Saturday, August 31, 2013

83. Writing a Play

Last week, the English Theater group met to write a play for this year's English Theater Competition.  The idea was to write a play based around the theme "My Choice, My Future," but it wasn't going well.  It seemed like the students had endless patience but limited creativity.  

After three hours of brainstorming (and relentless pushing, on my part), five students eventually developed five different plays:

  • "A Boy Who Takes Drugs and Makes a Bad Choice"
  • "A Girl Who Drinks Alcohol and Makes a Bad Choice"
  • "A Girl Who Makes a Bad Decision and then because of her Bad Choices later Becomes a Prostitute"
  • "A Boy Who Takes Drugs and Makes the Bad Choice to Steal from His Family"
  • "A Boy Who Goes to the Witch Doctor and Chooses to Take Drugs"


Then, as a group, we then voted on the best of the five selections.   The verdict?

"A Boy Who Takes Drugs and Makes the Bad Choice to Steal from His Family."
(Yes, that is the actual title of our play.  As you can see, it's a work in progress.)

On Friday of this week, I sat down with the winning idea-maker to sketch out the details of his play.  With his permission, I then penned and typed the finished product.  I made sure to add an introduction, a plot, and a resolution which, until that point, had all been conspicuously absent.  

Today, the group met in the school's computer lab.  I originally meant to print a few copies of the play to organize a read-through, but there wasn't any ink.  Improvising, we all just clumped together to read the play on the school's five working computers.  Then, the students started choosing parts and practicing their English.  

It was terrible (and I mean really bad), but the students are so excited!

The competition will be held on September 28, which means that we still have four weeks to prepare.  I think it's actually going to work.

Doing a silent read-through of the play
Choosing parts

And if nothing else, my students all got to touch a computer today!  For six out of ten of them, it was for the very first time!

It was a busy and meaningful day.

Friday, August 30, 2013

84. Yarn Baby

This is Gilda, the daughter of a wonderful and beloved fellow teacher.  

Today, Gilda is wearing pink.  

The yarn baby.  I like that her toes have wiggled out of her booties.  

Isn't she cute?

Gilda's mother asked me for this picture when she saw me on my way to the market.  Juggling the baby on her hip, she looked up at me hopefully.  

"Can you take just one picture," she asked.  "Of Gilda in her outfit?"

As if to show her earnestness, the young woman sprang into action.  She scurried around the yard and found a straw mat, clearing off clothes and pots and pans before plunking the child in the center.  She wiped Gilda's face with a rag.  Then, she propped her up with a pillow and ushered me forward.

And so I took a picture.

Her cousins and neighbors wanted their picture done, as well, so I promised them a special cameo.   Here they are in an extra, behind-the-scenes shot:

Decorum?  Poise?  Dignity?  No, pictures always mean karate!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

85. A Portrait of Five Kids

I took this picture in June of this year.

The kids were playing in my yard when they saw my camera on the kitchen table and began to beg to set up a "special" portrait for themselves.  In a flurry of excitement, they chose all of the elements (the location, two chairs, a whistle, and a bag of charcoal), organized their seating, and then ran to come and get me.

The resulting shot became one of my all-time favorites.

Alzira, Bonita, Junho (with baby Florinda), and Gilda

I love the dirty knees and the chalk drawings on the wall.  I love the placement of Alzira's skirt and Bonita's cocky posture in the center of the frame.  I love the fact that Gilda is so engrossed with her whistle that she forgot about the camera.

It's the perfect portrait of these kids, and I think that it really captures their personalities.  I'm glad that I let them set it up themselves.   

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

86. Meet Romao

Romao, in his fantastic zoo-animal T-shirt

Name:  Romao Manuel Joao
Age:  20 years old
Grade:  10th grade
Likes:  Conversing, listening to music on his phone, earning money, and changing outfits
Dislikes:  Homework, studying, and disrespectful behavior
Strange Habits:  Wearing Lisa's second-hand clothes
Notable for:  Failing ninth grade three years in a row

Of all the people that we have met and befriended in Mozambique, Romao has been the most prominent, the most central, and the most important of all.  While our relationship with him has taken some interesting turns in the past (see If You Give a Kid a Condom), we ended up creating a strong communicative bond and a real friendship with the "boy who brings us our water."

I simply can't imagine a day that doesn't involve Romao lounging on the wall of our veranda. He's the first person that we see in the morning and the last person that we see at night.  He pops onto the porch just to "check in" at random hours, and often stays for a while to gossip, translate for the kids, or sit and listen to music.  He tells us about his accomplishments and we tell him about our daily activities.  

Over the past two years, it was nothing more than these normal, mundane, daily interactions-- 

"We'll pay you five Mets..."  
"WHAT happened at school!?" 
"Can you fix this memory card?"

--that steadily built and solidified the most important relationship of our Peace Corps career.  

What started as hand-me-down relationship from one volunteer group to another became, in earnest, a real and enduring friendship.  Romao is quickly growing into adulthood, and is starting to show his maturity.  He's a "real person" now, and one worthy of our confidence, loyalty, and respect.  

In Dan's words, "He's been with us from day one, and I trust him completely.  I can't imagine our Peace Corps service without him."  

And as Dan and I prepare to leave Zobue and return to our lives in the States, Romao is starting to make changes, too.  In the next few months, he hopes to graduate tenth grade and then get married to his girlfriend, Teresa.  Eventually, he wants to built a house in the city and get a "good job" for 2,000-3,000 Meticais a month ($67-100 USD.)  It's strange to think that he won't always be in Zobue, acting as support for all the future Peace Corps Volunteers.  

I can only hope that, having lived side-by-side with Americans since the age of 12, that we (all of us) have made as much of a difference in his life as he has made in ours.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

87. Just Traveling Through...

Diana, on her way out of town

Living on the main road on the border between Mozambique and Malawi, Dan and I get a lot of visitors.  Luckily, our house is well-suited for hosting and we really enjoy the good company. Our visitors are usually Peace Corps volunteers, though we do get the occasional free spirit trying to make their way through the side channels of south-eastern Africa.  

This weekend, we hosted Diana, a definite free spirit and woman of unusual fortitude.   An 18-year-old American exchange student studying at a high school in Swaziland, Diana was passing through Zobue as part of a four-week sweep of six African countries.  She stayed with us for two nights (observing classes and grading papers, no less!) before hitting the road this morning with backpack and thermos in hand.

Yes, Diana is traveling alone.  

It makes me wonder where I was when I was her age, when I was just eighteen.  Certainly not hitching through Africa.

Here's hoping that she made it to her destination, and the next one after that.  Dan and I wish the best of luck to this brave and crazy girl.

(Keep up with Diana's adventures at Borders are Imaginary!)

Monday, August 26, 2013

88. Movie Nights

Lately, we've been watching movies on our porch.

Piled on the straw mat to watch "The Little Lying Cockroach"
A small crowd of kids
Enthralled by Pitch Perfect on the computer.
By:  Guest photographer Seni

It all started about three weeks ago, when I brought my computer out onto the veranda.  I'd just acquired a Brazilian kids show about numbers and letters and counting, and I was excited to show it to the kids.  After all, it was the first kid's program that I'd found that was done entirely in Portuguese.

Three of the neighborhood girls were drawing by the porchlight, and I asked them if they wanted to hear a song.  

"It's a song about a smelly frog."  I said.  

"Okay," said the girls.  But to my surprise, they didn't even look up from their drawings.  I was actually a little disappointed.  I had been so sure that it would be a good teaching tool.

"All right," I said.  "Here it is.  The Smelly Frog."

I tried that song, and then a few others, including ABC, The Little Lying Cockroach, and Mariana Counts to Ten.  The girls watched the program warily, but still continued to draw. They really didn't seem that interested.  After a couple songs, I gave up and turned the computer off.  

"That's all for now," I said.  The girls watched me with just one eye apiece, still drawing, drawing, drawing.  There was no whine or hint of protest when I switched off the monitor.  I brought the laptop back inside.

"They didn't like it," I told Dan incredulously, tucking the laptop into the bed.  I was feeling a little put out.  "I really can't believe it!  Everything is on their level and in a language they can-- sort of-- understand.  And it's a movie.  But they  still didn't like it!"

"I think they just didn't understand it," said Dan.  "I bet that they'll warm up to it."

And that's exactly what did happen.  

The next day, the three girls were wandering around my yard, humming the songs they'd heard the night before.  

"That frog," said Feta, scampering onto the porch.  "That dirty frog?  Can we watch the dirty frog?"

"Yeah," chimed her friend.  "And the baby cockroach that lies.  Please!?  Please!?"

And so it began.  Viewings of Galinha Pintadinha (The Freshly Painted Chicken) became a nightly event at our house, and were attended by increasing numbers of neighborhood children. Within the first few days, there were 36 kids squeezed onto my veranda.  They memorized every song.

I thought that it would become stressful as the program grew in popularity, but actually, the kids have been wonderful.  They know to come over at 6 o'clock and help me bring the chairs outside.  Then, they squeeze in tightly on the straw mat and, with some wiggling and shoving, get comfortably in place.  

When I turn on the show, they start to giggle, rock, and sing their little hearts out.  

In the past week, at the request of one of the older kids, we've started watching real films.  These are all in English, of course, but the kids don't seem to mind.  From Wednesday to Friday, we watched Aladdin in three thirty-minute installments.  On Saturday, we started watching Pitch Perfect.  

As I reach the end of my Peace Corps service, I find myself really branching out.  I'm doing things that I was never brave enough to do at the beginning of my service, and I'm glad that I'm doing them now.

If you want to stay in step with me and the kids, try watching the smelly-frog song.  The song is in Portuguese, like all of the songs from this particular program, but it's still really cute.

O Sapo Nao Lava o Pe
"The Frog Doesn't Wash his Feet"

Sunday, August 25, 2013

89. Artwork

Our house runs like a kindergarten classroom.

We have at least twenty immediate neighbors that are under the age of 12, and three times that many children who live in the surrounding area.  All of these kids tend to congregate in our yard for at least some part of the day, and, as long as they are respectful, we enjoy having them there. The kids play ball, read books, and draw pictures for us on bits of spare paper.   Dan and I also take the opportunity to work on their manners and courtesy skills.  

For the past year or so, the kids' focus has really been on artwork.  Every day, we have a number of kids who come to the door and ask to draw a picture.  As long as they ask politely and share their materials with one another, I always let them sit and draw.  To make things easy for myself, I keep a stack of re-used paper on the kitchen table, along with colored pencils in bunches of eight.  

When the kids are finished drawing, they like to hand me their artwork.

"Wow!"  I'll say.  "Is this a house!?"  (It's always a house.)  Then, I'll look a little closer.  "Is this the national flag?"  (Yes, again, it always is.)  And:  "And is this you!?"  (Yup.)

Then with a big smile, I take their picture and pin it to the line on my wall.  

It's a little action, but I think that line of pictures means a lot, to everybody.  It symbolizes love.

Pictures from last week

Tabita's signature colorful style.  Notice the house and the national flag.  Also present are
 a number of other traditional elements-- trees, birds, charcoal grills, and kids playing football

Alzira shows off her drawing of the national flag

Saturday, August 24, 2013

90. Wherein Piro gets Adopted

Seni bought a puppy and he named him Piro.  

For the first three weeks of their relationship, Piro and Seni were inseperable.  Piro would follow Seni around the yard and crawl into his lap, nipping at his fingers and nuzzling into his shirt. Seni would call for Piro, and Piro would come running.  It was clear that Piro loved his Seni, and that Seni loved his Piro.  They were the best of forever-friends.

Seni and his Piro

Then, Seni got another puppy.  This second puppy, Little Onion, was all-around more lovable than our poor, befuddled Piro.  While Piro was awkward and overeager, Little Onion was sweet, fluffy, and docile.  Piro was a rascal.  Little Onion was a teddy bear.  

And so it was that Piro, a scrawny little red-headed thing with a plethora of wrinkles, was cast aside and forgotten.  

Seni and his Little Onion

Eventually, Piro found his way to us.  He adopted us, so to speak, and began to follow us everywhere.  He guarded our house with fervor and began to greet us with wild and helpless spasms of joy.  The frantic beating of his tail paired with the left-right step-step of his two front paws seemed to say, "I'm your dog, I'm your dog, I'm your VERY GOOD dog!"

Cautiously at first, Dan and I gave in.  We started letting Piro sit on the veranda, and we gave him some attention.  To an abandoned puppy with so much love to give, such a treat was overwhelming.  He reacted to scratches and pets with rampant exultation: whining, nuzzling, pawing, and gnawing.  His reactions were so needy that it was hard not to feel a growing, grudging fondness for the dog.

Eventually, we let him in the house.  From then on, without fail, as soon as we opened our door in the morning, he would get tangled up in all of our power cords and trip over himself in an effort to lie on our feet.  He was the most annoying and spastic dog that we'd ever met, but also the most endearing.

And it was thus that Piro wormed his way into our lives.  

Piro sits for his portrait with uncharacteristic poise

When we took Bwino to get vaccinated in July of this year, we took Piro down, as well.  In lieu of a better option, and because we knew that nobody else would want to, we signed for his vaccine and listed ourselves as his owners.  Now, on paper, as well as in our hearts, Piro has officially been adopted.

Despite his clumsy neediness, we really are quite fond of him.

Friday, August 23, 2013

91. Rats

I found this boy hunting rats as I walked home from school today.  Using just a hoe and his bare hands, he was chopping at clumps of grass at the edge of a field.  He would chop at the soil until he found a rat-hole, and then chase that hole until he found the rat.  Then, with a few swift and sloppy hacks of the hoe, he would bludgeon it to death.  

The system was surprisingly effective.  The boy was merciless.

It was dinner, after all.

Dead rats
Dinner rats
Served in a stew

Dan actually tried this meal when Romao made it for him last year.  He ate an entire rat from head to tail (spitting out the teeth, as is custom) and then passed the bowl back to the cook.  

What was his response?

"Fine, he said,  "Not great.  Not a lot of meat.  They mostly just tasted like the curry they were cooked in."

And what about bones?

"You could just crunch through them."

And the hair?

"Yeah," he admitted.  "That was the most prominent feature.  It all got stuck in my teeth."

Thursday, August 22, 2013

92. Pineapples

According to the horticulture department at Purdue University, pineapples prefer a "well-drained, sandy loam soil with a high content of organic matter" that should be "friable for a depth of at least two feet" with a "pH between 4.5 to 6.5"  (Pineapple.  Morton, J.  1987)

And while I'm absolutely sure that that is true, the pineapples and pineapple farmers in Mozambique seem to be chugging along just fine in the soil that they've got. Dan and I found these little critters growing in two inches of crusty sand, tucked within a crevice on a rock dome in the mountains.  

Happy baby pineapple...
...Growing in the sand

As far as fruits go, pineapples are a rather ridiculous fruit.  First of all, they develop painstakingly slowly.  It takes about 15-22 months to grow an edible pineapple, and that's starting with a nice, healthy pineapple-top starter.  And, unlike normal fruits, the pineapple doesn't grow in bunches or clumps or in hanging pods of flesh.  No.  The pineapple fruit grows one-at-a-time at the tip-top center of the pineapple bush.  The resulting creation looks more like a child's drawing of a pineapple than an actual, living plant.

And because pineapples are comparatively expensive in Mozambique (between 15 and 60 cents each), and because they grow so slowly and bear fruit in such an obvious manner, they are a highly enticing target for thieves.

Perhaps that's why this crop of pineapples was hidden so deep in the mountains.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

93. The Other Teachers

Our Mozambican colleagues don't like to smile for photos.

Professor Matenga-- Geography
Professora Sheila--  Portuguese
Professor Paul-- English
Professor Clifford-- French
Professor Pita-- Business
Professor Alfandega-- Biology
Professora Inacia-- Physical Education
Professor Watch-- Technology
Nelito-- Admissions
Professor Dan-- Mathematics

Can you guess which one is the American?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

94. Basketball Court (Part IV)

Dan has been having some trouble with the basketball court contractor.

Work on the court foundation, which was initially progressing slowly but steadily, ground to a halt in the past couple of days.   The contractor and all of his workers disappeared as soon as they received their first installment of money, and the director of our school (our key supporter and adviser) found himself getting more and more impatient for the court to be finished.  Rather than wait for the contractor to return and resume the work that he started, the director decided to switch tactics entirely.  This morning, he called a school meeting and ordered every student in the school to participate in a mandatory after-school digging-of-the-foundation.  

You'd think that the kids would whine and complain, but they actually rose to the occasion spectacularly. 

All one thousand of them.  

Armed with buckets and rice sacks and wood-and-metal hoes, the students showed up in force and ready to work.  For two hours and thirty minutes, they chopped and lifted and shoveled and carried dirt with gusto.  In less than half a day, our students accomplished what our contractor had failed to do in more than a month's time.  

The most memorable moment of the event was when Professor Dan himself took off his lab coat and his shirt, grabbed a shovel, and got to work with everybody else.  A cheer ran through the crowd of students, and the applause was deafening.  

Shoveling and carrying the dirt to level the ground for the foundation
Seni giggles as he takes a break from his work
Working in a line
Digging the foundation
Loading the dirt to be carried away
Loading the dirt to be carried away
Hundreds of students showed up to work
Jobs included hoeing/chopping (mostly boys), shoveling (mostly boys), and carrying/dumping (mostly girls)
Dan prepares to work
Dan's contribution to the digging.  At first, his actions met with cheering and clapping.
Then, as he continued shoveling, his work fostered a redoubling of effort on the part
of the surrounding students.

There's no doubt that this school wants the basketball court to be made.  In fact, there's no doubt that it will eventually get finished.  The trouble will be getting it done before November.  

We're still optimistic.

We can't discredit the power of our students' cheer, support, and tireless hard work.

Monday, August 19, 2013

95. Flowers Just Because

The neighborhood kids like to pick flowers and bring them to us.  

It's wonderfully sweet and heartwarming, and I love it when they do.  Sometimes, though, I get so many flowers that my house looks like a funeral home.  And then, of course, all the plants in my yard have been stripped to the stem.

Diki and his flowers
A window full of flowers in beautiful flower vases

But there's nothing like a garbage vase full of stolen flowers to make you feel loved and important and wholly-appreciated by the little bobbing faces on your porch.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

96. Meet Tabita

Tabita with her new "big girl" hair extensions.  So pretty and so proud!

Name:  Tabita Manuel Joao
Nickname:  "Little Mouse"
Age:  6 - 8 years old
Grade:  No school
Likes:  Candy, Being helpful, Earning pennies, Taking Pictures
Dislikes:  When her sister pulls her hair
Siblings:  Romao, Uzia, Danilo, Nelson, Feta, and Jovita

Dan and I first met Tabita in our first few days in Zobue.  She was small for her age-- sweet, shy, and diminutive.  Her fear of me and Dan was outweighed by her desire to understand us, and she spent hours at our doorframe, peering in and watching.  Occasionally, she would ask for things.

As the months wore on, she became our little shadow.  She became my number-one helper for small things around the yard, from sweeping to mopping to rinsing off the dishes.  When she wasn't helping, she was watching.  She liked to watch me cook, plan lessons, and clean my house.  Sometimes I would let her come inside and sit.

Of all of the neighborhood children, Dan and I became most attached to Tabita.  She's an unobtrusive and unassuming little critter, and she's our very favorite child.   In many ways, she's our right-hand girl.  

Tabita is special for two reasons.  The first is the fact that she loves to use my camera.  She doesn't mind having her picture taken, but she is the only child in the neighborhood who would rather be behind the lens.  She's taken hundreds of pictures so far, and would take ten times that, if only I would let her.  

The other reason that she is special is for her fondness for adults.  She'll play with other children, but she's an unusually serious little girl.  She would much prefer to spend time with me, doing grown-up things, than simply play outside.  And for this, she is my favorite.  

Best Memories of Tabita

1.  Tabita loves to ask for things.  She'll ask for anything she sees, and she is a serial-asker. Usually, she will ask until I say, "yes."  Here is a conversation that she and I once had:

Tabita:  Can I have that notebook?
Lisa:  My notebook?  No, I'm using it!  You can't have this notebook.
Tabita:  Can I have that phone?
Lisa:  No, you can't have my phone.
Tabita:  Can I have that toothbrush?
Lisa:  You absolutely cannot have my toothbrush. 
Tabita:  Can I have a piece of candy?
Lisa:  No, Tabita.  I don't have any candy.
Tabita:  Can I have a piece of chalk?
Lisa:  No.
Tabita:  Can I have some sugar?
Lisa:  No.
Tabita:  Can I have some salt?
Lisa:  No.
Tabita:  Can I have a plastic bag?
Lisa:  A what?  A plastic bag?  Yes, Tabita, you can have a plastic bag.  

(Tabita took the bag with glee and then skipped away, delighted)

2.  One night, I was washing dishes.  It was late and I was tired, so I didn't let her help.  My mood didn't phase her, though, and she sat with me, instead, sitting quietly at my feet.  After about ten minutes, I noticed that she had gone to sleep.  She was curled up against the wall, directly underfoot.  Smiling to myself, I finished up my work.  Then I wiped my hands on my pants, picked her up, and brought her back home to her mother. 

It was a small little moment-- forgettable, really.  But it was one that spoke volumes about our relationship, and for that it has stuck with me.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

97. Provincial Science Fair

I'll admit that I'm a little too tired to write much tonight.  In fact, I'll admit that I already fell asleep once, while loading the pictures below.  I was sitting up, with my hands still on the keyboard.

Dan and I put in a good 12-hour day today, working hard to organize and realize the Tete Provincial Science Fair.  As the coordinator (at both the provincial and national level), it was Dan's job to make sure that all of the students arrived safely, prepared their presentations, and understood the rules of the competition.  It was also his job to monitor the HIV testing, placate the visiting chefes, and keep to the schedule.  Basically, he was responsible for everything.  And because I am his wife, I played the role of second-Dan.

By the end of the day, we were exhausted, worn out, and thoroughly relieved.  The Provincial Fair ran smoothly and the students and teachers were happy.  We can now proudly say that the 2013 Provincial Science Fair was a GREAT BIG SUCCESS and we're glad, glad, glad that it's over.  

That's usually true of any big event, isn't it?  The relief at having finished, I mean.  

The first-place winners were Naymet Lembe from the Tete Secondary School and Samson Jossam from the Samora Machel Secondary School.  They each won a cell phone and a trip to Quelimane to present their projects at the Mozambican National Fair.  

The Zobue Secondary School didn't place amongst the final three contenders, but one of our own won the award for Best Community Project.  Inacio Mateus, a tenth-grade student who "invented" a pre-existing well crank, won a certificate and a cash prize of 100 Meticais (three dollars), which will be enough to bring pride to our director and, hopefully, inspire next year's future contestants.

In lieu of further verbal description, here are the pictures from the Tete Provincial Science Fair.  

The official Science Fair banner in the entrance-way to Clube Chingale
Opening the competition with a lesson about HIV and AIDS
19 student participants, 12 teacher/chaperones, 3 guest judges,
and members from the Ministries of Health and Education
The Fair offered free HIV testing to students and teachers alike.
Nine attendants opted for free testing (six students and three teachers).
None of the individuals tested positive for HIV (!)
Science Fair (Feira de Ciencias) Certificate of Participation
1st Place Prize (Junior and Senior Level):  Cell phone and charger
2nd Place Prize (Junior and Senior Level):  Soda-can speakers
3rd Place Prize ( Junior and Senior Level):  MP3 Player with earphones included
Presenting a project ("Plants that slow the effects of HIV") onstage at Club Chingale
A view of the stage from the audience
"Projects" varied from research to lessons to explications of inventions.
Here, Dacarai offers already-chewed gum to members of the audience,  as part of a lesson about promiscuity.
Here, Torondai demonstrates the use of sawdust as a potential source of cooking fuel
The sawdust burned so quickly and so hot that it had to be taken outside...
...But not before it had filled up the whole hall with smoke
A teacher takes advantage of the burning fuel to boil a few eggs in the  corner of the auditorium
At the end of the day:  Samson Jossam ("A Small Electric Fan Made out of
Fan Parts and Garbage") accepts his first-place prize and certificate.
Naybet Lembe ("Medical Plants that Help People Affected with HIV")
accepts her first-place prize and certificates

There really isn't that much "science" that goes on at these Provincial Science Fairs.  The concept of experiments and the scientific method are still kind of foreign in Mozambique, and that's okay.  The junior winner of the fair (in the 8th to 10th grade level) presented a home-made fan.  The senior winner (11 to 12th grade level) won with a discourse on medicinal plants. One of Zobue's local-level contestants actually presented a card trick as his scientific experiment.

But as long as kids are getting excited about what they are doing and choosing to spend their time in constructive and interesting ways, I consider the Science Fair to be a grande success with a healthy and promising future.