if they were to have a net for each person in the family. Next week we’ll receive 700, so we can make a dent in that! We’ll also be teaching community members how to hang a mosquito net, how to properly sleep under one, and how to repair it if it tears. Hopefully this project will benefit the people! We’ll be doing house visits in July to make sure they aren’t using the nets just to cover their plants. My JUNTOS group asked to learn about puberty and reproduction, so that’s are next topic. It’ll get us prepared for workshop next month!

One of my JUNTOS kids teaching about Malaria

One of my JUNTOS kids teaching about Malaria

My Community Library is going along as well. My counterparts and facilitators have all left or are unable to make it unfortunately, so we are currently in a process of recruiting facilitators. However, I’m planning a training with the nearby church literacy program workers which I hope I can merge with my existing library. The children still come, and it’s encouraging that I can see actual improvement! Aside from those projects, I’m still running my French club, tutoring individual kids, and holding Conversation Club with our students. I’m pretty low on time.

Valdo is my favorite!

Valdo is my favorite!

May 1st was Dia dos Trabalhadores, or Labor Day in Mozambique. Having received our T-shirts the night before, Caitlin and I got dressed and got a ride into town to go see the parade. It was in a different spot than last year, so we ended up wandering around for a long time before finally watching it go by Brianna’s front yard. We found a colleague who drove us back, and we just sat outside chatting with our colleagues and tasting chicken parts (we’ve both tried the feet, but only Catia braved the neck!). Finally around 4pm they called us into the gym where we ate, watched our students dance and sing, and tasted foods prepared by all the different classes. It didn’t go on quite as long as last year, but it was a lot of fun!

The coolest float in the parade!

The coolest float in the parade!

Us Cuamba Crazies...

Us Cuamba Crazies…

Last week two friends from my group, Justin and Emma, came to visit us in Cuamba. We made tacos, climbed Church Mountain in the early morning, relaxed, and made a full on Thanksgiving dinner with REAL PIE! Made from scratch! It was all delicious. Before leaving, Justin and Emma visited and guest-spoke in our class. Our students loved them so much that they are still asking for them to come back!

Church Mountain

The view from Church Mountain

Thanksgiving on the floor!

Thanksgiving on the floor!

On Wednesday Brianna and I headed to Nampula to take part in the Malaria Task Force training meeting. She is the provincial rep for our province, and I’m on the curriculum committee working to develop malaria curriculums that PCVs can use during their service. We got to talk to some important people in Peace Corps and people in Mozambique who are making big changes in terms of malaria education, which was really interesting! We also got some much-needed time to plan in person. Overall it was fun and I learned a lot!

Malaria Task Force 2015

Malaria Task Force 2015

Brianna and I also decided to go to Ilha de Mocambique for another visit (I visited in early April) after our training finished. We caught a ride there and had a full 26 or so hours of relaxing on the pier, swimming, eating good foods, and hanging with friends. I got to catch up with a few volunteers I haven’t seen in a while (since I almost never leave Cuamba) and meet some of the newer group of volunteers. It was definitely strange to meet a lot of the newer volunteers, especially knowing that there is another group in training. It makes the time feel like it’s going by so much quicker…

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The fort on Ilha at moonrise :)

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Today I got some important news—my COS (Close of Service) dates! I’ll be leaving site on November 21 (6 months from tomorrow—yikes!) and heading to Maputo for some last minute medical and paperwork business. I officially become an RPCV on November 26! Caitlin and I are already preparing our Europe trip and looking at tickets. That didn’t take long! We did have a minor freak out earlier though. Having the actual date we’re leaving makes it seem so close and the time go by so much quicker. I’m realizing how much there is left that I want to do and how little time there actually is. I’ve had quite my share of frustrations here, but at the same time there are so many things I’ll miss, and things that just aren’t possible to live again. Oh, but if only we could! I guess there’s no choice but to go on to new adventures.

Portuguese word of the day: Padrão means pattern. I’m trying to teach a 10 year-old how to recognize patterns and sequences in Math…

French word of the day: Le beau-père, La belle-mère: father-in-law and mother-in-law, but literally translated they mean beautiful father and beautiful mother. Isn’t that poetic?

Macua word of the day: Hirima means heart, or coração

Agenda of a Mozambican Meeting

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will get you everywhere.” –Albert Einstein

For any of you who were wondering what a typical Mozambican meeting is like, here’s your typical agenda (which can be applied to anything, though today’s topic was interdisciplinary teaching):

  1. Wait for the chefes (the important people) to come.
  2. Stand up to greet them.
  3. Sit and listen to a short (but not all that short) speech about how this is important for the government and you are important for the government and the future, then stand up as he leaves. Lucky for him, he only has to stay so long.
  4. Be greeted by all the other chefes and hear a short speech that doesn’t really say anything…
  5. The facilitator (one of the chefes) will introduce a colleague who will then introduce a topic. He will use good questioning techniques to begin his presentation, and unfortunately be thwarted by the fact that, just like in a classroom, no one really wants to respond to the questions.
  6. The Chefe will “teach” by lecturing, only including the audience by having them complete almost-completed words (ex. “recursos de comun…. Comunidade.”)
  7. Participants will ask fairly close-minded questions and then chefe will not fully answer them. (ex. What do we say to men who demand money after their wives helped us do our community project? Answer: we do what the community wants us to do.)
  8. Everyone will be split into groups in a really vague manner and won’t be told where each group is meeting.
  9. Give people 30 minutes to eat their snack of an egg sandwich and pop.
  10. Once in your group, go around the circle and share everyone’s ideas. (Ex. What animals are raised in your community? Goats, Chickens, Cows, Ducks…)
  11. Discuss ideas for over an hour without getting anywhere.
  12. Discuss options we won’t choose just because they are options, then argue about them (not everyone has cows, you know…).
  13. Talk in circles.
  14. Make a draft of our poster by first labeling it as Grupo 2 and drawing annoyingly straight lines using some sort of straight edge.
  15. Realize we don’t really understand the instructions and have them explained 15 times. Then still discuss exactly what we’re supposed to do.
  16. Run out of time and go over when copying the draft hurriedly onto papel gigante.
  17. But first, spend 30 minutes trying to explain to the one member who doesn’t understand.
  18. Start on a new topic after your allotted hour and a half has already finished.
  19. Finally break for lunch, and then sit outside since lunch isn’t ready.
  20. Decide to start presentations since lunch is delayed.
  21. Have a group present their work, then let other participants tear them apart for entirely unrelated and unimportant things (the draft wasn’t exactly the same as the final poster).
  22. The chefe will conclude the debate by re-explaining the points we understood and using English to try to seem impressive (It is time!)
  23. Take an hour-long lunch break, even though it is already 2:10pm and you are supposed to end at 4.
  24. Return to the unproductiveness of before, adding some more confusion with a skit about a car that has nothing to do with anything.
  25. Skip the rest of the presentations because we’re almost out of time.
  26. Bring that first chefe in again to give a closing statement to thank everyone (and scold them a little). We applaud even though we hated the experience and just want to get out of here.
  27. Fugir (make a run for it!) when you finally get out 30-60 min late, though not before the light has to be turned on because it’s getting dark!

While interdisciplinary teaching certainly is an important topic and I quite enjoy creating curriculums and lesson planning, it is difficult to work on the same level as 8 Mozambican school directors who have never used or considered this approach to teaching. Especially when they consider themselves to be above me and don’t value creativity in the classroom, it can lead to a frustrating day. Luckily my roommate and I know how to make light of the situation through lists and such!

Other than that, things are going pretty well! My JUNTOS group is planning on distributing mosquito nets, painting a mural, and participating in Peace Corps English Theater. They seem excited! I’ve had a pretty consistent attendance of 30-35 at my French club too. Also, I’m a new member of the Malaria Task Force’s Curriculum Committee, so I’ll be helping write curriculums to teach about malaria. My students are still excited and curious, and I’m looking forward to where the year goes from here. It’s already moving fast!

Portuguese word of the day: A tese (thesis statement- what I’m teaching in my technology class)

French word of the day: Rendez-vous (meeting between friends. It’s so elegant!)

Macua word of the day: Ebuku (book)

Flooding and Life Updates

“Love the life you live. Live the life you love.” –Bob Marley

It’s been quite a busy few weeks that I haven’t gotten to my blog post about flooding in Mozambique until now.

Near the end of my holiday, heavy rains in Mozambique and Malawi caused great havoc and destruction in both countries. My own town, Cuamba, was entirely cut off, as all roads going into the city were impassable. Many bridges in Zambezia, the provence below us, collapsed under the water, and the entire north of the country was left without power for a month. Over 100 people were killed and 157,000 affected or displaced with the heavy flooding, many still not in their own homes. A few of my JUNTOS kids lost their homes completely, which were just swept away by the river, leaving nothing behind. Many homes have fallen. It has led to an outbreak of cholera, which has unfortunately already affected many people here due to lack of water sanitation, and will most likely hurt the crop production, which is the main source of income for many people here. It is definitely going to be a tough year for the people in the north of Mozambique.

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The street leading to town…

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The house of one of my JUNTOS kids used to be here...

The house of one of my JUNTOS kids used to be here…

You can see how high the water was from the river that passes under our main bridge.

You can see how high the water was from the river that passes under our main bridge.

Here you can see the bridge I cross to get to town. At the moment I walk across the black pipe...

Here you can see the bridge I cross to get to town. At the moment I walk across the black pipe…

I was able to return to site in late January, and have since been preparing for the start of the new school year. School finally started at both the IFP and the secondary school this past week. I’ll be teaching English grammar, Technology (in Portuguese! Yikes!) and 10th grade French at the secondary school again. I’m very excited to work with my new classes, which are 40 students this year at the IFP instead of 33 like last year. The students have already shown themselves to be motivated and interested in learning English. At our first Saturday conversation club we had 14 show up! We’ll be doing a lot more individual and hands-on teaching work with them this year. At the secondary school, I’ll be taking my French class on a tour of the Francophone world, passports and everything! I’m hoping things will work out well with no resources, especially as I don’t even have a classroom, desks, or even a blackboard yet!

I’m also excited to continue with my secondary projects. My JUNTOS group is getting more involved this year. We’re on a mission to educate our community about malaria, and we hope to paint a mural in town, record a song to play on the radio, and perform some skits to educate about HIV. We did a malaria photo scavenger hunt last week, which was a lot of fun! We also started English lessons this week as well, something my group specifically asked for. I made them treat it like a class and everything! Our library program has yet to start yet for the year due to school meetings and rain, but we plan on opening up a second community library at the elementary school at the IFP, so I’ll be running a training for that in the coming weeks.

My first JUNTOS meeting of the new year!

My first JUNTOS meeting of the new year!

One of my JUNTOS kids teaching a woman how to hang her mosquito net during our Malaria photo scavenger hunt.

One of my JUNTOS kids teaching a woman how to hang her mosquito net during our Malaria photo scavenger hunt.

I’m planning on using this year to focus on myself and on my work here. For myself, I want to try to be healthier, expand my range of useless skills, travel, and have fun. I want to use this year to really reflect on who I am and who I want to be, where I want my life to go from here (at least at the moment). As for my work, I want to really focus on learning new teaching styles, observing other Mozambican teachers, developing curriculums, and working to improve the systems in place here. Of course, my students and their needs are the most important, and I look forward to encouraging a new group of learners. It’s going to be a busy year!

Inspire

Portuguese word of the day: Pintar (to paint or color. The children are always coloring on our front porch)

French word of the day: Inondé (flooded)

Macua word of the day: Mahi (water. I may have used this one before, but at the moment it’s particularly relevant…)

Summer Holidays: South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Malawi, and Mozambique

“The basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”

This is a VERY long post. But hey, I’m covering a long time.

In all my time traveling in Europe or the U.S., I’ve never been away from home (wherever that was at the time) for more than 2 weeks. I think my longest vacations were the 2-week trips I took during my holidays in France. This trip, however, ended up being 6 weeks. Despite my obsessive planning, it didn’t turn out exactly as expected. Overall, it was fantastic and I got to see so many new places.

My trip began on December 15th when I flew to Johannesburg. Matthew met me there, and we spent 5 days getting used to modern life (on my part) and relaxing. My first night I had an avocado and bacon pizza, which was definitely a highlight. I also got to wash my clothes in a washing machine! They felt so clean! I don’t know how I’ll be able to handle going back to the states… We didn’t do much tourism, but we did go to the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, which was about the Afrikaans movement in South Africa. It was a really neat museum and a beautiful building. One of the neat things about it is that there is a hole in the ceiling that is positioned so that the sun will only shine through and reach the bottom on December 16th.

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After Johannesburg, we went to Kruger National Park. We met Dione, another volunteer, and her sister at the bus stop and went to rent a car. We ran into some trouble when the rental place was closed, but we got it figured out and were soon on our way. We got to Komatipoort, a town near the border of Mozambique, and settled into our hostel with a few drinks and some intense games of spades.

The next day we left bright and early for a guided tour of Kruger. Our guide had been working there for ten years after leaving a corporate job, and he loved it. From high up in the safari truck we were able to see a lot of animals. Almost instantly after driving into the park we spotted a giraffe crossing the road, and then a rhino lounging nearby. We also ran into elephants—close enough to touch—water buffalo, zebras, warthogs, baboons and monkeys, hippos, gazelle, etc. Around 10am we got word that there was a leopard that had killed a gazelle and dragged it up into a tree and was guarding it. We tried to drive by, but there were just too many cars. We couldn’t even get through! Our guide promised it would still be there later, so we drove around and got lunch. On our way back, we passed a tree with some lions lounging underneath! It was far and difficult to see though. I’m not sure I saw anything, though some people in our group did. We made it back to the spot with the leopard. There were still so many cars parked, and really only one spot you could spot the leopard from. The car in that spot was being very rude and staying there, just taking picture after picture. We pulled up beside them and Matthew was able to get a picture of the leopard by standing out the window of the truck, but it was impossible to see on our own. At the end of the day we came across a giraffe that had been born 1 hour and 20 minutes before. It was running around and everything! Later we headed back to our lodge for a braai and some more card games. I guess you could say that we saw the big 5, though we didn’t have a great view of 2 of them.

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The next morning, we decided that since we had a car and were less than an hour from the border we should drive to Swaziland for the morning. We followed behind a Swazi tour that our lodge offered. Once across the border, we got to see a cultural presentation where a woman showed us a traditional Swazi house and explained some of the cultural customs. Afterwards, we had a seat and saw a performance of traditional dances and songs. It was a really neat presentation. We continued to follow the group up into the mountains to an art market. It was such a beautiful drive, and made me want to visit Swaziland again. Afterwards we had to leave to make our way to Kruger.

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We made it to Kruger a bit after noon and drove to the camp where we were staying. On the way we got very close to some elephants! It was fun to drive around on our own, but didn’t have the same touring effect. We got to the camp and signed up for a night drive, then checked into our cabin. It was a very comfortable hut with a fridge and everything. We decided since the camp store had meat that we would have our own braai for dinner, so we bought materials before heading out on our night drive. The drive was cool: you shine flashlights into the darkness to find animals by looking for the flash of their eyes. It was actually pretty creepy—it was so quiet! We did see some elephants, gazelle, and smaller animals, but nothing we hadn’t seen before. Afterwards we came back and had our braai complete with chips and wine. It was a good night. The next morning we had to head out early to return the car. Matthew and I headed back to Joburg for a night while Dione and Nadine went back to Mozambique.

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On December 24th Matthew and I flew to Nairobi and then to Kilimanjaro. Our plane to Kili was so small and pretty empty. We got there at midnight, taxied to our hostel, and crawled into bed, probably disturbing the other volunteers we were sharing a room with. The next morning I was able to greet the 6 other volunteers we would be climbing Kili with. We got some Christmas breakfast at a cute little restaurant called the Union Café and did some shopping for ingredients for Christmas dinner and our white elephant gift exchange. We had a limit of 2000 shillings, which is just over a dollar. I got some Barack Obama playing cards.

The view of Kili on Christmas morning from our hostel

The view of Kili on Christmas morning from our hostel

Christmas dinner was started with the presentation of the Christmas melon. We had invited a 65 year-old PCV from that town and an Australian girl who would be climbing with us to join in the celebration, and they probably thought we were very strange when we sang the Mozambican hino as a tribute to the Christmas melon… It was quite a fun night, and the gift exchange included everything from necklaces to lighters to eggs. We took some silly pictures and enjoyed each other’s company.

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The next day, the guys from Nyange Adventures, the company we were climbing with, came to check our equipment. Matthew (the only non-PCV) was the most equipped in our group, only needing to rent a water bottle. I had to rent almost everything. I was surprised it wasn’t more expensive though! After getting that sorted, we did some shopping and prepared to leave.

Matthew all prepared for his trip...

Matthew all prepared for the trip…

We left about 9am the next morning. Our group consisted of 18 people from all over the world—the 8 of us, 2 Australians, a Russian, 2 Italians, a Ukrainian who lives in Chicago, a Syrian, and 3 Japanese. In addition, we had 8 guides, 3 cooks, 2 waiters, and 54 porters, so we were a big group. When we pulled into the gate of the camp, I was surprised at how many people were lined up waiting to leave. There were so many, so we spent the next 3 hours sitting around waiting to sign in and watching the monkeys steal people’s lunches. When we finally got going, we had about 13 km of walking to do. The first day was nice. It was through the rainforest, cool and shaded because of all the trees. The second day we only hiked 5km, but in that 5km we went up almost a full km. It was a lot barer, and started to rain/hail right as we were getting into camp. I got very cold that night and was actually worried I wouldn’t be able to make it. Luckily with the help of some of the staff and a warmer sleeping bag I was able to keep going.

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The third day there were no trees to be seen. It was very rocky, and a completely different landscape than the previous days. It was also noticeably colder during the day. Our guides insisted we go “pole pole,” or very slow, but we still made the 14km in about 8 hours (gaining 800m of altitude then loosing 600m). That day our crew greeted us with songs and dances, which was a nice surprise. We even had some time in the afternoon to play games. That camp also had the best latrines of all of them…

The next day involved some climbing up rocks, which was fun. It was amazing to watch the porters climb up the side of the mountain with 20kg of luggage on their heads and using one hand. The final day before summit day (day 5) we hiked up to base camp. It was only 5km, so we got there around noon. We ate lunch and went to bed. Then we woke up, ate dinner, and went back to bed. Finally at 11pm we woke up, put on all our layers, and had a snack. At midnight the mountain was ringing with cheers of people bringing in the New Year. We left soon after that.

Climbing to the summit was a lot harder than I expected. We were climbing up over 1km in only 5km distance. I was tired, it was dark, and I thought with the altitude, the dark, and the headlamps that I might just fall asleep where I was. I was cold and miserable and just wanted to give up, but I kept pushing myself. I finally got my energy back when, 5 hours later, we came to the second highest point, Stella Point. We stopped to drink a cup of tea brought by our guides and to watch the first sunrise of 2015 from the roof of Africa. It took about another 50 min to get to the peak, which is at 5,895m, or 19,341ft. It was invigorating once we got up there! There were glaciers nearby. It seemed really cold because of the wind chill, but it was so clear and beautiful. We spent some time taking pictures, and then went back down to base camp. It was a wonderful, emotional, and exhausting New Years.

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The first sunrise of 2015 from the roof of Africa!

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We weren’t done yet though. After a short rest and some lunch, we ended up hiking another 15km downhill to another camp. Matthew had a pedometer on his phone that said we walked 27km! We could have gone all the way down, and some of our group did, but we were so exhausted we decided to spend another night on the mountain. The next day we made it all the way down and were presented with certificates.

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We had one more day in Moshi, and then left on a bus for Dar-es-Salaam. After arriving and getting cheated out of some of our money by someone who offered to take us to where we were staying, we settled down at the luxurious apartment of some expats who were graciously letting us stay there while they were on vacation. The next day we took a ferry to Zanzibar.

Zanzibar is amazing and quite possibly one of my favorite places that I’ve visited in Africa. It’s just so unique. A semi-autonomous island that was once a stop on the spice trade root, Zanzibar has it all: nice restaurants, tourist activities, regular towns and cities, other islands, history, and spice farms. We enjoyed our time wandering around on the cobblestone streets, watching kids jump off the pier and dive into the water, eating at the night market where food was delicious and cheap. One day we rented bikes for a few hours and went riding around the island. One day we went snorkeling off of Prison Island, a nearby island with an impressive turtle farm, and went on a spice tour where we saw how spices were grown and got to taste/smell/buy some of them. It was a lot of fun, and surprisingly affordable!

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It didn't work.  We tried.

It didn’t work. We tried.

We had heard that the overland route to Mozambique that we were going to take was impossible at that time, so we ended up having to take an even longer route overland. We went back to Dar for a night, then flew to Mbeya, which is near the border of Malawi. We were able to cross the border and make it to Mzuzu, the largest city in the north of Malawi, before dark. We got some dinner, then hopped on another bus to Lilongwe, the capitol of Malawi. We got another bus to Blantyre, then a bus to the border of Mozambique at Milange. By the time we got to the border, we had been traveling for almost two straight days and I had said goodbye to everyone I had been traveling with except for Justin. You can imagine how mentally and physically drained we were upon getting to the border of Mozambique. Now imagine getting there 8 minutes after the border had closed…

We pleaded with the border guard to stamp our passports. He did, then asked how much we were going to give him to get them back. He asked for $50, which we didn’t have, so we got them back in the end for 5000 Kwacha, or about $10. We ran to the Mozambican side, but got there too late. The customs man had already left. We begged with the guards to let us through there, and they agreed to let us through if we left our passports. Seeing no other option, we did. We made it to Milange and stayed with a new volunteer there. Early the next morning we picked up our passports (without having to pay a bribe!) and were on our way.

We rode in the back of a pick up truck with about 30 other people through the mud for about 5 hours. Finally we got to Mocuba where we got into a truck saying it was headed to Nampula city. Eventually we were on our way. It was a slow ride due to some construction, so by the time we got to Alto Molocue it was already 5pm. Not wanting to drive in the dark and the rain, we got out there and spent another night with another new volunteer. The next morning we headed to Nampula, and then to Nacaroa, Justin’s site.

While there, I got to see his cultural group, which was a really cool experience. They meet almost every day to practice music, dance, theater, capoeira, and to work out. He led the workouts and they performed a dance for me, which was really neat. We also visited the nuns, who were really sweet and showed me around their school. We made some delicious food and drank good tea. It was a great way to unwind from 4 very stressful days of traveling. Afterwards I went up to Pemba to visit some friends who work at the IFP there. It ended up being a big group of volunteers. I had a nice beach day, and we spent a lot of time playing bananagrams. It was another relaxing few days. I went back to Nacaroa for a night before heading to Nampula to fly to Maputo for midservice.

Midservice was a good experience. It was the first time we were reunited as a group since we swore in as volunteers 13 months ago. It was awesome to see everyone, and doubly as exciting being in the capitol city where they have Thai food and French bakeries and grocery stores. Personally I found the sessions useful and had a good time seeing everyone again.

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Finally some of us headed back to Nampula to wait for the weekend. There had been heavy rains as I was coming back that made it impossible for me to get back to site (thus why I was traveling for so long). The floods had knocked out many of the major bridges, completely isolating the north. In addition, it knocked down some of the pylons that supply energy to the entire north, so since January 13th there has been no electricity in the northern part of the country. I plan on going into more detail in my next blog post, but it was impossible for us to get back to site at first. We made it back this past Monday and I’ve been adjusting to life in Cuamba again. School starts next week. Year 2, bring it on!

Swahili word of the day: Pole pole (slowly or slow. On our way up the mountain, our guides were always telling us to go pole pole, or slow)

Portuguese word of the day: Chuva (rain. It has begun)

French word of the day: Retour (return, as it is the beginning of the school year or return to school)

Macua word of the day: Inowa (snakes)

Corruption, Elections, Thanksgiving, and What’s Coming Up!

“The best way out is always through.” –Robert Frost

I’ve been pretty down lately at site. I’m not sure if I’m just reaching that point in my service where everything isn’t just wonderful anymore, or maybe just the stress of school and work and politics is getting to me, along with the fact that I’ve been away from home for over 14 months. Although it’s been getting tougher, I expect next year to generally be better, and my tough times have helped me get back into positive thinking strategies and hobbies that I’ve dropped.

One of the biggest things contributing to my frustration has been the confusion and corruption present at my school. This was partly due to it being an election year and school being disrupted, but most of my last week of lessons were cancelled to make way for this. As a result, I didn’t get a chance to bid my students goodbye or leave them with my email, which saddened me greatly. I want my students to be able to keep in contact and practice their English, and some will not be able to. Luckily many tracked me down.

In Mozambique, before giving final grades they hold what is called the “conselho da notas,” which is basically a meeting where all the teachers sit and discuss the grades of individual students. Coming from an American background, I think it is ridiculous. A student earns the grade they earn, and no other teacher should have influence over another teacher’s grades. My ped director gave me a different view of the process; In his mind, it prevents teachers from discriminating against a student as revenge for something that student has done, or for passing a student who should not pass just because that student paid/slept with the teacher. It is rather more common in Mozambique than the U.S., which makes sense to me. I was not, however, on board with how I came out of the conselho.

The English class has 33 students and 4 teachers, two of whom are my roommate and I. We had had many informal talks with the other English teachers where we expressed concern over 5 students in our class who were struggling. Some failed to form simple sentences in English and are expected to teach English next year. In the end, only three of them failed, and they only failed my class. It upset me that the others hadn’t failed them when they were not at the level at which they should have been. What upset me even more, though, was how my Mozambican colleagues didn’t stand up for me when I refused to change my grades. They stayed silent while other teachers told me it was my responsibility to “help” these students and while my director promised that if they were actually incompetent they would fail the national exams. After a half-hour fight over the grades of my students, their grades were changed. This insults me because I feel now as if I taught for nothing. In any case, my grades were going to be changed, so why did I bother evaluating? It also was unfair to my students who worked so hard to improve that another student was bumped up 6 points (out of 20) just so she would not fail. A few teachers agreed with me, but most did not, and it frustrated me to no end.

In the past few weeks we’ve had testing. Sure enough, those students failed almost every subject. Many of our students had to retake a subject or two. The second round of testing, it was arranged that Caitlin and I were nowhere near the testing. We don’t know for sure what happened, but every single student in our class passed, along with most students in the school. It was strongly hinted by some students (who were too afraid to say it outright) that most answers were given. I was not in a good mood that week. I couldn’t believe it: how could they be encouraging this blatant corruption in their schools? Why didn’t they see a problem with it? I was constantly in a mind to throw things, and it was something my students and colleagues noticed. It took me a while to see how negative I’d become, and even then it was a struggle to step back and look for a better course. I had to do a lot of reflecting and meditation. In the end, it was a student with some simple pronunciation questions who brought the answer. I remembered why I was here: not to change the world or erase corruption from Cuamba, but rather to teach and work with my students as individuals and form bonds with my coworkers. Reevaluating my reasons for being here and redefining my life in that context has helped me to gain a more positive outlook here.

As I said earlier, national elections disrupted my classes a lot in September in October. The new president was chosen. During that time, however, the mayor of Cuamba passed away. Many people think that a witchdoctor cast a spell on him that killed him, especially since the previous mayor died in similar mysterious circumstances. Either way, Cuamba is currently in their campaigning time for mayor elections. These elections are actually more important to the people it seems than the national elections; I am seeing a lot more campaigning this time around. Our director is running as the ruling party’s candidate. As a result, he moved graduation to after the election so that the students can campaign for him and vote for him. We shall see what happens…

This decision made me angry, however, because I had already booked my plane tickets to South Africa for the 15th! It meant I would miss graduation. This made me very sad, so today we held a graduation party for our students. We sat around and talked, drank precious koolaid (they were amazed how much sugar was in it) and ate cake, they showed off some dancing and gymnastic skills, we showed some pictures, etc. All-in-all, it was a fun time, and I’m glad I got to see my students off. Many of them will make fantastic teachers.

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A few weeks ago we also had Thanksgiving in Cuamba. We made (from scratch!) chicken and stuffing (no turkey unfortunately), buttermilk biscuits, cheesy garlic scalloped potatoes, gravy, salad, and delicious mini chocolate pudding pies for dessert. It was a fantastic feast! Later that night some of our neighbors’ kids came over and we played with them. It was my 3rd Thanksgiving away from home. Hopefully in 2 years I’ll be there!

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As for what’s next, I’ll be MIA for a while. Monday I head to South Africa. Matthew meets me there on Tuesday! We’ll get shown around South Africa the right way by Henco, and then we head to Kruger National Park to meet up with my awesome PC bestie Dione and her sister. After that, we fly to Tanzania where we will spend Christmas at the base of Mt Kilimanjaro with some PC friends. To continue the tradition of epic New Years, we will climb Kili and summit on New Years Eve/New Years Day! Afterwards we’ll head to Zanzibar for a bit and then I’ll explore a bit of the north of Mozambique before my midservice conference in mid-January. I’m looking forward to a lot of travelling and a lot of adventure! Wish me luck!

Portuguese word of the day: Batata (potato) it’s fun to say!

Macua word of the day: Oxekuwa (afternoon)

French word of the day: Pomme de terre (also potato) Don’t the French have a way of making everything sound pretty? Literally it’s apple of the earth.