Monday, September 30, 2013

56. Meet the English Theater Kids

I would like to introduce the following ten kids.  These are the members of my English Theater group, and they are the most dedicated students at the Zobue Secondary School.   Five of them are new this year, and five of them are repeat performers who came back for the second year in a row.  All of them are amazing, funny, strong, and clever, and all of them are favorites (for very different reasons).  These are the students that will go on to change and strengthen Mozambique.  

It's for kids like these that I'm glad I came to Africa.  They make my job-- the work, the effort, and the sacrifices-- worth it in the end.  

Name:  Claudio Eusebio de Sousa
Age:  13 years old
Grade:  9th Grade
English Theater Status:  Active in 2012 and 2013 (Repeat performer)
Notes:  Though Claudio is the youngest member of the group, he is also one of the very best communicators.  He is the son of a well-educated border guard, and grew up speaking Portuguese instead of  a native, local language.  Claudio is respectful, sweet, and courteous, and tries hard to make everybody happy.
Role in the Group:  Teacher's pet

Name:  Crimildo de Jesus
Age:  14 years old
Grade:  9th Grade
English Theater Status:  Active in 2012 and 2013 (Repeat performer)
Notes:  Crimildo is tiny and diminutive, and one of the quietest boys in the group.  He is one of the original members, and he joined simply because he loved his English classes.  He always goes for smaller roles, but performs them to perfection.
Role in Group:  The Quiet One

Name:  Nivalda Emilio Solomoni
Age:  14 years old
Grade:  9th Grade
English Theater Status:  Active in 2012 and 2013 (Repeat performer)
Notes:  Nivalda is one of English Theater's biggest success stories.  When I met her last year, she was a quiet 8th grade student with average grades and an average level of enthusiasm.  Then, she got involved with English Theater.  As one of the few girls in the production, she scored a leading role and discovered her funny streak, her giant voice, and her love for speaking English.  Emboldened by her success, she has became one of the best scholastic performers in her grade and is now one of the powerhouse players of the English Theater group.
Role in Group:  Funny Girl

Name:  Osvaldo Anastancio
Age:  14 years old
Grade:  9th Grade
English Theater Status:  Active in 2012 and 2013 (Repeat performer)
Notes:  Unlike with Nivalda, there was never any doubt that Osvaldo was going to join the English Theater group.  He was the loudest and most participatory student in my largest and loudest class, and he loved, loved, loved to practice English.  He earned a lead role in both of the 2012 and 2013 English Theater productions, and continues to perform with (hilarious and slightly uncontrollable) gusto.  He is a little too smart and hyper for his own good, and often gets scolded for his lip.
Role in Group:  Funny Boy

Name:  Zidane Marcelo Boisse
Age:  15 years old
Grade:  8th Grade
English Theater Status:  Active in 2013
Notes:  Zidane is proof that there are great kids hidden in ranks of average students.  Originally a quiet and unassuming 8th grader, Zidane surprised me by carving out a place for himself in this year's English Theater group.  It wasn't that he was an especially amazing speaker (he isn't)-- it was simply the fact that he just kept coming to practice.  In a country where no one ever shows, Zidane surprised me with his reliability and punctuality.  He was simply interested.  He wanted to participate.  This year was his first year, so he started out with a small role.  But I think that he'll go farther in the future.
Role in Group:  The Earnest One

Name:  Germia Americo
Age:  16 years old
Grade:  8th Grade
English Theater Status:  Active in 2013
Notes:  If Nivalda was the success story of 2012, then Germia is the success story of the year 2013.  Germia was actually my student last year, and he failed 8th grade horribly.  His attendance was spotty at best, and I would always catch him selling chicken on the road when he was supposed to be in class.  I always had a soft spot for him, though, because he was so sweet and softspoken.  I sat him down for a one-on-one conversation at the beginning of his second year, and, to my surprise, he listened.  Suddenly, Germia made a rapid turn-around.  He started coming to school every day.  He sat in front, asked a million questions, and really started trying.  English became his best subject, and he became one of my very favorite students.  When he tried out for a part in this year's English Theater group, he won it by a landslide.
Role in Group:  Most Improved

Name:  Graciete Domingos
Age:  16 years old
Grade:  10th Grade
English Theater Status:  Active in 2012 and 2013 (Repeat performer)
Notes:  Graciete is not the oldest member of our English Theater Group, but she is one of the few that is actually on-track in terms of her schooling.  She is already in tenth grade, which means that next year she will leave Zobue to study in a "second cycle" high school for 11th and 12th grade students.  Last year, Graciete was our shyest and most solemn student.  She rarely spoke above a whisper and she never, ever smiled.   This year, I've seen her smile, sing, and even shout her lines.  She's actually the best singer in our group, and has won a lot of recent recognition from her peers.  
Role in Group:  Mother

Name:  Fernando Nh. Augusto
Age:  18 years old
Grade:  8th Grade
English Theater Status:  Active in 2013
Notes:  A new student from the big city of Beira, Fernando is the self-described "Big Boy" of the English Theater group.  He is a partial orphan who lives with his older brother and his older brother's wife in a house not far from our.  He comes to our front porch just to chat and borrow books, and he joined the group because he likes to be "involved in school activities."  His politeness and mannerisms peg him as a student from the more sophisticated south, and, like Claudio, his Portuguese is perfect. 
Role in Group:  The Good Student 

Name:  Samuel Joao Mauricio
Age:  18 years old
Grade:  8th Grade
English Theater Status:  Active in 2013
Notes:  Samuel is the class president of my favorite 8th grade turma, and he is the smartest student I've ever had.  He is loyal, hardworking, and kind to his peers.  He picks up all concepts (including lines from the play) in minutes, and learned to perform the "Cups" song after just one round of demonstration.  He is the only student to have memorized every line of dialogue from the play, including all of the words to the song.  
Role in Group:  Class President

Name:  Narcisio Razo Jaime
Age:  20 years old
Grade:  8th Grade
English Theater Status:  Active in 2013
Notes:  Narcisio is the oldest member of the English Theater group, and the group's only self-starter.  He had to leave school for some years due to family issues, but has since returned with força.  He acts as the group leader when I'm not around, and is the best English speaker in the group by far.  He studies English on his own time, and finds himself incredibly bored in my low-level English classes.  Like Samuel, he is the class president of his 8th grade turma.
Role in Group:  Leader

Thursday, September 26, 2013

57. Our English Theater Song

In honor of the competition that we've all worked so hard to prepare for, here are my silly English Theater kids performing their closing song, "Choices."  

They're the best.  

They don't sing very well, of course.  And they barely speak English.  But just look at their excitement and enthusiasm!  Just look at their dance moves!  This video makes me laugh out loud.

We have our choices that we have to make
We have our choices in our lives

And I know that we will end up just fine
If we all choose correctly on the way

Make a choice
Make a choice
I know that I can make a choice

And I know I will be fine
And the future will be mine
And I know that it's my future, it's my choice

This, of course, is taken from from Anna Kendrick's rendition of "When I'm Gone," from Pitch Perfect.  Which the kids love to watch as much as they love to sing the song themselves.

Here is the original:

Not as good, I know.  Go back and watch the kids again.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

58. The Luta Armada

Happy September 25th!  Today is a national holiday in Mozambique, and a source of pride for many Mozambicans.  Today marks the 49th anniversary of the first armed conflict (the luta armada) between the people of Mozambique and their Portuguese colonizers.  And while Mozambique would not gain independence for another ten years (in 1975), September 25 is beloved for what it now symbolizes:  the first strike against colonization and the first step towards freedom and independence.  

It's not as simple as all that, of course--the ten-year War for Independence was followed by a 15-year civil war that nearly gutted the newly-developed nation-- but this was the first step that led Mozambique in the direction of autonomy.  Considering how far Mozambique has come since the end of the war, and the progress and development that the country has forged, this first step is a moment worth celebrating.  
September 25 (Revolution Day) is followed quickly in succession by October 4 (Day of Peace and Reconciliation), which means that everybody is in war mode for only about one week.  Soon, everybody will be toasting to Peace, Love, and a Better, Brighter, Future.  

This national holiday, like many others, places special emphasis on theater and public performances.  Most of the town goes to the town square (the praça) to watch speeches, skits, and demonstrations given by school groups and other members of the community.  Theater is performed with gusto, and really demonstrates the love that Mozambicans have for their country and their art.

This was the first performer that I greeted this morning.  He was on his way to the praça to watch his big brother's theater and got to wear the costume for the march.

Cardboard hat and plastic-bag-and-wire headset

Of all the holiday celebrations that I have seen in Mozambique, today's performances were the most sophisticated.  We celebrated at the new praça, which is larger than the original and located on a hill far above the noise of the road.  A temporary stage was set up with tables, logs, and planks, onto which the performers could climb and perform.  The town even managed to secure a microphone and a fuzzy set of speakers.

The English Theater group gave a small performance, along with several groups of dancers from the local primary school.  The very best group, however, was an unexpected one-- a self-formed band of fifteen eighth-grade boys.  Without any help or direction from the teachers, these boys created and acted out their very own play about the first armed conflict.  They wore cardboard hats, paper shoes, and guns made out of sticks, and gave a very funny and very accurate performance about the first skirmish of the Mozambican War for Independence.

Most of these kids were "mine" (students from this year or last year with some English Theater crossovers), and I can tell you that I was proud to the point of tears and hugs.

The crowd gathers around the make-shift stage
The self-made theater group preparing for their show
The Mozambican freedom fighters in paper hats, paper shoes, and boots
So much creativity went into their costumes!  And you can tell that they were enjoying it.

Most of these kids are my English Theater kids, as well, and are about the head to the Big City to put their acting skills to the test.  Posts will come sporadically for the next couple of days, since all of my energy is tied up in preparation.  

Wish the best of luck to these kids-- they are the brilliant and creative stars in this new and developing nation.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

59. Hot and Dry

It's amazing how quickly the seasons change here in Africa.  It was cold at the beginning of August.  Then, on about August 15 (the date that all Mozambicans swear that this will happen), the temperature suddenly cranked up to a blazing mid- and upper-nineties.  It's been climbing steadily ever since. 

Based on the forecast pictured below, it is no longer winter in Mozambique.

End-of-the-week forecast for Moatize, Tete, Mozambique

And it's not just that it's hot.  It's also extremely dry.  It's so dry that our vegetables no longer rot if we leave them in the fruit basket.  They simply desiccate and wither away.  

Zobue is experiencing the normal water shortages, although the situation is not as extreme as it was last year.  People still walk to the river to bathe, but at least there's a river to speak of.  

Normally, the heat wouldn't be a problem.  But this week is special, because it's the week of our English Theater Competition in Moatize.  As the competition coordinator, I will be responsible for one hundred and fifty miserable people as they cram onto wooden pews in a fan-less and nearly windowless church annex to watch three and a half hours of theater performances.   


Here is Piro's reaction to that:
Dead dog!  Kidding.  He's just wilted.

To be honest, it's actually a little scary.  I have been planning this competition for months, and I have become increasingly anxious about the weather.  I'm wishing for a temporary relief from the heat to keep everyone safe, comfortable, and healthy.  

One-hundred and fifty people is a lot of people.  

One-hundred and eleven degrees is a lot of degrees.  

Monday, September 23, 2013

60. Green Mangoes

It's now, in the burgeoning midst of the early hot season, that green mangoes are starting to form in the big mango trees.  They're still tiny, but they're already drawing a lot of attention.  Just yesterday I found three large sacks of baby mangoes for sale in the market.  

Kids, in particular, love these tiny green mangoes.  They can be found wandering all over Zobue with clutches of little mangoes in their hands, pockets, or at the bottom of their folded-up T-shirts.  They mash them up, eat them plain, or mix them with salt, then grin up at me with toothy-mango grins.  

I normally adore mango-fruit, but these immature mangoes taste really bad.  The flesh is sour and bitter, rather than sweet, and has an aftertaste of turpentine.  I can't think of anything worse to pair with my salt.  

At least the kids are happy.  It's cute to see them with one palm full of salt and one palm full of chopped mango, licking one and then the other.  It also reinforces our decision not to give them handshakes.  

Immature mango fruit on the tree
Feta picks a baby mango
Seni eats a plain green mango
A green mango served with salt

I hope that the first mature mangoes will be ready before we leave in November.  There's almost nothing as wonderfully African as a ripe mango paired with blazing heat and the first early storms of the summer rainy season.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

61. Basketball Court (Part V)

Dan offered to write a guest post for today, to give updated details on the progress of his basketball court project.  Here he is, writing about changes, problems, and some rather creative decisions:

"Since last month, when the whole school helped break ground for the foundation, there has been some progress on the basketball court project. Some. Not as much as I would like, but it is moving forward.

The contractor, Mr. Luciano, has stopped following the original plan altogether, and is now just doing his own thing. 

Rather than adhering to the agreed-upon schematic: 
Normal Schematic (Artwork by Lisa)

 Mr. Luciano has decided to do the following:
Surprise! (Artwork by Lisa)

As of this past week, about half of the court has been tiled with large rocks and shellacked with a thin layer of concrete.  It seems like this is an attempt to further level the court before adding the final (upper) layers.  Unfortunately, we’re already a few inches above ground level.  We’re afraid that the final height of the court will be more than a foot above the surrounding area. 

Honestly, I'd ask to contractor himself what his plan is (since it obviously differs from mine), but there's a small problem: we don't share a common language. Every time we interact without anyone close by to translate, the conversation goes something like this:

Me (in Portuguese): Hey Mr. Luciano, can you explain what you've been up to with the basketball court?
Mr. Luciano (in Chichewa): Eniksa neika ndi blinsi boonji.
Me (in English): Yeah, I didn't get any of that. English? Português?
Mr. Luciano (still in Chichewa): Zikomo.
Me (back to Portuguese): Hmmm... Okay. Thanks, Mr. Luciano.
Mr. Luciano (in his limited Portuguese): Thank you.

Progress has also been slow because Mr. Luciano has decided to take on a second job.  In addition finishing his promised work by the beginning of November, he is also attempting to build a house for someone else in town.  Oh well.

However, as I said before, there is forward motion in the project.  I am quite confident that there is a basketball court in store for the students of Zobue.  It might not be done by November and it might be a foot or two higher than planned, but at least it's being built."
Dan, September 22
Looking over the most recent changes to the foundation of the basketball court
Rock "tiles"...
...Overlaid with a thin layer of concrete
The bottom-most layer of the basketball court.  At least it will be level!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

62. Underwear

Most Mozambican women wash their underwear every day as a part of their normal shower routine.  In the smallest bits of left-over bathwater, they will soap up and rinse the dirty underwear, then sneak it inside and hang it discreetly in a private back room.

When it comes to washing underwear in Mozambique, there are two rules to remember:
  1. Panties are never, ever, EVER to be dried outside or in a public space
  2. They should never be washed by others.  
I follow both of these rules diligently, but, personally, I am not regimented enough to remember to wash my underwear every single day.  I operate on a 16-day cycle, instead.

Why a 16-day cycle, you might choose to ask, and not a 15- or 17-day cycle?  

Because I have exactly 16 pairs of underwear with me in Mozambique.  

And I've hand-washed each pair exactly 45.625 times over the past two years.

Friday, September 20, 2013

63. Mexas

Ladies in Mozambique love to change their hair.

Hair extensions, or mexas (MAY-shuhs) are relatively inexpensive here, and girls are always changing their style.  They can select short hair one week, spikes the next, and long curls for the end of the month.  It's a fun and feminine method of self-expression, and a matter of pride.

The downside to all of this hair-trading, however, is the real mess it makes.  The paths of Zobue are littered with fake hair!  Every step yields threads of discarded braids and chunks of twisted black curls.  Women only keep their mexas for a few weeks at a time, so there is a lot of discarded hair lying on all of the paths.  

Some schools even ban fake hair, because of the horrible mess that it makes for the surrounding community.

Putting in braids
Tabita shows off her half-finished braids
Discarded mexas, lying in the middle of the path

I guess in Mozambique, it's "hair today, gone tomorrow."  Hehe.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

64. Crybabies

One day last year, Dan and I were walking between Mozambique and Malawi.  We were halfway between towns and deep in the campo when we happened upon a small family living in a neat and dirt-swept homestead.  One of the family members-- an older woman-- greeted us and gestured frantically in our direction.  

(Wait, wait!)  She motioned.  (Wait there!)

She ducked into a mud hut and pulled out a small boy who was playing on the floor.  She picked him up and came running towards us, pointing as she ran.

"Ona," she said to the boy, "Ona, A'zungu!"  Look, look at the white person!

She pulled to a stop directly in front of us, and forced the boy to look.  "Ona," she repeated.  "Ona,  ona.  A'zungu!"

As soon as he saw us, the boy started howling.  Kicking and screaming, he started thrashing about in the older woman's grip.

"Ona," she kept saying, forcing him to look.  The boy was jerking and shrieking and howling in fright.  He was obviously terrified.  "Ona!"  Said the woman, wrenching his face around.  "A'zungu, A'zungu!"

I grinned apologetically and held out some crab-apples to the young boy.

"Hey, buddy," I said.  "It's okay.  Don't cry.  We're people, just like you."

For a brief second, the boy sniffled and gulped.  He reached out a hand and took the small fruits.  Then, glancing back up at Dan, the boy redoubled his screams and threw the crab-apples straight at Dan's face.  In my surprise, I simply burst out laughing.  The woman released the boy and he ran away at full-tilt, disappearing into one of the furthest mud huts.  He didn't come back outside. 

That was his first encounter with a member of the Caucasian race.  

The story is funny, but it's also an everyday occurrence for us here in Mozambique.  Almost all babies between the ages of one and two will develop a sudden and urgent fear of white people.  It happens even to those children that have known us since birth.  Inevitably, at around twelve months of age, all babies will decide that we are terrible monsters.  

The change, at first, is nearly imperceptible.  It starts with a few sidelong, suspicious glares.  After a few days, the glares are replaced by whimpers and restlessness, which are then followed by thrashing and unabated howling.  Finally, it reaches a point where the child cannot see us or be near us without bursting into tears.

White people are scary.

Jovita, 18 months
Razo, 16 months
Daniel, 18 months
Noemia, 8 months
Jeremia, 11 months
Fernando, 2 years
Sara, 2 years

Thankfully, that phase is always temporary.  In the end, the children come around and start to learn acceptance.  There's nothing more heart-warming than a former screamer learning to say, "ta-ta" and wave to you on his own.

Once they start that, they never, ever stop.  At that point, you're best friends for life.  

Jovita, 3 years
Lisa:  Jovita, say "Ta-ta"
Jovita:  "Ta-ta!  Ta-taaa!"
We've come a long way from picture one.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

65. Wednesday: A Day in the Life

In June of this year, my Peace Corps Country Director nominated my blog as the “Best in Mozambique” for the first-ever Peace Corps Blog it Home Competition.  It was an honor to be selected, and I felt very proud.  And although I didn’t win the overall competition, I did get an email from Peace Corps Washington, asking if I was willing to help contribute to their up-and-coming Peace Corps Passport Blog.  In the email, they identified me as a “truly exceptional writer.”


I accepted the (unpaid) position and have been in contact with the editor of the blog, who asked me to do a “Day in the Life of a Married Volunteer.”  This was in July. 

It’s now mid-September, and I have had yet to produce a reasonable post for a “Day in the Life.”  I want to.  I really do!  But honestly, it’s been impossibly hard. 

Finally, after writing several twelve-page rough drafts, I came to the conclusion:  In the Peace Corps, there is no such thing as an “average” day.

In Africa, everything is always changing, shifting, moving.  There is an unapologetic casualness that pervades all aspects of scheduling.   Deaths, births, holidays, and other celebrations occur one after the other in a successive pattern of tumbling days.  From one week to another, nothing is the same.  And to be honest, that’s something that I was searching for when I moved to Mozambique.

But constant change isn't condusive to short, concise posts that capture the essence of day-to-day service. 

In the end, I decided to say it with pictures.  I enlisted the help of my ever-patient husband, who tagged along (when he could) for my sprawling, 10 hour workday.  Together, we created the following album of photos—

 “Wednesday:  A Day in the Life of a Peace Corps Volunteer.”

6:00AM.   No alarm clock.  Just roosters and charcoal fires and shrieking, playing children.
But it's nice being a married volunteer.  Look!  I got to bring my best friend with me.
7:00AM.   Taking an outdoor bucket bath
7:30AM.   Hard-boiled eggs and hot tea for breakfast.  Enjoying a moment of relative calm
8:00 - 10:00AM.   Computer classes at the high school.  This class is taught entirely in Portuguese,
so I ask that my adult students have patience 
10:00 - 11:00AM.   Coloring and socializing on the veranda
Spending time with the neighborhood kids
11:00AM - 1:00PM.   Grading papers and lesson planning for my eighth grade English classes
Designing a visual aid
1:00 - 5:00 PM.   Ready for four hours of English classes in the afternoon.
Role call.  Each of these students have been assigned a number (1-56) and answer by number, rather than name
Reviewing pronouns with flashcards (I, You, He, She, It, We, They)
Asking the class, "Where is the ball?"  The correct answer is, "On top of the box!"
Transcribing prepositions of place in both English and Portuguese
Singing a song ("Hand on my head, finger in my ear..."), courtesy of Steph Newton
5:00 - 6:00 PM.   Meeting with the English Theater club.
 Here, Germia and Osvaldo rehearse their scene together in an empty classroom.  
English Theater Club-  Samuel uses my white bata to play the role of "Teacher"
Discussing scene changes with my counterpart (green shirt) and some of the student actors.
Picture from 12-year old guest photographer Paulo
6:00 - 7:00PM.   Watching a movie with the kids (Madagascar 2).
This 10-second exposure shows just how transfixed they are by the film
7:00 - 9:00PM.   Writing and relaxing underneath the mosquito net

While my schedule and experiences vary wildly from day to day to day, the common thread is dedication. And love.  I work hard, but I'm happy.

I think the truth about Peace Corps is:  You're exactly as busy as you want to be.