Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Wedding Bells and Airplanes

Dan and I are currently in the process of packing bags and shutting down the house, trying to lasso a dog that has entered into a state of bag-and-suitcase panic.  We've left three weeks of assignments with the students at the school and have just finished our second round of examinations.  We've planned and prepared and waited and waited and waited.  And now:

We're going home!  

My little brother is getting married on June 22, 2013 in New Bern, North Carolina.  

It's going to be a long journey, but Dan and I are so, so happy.  We'll be home for 16 days. 

Today, we're leaving Zobue.  We're making our way to Johannesburg and, from there, to New York City.   I'm so excited that my hair is standing on end.  I been dancing on tip-toe for the last fourteen days and now I am practically floating, zooming around the house in a whirlwind of happiness.

So tchauzinho, Mozambique.  Tchauzinho, Mr. Bwino Bear.  Little goodbyes to everyone! We'll be back in July.  But for now, we're going home!

My sister's wedding in July 2011 (My brother, sister, and me)
For this wedding, I flew from San Francisco to Philadelphia.
Luckily, it was a wonderful wedding
(My sister, with her new extended family)
Now I have to go a little bit farther.
The future Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Scarbrough!
We're thrilled and proud and very, very excited.  Até já, família!  Until already, indeed!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Goodbye, Zumbo

On Saturday, June 1, one of our unofficial "porch dogs" was killed by two unknown men in the fields on the outskirts of town.   After a vocal altercation (growling and barking),  Zumbo was bashed on the head with a rock the size of a orange.  He died two hours later.

Zumbo on March 2013

As far as dogs go, Zumbo (ZOOM-boo) was an awful specimen.  He was scarred and old and dirty,  twitchy and rigid and clearly abused.  He hated people and he hated other dogs, passing most of his time in corners and slinking along fences.  He was a known chicken-killer, and was generally unwelcome throughout the neighborhood.

Strangely, though, he was Bwino’s best friend.  From the time that Bwino was two months old, Zumbo and Bwino were inseperable.  The two dogs napped together, wrestled together, and hunted together.  Bwino was soft and fluffy and hopeless at catching chickens.  Zumbo was dangerous and largely successful. 

I never saw Zumbo be friendly with any other creature besides Bwino.  Zumbo hated Dan, he hated me, and, more than anyone else, he hated Seni and his original family-owners.  He eschewed all humans and, in general, all other living things.  It seemed that he put up with Piro (our other porch-dog) only for the sake of being close to Bwino.

I tried to be kind to Zumbo, but he was too wary.   Never once did he let me touch him or even get close.   He was a tense and ghost-like presence, living on our property. 

Then, on Saturday, he was dead. 

In some ways, his death was a relief.  Zumbo was a danger to children and a real liability.  He left chicken carcasses in our yard and growled at neighbors from our porch.  He made people nervous.  On the other hand, though, Zumbo was to be pitied.  He was an unloved dog, and one who had been unwanted for the entirety of his life.  He never really stood a chance. 

Best friends:  Zumbo and Bwino
NOT friends:  Zumbo and Piro
Like a ghost on the property:  Zumbo in the background

So that’s the end of Zumbo.  I don’t know how to feel. 

Bwino, for his part, has barely seemed to notice.  I suppose that that's the way of it, for dogs.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

My Father Is a Was (and other English Mistakes)

I teach English in Mozambique.  I don’t write about it very often, but that is, indeed, my job.  And it might not be rewarding in the traditional sense (I am not terribly successful, for instance), but it is very funny.  So I do enjoy my work.

Teaching English in Mozambique is a unique challenge.  First, there is the question of communication.  Almost none of my students actually speak Portuguese at home (they speak a Bantu dialect, instead), and very few of them actually communicate at a level that could be considered fluent.  This is a problem, because I don't speak any Bantu dialects, and must use Portuguese as a medium through which to conduct my classes.  In short, we end up with the following equation:

Highly accented Portuguese (Teacher)
÷          Low level comprehension (Student)
            Highly low level English Comprehension (Student)
REMAINDER accented Portuguese (Teacher)

In other words, the students don’t understand anything and, as a remainder, I am left talking mostly to myself.  In my highly accented Portuguese.

And let’s try to get a grasp on what my poor students are going through.  First, imagine learning Spanish in high school.  That’s not so hard, right?  No es díficil.  But then try learning a third language (say, Chinese), through your recent acquisition of Spanish. 

No es díficil à 它并不难 

Got that?  Keep in mind that your teacher is going to be talking to you in Spanish all the time.  Worse, it’s slightly stilted Spanish.  With some Portuguese words thrown in (‘cause that what she studied in high school). 

So it’s really no surprise when my students are completely and utterly overwhelmed at my attempts.  Even something as simple as the verb “To Be” can be very confusing. 

Yo estoy à 我的  
Él es à 他是 

¿Por qué no estás entendiendo nada de esto?  Why aren't you getting this?

So the first problem is a problem of communication.  It would be much easier to teach English to students who could actually understand my explanations, but, frankly, this simply isn’t the case.

The second problem is a problem with the English language itself.

That’s right.  English.  Compared to Portuguese, English is a terrible language to learn. 

English pronunciation is difficult and highly diverse.  Verbs in the past tense are frequently irregular.  The vocabulary is rife with synonyms.  Words look the same and sound the same but aren’t the same.  And what is up with “Do” and “Did”?

Take this sentence, for instance:

He knew Mike. 

First of all, we’re facing an irregular conjugation (know becomes knew).  Secondly, we have a silent K (knew pronounced new).  Then, we have words that sound the same but aren’t the same (knew sounds like new).  Finally, we’re looking at diverse pronunciation, especially in regards to the pronunciation of the letter “e” (written with Portuguese vowels, this sentence would look like “Hi nu maik”).

Then, take a look at this sentence:

He did not know Mike.

Where the heck did we get that “did”?  In Portuguese, this sentence would read, “He no knew Mike.”  Or, better, “He no knowed Mike.”  Logically, that is what makes sense. 

My students have a lot of trouble grasping “do” and “did” when using them as auxiliary verbs, and I don’t blame them.  (Do you even know what an auxiliary verb is?  I didn’t until just now!) 

By the end of the year, we are all babbling idiots.  I lose the ability to explain even the most simple concepts (I like, He likes, you… likes?) and my students are knee-deep in the swampy murk of the sticky English language.  I find myself speaking and writing only in cognates (design an image, respond in a phrase) and some of my students simply reach a point of over-saturation (“Teacher, I no likes Inglês).

So why do I enjoy it? 

Because, against all odds, teaching English is fun.

The Verb “To Be” lends itself nicely to a rhyming jingle, and regular verbs in the past tense just evoke the urge to chant.  And who knew that you could have so much fun with a duck, a plastic jar, and six prepositions of place?

I’ve decided that I simply can’t teach the entirely of the English language.  With just three hours of lessons with each class a week, I can’t even teach a sizable chunk.  But I can make it fun, and built a positive relationship between my students and the English language.  So that’s what I do.

In return, my students try their best.  Their English is terrible, and is likely to remain so.  Their spelling is atrocious and their listening skills are even worse.  Their assignments are a mess.  But at least they are enthusiastic and they manage to make me laugh. 

One thing that always makes me smile is my students' love of their new English names.  The names aren’t official in any way (often, they aren’t even real translations.  After all, how would you say “Ndequenapena” in English?), but the kids seem to like them.  I have some who use them unfailingly.

Some are pretty:
Feta Julho à Fay July
Isabel Castro à  Elizabeth Castle

Some are plain:
Fernando Augosto à  Fred August
Dino Ricardo à  Dean Richard

And some are funny (or a product of me, giving up):
Samalani Saquissoni à Sam Sacks

Another thing that makes me smile (or laugh outright), is the common misappropriation of articles.  Little words are tricky but important, and confusion about articles can lead to some oddly specific phrases:

I want to be one teacher. 
I dislike a cabbage.

There is also some confusion between the letters “R” and “L”, since the Chewa and Nyungwe languages don’t distinguish between the two.  That, paired with some very imaginative spelling, keeps me on my toes when grading papers.

Mai numble is numble 14.   My number is number 14.
Mai tichel is Techle Risa.   My teacher is Teacher Lisa.

Finally, there is this terrific anecdote.  This, I feel, more than anything else, really illustrates what I go through with my kids.

From my diary:

“Today I taught professions…  At the end of the lesson, I gave an Independent Assignment.  The students had to fill in the blanks to complete the following composition:

“My name is______.  My father’s name is _______.  My father is a ______....”

Then, as an afterthought, I remembered that I had a large number of orphans in this particular class.  I felt bad, but decided not to change the whole assignment.  Instead, I drew a little text box on the corner of the board.

“If your mother or father has passed away,” I said, “You can change “is” to “was” on your composition.  That way, you can both honor your parents and complete the assignment.”

I drew on the board [  is à was ] and felt pretty good about myself. 

But when my students started handing in their compositions, I realized that I had caused some confusion.  Rather than honor the professions of their late parents in writing, all of my little orphans had written,


It was funny and horribly sad, both at the same time.”

So, yes, I enjoy my job. 

Am I successful?  Probably not.  At least, not in a way that can be easily measured.  But I’m happy and my students are happy, and through laughter and mild mistakes, we are creating a slightly (and I do mean slightly) more peaceful and communicative world.

Group work from Numbles 44, 50, 48 and 49
English Names:  Neves, Etelvina, Caetano, and Feta
On the other end of the spectrum:  Fernando Manuel does not know how to spell his name in any language
"Aim fain thenquiwu" = "I'm fine, thank you."
"Bowatalide sihola polafisola" = "Boa tarde, Senhora Professora"
Haha.  He meant to write "Good luck"
Am I successful? I don't know.  But things like this make me feel worthwhile.
Though he's not my student anymore, Seni comes over from time to time and asks
for a "left-over" English Exam.  He then takes them (for fun) and earns stickers to keep.