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!)


  1. I love hearing from you!