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Cindy's World | Updates - Moz. 1 | Mozambique | Being Veggie | Updates - Moz. 2 | Articles | Matapa and More | Updates - Toronto |
'Two months in Mozambique'
When I boarded the plane on November 11, 2003, I knew I was on my way to one of the poorest countries in the world, and to the experience of a lifetime. What I didn't know is how quickly Mozambique would become part of me.
During my six weeks of in-country training with VSO (Voluntary Services Overseas), I lived with 10 other volunteers from all over the world (England, Ireland, Portugal, Holland, Germany, the Philippines, Kenya) while we had workshops on Portuguese and were introduced to Mozambican history, geography, and culture.
It's an amazing feeling to work with so many people who share a belief that the world can be changed for the better, that the inequalities in the world are not an inevitability, but something that we must work together to mend.
We stayed in Maputo (the capital of Mozambique) for this time, except for the weekend where VSO arranged for us to be billeted out to families in a small town 100 km from the city.
This "homestay" was easily the most important part of our training, and the most enjoyable. Families were found through the churches in the town and we were warmly welcomed and treated as family from the moment we arrived. I was fortunate to have a family that spoke Portuguese (there are a number of Bantu languages in Mozambique, so while Portuguese is the official language, people who have not had access to education are unlikely to speak it) and I was able to communicate quite well and have some wonderful conversations with my "madrinha" (godmother) about polygamy, AIDS, and corruption.
Mozambicans certainly know suffering. The land may never be safely determined free of landmines, a legacy from 20 years of war, HIV rates have climbed to 20 per cent in some areas of the country, and more than 70 per cent of the population lives in poverty. The corruption that abounds in the government, the police, and the education system holds back development in many ways, but it's difficult to fault the people who aren't paid enough to live on for supplementing their income in whatever ways they can find.
After six weeks in the bustling capital, I moved up to Pemba, a provincial capital in the North of Mozambique, 2,000 km away from Maputo. Pemba is becoming a popular tourist destination in Southern Africa due to it's unspoiled beaches.
I have a lovely three bedroom apartment with a view of the Indian Ocean on three sides, intermittent running water, and frequent electricity blackouts. Because it is the hot rainy season there are few vegetables available and the ones that are available are often quite expensive.
I have learned to take advantage of the water when it runs to fill my buckets and cistern, to shower with a bucket and to prepare a number of meals consisting of tuna (fish being the only meat I eat), rice or pasta, onions, garlic and tomato paste. I've also learned to fall asleep to a symphony of barking dogs and laughing Mozambicans and to wake at 5:15 a.m. because the sun is up and so are the neighbours.
I have a housekeeper who works three days a week and who makes a wonderful bean curry and some great matapa (a local staple made from cassava leaves or whatever other leaves that might be available) and a guard who works six nights a week and can light the charcoal stove when the electricity is out or fetch water when the cistern runs low.
Except for the heat, which coupled with the humidity can make even sleeping difficult at times, and my first experience of malaria, I have nothing to complain about. I have more than I need to live a comfortable life here (much more than the majority of the population here) and I have met so many wonderful people.
Of course, I have had to become accustomed to attracting attention just walking down the street and being greeted as "white person" in four different languages (Macua, Makonde, Kimwane, Portuguese), but this attention is rarely meant to be negative and often people are simply curious as to what I'm doing here. Actually, the most frustrating thing about being the "white person" is that people assume that having money goes hand in hand with being white and this can make haggling in the market a bit more tricky.
I have also been fortunate enough to have had to take a trip to Malawi to sort out my visa situation (another legacy of Portuguese colonialism being governmental red tape). Traveling overland in Mozambique on public transport is slow due to poor road conditions and usually involves leaving notions of personal space behind, but the scenery and experience is incredible. People everywhere have been helpful and hospitable and I rarely felt uneasy as a woman traveling alone.
Now the school year is starting and I will begin my work as an English teacher at the local Industrial school, where I will teach Grades 8-10. My timetable shows me teaching 26 hours a week and I can expect the classes to have upwards of 50 students in each.
In two and a half months, I feel like I have experienced so much and learned so much, that I can hardly believe it's only been as long as it has. I have a great deal to look forward to during my two year term as a volunteer and I feel so fortunate to be here and to have this opportunity. I expect challenges and frustrations, but most of all I expect to grow and I have no doubt that Mozambique will touch me in ways that I cannot even imagine.
For more information please visit www.vsocan.org.
'No speak English, teacher'
I wish I could say that after two months of teaching English in a Technical School (which is essentially an alternative Secondary School where students can specialize in Electrical Studies, Mechanical Studies, or Accounting) in Northern Mozambique, that I'm in the swing of things and contributing more than just language learning to my school. In fact, I feel that I'm only starting to discover what I need to find out, and I'm certain that I'm learning a great deal more than my students!
I'm quite fortunate to have been placed (via VSO - Voluntary Services Overseas) as an English Language Teacher at the school where I work. Not only do we have a set of books that can be used by students during class (many schools are not as fortunate), but there is a working computer for teachers in the IT room (although the printer hasn't had toner in the past month), and a photocopier in the director's office where I can request copies of tests (once I wheedle paper out of the director, of course).
Lesson one - Don't leave printing and copying tests for the last minute. Who knows when the director will be in his office, and whether or not there will be electricity?
I have eight classes. Two grade 8 classes, three grade 11 classes, and three grade 10 classes. Due to teacher shortages, however, four of my classes are at a first year level of English, two at a second year, and two at a third.
My smallest class has 42 students, and my largest class 76. However, the classes rarely seem that large as the classrooms are about the same size as a classroom in a high school in Canada, and as there aren't as many desks as students, students cram themselves two or three to a desk. The only time I really feel that I have too many students is when I'm invigilating a test and trying to keep an eye on 76 students who seem to feel that cheating is alright as long as you get away with it. Of course, 1 also feel the burden of 450 students when I'm up all night trying to mark 450 tests.
Lesson two: Don't schedule tests for all classes in the same week, even if it is the last week of the trimester (which for some reason is called a trimester even though there are four of them, two in each semester).
My students range in age from 12 to 25. Many students have had to take breaks from their education for various reasons - probably mostly financial, as it can be difficult to come up with the matriculation fee, and the money to buy the supplies needed (exercise books, pencils, pens, uniforms). In this respect, I am especially grateful for the use of the photocopier as otherwise I would have to get copies made in town and charge students for tests.
Lesson three: A 12-year-old grade 8 student is in a very different head space than a 24-year-old grade 8 student.
Since the beginning of the "trimester", one of my biggest issues has been discipline. Not knowing the rules of the school, and being unable to get a hold of them ("We're working on it" says the Pedagogical Director). I was a bit afraid to lay down the law. It didn't take very long for students to realize that I was out of the loop and unsure of my authority, and so I've had several "If you don't want to learn, the door is right there" talks with my classes.
Lesson four: Enthusiasm is great, but if you let it get out of hand it can be awfully hard to regain control.
Without question, however, my biggest frustration has been the realization of just how disadvantaged students in this country are. I hadn't fully realized the value of accessibility to books until I saw how far behind in independent thought, a high school student here can be. Trying to get students to express their opinions here is painful. They have become accustomed to being told their opinions and then being asked if they agree. ("It's important to study hard, isn't it? Yes, teacher.")
Lesson five: If they have no opinion, it doesn't matter in what language you ask them for it.
There is a library at the school (which is occasionally open), but the selection of books is pitiful by Canadian standards. Students rarely have their own copies of text books, so giving homework provides another challenge, and this also slows learning. I even find myself questioning the literacy level of my students when I walk around the class and see how badly they've copied exercises from the board.
Lesson six: Just because you've put it on the board, it doesn't mean they've got it.
I'm also certain that this lack of reading material has stunted the students' growth in terms of analytical thought. I was astounded during tests at the difficulty that students had in following instructions. Even when I had provided students with clear examples of what was required, they couldn't figure out what to do.
Lesson seven: The value of books, even just for reading for pleasure, cannot be overestimated.
However, considering these disadvantages, I am frequently impressed by what some students are able to accomplish, and by their motivation towards learning. Many students have extensive vocabulary lists in their exercise books that they have obviously compiled from wherever they saw English. I've even seen words that were likely taken from ingredient lists on food products.
Lesson eight: Disadvantaged conditions do not equal disadvantaged minds.
In the next couple of months I will be expected to start participating in more school activities. At some point I was nominated as the Person Responsible for Girls in Sports (I have no idea what that means), and it seems that I will have to play a large role in organizing the school's "Healthy Living Week" (an activity that was devised mainly to promote HIV/AIDS awareness by former VSO volunteers at the school). I have also been asked to give English language lessons to the other teachers at the school and will have to devise a curriculum for various levels for that.
Although these are all activities that I am interested in doing, I'm a bit worried about taking on (or rather, being given) too much, especially as I am still learning the language, and the proper channels one needs to go through to get things approved. However, I'm confident that soon I will have a better grasp of how things run in the school and I will feel more at home in no time.
After all, I feel I've already learned one of the most important lessons of all.
Lesson nine: No matter how hard-nosed your students may think you are, they will at least temporarily forgive you if you teach them the hokey-pokey.
Why I hate being a volunteer
By Cindy Durrant, VSO Volunteer, Mozambique
Iím poor. Iím a vegetarian, but even if I ate meat, I couldnít afford it. I donít buy yogurt, and the price of cheese makes me gasp. I look longingly at the ice cream fridge in the store every week, but I never buy any. I dream of sour cream and potato chips, and drool at the thought of cauliflower or broccoliÖ anything.. If somebody were to put a hot fresh Big Mac in front of me, I would probably eat it (all ethical concerns forgotten in an instant). Every month I have a heart attack when my phone bill arrives, and wonder how drastically cutting down on internet time hasnít cut down on my phone costs. I live in a tropical paradise, but as the beach is 7 steamy sunstroke-bearing kilometres away (or an expensive taxi ride), I hardly ever get there.
Iím different. I can make small children cry just by looking at them. It would appear that white skin, blond hair, and green eyes are the marks of a hideous monster. In many areas, my name is ďwhiteyĒ in the local dialect. This name it appears cannot be uttered without an outstretched palm requesting money. This name also seems to come with a responsibility to Ďhelpí whoever utters it by giving money, cigarettes (I donít smoke), or whatever goods I happen to be carrying or in the process of eating. Often, the name seems to be synonymous with Ďignorant funny-looking foreignerí and causes all hearers to laugh uproariously.
Iím dirty. Iím afraid the bucket showers never quite give me that ďshower-freshĒ feeling. Especially when the water in the bucket is orange. I might seriously injure someone for a hot foamy bath. Thereís that drool again.
Iím often sick, and Iíve got worms. At least, Iím pretty sure Iíve got worms. For the first time in my life Iíve lost weight and my clothes are too big. Of course, Iím too poor to buy new ones. I even cringe at the prices in the second-hand market, although these prices seem to be heavily influenced by the colour of my skin (see Name: ďwhiteyĒ, above). I have a skin infection that doesnít go away, and when I thought I was depressed, it turned out I only had malaria. I seem to have developed chronic tonsillitis, yet I have a strong reluctance to get the possibly helpful and monthly penicillin injections recommended by the Ďlocalí Cuban doctor.
I miss home. I miss my family and my friends. I miss people who understand why I donít want visitors when Iím home sick, or why I donít want unexpected strangers to come to my house on a Sunday morning to talk about work. I miss friends who call me to do fun things, and donít expect me to pay for it all. I miss carrying a purse at night. I miss walking at night. I miss going away for the weekend and crashing on friendsí couches. I miss all-night movie marathons, or euchre tournaments. I miss television. I miss movie theatres and shopping malls. I miss having wine with dinner. I miss board games. I miss working with people who have a shared purpose. I miss talking to people without worrying about the culture gap, or wondering why what Iíve said seems to have offended everyone around me, or wondering why nobody seems to understand where Iím coming from.
And, I hate being a volunteer. In fact, what I hate most of all about being a volunteer, is that I hate being a volunteer.
I am literally surrounded by people who have lived their entire lives in conditions far inferior to those I am complaining about, and who have never considered that they needed more.
I canít blame people for being corrupt when it seems that their corruption stems from a survival instinct and a severe lack of infrastructure on a massive country or even continent-wide scale.
I shouldnít feel angry or irritated when people ask me for money, because the truth is that as poor as I feel, I do have much more than they do - and that 10 000 meticais that I just bought that little ice cream cone for would buy 10 pieces of bread for that hungry-looking kidís family. I make ten times as much as my housekeeper (and I have a housekeeper) and she has 3 kids at home. I have a cat.
And I can afford the good malaria medication, and the skin-cream, and the deworming medication, and the penicillin shots - should I decide to take them. I have that choice.
I complain because I canít understand why internet phone time is calculated at a long-distance rate when the number is local, but 400 metres away live thousands of people who have never had a phone.
I moan about electricity cuts because I might have to throw out that mayonnaise, but at least I have electricity. And at least my bucket showers are indoors, and my water is collected in my apartment when it runs Ė I donít have to walk a few kilometres in the hot sun with a 25-litre bucket on my head.
And worst of allÖ I can leave. I can go back to all of those things that I miss and forget about all the people here who havenít even dreamed that these things can be a normal part of a personís life.
So as much as I may miss those luxuries to which I am accustomed, missing these things is not the hardest part about being a volunteer. For me, the hardest part is feeling guilty about missing these things. And I know that what I am experiencing is a huge growth experience and that I should be grateful to know how lucky I am rather than bemoan the temporary loss of such comforts.
But it turns out that Iím just not that big a person, so yes, I would like some cheese with my whine, thank you very much. A nice brie would be simply lovely.