Well, the 6 month mark is approaching! Hard to believe I have already been gone that long. As usual, time is still flying by!
The first two months at site were just getting acquainted with the village, the people, and my roommate Tania. It was nice to have that transition from training to the “real world’ without any obligations. We now have a decent amount of friends, a regular market lady, bread guy, beer guy, system for our house, and a routine (although that has been changing lately). February brought the beginning of school and more responsibilities. Turns out, I LOVE teaching! When I graduated high school I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do, social work or teaching. Well I chose social work and am happy I did but this teaching thing is pretty awesome. Maybe I’ll try to do something with it when I get back, find a teachy/social worky/travely job. We’ll see, but more about future plans later.
WHAT’S MY NAME AGAIN? The longer I am here the more nick names I gain. I have Xaniqua Macuacua from training, which turned into other volunteers calling me Xi-xi (she-she), Tania has shortened that to Xix (sheesh), the neighborhood kids call me Xani (shauny), that name changed a bit and Joaquim calls me Xana (Shauna). My core group of Mozambican friends has gotten Heather down (although it still sounds like Eda). One of the directors of my school connected that day is dia in Portuguese, so when he read it again he was sure Heather meant Other so now it’s a joke that my name is Other Day (as in … the other day I was blah-blahing) Teachers at my school have no clue and gave up trying (maybe by the end of 2 years). For now they just greet me with good morning and if they see me on the street they do “the hiss”. People make a hissing sound to get you to look at them from a distance. I’m getting used to all of the little differences and they only seem weird when I try to explain them to people back home. And lastly to my students I’m either just Teacher (Teacha! Teacha!) or Senhora Professora if they want to be formal, which is totally awesome. I’m like a little celebrity to them. They get so excited whenever they see me and when I see them outside of school they have the BIGGEST smiles when I say hello to them. I can get used to this big ego boost. #celebstatus hahahaha
So, here is the official story behind all of the schedule changes. I started out teaching 11th grade in the afternoons. I taught 4 different classes, each class has five – 45 minute lessons a week, but they are broken down into one – 45 minute and two – 90 minute lessons. Which I loved because two of the neighbor boys were in my classes, plus the other English teacher’s son was in another. They knew my broken Portuguese and if I was saying something wrong they would help me out (so convenient). I didn’t want to use Portuguese to explain things in my lessons but I have to. There is no way they would learn anything if I didn’t. It’s nice because I learn Portuguese grammar as I explain English grammar (I try to keep it at a minimum). Anyway, so I taught them for the first three weeks but then my director (the one that calls me Other Day) told me I had to switch to 12th grade, because the 12th grade teacher is studying at a university in town and his classes are in the morning which was when he was supposed to be teaching. So I swapped my four 11th grade classes for four 12th grade classes in the mornings. It broke my heart. “Nao pode deixar-nos” = “you can’t leave us” they said over and over. They wanted to protest and they still are sad when they see me. Hopefully I’ll stay 12th grade and teach them next year. All of them say that they can’t understand the new teacher. He gave them homework that was WAY above their level and they came to me for help. More on that later.
I have been with the 12th graders from two weeks now and they are growing on me. Their English is at a bit higher level. I’m having a hard time dealing with the range of different levels in my classes. I have a handful of students that are really good, some that are okay, and another handful that have no clue. (those kids look at me like I’m speaking Mandarin or something) I’m trying to adapt my teaching to be most effective; it’s a work in progress. A perk of 12th grade is I no longer have to teach the student that wrote “I want to kill the English teacher” on is homework. Haha it was a joke but really kid?! This week a student asked how to pronounce zombie. Then we talked about zombies, ghosts, werewolves, and vampires for a few minutes. They wanted to know if I thought they existed. Teaching and the classroom environment are great. I can’t say enough how much I love it. I also acquired a new role along with the new students. I am a director of one of the classes. Still figuring out all the responsibilities that come with that. Morning classes mean waking up early. 5:30 am wake-up call comes quick. Yeah yeah I’m getting used to it again. Anything is better than the 3am Shutterfly wake up!
It’s the other things about teaching here that are where the challenges lie. First, the other teachers don’t always show up. The first two weeks I was convinced we didn’t have teachers. Then if they do show up, their presence in the classroom is sometimes questionable. Some come and sign in, give the class leader a paper and leave. Others go and read notes or write and have the student just copy, no explaining. Others are on their cell phones and regularly take calls during class. The over all quality of education is low. It’s mainly just lecture and the kids just copy the board. Also, most students don’t have good note taking skills. They copy the board exactly how it’s written but never anything else to help them remember in their own way. But there are dedicated teachers though, I like them!
My schedule has changed twice since then; the first with no explanation, the second apparently because they got a new teacher and had to make space for him. Now I have Wednesdays off with the same amount of lessons. It’s like the system is just screwing over the teachers and then the teachers screw over the students. Anyway another challenge is inconsistent electricity. The some of the classrooms are dark and the students can’t see, especially since it is rainy season and a lot of days the sun isn’t out. That affects other things too. How can you have computer class without electricity? Another frustration, if a student arrives late to class, a lot of the professors don’t let them in the classroom. So instead of just missing five minutes, they miss the whole lecture?! What sense does that make?! Geez!
I gave my first homework assignment and over half got 0 for cheating. They all copied the other student’s homework. Yikes. Hopefully they learn I won’t tolerate it. I always tell them cheating isn’t learning, if you need help or have questions, just ask. I’m more than happy to explain and re-explain. But that’s another thing. The students don’t ask questions. I will explain some random piece of grammar and then have them practice. I always ask: do you have questions? Do you have doubts? If they don’t understand they don’t ask for clarifications. They are like little robots. Do you understand? Yes teacha. Are you sure? Yes teacha. Are you REALLY sure? Yes teacha! Five minutes later they have done nothing. They just wait until we review the activity to write down the correct answers. I’m working on that too. I’m trying to create a classroom environment that enables free communication and discussion. Textbooks, what are textbooks?! So the text books here are about a centimeter think. They aren’t textbooks but more like workbooks. And get this… the teacher has one copy and the library has one copy. The students don’t get them unless their parents have the means to buy them. They have nothing to use for reference/study except their crappy notes. So if the students get homework where they use the book, they either have to take it and get a photocopy made (for 2 mets each) or wait until whoever has it is done.
I said before that the teacher I switched with gave homework way above their level. A little back story. I said that I have to use Portuguese in class to explain concepts, he doesn’t. He just speaks his broken English. Most of the kids can’t construct a simple sentence with a subject, verb, noun. He gave them (with no explanation) the task of writing 20 lines of “how to get friends”. Lol they were like WHATTT? They saw me and were like WE NEED YOUR HELP!! Well they actually said “estou a pedir ajuda”. Which translates to I’m asking for help. They use that phase for everything. Estou a pedir X, estou a pedir Y, estou a pedir Z! haha Anyway, so the following day I met some of them in the library and explained the homework and let them use my dictionary to translate what they wanted to say.
In the end, I love it and I love the kids. The system is just a hurdle I have to jump over or a hoop I have to jump through. Well I suppose, more like an obstacle course like the show Wipe Out. Hahah But just like the show I’m having fun getting knocked down and getting back up, so I think that’s what counts. And the fact that all the kids are eager to learn, even with the cards stacked against them, is a positive sign.
News in the village.. Beware: Here comes my rambling! There have been some murders recently. Don’t worry I’m safe. Apparently the rumor is that these people are killing people and then taking parts to sell them in some other country. Interesting. I don’t go out at night! Other news, Renamo has moved into our region. Apparently they have killed some soldiers near by. With the national elections coming up things have gotten a bit heated between them and the government. But still no cause for concern. They are having voter registration at my school, complete with an armed guard. But that’s usual I think, not just a precaution from these threats. Ahh what else is new. We think we will be putting our dog down. He doesn’t eat anymore and just finds stuff on the street. Sometimes he even eats plastic bags he finds. It’s time, just figuring out how… In past post I was saying that guys always ask for my number. Well that has kept up. I have been perfecting my no thanks I don’t want to give you my number routine. Two friends have professed their love for me. With how direct and kind of mean I have been to them they still continue. I even told them I won’t talk to them anymore. Yikes. It’s amusing and annoying at the same time… ahh.. so my new routine now consists of teaching in the mornings, coming home, making a delicious and nutritious lunch, lesson planning, running/exercise, bathing, tutoring kids/neighbors, small din-din and finishing the night with an episode or two… I ate a tiny bit of meat the other day. We were invited over to the missionary family’s house for some spaghetti and bread sticks. It was so nice of them to prepare us a meal (and delicious dessert) that I felt bad telling them I am a vegetarian when they brought out this huge spaghetti casserole with ground beef all over the top, so I decided not to tell them. I just tried to scrape off all the beef, scooped just a little bit of noodles, and stuck to the break sticks. She made a small salad (lettuce and carrots with a side of diced tomatoes) and I had to laugh when she said “I think I went a little overboard with the veggies, you don’t have to eat then if you don’t like them” haha Next time we are invited back I will tell her. They still don’t know. She also made DELICIOUS pumpkin bars, but she was disappointed because she thought they tasted like carrot cake. lol Then just last week she sent over freshly baked bread and homemade mango jam. Marc and Beth have two children, Bronson and Ramon. Ramon is adopted from Guatemala. They are cute. Beth lent me a book called Murphy’s Boy. It was pretty good. I thought it was gonna be depressing but it wasn’t. It was an easy read and actually interesting. It is about a therapist working with a boy that was a selective mute. Hmm.. what else. I had to go to Tete on Wednesday 10 hours of driving in a cramped chapa to drop of our passports to get a renewed multiple entry visa. Soon I’ll be able to go into Malawi and check that out. I’m excited to get up to Lilongwe… My students play soccer against other classes. Saturday I went and watched them play for a bit. I heard rumors of girl’s volleyball! That could be a fun activity to help with… I am currently trying to figure out if this new phenomenon of small bladder syndrome is inherited from my lovely mother or is something happening because of anti-malaria meds or what’s going on… Haha I’m getting over a cough, not sure where that came from. But overall my health has been great… Part of our routine is to wind down the night by eating dinner and watching a few episodes of tv shows I have on my hard drive. So far we have watched seasons 1-7 of the office (don’t have the rest) and 1-3 of How I Met your Mother, still working on those. Oh I almost forgot! We bought a new toilet seat! That was one highlight of last week!! It’s beautiful…
Being here reminds me to enjoy the little things and see the beauty in life. Everyday there is a reminder of how awesome life is. I was thinking about that yesterday. Stay with me this may seem weird. For me, whenever I fly I get this feeling of appreciation of life. I see the world below the plane and I’m always flooded with this intense happiness. It’s like a reminder that all the problems in the world are small and relative to each person. And that life isn’t just all of your experiences, good or bad, but how you perceive them and react to them. In the past, that flood of happiness and peace is something I mainly experienced on planes with other random occasions too. But here, it’s something that happens almost daily. There is always something that reminds me to be happy, and keep surrounding myself with it. Whether it be small things: like feeling sunshine on my face or the smile and joyful laugh of one of the ladies at the market or bigger things like the night sky, there are so many reminders of the goodness in the world. On multiple occasions I have gone outside at night to sit, and stare at the sky. It is spectacular and humbling. It’s literally a blanket of stars. You can see all different constellations, the Milky Way, shooting stars, and sometimes planets. So even with the different obstacles, it’s always nice to know that they are greatly overshadowed by the beauty of life. Kiss your loved ones and appreciate them for all of their strengths.
Upcoming events… I will be traveling to a central get-together with PCV’s from Tete, Manica, and Sofala provinces this upcoming weekend. Sort of a meet and greet. Then after that I plan to visit Caitlin in Niassa. And after that we have Reconnect Conference, that’s in May. All of the volunteers come back together to see each other and share stories about our sites. I have been dreaming up things to do when I am done here. The list has practical things that I will for sure do, like grad school and get a job but I also have some other things! Some of you know about my plan to hike the Appalachian Trail/PCT, but I have thought of more. Like going to live in Brazil for a few months when I am done, explore South American a bit, some Argentinean/Chilean adventures perhaps? Or my plan to live in a few different cities around the US each for a year, to check them out, see the surrounding area and decide where I want to live. The two I know for sure are San Francisco and Denver but then I have Portland/Seattle. And then I was thinking of somewhere on the east coast like Boston/Philadelphia. I’ll be nearing 26 when I finish, so with stops in four cities, that will make me 30, then maybe I can settle down somewhere. Well, that’s enough for today. I’m doing great. Hope you are too!
Sending my love,