Year 2 begins

It’s been just over a week since I arrived back in Estaquinha. I was really reluctant to head back, dreading it in some ways, which surprised me because I was so happy for the most part last year. Yet I always feel like I’m descending into some black hole when I go back there, because it feels so isolated, so it always requires some mental preparation.

It was raining really hard in Búzi where I had been staying with a friend as I prepared to head back. Fortunately I caught a lift in a truck so I didn’t need to sit in the back of pickup, and when we finally rolled into the market, it actually felt really good and comfortable. Luisa and Nelta hadn’t returned yet so I had the house to myself, but I was able to meet my new Peace Corps site mate. David is from New Jersey and will teach math and physics here in Estaquinha. The school is still building houses for male teachers, so he is living in the guesthouse at the mission, but he’ll eat with Luisa and me. We’ve been getting along well and it’s been fun to show him around and introduce him to people. I think it will be really nice to have someone to relate to in a different way than I can to my Mozambican colleagues.

Luisa managed to pass tenth grade and I am so proud of her—most of her classmates are repeating the year, especially the girls. Estaquinha is starting eleventh grade for the first time so those who did pass can continue studying here. I’m teaching English for all three turmas, which are divided by those studying Letters, Science with Physics, and Science with Geography. The classes are small, 15-25 students, which is a nice change. I’ll also be teaching all of ninth grade and it already feels reassuring to be with a curriculum, level and some students that I’m familiar with. I don’t mind not teaching tenth grade again, but I’ll miss the students I had who were in ninth grade last year.

Other exciting news: electricity finally arrived! It’s not super different, except that the secretary at school is able to be more productive, I can use my computer at any time of the day and the teacher’s bairro is always humming with music. Beyond that, I’ve been getting a lot less sleep because it’s much easier to stay up late but we still get up at five or six am.




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Holidays 2010, Part 3: Botswana

Julian is a friend whom I met while studying abroad in Paris. He lives with his parents in Botswana’s capital city, Gabarone, and they generously welcomed Alexandra and I into their home for Christmas. It was really wonderful to eat home-cooked food and to feel a little taken care of during the holidays. We stayed with them in Gabarone for a few days before flying north to Maun—a town that is supposed to be the gateway of much of the tourism in Botswana.

We arrived with basically no plans because many of the options we had seen online were just astonishingly out of our price range. Even though we weren’t going to some all-inclusive lodge or charting a private plane to do a safari by air, we thought we should be able to find something worthwhile do. After a little investigation, we found cheap accomodation in dorms at a lodge, and a tour group that ran mokoro, or dugout canoe trips into the Okavango River Delta. We had brought a tent with us, and decided to do a two night camping trip. There were three South African guys in our group, and three guides who used poles to propel our canoes through the marshy channels of the delta. We set up camp on an island, went swimming, and the guide led us on walks through the bush.

Early on the morning of the second day was when we got lucky—we saw two elephants, a giraffe, herds of zebra, impala and buffalo, even a cobra. A few days later we did a game drive in Moremi Reserve outside of Maun and saw even more animals, including lions, hippos, a jackal and lots of birds. I think the giraffe was my favorite—so awkward and graceful at the same time and enormous up close. In the Moremi we were able to drive right up close to the animals, but I liked the simplicity of the walk in the Delta, the fact that we didn’t need a vehicle to enter and engage with their natural habitat.

Bars in Maun were required to close at 11 pm, even on New Year’s Eve, but as guests at the lodge we were able to stick around the bar, so we brought in 2011 playin Uno and drinking champagne with some Australians. We pretty much exhausted everything else there was to do in Maun (not much) during our last few days there, then flew back to Mozambique.

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Holidays 2010, Part 2: Malawi

We again encountered a total absence of vehicles on the Malawi side of the border. The friendly border officials invited us to their home for lunch so we humored them while we waited for a car to materialize. When we finally departed, we huddled in the back in our windbreakers as the rain poured down. It was dark when we finally arrived in Liwonde but we were quickly able to find a hotel.

In the morning, we were faced with yet another crisis: there had been no options to change money at the border, none of the banks wanted our Mozambican meticais, and none of the ATMs were working. Fortunately we encountered an old Australian guy who was going to Mozambique and took pity on us to trade currencies. We started off for Blantyre, where we wanted to meet some other friends, but ran into them in the town of Zomba instead. A Peace Corps volunteers serving in the area invited us to come up to a cabin in the Zomba Plateau, so we went shopping and hitched a ride up into a lovely wooded area that reminded us of Oregon. We spent an idyllic couple of days there hiking and barbecuing, before heading out to Mulange in the southeast of the country, where we did more hiking and visited a tea plantation.

We next spent a night in Blantyre on our way up to Cape Maclear on the south end of Lake Malawi. Here we met up with friends from Peace Corps Mozambique, and we relaxed on the beach and went kayaking. Our last stop was the capital of Lilongwe—not a thrilling city but a good place to buy Christmas gifts and from where we flew out to Gabarone, Botswana.


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Holidays 2010, Part 1: Mozambique

The school year ended anti-climactically. Tests and a period of grading, then national exams for fifth, seventh and tenth graders. I stayed late enough to grade the second round of English exams for tenth grade. We had a lot of students fail the English exam, but fewer than failed exams in other subjects.

It was raining so hard the night before and the day I left that I almost wasn’t able to depart—no cars were going—but we arranged a mission car to take me and a few other teachers to the main road. I traveled north for two days by myself before I was able to meet up with other Peace Corps volunteers at a beach outside of the Ilha de Moçambique in Nampula. Last time I was there over a year ago, I encountered sea urchins; this time, a jellyfish stung me as I was swimming, resulting in red welts on my hip that took a few weeks to fade.

From the beach, our party retraced our steps to a Peace Corps site in Monapo, then back to Nampula city. My friend Alexandra and I got up early in the morning to take the train from to Cuamba in Niassa province. We spent the day on the clattering old train, squeezed into a birth with other travelers, and watching the luscious scenery. In Cuamba we stayed with another volunteer and left the next morning to cross the border into Malawi, and that’s where the trouble started. We were able to find a chapa going to what was the closest crossing on the map, but it broke down in a little town about 30 kilometers away. Our transport options were motorcycles or bike taxis, with our backpacks, but finally a Brazilian nun appeared in a pick up and gave us a lift. The post was quiet and the officials chatty, and we walked through the no-man’s land to Malawi.

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October 12, Teachers’ Day in Mozambique

As a staff, we had been anticipating “our day” for awhile, though most of the actual preparation didn’t happen until the very last minute. We all contributed money for dinner and a party, and bought commerative yellow polo shirts. I helped some of the other women bake on Monday night, and a we had bought a goat. Unfortunately, it escaped from its tether and ran away. Some teachers spent much of the day Monday searching for it, in vain, so they ended up slaughtering a sheep instead.

On the morning of the 12th, there was the requisite march to the center of town, and the laying of a wreath of flowers on some altar, which happens for every national holiday. Then everyone marched back to the school for “cultural activities,” which were really a couple of plays by students, one in which they imitated some of the more distinctive personalities among the teachers. (I was spared.)

The female teachers (and some helpful wives of male teachers) spent the rest of the day cooking an enormous amount of food, which took forever even with all of our charcoal stoves going at once. None of the men offered to help, of course, though some of them did make themselves useful by procuring beer and fuel for the generator—the latter being immediately necessary as the festivities didn’t get under way until after nine pm when the power had shut off. Chairs and tables were borrowed from school and set up in Nelta’s and my front yard, with a light bulb hung above us on a spring and big speakers blasting from the porch. Ours is the last house in the compound, with generous space in front and back, so it’s ideal for a party. After everyone had eaten, we cleared the tables to make way for the dancing. The party literally went on all night: I watched the sun rise from my porch, night turning into day, and all the student empregados emerging to begin the morning chores.

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Somehow I forgot these other anecdotes last time…maybe they’ll be somewhat amusing.

Nelta’s first empregada, Rita, didn’t work out and left after a month, so we finished the second trimester just us three. After the holidays, a ninth-grade student of mine, Maria, moved in. She’s experienced and lively and she and Luisa get along, so it’s a good fit for everybody.

The World Cup took place in South Africa, and was of course a really big deal. The mission has a television, but the normal hours of power weren’t sufficient enough to watch all the games, so a group of teachers, students and local people pooled our money to buy extra fuel for a little generator. I only watched two games, including the final. Both were later at night and I found myself crammed in the corner with mainly a lot of men. As nine pm approached, we switched the TV to our own generator and continued to watch in dark after the power switched off.

You may have heard that there were riots in some of the major cities here, due to increased food prices. You could probably learn more about it from the Times or the BBC than I know, so I’d encourage you to check out those sources if you are interested. Nothing happened anywhere near Estaquinha, but Peace Corps is pretty vigilant about these things, so volunteers weren’t allowed to travel for about a week while the demonstrations were going on. Because I’m not accessible by phone, they contacted me with this information via the mission’s two-way radio. They made me to go stay with some friends in Búzi, our district capital, because they wanted me to be at a site where there was cell phone service. So I was there with another volunteer for about four days. Our hosts went to work during the day, and we had nothing to do besides cook, drink beer, play cards, read and watch pirated American TV. It wasn’t bad, but it was a little strange, and it was really good to get back to work at the end and be a real person again.

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I know it’s been months since I posted but the more time that passes, the stranger I feel trying to put my daily existence into words for (supposedly) public perusal. A Mozambican friend using my computer the other day came upon an attempt at a blog entry, and it struck me that I was embarrassed, self-conscious for him to read it: how can I accurately, or justly, represent my life and the people in it without becoming a voyeur rather than a participant? But practically, it is important for me to maintain some chronicle of this whole experience, so I try to put aside the short-comings of the blog as a form, along with the philosophical implications that might be bothering me, and to trust that the reader will, too. Now that that’s off my chest, I turn to the immediate task ahead of me—that is, to make up for lost time.

I finally killed a chicken! It wasn’t so hard or terrible as I expected but I felt like a badass anyway, much to the amusement of everyone here.

I was fortunate enough to go to Italy for these last school holidays and see my mom’s side of the family. It was sumptuous and too short, but Sarah, a friend from college, came to Mozambique directly afterwards. It was great to be able to show her around and introduce her to people and we had a lot of fun. There were very few people in Estaquinha but it was lovely to have a guest. We hiked around the mountain on the outskirts of Chimoio, went to the beach in the pouring wind and crazy rain and she explored Maputo while I attended a Peace Corps conference.

Etelvina (fellow English teacher, best girlfriend) got married in Beira and we went to the wedding. I knew one other person there, another teacher, but Sarah and I had fun anyway, dancing a lot with a bunch of teenagers. It was really fun. Other volunteers and Mozambican teachers and students were staying at our hotel after participating in a province-wide science fair. The teacher who brought kids from Estaquinha is another dear friend, and we all went out together at night, my multiple lives colliding in a pleasant way.

Two 10th grade girls—Vitoria and a different Luisa—were being baptized and asked if I would be their godmother. Turns out I couldn’t officially because I wasn’t confirmed and I’m not Catholic, but I’m happy to fill that role in spirit. It was a big deal and they all wore white and church lasted for like three hours. Confirmation is in a few weeks so there will be another long service and party.

I’ve been doing a lot of theater with students, one group in flawed but emergant English, and another in Portuguese/Ndau. It makes me feel like a big nerd; I get so much pleasure out of it. The students are great—sometimes I love them so much I don’t know what to do. (Other times they piss me off, but that’s for another post, another day.) They have so much energy that is amazing to capitalize on; they are comfortable doing improvisation but have never been exposed to the kind of games and warm ups I’ve been playing in theater class since I was little. So I try to remember all those and teach them to them. They challenge me to prepare and teach them well. It is amazing to me and gratifying that what I care and know something about has even some value in this community.

This past weekend I brought eight students to the English Theater Competition, an event joint-run by Peace Corps. We created a play and presented along with about a dozen other schools. Though we didn’t win anything, and I enjoyed taking the trip with my students and they worked so hard preparing. They all received T-shirts and dictionaries for their participation.

Photos of everything to come soon. Hope all is well with everyone reading this! Beijos.


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