October 29, 2013


Two weeks ago, my friend Otilia came over to my house to borrow some nail polish.  I sat on my esteira (bamboo mat) with her as she started painting her nails, and eventually took over for her and started doing the painting.  As we were sitting there, somehow our conversation moved to the civil war that ended in  Mozambique 21 years ago after 16 years of conflict and fear.

I asked Otilia where she was during the war.  She is 40 now, so she was a child/teenager during the years of the war.  She told me that she lived in Beira and witnessed things that she would never forget.

For example, she told me stories of RENAMO soldiers entering a house, holding a father at gunpoint and threatening to kill him if he didn't take advantage of his daughter.

Another story was that of a soldier on school grounds holding a professor at gunpoint in front of a class of students and forcing the professor take of all of his clothes.

The last story that Otilia told me is something that happened to her aunt.  She was forced by a soldier to take off all of her clothes, lay back, and spread her legs.  Then soldiers took dirt and sand and shoved it up inside her.  Using a pole, they packed the sand and kept putting more until her aunt could no longer stand up or use her legs at all.

Otilia has scars all up and down her legs from walking for miles upon miles in the dewy grass trying to outrun RENAMO soldiers.

I was in tears listening to these stories.  My heart breaks knowing that my Mozambican friends and family were put through this only 21 years ago.  And these stories only make the reality of the current political tensions in Mozambique that much more terrifying.

Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a lot of political tension and unrest between the majority party in Mozambique, FRELIMO, and the opposition, RENAMO.  RENAMO has officially ended the peace accord that was signed at the end of the civil war. This does not necessarily mean that there will be another war but it does invoke fear in many Mozambicans, especially those in close proximity to the areas that have been targeted with RENAMO attacks.  With local elections coming up on November 20th, many Mozambicans fear that these attacks will continue and perhaps escalate over the coming weeks.

Though not many have died in the attacks, Mozambicans in targeted areas have fled their homes in fear. Other Mozambicans are terrified to travel outside of their towns.  These attacks are unpredictable and random, invoking fear of traveling (and even living) in Sofala province.

Don't get me wrong, where I am living in Messica is COMPLETELY safe.  I feel comfortable and safe at site.  But it is devastating to think about what would happen if things escalate further.  I don't want to leave my friends, family, and students.  It would break my heart to see Mozambique head back down the path to war, and I pray with all of my heart that doesn't happen.  Analysts say that war is unlikely.  I pray that they're right.

But regardless of if a war breaks out or not, Mozambique is in need of prayers.  Even with no official war these small attacks are causing citizens to live in fear.  They are fleeing their homes. There are random people that are being injured and dying in the crossfire in attacks on the national highway in Sofala.  This is no way to live.

Pray for peace in Mozambique.  Pray for successful dialogues and uneventful elections this November.  Pray for all of the Mozambicans that have fled their homes and are living fearfully in the bush.  Pray for all of the Mozambicans that have witnessed traumatic scenes from the war that will be with them forever.  Pray that they will never be forced to witness them again.

October 21, 2013

Cheating, Church Dance Parties, and Calamidades (my Mozambican life in a nutshell)

The past couple of weeks have been busy with the end of the school year and other festivities.  Two weeks ago I gave my last tests of the year to all of my turmas.  As you may have expected, it didn't go so well. 

Testing is one of my least favorite things about teaching, especially in Mozambique. Mozambicans know how to cheat.  Some of them aren't as good at it as others, but they all try.  Some succeed.  Some fail.  I despise it all. 

This trimester, I gave my tests on Wednesday/Thursdays.  I had one ciencias turma on Wednesday and two others on Thursday.  The test seemed to be going okay in the first turma I gave it to, until I realized that one of the best students in the class was writing all of the answers down on the corner of his scrap piece of paper.  These scrap pieces of paper are THE WORST.  All of the students want to use them, and I leave them space on the back of the test, but they just hate “dirtying the test.”  They will complain to no end if I don’t let them use scrap paper, but scrap paper is a Mozambican teacher’s worst enemy when it comes to testing.  Students pass them back and forth, sending the answers.  They’re just the worst.  Anyway, when I saw this student writing down the answers, I made a mental note to make sure to collect his scrap paper when he turned in his test.  By the time he came to turn in his test, there were only a few students left in the room.  He brought me his test, and I asked him for his scrap paper.  When he turned it in, there was a chunk of the paper gone, conveniently where all the answers he had written down were.

“Where’s this piece of the paper?”

“I don’t know teacher, another student gave me the paper to use and it was already missing.”

“No, I saw it on here earlier, and you were writing down all of the answers.  Where is it?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about teacher.  That part of the paper wasn't here.”

“You’re lying.  Give it to me.”

“I don’t have anything, teacher.”

Until he eventually reached into his pocket and pulled out a small piece of paper.  On one side was written ‘Prova A’ with all of his answers, and on the other side ‘Prova B’ with all of his neighbors’ answers.
This was the chefe da turma; the person who is in charge of the turma, and who is an excellent student in math.   I didn’t even know what to do with myself.

“What were you going to do with these?”

“I was just going to take them home to remember the answers.”

“Don’t lie to me.  What you’re doing is so ugly, do you realize that?”

“Yes, teacher.”

“The year went so well and this is how we’re ending it.  How?  Why did you do this?”

“I’m sorry, teacher.”

“I want to cry right now, just leave.”

That’s basically how it went.  I was so disappointed.  I wanted to quit.  I wanted to cry.  I wanted to crawl in bed and never come out.  Unluckily for me, there was a whole other day of testing in front of me.  It seemed to go smoothly in my first two turmas (until I got home and realized half of one turma cheated), and then I got to my third turma.  Everything was going well, until one student came and turned in his test, followed by the dude sitting next to him.  They turned in the same test.  I purposely alternate tests to keep the students from cheating. 

“Joaquim, come here.”

“Yes, teacher.” 

“Why do you and Felix have the same test?”

“What do you mean, teacher?”

“You turned in the same variation of the test.  You were sitting next to each other.  How did this happen?”

“I don’t know, teacher.  That was the test that you gave me.”

“Okay, well you’re lying because I never would have given you the same test.”

Just then the third person sitting at their desk turns in his test which is, conveniently enough, the same variation.  They all traded tests while I was passing out the tests so that they could cheat.  Later, while I was grading, I found out that 4 separate desks of students all had the same variations.  I also found out many students from that turma also cheated.  (I know when students cheat because they have at least 5 points higher on the test then what I think they’re capable of getting.)

I didn't know what to do.  I felt defeated by the Mozambican education system.  I felt disrespected by my students.  I just wanted to go home.  Then I got an idea.  I decided that if the students really knew the material of the questions they got right, they would be able to do it again in front of me.  I selected two questions that the students got right on the test, and the next class called them up individually to solve them.  If they solved them both correctly, their score would be maintained.  If they missed one, they would have 25% of their grade taken off.  If they missed both, they would have 50% of their grade taken off.  The students didn’t know what I was doing or why I was doing it, and I didn't tell them until the next class when I handed back their tests.  Some admitted to cheating.  Many denied it, though they clearly had no idea what they were doing.   Mozambique, you are so frustrating!

Saturday October 12th was Professor’s day in Mozambique.  I went to the praça with Sarah in the morning.  After the usual festivities of placing flowers on the plaque for the praça dos herois and cultural activities at the praça, all of us teachers headed to the soccer field for the face-off between the secondary school professors and primary school professors.  They had uniforms and everything!  It was so official!  After my colleagues finally understood that I would not be participating in the game, I watched half of the game, and spent the second half eating gelo (flavored ice/a popsicle) in the shade and talking to the school’s director.  It was such a hot day and they were playing this game from 11-1.  Who’s idea was that?

After the game, we went to the school for refreshments.  All of the teachers said they would prefer to go to the school right after the game instead of going home to take baths first.  Sarah and I went to the school, and in true Mozambique fashion the rest of the teachers took about an hour to get there. By that time we would have been able to go home and eat lunch, but we thought we didn't have time.  Silly Americans.  Anyway, we stayed long enough for me to drink a beer with our colleagues (and get extremely tipsy from it due to lack of food), and then headed home to eat lunch and hide from all the drunks.  Later, we found out that they were at the school until 7 at night and then went to the bar to continue the party.

The next day, I got up for church -- like normal, and a mãe came to get me for mass – unlike normal.   Normally, I just meet everyone at church, but little did I know, this was a special day at church.  I helped some mães carry a pot to the church, and they explained to me that we had a lot of visitors in Messica for mass and a big party afterwards.  I didn't really understand the occasion, but I also didn't really need an explanation.  I was just happy to be part of it and happy to have a full church and a priest in Messica!

Mass was indescribably wonderful.  I understood the message of mass, because it was done in mostly Portuguese, and I could understand the Polish priest extremely well.  All of my favorite mães were there.  There was so much joy in the church despite the ridiculously hot temperatures.  The priest initiated a dance party at the end of church before the blessing.  It was my favorite mass thus far in Africa, and just what I needed after the rough week of cheaters and feeling discouraged.  After mass we had lunch at the church, and I got to talk to the priest, sisters, and other mães from church.  The priest spoke fluent Portuguese, local dialect, and English, so I was pretty impressed.  He was visiting from Sussendenga, but I’m planning on going to visit him sometime because he was awesome.  After lunch, all the different visiting groups danced and sang individually, and all of the máes from Messica gave me a capulana and made me go up with them though I had no idea what I was doing. I caught on pretty well and was told I dance well and need to buy a capulana matching theirs so I can officially be part of the group. J

This past week was my last real week at school.  I went and told the students their averages for the trimester and for the year.  I worked on grades and dealt with students coming up to me and asking me to bump up their grades because they wanted an extra point or because they were failing.  Such a fun time.

On Friday, I went to Chimoio with Sarah and our friend Otilia to go shopping.   We went to the huge calamidades market and went a little capulana crazy.  I am so excited to get new clothes made, though I don’t know exactly what I want with each capulana just yet.  The rest of the weekend was a normal weekend in Messica.  Then today I went to calamidades with Otilia again, and spent most of the day with her.

Tomorrow, Otilia is going to teach Sarah and I to make the fish that Messica is famous for. I am pretty excited about it. I also will turn in the grades for the year, and then the school year is officially over and I am free!  Besides the pesky national exams in November.

The countdown is on for December 1st when I will have some special visitors in Moz, and then the 16th when I’ll be back in the US.

Até a próxima, fiquem bem! (Until next time stay well!)

October 7, 2013

Mozambican Wedding: Round 2

About a month ago, my colleague Mauricio mentioned that he was getting married.  This came as a surprise to me because I was under the impression that he was already married.  In Mozambique, it is very common here for people to live with a significant other that they call their spouse and have children with them without being legally married.  Mauricio and his wife, Ana Dulce, were making it official.  Registering as a married couple.  And spending a lot of money on a big party.

Mauricio and his wife are both professors at the secondary school with us.  Mauricio teaches Portuguese; Ana Dulce teaches biology. I was thrilled when Mauricio went out of his way to make sure Sarah and I knew that he wanted us at the wedding.  He came over one night to talk to me about a project that we are working on, and mentioned that his wedding would be on October 4th: Dia da Paz.  It was a Friday, but also a national Mozambican holiday, meaning there was no school and people were free.  He told me that he was trying to rearrange money so that he could make sure Sarah and I would be able to attend.  I didn't want to put him out  by trying to accommodate us, so I asked how much it was so maybe Sarah and I could pay our own way.  I don't know what I was expecting, but he said it was 700 mets (about 20ish dollars) per person.  I was taken aback at how expensive that was, but after discussing it with Sarah, we decided that it was worth it. Our wedding gift to Mauricio would be that we were present at his wedding....so that's what we did.

Procession of the bride (walking on capulanas)
The wedding was at a hotel in Garuzo that I'd been to twice before: once for Women's Day, once for a Peace Corps Conference called PDM.  Garuzo is nice.  There is a beautiful pool, the food is delicious, and it is just a nice environment.  October 4th was a beautiful day.  After arriving and waiting around for awhile, the procession started.  Ana Dulce walked from one of the hotel rooms to the pool to meet Mauricio.  In front of her were the 5 adorably dressed "flower girl"-like girls.   I don't know what their actual purpose was, but they were so cute it didn't matter.  The procession was over dirt, so women took time to lay out capulanas for the group to walk on, and kept taking them from the back and moving them forward.  This made the procession take a lot longer, but it also made the whole process extremely entertaining.  The spectators were all singing and dancing with so much joy, and it made me so happy to be there to witness it.

Bride and groom processing in
After the vows and exchanging rings, Mauricio, Ana Dulce, the padrinho (Godfather), and the madrinha (Godmother) signed the registry, making the marriage official.  There was much singing, dancing, hugging, and kissing.  Then there were many pictures.  Mozambicans just LOVE pictures.  After about an hour  or so, we made our way over to the reception area, where as we waited for lunch to be served, the cake was cut.  Mauricio and Ana Dulce fed each other small pieces of cake, and soon after we were all served our own small pieces of cake.  Sarah and I were trying not to be too awkward at our table, but considering we didn't know anyone at our table very well, that didn't go so well.  The eating/buffet  process took an hour or two, and before I knew it, the car we came in was leaving.  We said one last Parabens to Mauricio and headed back to Messica.

Officially husband and wife.
Mozambican wedding round 2 was a lot different than round 1.  It was a civil wedding, not a church wedding.  It was way more elegant and fancy than the first wedding I went to.  There was no dancing (what?! - I was shocked).  There was a lot of joy, a lot of love, and a lot of smiles. Knowing the bride and the groom only made it that much more exciting.

I am so grateful for the opportunity I've been given to witness once-in-a-lifetime moments in Mozambique.  Blessed doesn't even begin to cover it.

Sarah and I with Mauricio and Ana Dulce