Monthly Archives: November 2016

Sunday Snapshots: School’s Out

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I remember the first day of school in February, standing in front of my classes to sing the Mozambican National Anthem with butterflies in my stomach.

‘Those lines are really long,’ I remember thinking, looking out at my stretching lines of 8th graders, 50 or more to each class. I was scared; I had never worked with kids of this age, and certainly never in groups this big.

Now, I know all of their names, most of their personalities, and, for a few, I know about their families, their opinions, and their aspirations. I can recognize their voices when they call from the gate of our neighborhood. A number of them, we have seen six or seven days a week all year.

These students have challenged me and frustrated me. They have been 8th graders: crazy and loud and emotional and just plain mean. They have done strange things: plucking my blond hair from my head, grabbing my hand to examine my white skin, smelling my hair, and telling me I have beautiful legs.

For all these odd and angering moments, I am grateful to them. I have a long ways to go, but I am at least a bit stronger and tougher now. I have been challenged to find ways to manage a large classroom with limited resources and to encourage their confidence. I am more aware of where I need improvements as a teacher and of where my strengths are.

I am grateful too, for all the good things. These students have educated me: I understand a Mozambican classroom a bit more and I understand some of the problems these kids bring to school with them.

And they have surprised me , too, a few of them, with their eagerness to learn and to help, their curiosity, their silly nature, and their occasional appreciation.

So, I say goodbye to my first-ever classes as a teacher.

Até a proxima.

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What Makes A Place A Home

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“My students were so bad today!” I ranted to Marcia last week. I had arrived at her shop in a tizzy, having felt the urgent need to flee our house on the school grounds after an exceptionally frustrating morning in class. “They steal my things, they show me disrespect, they only want to play during class. I am tired. I had to escape from them!”

“Ayay,” she listened, making this common sound, a sign of disapproval.

“Then, another student asked me if I even speak Portuguese! He said he only ever sees me speaking English,” I told her. “I speak Portuguese every day!”

“Ayay! You speak Portuguese,” she said. “But you came here to be an English teacher. Your Portuguese will probably end after Mozambique, but the English you teach people could help them in their future.”

“I told him that exactly! Then, he told me all my students say I am not tough enough because I don’t hit them. These students! They frustrate me, Marcia.”

I went on to spout multiple frustrations from recent weeks: they don’t say thank you when I give them things, they show disrespect to each other, they cheat on their tests!

“And they are always telling me my hair is disorganized!” I huffed.

Her response: When they tell you your hair is disorganized, you tell them ‘I am good how I am.’ You worry about your furture. Right now, your future is low because you are worrying about my hair. Worry about your future!

“Yeah!” I agreed, laughing now. I sighed, gathering myself. “Tomorrow is a new day.”

“Yes,” she agreed.  “Tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow, enter the classroom with strength.”

“Thank you, Marcia,” I told her, giving her the small handhold-handshake that is customary for saying goodbye.

I ranted to Marcia. She empathized with me. She advised me well.

It was the most common of interactions between friends.

I had never had a conversation like that with a Mozambican before. I had never let my guard down enough to let a Mozambican friend in like that. I am always careful to leave the house with a smile, constantly aware in the back of my mind that I am being watched, that my actions, words, and expressions contribute to shaping people’s view of foreigners, of Americans.

A month and a half ago, I was fairly certain that I wanted to leave Mozambique in January.

‘The thought of being here for 14 more months is completely unbearable,’ I said on multiple occasions.

I felt defeated. Since May, so much of my mental energy had been consumed by worrying about health issues. Any energy that was left was used up just doing the bare minimum to get by each day. I went through periods of time where I woke up multiple times a week, sometimes every day, and the first thought that came into my head was ‘I want to go home.’

It’s a strange thing, because those months weren’t all bad; there were beautiful moments, successful moments, happy moments. I found a lot of joy in the slow pace of life here, in getting projects up and going, in hearing great ideas from students and counterparts, in getting to know people. And I kept on going.

But, the same thought kept coming up: I just don’t feel right.  In my heart, I felt a squirming, restless, discomfort.

When this discomfort is felt, it needs validation. It became easy to give reason to this feeling by noticing and hanging on to all the frustrating parts of being here: the naughty students, the language barrier, the health issues, the negative interactions with people.

And those things are all real. They are not merely inventions of an uncomfortable mind but, rather, a lens through which I was seeing life here.

From the glimmers of happy moments that I occasionally noticed during this period, I knew there was another lens to look through.

‘I think I am just choosing to see all the bad things,’ I said to Alex one day. ‘I know those good things are out there, I am just not choosing to see them right now. And I don’t want to live my life like that.”

Eventually, some months after this statement, I made a deal with myself: at the end of each day I will write down three good things about the day and hang them on the wall.

I still wasn’t sure I wanted to be here for the next 14 months, but I was sure I didn’t want to spend my days trudging through, trying not to be miserable.

And I didn’t want my good moments stashed away for later in a jar or journal. I knew I needed to see them there, all the time.

Knowing I needed something to write down each day, I started to notice things like the little girl, alone on the path to town at 7a.m. dancing gracefully, her arms swaying in the air. I committed to memory the moment an elderly woman with a bucket on her head that gave me a thumbs up and a “Nice” in English, with a completely straight face as she passed me on the street. And I had to document the punishingly hot day that all the market ladies were sitting around in their bras, completely unabashed.

These moments are a reminder of how strangely and beautifully different life here is. They are a reminder of what a unique time in life this is for us.

More than these moments, though, the wall is filled with moments experienced or observed in the context of relationships between people:

A students’ smiley face next to my name on his test heading, a small indication that he was happy to be in my class that day. The easy and admirable friendship between two of our favorite Mozambican friends. The times I was brought to tears of laughter, sitting around our kitchen table with Alex and the Sara/hs. Someone’s shout of “Servido!” as I walk by, an invitation to come share food or drink with them. The days I spend more than an hour just talking to someone. The neighbor girl toddling over to play. Uninhibited laughter with our adult English learners. Ranting to Marcia.

I look at the wall and I see it. This is what I value. This is what makes life here, and anywhere, feel normal. This is what makes a squirming heart want to settle and stay. This is what makes a place a home.

“Quando está aqui em Moçambique, tem familia,” Marcia said to me earlier this week, her hands on her heart.

When you are here in Mozambique, you have family.