Wednesday, November 27, 2013

11/23/2013: The final push

The past week we have been holding Model School in the morning. Children from Namaacha sign up to be students (its amazing how many people you can find when you promise free snacks, notebooks, and pens) and we hold lessons like we will in our classrooms (although I’m teaching Biology in Model School and Chemistry in real school…so that’s cool). Along with preparing lessons and exams for our students we’ve been preparing for our very own language exams and packing up our things for our site.
After 10 weeks in the training town of Namaacha in our comfortable homestay families surrounded by other trainees and volunteers everyday we are getting ready to be pushed out of the nest, just in time for the holidays.
I think most of us are kind of ready to just go out on our own. I feel personally I can’t advance my Portuguese much more in this setting and it’s time to take it out into the real world where I don’t have other Americans to talk to all the time and I’m forced to perfect my language skills. I’m anxious to get into the classroom and start experiencing teaching Chemistry (which I haven’t studied since high school) in Portuguese (which I just learned) and witness the Mozambican school system (the lows—corruption, lack of funding, no textbooks, no desks, cheating…the typical struggles, along with the highs—eager students, colleagues to help, a changing curriculum and culture).
As excited as I am to get to my site, meet my roommate, and settling into my new home, it is bittersweet (as most good things are). My host family has just been so fantastic and I’m so happy to be leaving with so many stories and experiences already. My mae has been so warm and welcoming, and also a lot crazy, but in the good way. She’s only a few years older than me and I think having someone my age around has offered her a break from the duties of being a mother of two and given her some opportunities to blast music, dance around, and have fun. We’ve both benefitted from our moments together.
It’s crazy how 10 weeks feels really long in retrospect. Not because it was boring by any means, but because it is so jam-packed. And events are almost on fast track. It’s like what I’ve experienced during trail crew. When there’s only so many of you in an isolated environment (ours being that there are only so many Americans in Namaacha at any given time) friendships develop quickly, moments seem more precious, and time together is more cherished. Everyday (and I mean literally everyday) we have had an activity, we have had something to do to develop our skills, give back to Namaacha, integrate, or create a support system with each other. And being so busy makes 10 weeks feel longer, not slower, but longer.

So full circle of this, time’s up and it is time for these birds to leave the nest, spread out, and go develop our own little Mozambican lives in our sites. And I think it’s just the perfect time for the next part of the adventure to begin.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Side note: My biggest pet peeve (I think...)

Throughout my education, I constantly heard people complain about having to go to school or having to study or having to do homework or get tutoring...these complaints always rubbed me the wrong way, even though I too sometimes fell victim to a whine or too.
But my friend shared an article that just re-rooted in my mind WHY I like to teach, WHY I joined the education project for Peace Corps, and mostly WHY it has always bothered me to hear people in the states complain about school.
We just don't know how good we have it, I was always somehow aware that I was lucky, but now, I not just "somehow aware of my luck," but it has been hit on my head with a sledge hammer that I was BLESSED for my education. Sure I worked hard, but I grew up in a place where it was my responsibility and my right to study hard and it was expected that I follow my dream, which happened to be university, and I was supported. And I can almost guarantee anyone who feels they are not supported...compared to what we face as teachers here dealing with students (especially female students)...YOU ARE SUPPORTED! Take advantage of the possibilities and the opportunities and love every second of it, but then take what you have reaped from your blessings and share it! Empower others and just go. Just by existing as a young adult who worked hard and got a college degree--regardless of age or gender--you can empower a youth in a developing nation who has been taught to believe university is irrelevant who has never been taught how to dream.

Mozambique Education (CLICK THIS LINK PLEASE)

11/14/2013: Karama + Site Placements

Today was the big day we have all been waiting for this week. At the end of the day, our site placements were finally announced!

I get to stay in the southern region, and I am absolutely elated! I will be teaching at a mission school, which here is code for chique! Usually class sizes are 30-40 instead of 80-100 and often times they have desks and chalkboards! …Hey, this is Africa, it’s the simple things! Apparently my house is going to super chique as well—it has running water and electricity and easy access to transportation, plus we’ll be living on the same grounds as the nuns—that certainly adds a sense of security for me.

“Why the ‘karma’ Jessie? This sounds great.”

I mean, it is an excellent set up and I’m super excited for the upcoming experience. However, I will be teaching CHEMISTRY. Whoop, there it is. The karma. Anyone who has spent an ounce of time with me since 10th grade, especially in college, is acutely aware that I avoided anything involving chemistry, even ignoring advice from my advisor to take a least a couple courses in the subject. Então here I am, of course about to teach it IN PORTUGUESE. Corpo da Paz is for the flexible however, and I had said that I would teach Chemistry because I would rather stick to the sciences than be forced to venture into *gasp* MATH…that would just be horrible.

So in about 3 weeks, I will meet my new roommate and move into a new house, not to far from where I am now, and start the next chapter of my adventure teaching

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

11/9/2013: The Importance of Friends

Obviously we all know friends are important, that’s not a secret in life. But let me tell you the importance I have discovered about the yahoos in my daily life here in Africa. Without them, I would be lost. It all started in a language group (and the fact that we just don’t live near anyone else) but seriously, I have never laughed so hard or so often in my life. The most simple, mundane tasks like walking to the gas station for a snack or sitting in a boring lecture hall, become hilarious with these people. In everyday life, these kinds of friends are nice to have. Here, these kinds of friends are a treasure. There are constant stresses with training and living somewhere completely different and language…and just so much going on beyond explanation. And honestly, I have finally discovered the truth behind the expression laughter is the best medicine. I know it certainly makes all the difference in the world to me here, and some how the most insane and crazy group of people keeps me the sanest.  I think we are all individually learning how important friends are going to be as a support group during the next few years. It seems like an obvious truth but I never fully understood it until recently. Here’s to great friends here and in America keeping each other going everyday.

11/8/2013: Game Changer

This past week we were sent throughout the country for site visits—to spend some time with a current volunteer and get an idea of a daily routine and what a site is like….etc. I think for most of us (and I know especially for me) site visits came at the absolutely most perfect time and for me they were quite a game changer. Training is exhausting and overwhelming and at times discouraging and I was honestly starting to wonder if I had made the right decision to move to Africa.
For my site visit, I went to Manjangue, Gaza, just a little north of Maputo. My site visit partners were Lauren and Colin—math teachers and we visited Nick—also a math teacher. Our first night, we went out to Xai-Xai (the capitol of Gaza) and visited the beach with a couple other site visit groups from the Xai-Xai area. I finally got to see the Indian Ocean. The next day, Lauren, Colin, Nick, and I began our adventure to Manjangue. It was HOT. It took us 3 crowded chapas and a couple of hours to get to site but it was so worth it. Upon arrival we found that Nick’s cat had some new kittens! So adorable. And we finally got to cook on our own! I think that’s what we miss the most at training, having control over what we are cooking, when we are cooking it, and how much of it we eat. It was so nice to finally have that freedom. We made veggie stir fry, brownies, homemade pita, and homemade humus—not all in one day of course. But it was surprisingly rejuvenating to have control in the kitchen and the ability to experiment with cooking in Mozambique.
Nick lives on the school grounds, which is pretty cool. We were able to interact a lot with his students. Its around the time of the National 10th grade exams so a lot of kids were out of school, but they still came by the house and students would stop in on their way to take their tests. Because he lives so close to school, we were also able to help him with some paperwork (paultas are giant grade sheets and he needed to digitize them) and talk with the school directors and other professors. Its great in theory to hear about schools here in class, but it is just so great to actually experience the school and spend some time there.

During our visit, Nick took us to his closest city—Chokwe—so we could do exploration and buy some capulanas. We also got lunch there and I finally got to have a hamburger!! I mean—no place does hamburgers like America, its just a fact, but man I was craving one and it certainly fulfilled that craving. On the return from Chokwe, we had 23 people + 4 babies stuffed into a chapa. I think the next day we actually broke that record since we had people sitting on laps and more people standing, but none of us were really in position to count heads so the record is questionable. It was pretty overwhelming, but also made me feel like I live in Mozambique—I am no longer in position to get rides in an empty Peace Corps car, but am actually part of the local culture of over crowded, HOT chapas.
We left Nick’s site a day early to return to Xai-Xai and hang out at the beach with the other groups again. I have finally swam in the Indian Ocean! So cool!!! I know it’s just another ocean, but its just so awesome to say I’ve swam in it! After, we went out to chique restaurant that is a favorite of the health volunteer we were visiting. Just a little taste of America with some pizza and beer.
To get home, I left with my friends Deej, Arden, Fei, and Jen and we took a chapa to the site where Arden and Fei were staying so they could get their stuff. We then, from there, boleaed (flagged down a free ride) a truck to go to Maputo. 3 hours in the back of a pick up truck later—totally wind blown and sunburned—we landed in Maputo on a crowded bus to Namaacha. By the end of the day I was so exhausted, hot, tired, and dirty I wasn’t even sure I ever wanted to travel again in Africa. Now, clean and refreshed, I think it was probably one of the greatest travel experiences I’ve had here—it was all just so typical Mozambique and because of that, I feel a little less like a strange visitor.
Over all, just getting out of Namaacha and having a chance for smaller groups to hang out as we would at our sites when we are spread throughout the country and experience some independence we are not afforded at training helped us all regroup and come back to training to hopefully finish strong. Assuming we can get our language up and not get scolded again for our lack of Portuguese (but that is whole different and unnecessary story).
I think definitely the biggest highlight was visiting the beach. I know that sounds so cheesy. But I grew up going to beaches ALL THE TIME and I even went to college in a location that would be close the beach. I LOVE beaches. And just being around the sand and smelling the salt air and having sand in my hair and clothes for days reminded me of home and made me feel like home here. Namaacha—for all of it’s beauty—is extremely landlocked and for someone who seeks out shorelines, being landlocked sometimes makes me restless and upset.
Now Monday we have our site interviews and Thursday we find out where we will be living for the next 2 years. Praying I get a great site, but more so praying that wherever I go I make the best of it and get everything from this experience that I can.

Um pouco cross culture: just a small observation about some cultural differences in my family. I have recently discovered that my host pai cooks, cleans, bathes the kids, and serves all of us before he himself eats, he also will tell my mãe he loves her in front of family members. Now, in America this all seems like a “duh…what else would a pai do??” but here, it is quite unusual. They also pressure Betou into getting higher than a 10 on his exams, in Mozambique everything is graded on a scale of 20 and 10 is considered passing, 12 is considered good. Betou got a 12 on an exam and my host parents told him they knew he could do better and needed to try harder. It’s pretty cool to be staying with a family that seems to moving away from the very traditional Mozambican life. I haven’t quite figured out why my family acts differently, the only thing I can think is that my pai spends a lot of time in South Africa which is a fairly progressive country and has the western influence from there.
Just a small cross culture experience for you to get a peek into how life is here in Mozambique.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

I added new pics to my album

New pictures!

10/31/2013: Dia da Bruxas

It seems only fitting that the weirdest day in Africa thus far has landed on Halloween, known here as Dia da Bruxas. While talking to my best friend at home I realized it is quite hard for me to fully capture the feeling of today in words—I think a lot of it has to do with our mindsets and the stress we are under. But I am going to attempt to share my odd day with those of you at home, if only because I want to get the story out.
A quick back story, in my house right now is my host mom, my host brother, and my host sister. I’ve introduced them in previous posts. But obviously my brother and sister have a father (if you didn’t know that, I am a biology teacher and can give you a lesson) and their father is in fact my mom’s husband. He lives in South Africa building houses. It is quite common for fathers to be gone the majority of the year working else making money, often while starting other families. As a result the mothers sometimes have a boyfriend or something in their village. The idea of not having a partner for more than a week is inconceivable to many here in Mozambique (so that’s always a fun education about how just because I’ve left America for 2 years does not mean I need a Mozambican man).

Back to today.
It all started last night really. A massive…a dare say minor tropical depression…graced Namaacha with it’s presence. Let me tell you how fun tornado speed winds and golf ball sized hail Is when you have a flimsy tin rood…and I definitely spent a good hour cleaning mortar off all of my stuff and out of my room…my walls literally crumbled around me. It was an INTENSE storm that we all immediately reported on our Facebooks and wallowed together today over the lack of sleep it caused and the day without energy that followed. It was the most intense storm so far and scared even those of us who have lived with the likes of hurricanes and tornadoes in our lives. So we were all in a pretty weird mood today to begin with…it’s Halloween, we’re having a Halloween party tomorrow, no one slept, and we’re leaving on Sunday for our week long site visits with current volunteers—energy and excitement was high making school almost impossible for all of us. Following school, my lingua group and I decided to take our usual trip to our mini America—Total Gas Station. It’s close to where the Bio teachers live and offers Lays potato chips, Simba chips (not American…but close to it!), ice cream, Cadbury chocolate, and Cocoa-Cola Light (their version of Diet Coke, which, after a week without Diet Coke was just fine for me). When we arrived we could tell that one of the customers was a little off but we couldn’t tell exactly was going on. Well…our Portuguese is good enough that we figured out after about 10 minutes they were fighting with the clerk who didn’t want them to sell drugs behind the gas station and they were calling the police. There was a lot of screaming and a lot of accusations, so naturally, we left. Really bummed that we didn’t get our American snacks and weirded out that  that there was drug fight in little Namaacha. We went for our plan B. Xavier’s is our favorite bar and James, the son of Xavier serves delicious samosas (even I think they’re delicious and I’ve sworn off of Indian food). We entered and James knew immediately what we were looking for and broke the sad news that he had no samosas. This seems like a minor problem…which is why I said some of this may just be our mindsets…it was a BIG DEAL. So we go to plan C…pão with soy chicken nuggets (yes, they have those here) stuff inside. On our way we run into a Japanese lady we’ve seen wandering around Namaacha. Turns out she is a teacher volunteering for the Japan version of Peace Corps…who knew that existed!! So we were able to communicate with someone who speaks Japanese, not English, because we all speak Portuguese, which sounds less cool than it really is. It’s different than talking to someone from Namaacha who, DUH, knows Portuguese, or talking to current volunteers who also speak English. It was way cool. Well…plan C was a bust. There was no pão near us…so weird because there’s ALWAYS pão. So we gave up and returned to our houses. My house was still energyless, so I was bracing myself for a night of accomplishing nothing. Halfway through dinner, energy returned to Barrio B. Here, it’s monumentous when energy comes back. You can’t escape the cheers of excitement. Almost simultaneously, our door opens and this man with a suitcase walks in. Turns out it’s my pai??? No one knew he was returning to Namaacha this evening and my host mom has spent the rest of the evening shooting me hilarious faces. I’ve tried to pick up what I can with my Portuguese, but she is talking mostly in Changana, if at all because he’s here so she doesn’t really want to announce she’s not pleased at this addition to our house. But her faces say it all, and it is hilarious. I think she and I have bonded a little in communicating only with facial expressions.
So that’s my weird day. Maybe it is just weird to those of us here in Africa, but I felt like sharing what an atypical day in Africa is like. I hope I did the story well and was a least a little entertaining. If it wasn’t entertaining, try to put yourself in my shoes and imagine what today felt like. It was weird.
Before I head out, I will update you on my site visit. So a site visit is designed for us to get an idea of what the next 2 years will be like, outside of our little training summer camp in Namaacha. I am visiting a volunteer in Gaza, which is just north of the Maputo Province (I’m sorry. If you want to understand exactly where Gaza is, I’m going to ask you to do what my Geography teacher would always say…get a map). All I know so far is that I will likely get to visit a beach. I’m sure I’ll have much more to say about it next Friday when I return.

Now I must bid this day ado. It has been much too strange for me. And tomorrow I have a language oral exam and I would like to prove that I do in fact know some Portuguese. I certainly cannot wait for the day when I’m fluent enough that I accidentally forget to switch out of Portuguese to English or forget simple English words. I know that day will come, it has been promised the science teachers that it just happens naturally because we literally cannot use any English in our classrooms.