3 Smiles and A Struggle: The First Trimester,What You Can’t Take Pictures Of, Simplicity, and The Gender Thing

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The Indian Ocean is perfect today: calm and windless, reflecting the low morning sun. We are in Vilanculos at the end of the first trimester, the beginning of the first short break. Yesterday, I put the wrong month on my hostel check-in form, proof, I suppose, that the time has gone so quickly I can hardly keep up.

Our first trimester has come and gone: 96 students, 68 class periods, 864 grades handwritten (once in pencil and over top again in pen, making a total of 1,728 grades handwritten), and 2 GIRLS that earned the highest marks in 8th grade.

One down, five more to go.

I am smiling about this, our first bit of work in a foreign school system, my first bit of work with kids older than 10, my first time leading a classroom. And all of the little successes along the way: students greeting me as the come into the classroom, students devouring children’s books in English, the kids who passed, and the kids who didn’t pass but improved.

I am happy too because ahead of us are 5 more opportunities, 5 more trimesters, to get creative with teaching, get to know the students, and learn about myself as a teacher.

Now, a few readers and friends and family members have requested that I put more pictures up on the blog. We are visual beings, I understand. But I must tell you that there are way more special things in Mozambique that cannot be captured in a picture than things that can be.

In my pictures, you have seen the beach in Vilanculos, the women in colorful capulanas, the singing and dancing at church, a few cute kids, our classrooms, our house, and even the food we eat.

But what I can’t show you are the conversations I can’t take pictures of. Alex and I went out to the market recently to buy one bell pepper, five pieces of bread, and 2 beers.

We first arrived at the small, open-air vegetable market. We have about ten stalls in our market, and about five women who are there consistently. Sometimes we buy tomatoes from one, onions from another, peppers from a third, cucumber from a fourth, and…..sorry, fifth market lady, that’s all the vegetable variety there is. The next time we’ll switch it up.

The market is a place to buy vegetables. It is also a place to be around the usually warm company of Mozambican women. And it is the place to practice our local language, Shitswa. On this particular day, we picked up our pepper and spent about half an hour, repeating Shitswa that was fired at us from the market ladies, getting corrected and repeating it again, taking in their good-natured laughter at our pronunciation of sounds we didn’t even know were words.

Now we can say ‘We are going home to work.’

If we can remember 🙂

Next we went around the corner to our friend Marcia’s shop. Marcia knows me well already; she knows that if it is too hot or if it is nearing a meal time and I am hungry, I probably won’t stick around to chat. These are times when my patience dwindles and my brain doesn’t do Portuguese.

But most days, we chat at least a little. Sometimes with Alex and sometimes without, Marcia and I have talked about relationships in Mozambique and relationships in America, health problems, her late Portuguese husband, what we are cooking, where we are going. I believe I may finally have convinced her that Alex absolutely will not hit me if I do something wrong.I have almost convinced her that Alex knows how to cook, and will survive if I don’t arrive at lunchtime to make him an egg sandwich. I have not yet convinced her that I do, indeed, like the capulana she bought me for my birthday. Before we started our Adult English Class, I would practice English with her almost every day, teaching her how to say, “My teacher disappeared and I had to go on learning alone because she didn’t come to teach me,” (presented to me in a letter that outlined my total desertion of my friend Marcia….”I saw you two days ago Marcia…”), “I will hit you. I will kill you,” (for when she goes to America and people are following her),”If you don’t want me, just say so,” (breaking up with a boyfriend), and the essentials like, “it is very hot today,” “see you tomorrow,” and “I like pineapple and tomato.”

The spectrum of conversation with Marcia alone nearly captures life here.

Ok, so, we were out for a pepper, beer, and bread right?

Forty five minutes later, we move from Marcia’s to the shop of a man deemed my Mapinhane PCV’s as Cheap Beer Guy.

Cheap Beer Guy isn’t much of a conversationalist. And I do need to capture Cheap Beer Guy in a picture. And I need to do this on the next day he is wearing his leopard-print, women’s, fitted tank.

Our final stop is at Celia’s for bread. Celia is interesting in that sometimes she is happy and smiling and wants us to help her name her niece and other days she looks past you as if you are an apparition and will say nothing other than, “Okay,” with a particularly high-pitched emphasis on the “O.”

But this week, she named her niece Jessica.

“O que e a significa de nome Jessica?” she asked us recently. What is the meaning of the name Jessica.

Google.

“Uma pessoa que pode ver o futuro,” Alex told her. A person who can see the future (a person who has foresight..but how the heck do you say that in Portuguese on the fly??)

Before we bought our bread, she let us know that Jessica was officially Jessica, then we talked about how her sister doesn’t know how to care for girl babies because she only has boys. You can teach her,we said, you have both. It is very different, she said. We think so too…Alex has only boys in his family and I have only girls…it is very different, we said.

Then there was the normal mid-conversation moment of silence.

“Have you cooked Matapa alone again yet?” she asked me.

I told her I hadn’t. I told her I wanted to learn to make beans next because when I make beans they are never as good as Mozambican beans. She said we will do that. I told her I would bring her sweet potato bread next time I make it.

With pepper, beer, and bread in hand, we wandered home an hour later, no pictures, no visuals to show or remember these conversations, these daily happenings that make-up our time in Mozambique.

So, we go about our days like this, passing large chunks of time chatting with people. It’s a simple thing. And when my sister recently asked me what we have been doing for fun lately, all I could think to tell her were all the other things we do here that are so simple, but make our life here full: we have been making a lot of good food, reading, talking to people around town, hanging out with the Sara/h’s.

Despite the daily challenges, life in Moz is pretty clear and simple. And for this, I smile a lot.

Now, daily challenges brings us to the recent struggle: The Gender Thing. In the last couple of weeks, I have started to notice how Alex and are sometimes treated differently here. Sometimes we walk around town and it is as if I am wearing an invisibility cloak, as all the men we pass neglect to greet me. Sometimes, male teachers continually question the way I am doing something, while leaving Alex alone to do the same exact thing. Sometimes he knows about meetings and school procedures that no one told me about. And it’s not just on my side, as a woman. Whether or not he struggles with it, Alex gets different treatment too sometimes: no one believes that he, as a man, can cook and take care of himself, for example.

We have heard this happens to married couples here and we have certainly heard about gender inequity in Mozambique. There are also some justifications. For example, maybe males in town think it is inappropriate to talk to another man’s wife.

And of course, there are some comforts. Most of the males we interact with, don’t treat me much differently than they treat Alex. With them, as well as our female friends, we have gotten into good conversations, shared meals, and trusted with our questions at shcool.

With our first 5 months at site behind us, we go into our break with all of this on our mind and so much more ahead. For the next week, we are on to the big cities for some conferences, hot showers, and delicious food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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