Monthly Archives: February 2016

At School in Mozambique

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Each day at school begins with the national anthem and morning meeting under the big tree that shades our classrooms.

The sound of wooden desks scraping on the cement floor greets me, as students stand.

“Gooooddd mooorrrniiinng teeeaccher.”

Forty five adolescent voices echo off of the cement walls.

“Good morning,” I reply. “How are you?”

“Weee arrreee fiiinnneee teacher, aaaannnddd yooouuu?” they ask, as part of a greeting formula that has been memorized for years.

“I am fine thank you,” I tell them. “You may sit,” I say, motioning with my hand

A few do, but mostly, they stare at me.

“Podem sentar,” I tell them in Portuguese.

This is 8th grade English, but still during these first few weeks I have translated everything, especially directions, into Portuguese for clarity. At least as much clarity as my still-shaky Portuguese can offer.

They sit, and Palmira, the bell-ringer, bangs a rusty wheel well with a stick to signal the start of the period.

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We go over the date and what we will be learning that day, and they copy it into their notebooks.

Copying is familiar; rote memorization is the method most commonly used for teaching here.

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I am determined to expose them to new ways of learning, and each activity or change of their routine learning style requires a lot of explaining and modeling.

My request for volunteers to come up to the board and write an answer was surprisingly well-received. My challenge warm-up of telling me in English which number I had just written on the board bred a certain friendly competition among them.

My request for students to work with 3 neighbors to complete a task was met with blank stares.

My idea for a ‘gallery walk’ through the classroom to copy down class rules was followed by the gathering of most students at one station, although I got them split up after a few minutes.

Playing a big circle game to practice the verb ‘To Be’ was riddled with distraction and a disturbingly uncompromisable separation of the genders. But, in the end I considered it a success because students were speaking one by one.

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Playing a game to build comparative sentences.

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The idea of raising your hand to speak and waiting for the teacher to choose you took multiple days of explanation and practice; students here seem to be used to answering as a whole group. The problem, of course, is that everyone follows the lead of stronger kids. But they are adaptable:now, they are beginning to understand the idea of sharing their idea as an individual.

And changing the response to a student that stands up and shares an incorrect answer, or needs time to think after being chosen to answer, is clearly going to take some time.

“You have to have respect for your colleagues,” I tell them when students laugh at an incorrect answer. “Precisam de ter respeito para colegas,” I repeat.

“She is thinking. You need to stay quiet while she is thinking. Sometimes we all need time to think,”I say when students impatiently begin yelling out the answer. “Ela está a pensar. Precisam de ficar em silêncio quando ela está a pensar. Algumas vezes, precisamos tempo para pensar,” I repeat.

Although the students seem to enjoy the variety of activities that we do in class, I am certain that my teaching style is just as foreign to them as their school system is to me.

Students here attend school for half of a day, all the way from Kindergarten through 12th grade. At our school, 8th, 10th, and 12th graders have classes during the morning session, while 9th and 11th come in the afternoon. During this time, the students are scheduled to have 6 classes. However, it is not uncommon for some professors to be absence from class, an there is not system for getting a substitute teacher; sometimes I come into class for 5th period and the students haven’t had a teacher since 2nd period.

This is when deep breaths come in: for the calming of the energy of 45 8th graders that have been left alone in a room for 2 hours. I am impressed though, that these students don’t cause any more trouble than just making noise and,in fact, that they stick around at all for their later classes.

Unlike in the States, here in Moz, it is the teachers who move rooms as they teach different groups of students. There is no such thing as hanging up any kind of permanent materials, setting up bookshelves or homework baskets or comforting decorations. Everything needs to be mobile. That would be easy if I could just take my laptop with my slides on it from room to room, projector to projector. But those things do not exist in the majority of schools here.

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Our school is lucky to have desks and chairs and clean, newly-painted classrooms. Many classrooms in Mozambique are in much worse condition.

Instead, I find myself either writing material on the chalkboard as fast as I possibly can or preparing more wordy material ahead of time on ‘papel gigante,’ which literally translates to giant paper, that can be bought in school supply stores in bigger cities. Then, because printing is uncommon due to cost, the students copy the material. Appearance of their notes is very important to them, and it takes them many,many minutes to copy things precisely and neatly.

As the students copy notes, I try my best to squeeze between the rows of desks to make sure that each student has a pen to write with, appears to have understood the directions, and is staying on task. The lack of school supplies-whether because of the cost or good ole teenager forgetfulness- is a problem on a daily basis. And in a class of 45- actually a wonderfully small class size for this country- it’s not hard to miss one student ignoring your directions, misunderstanding the task, missing supplies, goofing off, staring out the window, or finding themselves in any number of other circumstances that keep them from finishing the task at hand.

But for these first 2 weeks my classes have, more or less, run smoothly.  Most of the students are extremely respectful. Most of them are quiet when they need to be working, without being asked. Most of them do their best to understand and follow my directions. Most of them show up for class, look at their teacher, and are eager to learn and understand.

Some of them talk while I am talking. Some of them throw things or laugh at fellow students, especially at girls. Some of them are always whispering. Some of them look at me with scary, moody, teenage faces and don’t seem to care at all what I am saying. Some of them show up a couple minutes late and some of them never want to participate.

But despite being part of a flailing educational system, these students impress me already with their eagerness, respect, and desire to learn. No doubt that ahead are many reminders to be respectful, many failures on my part and theirs, many systemic frustrations, and a whole lot of confusing moments. But, still I look forward to strengthening my teaching skills while spending time with these students, seeing their growth, exposing them to new ways of learning, and fostering their curiosity.

Alex and I in our batas, like lab coats, that all teachers here wear. The future of our students is in good hands 🙂

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3 Smiles and Some Struggles: Work To Do, Exchanging Treats, Love Comes in the Mail, and Everyday Small Struggles

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Finally, we have a job to do .And we can smile about that. We are two weeks into school now, and after two slow months at site, it finally feels like we have a purpose.

It’s not correct to say that we are finally doing what we came here to do, because our reasons for coming here were many, and they happen on a daily basis: learning a new language, experiencing life in a different culture, offering our skills and learning new skills, testing ourselves.

But it’s a happy, happy thing to have finally started the job we came to do. It’s nice to be teaching, getting into a routine, and organizing projects. Although we don’t teach all day every day, or even close, it’s nice to finally have a bit more structure to our days, meet our students, and start learning how to teach here.

Look for a post later this week about school in Moz!

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The morning meeting on our first day of school.

My second set of small smiles comes from a magenta bowl with a clear lid: food exchanges with a couple of my female friends in town. I bring a bowl with a peanut butter cookie and it is returned to me full of freshly toasted cashews. I bring the bowl with some peanut butter, and set up a cooking lesson with Celia.  I make matapa independently at home and take some to Celia; her empregada (house helper woman) gives the bowl back full of the ‘folha de fejão,’ bean plant leaves, that she has cooked in the same manner as matapa. And next I will bring the bowl with a homemade cinnamon roll from the weekend. I love cooking and am happy that is has become an opportunity for cultural exchange.

The third recent smile is from receiving a plethora of care packages that were sent over the last 2 months and arrived all at once within the last 2 weeks. Into our hands came cards and chocolate, birthday wishes and high quality, non-perishable food that I didn’t even know I missed. As our time away from home grows, these little reminders are increasingly joyful. In fact, if you want to send something, please do:

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Vilanculos, Mozambique.

 

 

 

 

 

Now, we come to the struggles. I think one of the reasons that the writing of this particular edition of 3 Smiles and a Struggle has been delayed is because life here has begun to feel more normal, which means the struggles are starting to feel more normal too. We are getting into the swing of things and starting to feel content, but the fact is that every day here presents a new challenge. None of them are necessarily bigger than the others. None of them are monumental.But they all play a role in our life here, and they are all considered pretty average and normal challenges. And so I have debated which to write here, which is more worthy of talking about.

I have wondered if I should tell you about the Portuguese struggle in the first weeks of school. It is becoming easier to speak freely as I begin to use my Portuguese more and more. But now there is more at stake too: do my 90 8th grade students understand a word I am saying to them?

I am teaching English, but we don’t speak much English in the classroom yet, save for practice with the subject we are learning that day. I give directions, and even examples, in English first and then in Portuguese, for clarity. But I don’t know that the words coming out of my mouth in either language are all that clear to my students at this point. Add to this the fact that students here are not accustomed to speaking up when they don’t understand things, and what I’m left with is a lot of wait time after everything I say, a lot of trying to convince them to ask for clarification, a lot of repeating, and a lot of hoping for the best.

All I can say is that teaching in another language is much, much different than speaking in a different language about weather, food, and what life is like in the United States; Yes, I wanted people to understand what I was saying to them in town these past two months, but now I need people to understand what I am saying to them in the classroom. Exhausting as this is, it does not feel like a huge point of stress. I am trying my best to improve as fast as I can, and I realize that this is just part of the process.

Then, I have wondered if I should tell you about the funny struggle of running out of cooking gas. Last week we ran out of cooking gas. When that happens, we have to go to nearby Vilanculos, about an hour away, to return our empty tank and buy a full tank. But every so often the whole town of Vilanculos runs out of full tanks of cooking gas, as is the case right now. So, with the help of our amazing sitemate, I hauled the tank to Vilanculos, looked for gas, found none, arranged to leave the tank at our favorite hotel until Vil gets more tanks in, and got to work getting creative in the kitchen. I realize that having to wait a month or so for more cooking gas would be unheard of in the States, but here, it’s normal, and it’s just not a point of great stress. So, until further notice, we will continue to eat care package non-perishables, cook fried eggs on our weakly functioning electric burners (they don’t have enough forca for a whole meal), roast peanuts over a charcoal stove to smoosh our own peanut butter, cook noodles by soaking them in boiling water from the electric teapot, and make as many varied meals out of charcoal stove rice and beans as possible: burritos (yay for avocado season : +1 smile!), coconut lime rice and beans, bean burgers, rice and beans with whatever vegetables can be found…TBD.

Lastly, I’ve wondered if I should bring up the recent heat wave, which honestly probably has been the biggest struggle for me the last couple weeks and has been the hardest of these things to not feel agitated by. We thought we were through the worst of the summer season here but, as we lay in our sweat puddles on our cement floor, trying not to move, we realize we were very, very wrong. We have had more than one day recently of 100+ degree weather. When this happens my body and brain is so exhausted; productivity ceases after noon, and is replaced by mild heat coma/ laying on the floor, sweating. A good night’s sleep is nearly impossible; I found myself getting up in the middle of the night last night and bringing a frozen water bottle back to be to snuggle with (freezer: +1 smile). Additionally, in this kind of heat Portuguese absolutely cannot be spoken or understood. Recent heat-induced language blunders: telling someone at the bank that I wanted to check my caldo (MSG ‘flavor’ packet that Mozambicans love to add to dishes) instead of my saldo (account balance…) and telling a driver that he cannot exit in that direction (pointing) because the portador (gatekeeper) is too small, instead of the portão (gate). And lastly, just staring blankly while my good gal friend in town laughs right at me about how I can’t speak Portuguese in the heat.

Truth.

As I mentioned, none of these struggles feel like great points of stress here. But I know that in my home culture if I was doubting my ability to communicate with a group of students I would feel immensely guilty and worried. I know that if I had to wait a month to cook in the manner I am used to, I would feel annoyed. And if people laughed in my face when I tried to speak to them, I would feel super embarrassed and probably never want to be their friend again.

But here, all of these things are normal everyday occurrences, and the endless calm and patience of the Mozambicans we are surrounded by infuses these situations. So, I recognize these struggles, but it’s getting easier to forget about feeling guilty and worried and instead work toward improving. It’s not so hard to choose not to waste my energy being annoyed about the gas situation, as I cannot do anything to change it. And it’s better to just agree with my laughing friend instead of bumbling through ‘heat Portuguese’ in explanation, if for no other reason than getting back home to lay in front of my fan and cool my boiling brain.

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No matter what the day brings, it always ends with this view from the back yard. Photo courtesty of Alex Romanyshyn.

Calling all postcards!

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Readers near and far: share the world with us here in Mapinhane!

It’s time to start a postcard project.

During this 2016 school year, from February to December, I want to build up a collection of postcards to share with my 8th grade English students at the end of the year. Not only is this a great way for them to practice and learn conversational English, this is a way for them to see the world and learn about other people, places, and cultures.

Postcards can come from wherever you live or travel, and we’d love to read messages about what this place is like, whether that’s talking about weather, food, scenery, people, animals, or a funny personal story.

If you want to participate, send as many postcards as your heart desires to:

Cecelia Romanyshyn

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Vilanculos, Mozambique

Looking forward to seeing the world with you!

Smiles and Struggles Join Forces: The Start of the Start of School and Connection to Food

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Our very last week of our second summer break in one year began in style: with the ringing in of my 27th birthday. Lots of smiles to be had! This year was my first-ever summer birthday, as we are here in the southern hemisphere, but, I realized, some things about a birthday are just universal. To me, a good birthday must have: good food, good booze, good people, and some kind of outdoor activity. In recent years, all birthdays have included bacon, whiskey, husband and family, and a form of snow recreation. This year: crepes, seafood pasta, homemade chocolate cake, mojito, husband and new friends, and  hammocking. Success!

Smiles and struggles then joined forces this week as we slowly started working. We have spent 9 weeks for the first day of school, to do the things we feel we came here to do. This past week held the buzz of back-to-school familiar to us from home; People are excited and looking forward to a new year. Students are milling around and our teacher neighborhood is filling up again. It was a week full of scheduling, lesson planning, and meetings. These are they smiley parts. But before I get too far, I must stop you from painting the American back-to-school picture in your mind and I must tell you about the struggles. When I say scheduling, I mean drawing grids on the blackboard in chalk and filling in which subject will be when, then inputting it into xcel and realizing there are a bunch of overlaps and things don’t work and it needs to be redone. When I say scheduling, I mean people telling us that we will find out our schedule Monday, the first day of school. This lack of control over my own darn schedule was a struggle for me until I realized that I have absolutely no where else to be…ever…so I will just plan my lesson and be ready to teach. Now, when I say lesson planning, I mean that two thirds of teachers come into the teacher’s lounge, sign a teacher attendance book, and then go home. When I say meetings, I mean hours of suffering and confusion, sprinkled with a lot of seemingly pointless banter and mild yelling.

Okay. That one is the same.

Except here it is in soft-spoken Portuguese.

Nonetheless, we’ve gotten our first taste of how school in Moz works, and we are excited to get started! The start of the school year here was celebrated with the planting of a tree at school and a big march to the town center, where some of the higher-ups in our district’s ministry of education gave short speeches.

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‘Solidary Education and Human Development’

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They say that the education of girls is vital because they are the future of communities in the developing world. We asked where all the boys were. The response from Professora Annabella: ‘Eh. They are lazy. They are sleeping. I don’t know.’ I still give the boys more credit, but the turnout of female students at this school celebration says a lot.

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I have to appreciate a place where important community gatherings happen under the trees.”Mocambique, HOI!”

As this week has passed, I have begun to see glimmers of appreciation for this country, glimmers of things I think I will miss when we go back to the United States (in 22 long months). It might seem odd that it took 9 weeks, even longer if you count our training time in Namaacha, for me to see these glimmers of appreciation, but it truly did. I have certainly appreciated the opportunity to be in the Peace Corps in Mozambique. I have appreciated kind words and actions from people we have met, both American and Mozambican. I have appreciated having a relaxing beach getaway just 45 minutes away from where we live.I have appreciated being here with my husband. And the other day I really, really appreciated the taste of a mysterious nectarine in a fruit salad.

But this week was different.

Suffering through yet another meeting in 90 degree heat in a cement room, I realized I could hear birds chirping outside and I realized how open to the outside our lives are here. We are either outside, or we are inside with all the doors and windows open. In this way, life here is very sensory.  We hear birds and people passing by and a lot of chirping bugs at night and the music that anyone on our side of town decides to play at any  time of day.  We smell things cooking (and trash burning…). We feel breezes. Meetings happen under trees. Markets are set up in open-air stalls. People sit outside in the shade to stay cool. Every  night, lacking running water, we brush our teeth outside under the stars. And we walk. Everywhere.

I used to make a point to go out for a15 minute walk every day at work just to connect with what was going on outside the building: the weather, the views, the birds. But here, it’s always there. We have been missing our hours spent outside in the mountains biking, hiking, and skiing. But here, our connection to life outside of walls is ever-present.

To not be going from our work building, to our vehicle, to our grocery store building, to our closed up house is pretty refreshing and kind of a different lifestyle.

Just the simple fact of being able to hear a bird chirping during a meeting made me realize this connection, and made me realize it’s probably something I will miss.

Second glimmer and also struggle: the market is bare. The fact that we have had days this week that we can only find onions and coconuts in our market has been a struggle for me and, undoubtedly, for many people in our town. Our province has had so little rain that it is on the verge of famine and may start receiving food aid in some areas. This is scary.

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The return of my favorite daily snack…but better with HOME-SMOOSHED peanut butter! Peanuts are a savior, always available in our market. And despite the lack of variety in our day to day, we are lucky to be close to Vilanculos, where we can get South African import produce, like apples, every few weeks.

This is hard to explain, because I miss food just as much as the next Peace Corps Volunteer. And I did nearly cry at the taste of nectarine in my mouth last weekend. But it’s oddly refreshing to live in a place where food and crops and rain and heat are connected; food is seasonal. This is nature. This connection is powerful, and it doesn’t exist in the U.S. And I don’t say that to be condescending…I would be hard-pressed to tell you what grew during what seasons in Colorado, and I certainly did not eat seasonally. Why would I when I could get such variety at any time? Variety is what we want for health, right? Why would I deprive myself? The choice of only onions and coconuts is a bit extreme, but it’s actually nice to not have everything right at our fingertips. It’s kind of fun to play ‘how many things can you do with a tomato.’ If we can find a tomato, that is.  It invites creativity, I suppose. Additionally, my digestive and immune systems have been so happy and content here…I expected the opposite. With growing awareness of nutritional needs, and beautiful food blogs galore, the colorful diet in the U.S. is the thing to eat. I was all about getting my two items of every color every day. But still, I went through phases where I felt sick after every single meal. And no matter how much kale I ate, I was congested all the time. Call me crazy, but here, I think my belly and body feels good because it has so much less to process and everything it’s processing is, well, not processed. Salsas and sauces are made fresh. Beans are soaked for hours and boiled. Tortillas are made from scratch. Bread is delivered every morning. Coconut milk is not measured in cans.

There’s not much to buy, but I buy what I can, when I can, and I go home and figure out what to do with it that day.

I don’t know if there is scientific evidence backing a simple diet for health. I don’t know if my nutrition is suffering because I didn’t eat upwards of 10 varieties of fruits and vegetables every day. But I feel good. I feel strong. And I feel more connected to my food.

It’s simple.

And, I think, that’s what these glimmers come down to. Simplicity. Life here is slow and simple. And it depends on the day whether that’s a smile or a struggle.

Small-Batch, Home-Smooshed: How to Make Your Own Delicious Peanut Butter

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Vocabulary from my Colorado roots:

small-batch.

home-brewed.

At least the last time I checked. The more intimate an alcohol, the better.

Vocabulary from my Mozambican kitchen:

small-batch.

home-smooshed.

The more intimate the peanut butter, the better.

Peanuts here in Mozambique are an abundant resource, a nutritional powerhouse that is common in mashambas, or home gardens. You may remember this story, that I posted last Spring, about writing, but in reference to the power of peanut butter for HIV/AIDs patients in Mozambique.

We can always find peanuts in our market;  women here use peanuts mainly to make peanut flour that they add to various sauces. We use peanuts to roast, and make the most hearty, fresh, delicious, nutritious peanut butter that we have ever put into our mouths. In my experience in Mapinhane, the women do not seem to use peanuts to make peanut butter and they aren’t familiar with the process. But when we tell them that’s why we are buying a plethora of peanuts, they ask to try our finished product.

Although the process for making peanut butter here is done with a pilão (giant wooden mortar and pestle) and a whole lot of força (good ole strength), if you are reading this from America, I must tell you that you should stop buying peanut butter and start making it. In your beautiful, electric food processor.

Once you go small-batch, home-smooshed you’ll never go back.

 

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Raw peanuts to roasted.

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We dry-roast our peanuts on the stove, keeping them moving at all times. You do not need to put anything in this pan except for your raw peanuts. When the skins come off easily between your fingers, the peanuts are sufficiently roasted. Roasting the peanuts allows them to release their oils when smooshed; this is what turns them into peanut butter. Unroasted, smooshed peanuts will turn into peanut flour.

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After the peanuts are roasted, let them cool until you can touch them comfortably. Then the most laborious part of the process begins: taking the skins off of the peanuts. We have heard that you can make peanut butter without taking the skins off, but we have yet to try it.

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The roasted, de-skinned peanuts are then put into our little pilão for smooshing!

 

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Let the força begin! Smoosh, smoosh, smoosh the peanuts until they turn into peanut butter. Or put them in your food processor…if you don’t want to have any fun. Just kidding…I would use one if I had one…

 

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Our finished product.

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As much fun as it was to make daily rations of peanut butter in our baby pilão, thanks to this very Mozambican birthday gift from Alex, we can now make a whole week’s worth of peanut butter in our mama pilão

 

Happy Smooshing!