“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.
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!
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.