May 20, 2013

Weekend in Namaacha!

Last weekend, I went back to Namaacha where I did my homestay from September to December upon arriving in Mozambique. I had been missing them a lot and decided that five months was too long without seeing them. On Thursday after class I headed to Chimoio, and attempted (and failed) to stay up all night because the bus to Maputo left from Chimoio at 4 am. I called a taxi at 3:30, and boarded the full bus to Maputo.

This was my longest distance traveled so far in Mozambique and also my first lone traveling adventure in Mozambique. To say that I went in without any doubts or worries would be a lie. My trip down was pretty uneventful. The best part about a bus full of Mozambicans traveling is when they need a bathroom break, they just stop the bus on the side of the road, and you do your business right there, in front of God and everyone (sometimes they will tell guys to go toward the front of the bus and women to go behind the bus…but on my way down that wasn’t the case). They tried to consolidate these stops (we stopped maybe 5-6 times in 16 hours), but honestly the whole ordeal just made me think of my mother. If you don’t know that story, you should ask her. It’s pretty great. (Mom, you will be really comfortable with bathroom breaks in Mozambique…)

I arrived in Maputo around 8 on Friday night, and waited in the bus station for my host sister, Nucha, to come find me. The problem was that the bus station is huge, and there was absolutely no good way to describe the exact location where I was. I mean, obviously as a white person I stand out, but she had no idea where I was in the huge bus station in Maputo and I had no idea what to tell her. And meanwhile I was getting creeped on by every taxi driver in the vicinity. It was awesome. But eventually we decided to both walk to the building that was in sight for both of us, and I finally found her! After figuring out the situation for getting my ticket back for Monday, Nucha’s boyfriend, Abel, drove us to her apartment in Matola (which is about 20 minutes outside of Maputo toward Namaacha). After a quick dinner, I went to sleep in a room that Nucha’s landlord had pre-arranged for me which was such a nice and unexpected gesture.

The next morning, Nucha and I got up, ate breakfast, and headed to Namaacha. We got on a chapa with a bunch of Catholics heading to Namaacha for the weekend’s festivities. The weekend that I visited Namaacha was a celebration of Mary in the church and there were over 50,000 people that traveled to Namaacha for the occasion. They prayed the rosary the whole way to Namaacha, and Nucha and I gladly joined in. Basically I’m getting to be a beast at the prayers in Portuguese because I’ve been at the church 3-4 nights a week praying and teaching the ladies of the church in Messica how to make rosaries (highlight of my days).

When we arrived in Namaacha, after stopping to say hi to some of Nucha’s friends, I passed my host mom who happily greeted me on the main road, and then eventually I was home! I left my stuff in my old room, and sat down for a while to catch up with my family. That’s when I got to see the main attraction: Walmer! He is now about 19 months, and he got even cuter since December (as if that’s possible…). It took him all of 5 minutes to get over his shyness, and then it was all fun and games and adorableness. I can’t even describe how great it was to hear him screech out “Ana!” and demand things of me like “Ana! Anda ca!” (Anna! Come here!). It makes my heart happy just thinking about it. He now loves to play, but also thinks it’s hilarious to hit and pinch…so basically that stage in “playing” is universal. Seeing him and my family in Namaacha definitely made the long trip worth it, even though I would be spending as much time on a bus throughout the weekend than I actually spent in Namaacha. Maybe more. Oh well.

On Saturday night, my mae and I headed to the church for a mass and a procession around Namaacha. It was always kind of chilly in Namaacha when we were there during training, which was summertime here in Mozambique, but it is now winter. So to say I was a little cold would be an understatement. I think Mozambique has changed me. It was probably 50 degrees. I had a sweatshirt and a fleece on and I really wanted gloves. And then it started raining. But the plus side was that I got communion, got to hang out with my mae, and got to see some of my fellow volunteer’s host parents at the church. I also gave my mae, sisters, and some of the other ladies from church rosaries I made and they absolutely loved them. It was a good, albeit long and cold night. Also on the trek home I almost wiped out approximately 10 times in the mud. I do not miss that Namaacha matopi…

Sunday morning I woke up, hung out, played with Walmer, and eventually started walking around and greeting the host families of all my neighbors during training. I had lunch about 3 times that day because everywhere I went they wanted to give me food. It was great to see them, hug them, and tell them all about Messica. I think my mae was really proud and happy that I cared enough to come all the way from Manica to visit them…but I couldn’t help it. They were a bomb family, how could I not visit?!

Sunday after lunch came the time to say goodbye and head back to Matola for the night to stay in Nucha’s apartment and be driven by Abel back to Maputo at 3 am to catch my bus. We waited for a while to try to get a chapa out of Namaacha, and when we finally got one, we ended up getting off a few minutes later because Nucha had found us a different ride that was free. After waiting for another 20 minutes, our ride picked us up and we were on our way. When we were approaching Matola it was nearing 6 o’clock and Nucha got a phone call from Abel. After they finished their conversation, she turned to me and asked me if I could sleep on the bus. I told her that I could and I had slept on the bus on the way down here, thinking that she meant we would be staying up all night doing something. What she actually meant is that Abel’s car wasn’t functioning properly, so we would go to the bus station that night and I would literally spend the night on the bus.

We went back to Nucha’s apartment briefly for me to change my clothes and get organized, and immediately headed out to try to get to Maputo. The problem was, it was already dark, the chapa stop was full of about 20 or more people, and the few chapas that were passing us were already stuffed full of people. Basically, they would stop, a couple more people would attempt to squeeze on the already stuffed chapa, and then they would drive off struggling to shut the door. After about 2 or 3 failed attempts to get on a chapa, another one came up and Nucha pushed me to the front, yelling me to get on the chapa. I somehow managed to get it and kind of sit down, and she somehow also managed to get on. A very uncomfortable 20 minutes later, we got to another chapa stop, where the chapa we were on would drop us off and we would have to get on another one to actually get into Maputo. This chapa stop was bigger, busier, and a lot scarier in the dark. After waiting about 15 minutes, a bus pulled up that was going into Maputo. The bus was stuffed full of people. No joke, I didn’t think one more person could fit on it. And within seconds of the bus pulling up, there were at least 20 people swarming the doors trying to squeeze themselves in any crevice they could. Nucha was trying for a while too but I was just like…not happening…and decided to stand back and watch the magic happen. I think they squeezed 10 more people on that bus. Seriously, clown bus. It was unreal.

The next bus that pulled up about 10 minutes later, Nucha and I ran for and we were the first ones at the door. A few people got off, so I knew it was feasible that more people could fit on the already cramped bus. She pushed me on first, and squeezed in after me. A few more people weaseled their way in, and we were off. I have honestly never felt so claustrophobic in my life. Zero personal space, zero air to breathe, zero air circulating. Just freaking ridiculous. I was SO happy to get off the bus after the 15 minutes of eternity that I spent questioning my life decisions and what the hell I was doing in Mozambique in the first place. About a 5 minute car ride from Abel later, we were at the bus stop and I was getting on my bus to Chimoio at around 8 pm (6 hours before it was scheduled to leave). Lucky for me, there were many other people that also had no way to get to the bus stop at 3 am, so I was not alone on the bus and I felt completely safe. I slept for a majority of the time, and a few minutes before 3, we pulled out of the bus stop and were on our way. The bus to Chimoio from Maputo was empty compared to my bus on the way down, so it was very spacious and comfortable. The fact that I was on the bus for a full 24 hours made the trip seem really long, but by the time I made it to Chimoio I was just very relieved to see some familiar sights and happy to be up and walking around. I spent Monday night in Chimoio at another volunteer’s house, and left bright and early Tuesday morning in hopes to get back to Messica in time for my 9 o’clock JUNTOS meeting.

I figured when I got to Chimoio that I was home free. Seriously, I go to Chimoio about every other week and never have any trouble getting home. When I got to the chapa stop on Tuesday morning, there was no chapa to Messica there. I was considering taking a chapa to Manica or Machipanda and getting off in Messica, but I had a lot of stuff with me that I didn’t feel like carrying for 30 minutes from the main road all the way home as opposed to the normal 5 minute walk. I decided to wait for the Messica chapa. About 5 minutes later, one rolled up. I got in, sat down, and waited. About an hour later, I was still the only one in the chapa. Another Messica chapa rolled up. I switched chapas and waited about another hour. By this time I had already missed my meeting. Eventually people started filling up the chapa, and about 3 hours after getting to the chapa stop, we finally left for Messica. I was beyond aggravated. But then it got worse. About 15 minutes into our 45 minute trip, we were stopped on the road. All traffic was stopped. Everyone got out of the chapa. There was an accident a few hundred feet in front of us and it was blocking the entire road. So an hour after waiting for the accident to be taken care of, the police finally started to let some of the traffic go by, one car at a time. I arrived in Messica at 11:30 on Tuesday morning. I got to the chapa stop at 6:30 am. So my normal hour trip home took five hours. I got home and almost collapsed from exhaustion, frustration, and my new and annoying cold thanks to cold and rainy Namaacha. I decided that teaching my five straight hours of classes that afternoon would probably not be happening to the best of my ability that day, so I gave Sarah some work to give my students, and spent the day sleeping.

I have decided that I’m glad that I went, but I don’t think I will go again. Especially not for a long, long while. The trip back made me realize just how ridiculous traveling in Mozambique can be, and I don’t think I’ll venture that far from home again for a while.

May 1, 2013

High Highs, Low Lows

When you're serving in the Peace Corps, your highs are really high, and lows are really low. One day you can love your site, love your students, and love your Peace Corps life, and the next you can curse the day you accepted your invitation to serve. This might sound dramatic (because it is a little dramatic) but really, Peace Corps life isn't easy. You're faced with situations on the daily that the typical American couldn't fathom. You're put out of your comfort zone and forced to make the uncomfortable work for you for your 27 months of service. Some days it doesn't seem worth it. It seems like no matter how hard you try you won't make a difference. Then there are the days that make you realize that it isn't a hopeless cause; that you can truly change lives.

Since arriving in Mozambique I've had some difficult times. Yesterday was one of those times. I planned an activity for my classes. We were learning about exponencials and transformations to the graphs of exponencial functions last week, so I wrote out a different transformation on slips of paper, broke the class into groups, and told them to write out a table and graph the function they got. Later they would have to get up in front of the class and explain why their transformation affected the original graph (that I made as an example) the way it did. Sounds simple enough, right? WRONG. I started the day in my worst turma. I did my explanation, passed out the slips of paper and blank paper to draw the graph on, and got about 60 blank stares followed by: “But teacherrrrrrr, we don't know how to do this.” “Teacherrrr, this custa (this costs...basically, it's hard).” “Teacherrrr, we can't do this.” And when 60 kids are complaining and whining at the same time, it's enough to make a person that already has a headache (aka me in this situation) give up. I promptly told them that they could do it and I would do an example for them. They accepted that as an answer temporarily and we started to do the example. I explained to them how they had to put the values for x from the table into the equation and solve for y...yes...that was a necessary part of the explanation. The biggest problem came when the students were helping me work out the problem after we put x into the equation. The students didn't know how to multiply fractions. Not one student in the class of 60 could tell me how to do it. I stared at them blankly and asked them “seriously?” And one of the students had the nerve to say, “Teacher, we've never done this!”

So that's when I got upset beyond belief, considering last trimester we were multiplying rational expressions, which I introduced to them by reviewing how to multiply fractions. I stared at them. They were all talking amongst themselves. No one was paying attention to me. I slowly walked over, gathered up my stuff, and walked out of the classroom. It was about 20 minutes into the 90 minute class period. I walked over to see if any of the Pedagogical Directors were in their office, but no one was there. So I leaned up against a tree in the middle of the schoolyard and thought of the million other things I could be doing with my life besides spending 27 months of it living in Mozambique trying to teach unmotivated kids 11th grade math when they don't know the 8th grade material. About 5 minutes after I left, 4 girls from the turma I left came over to me, apologized for the turma, and told me to come back to class. I asked them why I should come back to class when they don't want to learn and they don't listen to me. They begged and pleaded and tried to defend themselves, but I wasn't having it. I let them take my stuff back into the classroom and said I would come back in a little bit, but I told them they had to do the assignment without my help. They begrudgingly went back into the classroom. I sat under the tree for another forty five minutes, pondering my life decisions, called a fellow PCV to have a break down, and answered a few student's questions that cared enough to come out to my tree to get some math help.

Eventually I went back into the classroom, helped a few students, and a short 15 minutes later, the class period was over. I didn't address the class as a group any more that day. I really didn't know what to say. I still don't. I'm gonna have to figure that out before I go in to the classroom tomorrow. One of the worst parts about the whole ordeal is that it was my first 90 minute class of three, all using the same lesson plan. So I repeated the activity in my other two turmas. The other turmas didn't do any complaining. I gave them examples, went around and explained to each group what they were doing, and they knew how to multiply fractions. Forward progress. The activity didn't go over as well as I hoped it would in any class, but it went better in my other turmas, so I'll take it. Can't be too picky after a disaster like I had in my first class.

Looking back to yesterday, I'm glad I left the class. I think it may have taught the students in my undisciplined turma that I'm not just going to sit around and let them treat me like dirt. I still don't know what I'm going to do about the fact that they don't know how to multiply fractions (and many other fundamental math concepts), but I'll figure that out as I go, I guess.

In the Peace Corps, the bad days are inevitable, but with the bad also come the good. And if you're lucky, the good outweigh the bad. I definitely feel blessed to be in Messica and to have a great support system both in Mozambique and at home. My good days do outweigh the bad, but unfortunately the bad ones creep in and mess with me. I'm looking forward to my next extraordinarily good day when I realize that my service is not all for naught. I'm sure it will come. That's why it's worth it...for those good days, for the students that want to be in school, for the students that come over for math help, for the students that ask for extra problems to do, and the students who turn in the Sudoku problem I gave them for fun. It is worth it. Sometimes that's just clouded by a low low. Thanks to everyone who helped me put that in perspective yesterday.