Nampula English Theater Competition, My Last Big Project as a Volunteer, and That Time I Met* the President of Mozambique

Its been a few months since I’ve updated the blog…. six months to be exact. I wanted to be one of those people who blogged consistently all through my 27 months of service but when it came down to it, my second year largely has felt like a less exciting “re-do” of my first year. The excitements and frustrations of teaching that I wrote about last year have become routine, and even my main secondary project of science fair/science club, while still rewarding, didn’t throw as many surprises at me this year. I haven’t even traveled much, partially because I have seen most of the attractions that are within a two day trip of my site, and partially because I am sick of the inconveniences of traveling in Mozambique.

Don’t get me wrong, I have thoroughly enjoyed my second year, and in pretty much every way, it has been much, MUCH easier than my first. I speak Portuguese, I finally have a copy of the science curriculum I’m supposed to be teaching, and just have much better understanding of how things in Mozambique work. But things have just begun to feel like business as usual, which doesn’t lead to exciting or inspired blog posts.

With this said, I did pick up one new role this year, as provincial coordinator for the annual English Theater Competition. Every year, groups of interested students create 10-15 minute plays in English responding to themes such as “Celebrating Diversity” or “Violence is Never the Answer” (the latter of which was this year’s theme) and preform them at a province wide competition. The idea is to encourage students to practice and improve their English skills in a fun way outside the classroom.

Side Note: Although I had many interested students last year, my school was not able to participate because it is a teacher training institute, rather than a secondary school, and last year’s coordinator felt it would be unfair, despite the fact that other professional and technical schools have competed in the past. This year, as I was coordinator, I got to make the rules and allowed my students to participate 😈 HOWEVER, this is not as unfair as it sounds. Students at my school can enter after completing 10th grade. Although many have completed through 12th grade, I specifically chose mostly students who had only completed through 10th grade to be a part of my group. As my school doesn’t have English classes, any 11th or 12th grader at a secondary school has had more English classes than my students. 

In June I had some students who had been in my English Club begin asking me about English Theater. I was super busy at this time planning the provincial science fair and my trip to Portugal with Curtis, so I told the students that if they were interested to get a group together, and when I came back in July we would start. I kind of expected nothing to happen, because usually when I put students in charge of organizing something, nothing happens. I was pretty burned out at this point from science fair, so part of me hoped that nothing would get organized and I would be off the hook. I was pretty surprised (and to be honest filled with dread at the idea of starting a new project) when I heard from multiple students while on vacation that they had a group and were ready to start when I got back.

This would be the first of many times that this group of super motivated students forced me into something I would end up enjoying. The DAY I got back from vacation I had students informing me that Muecate or Nacaroa or Angoche (their home districts) had already been practicing for a month, and we needed to get started right away. Our first meeting was on a Saturday, and we started with a discussion of what violence is, what are the various types of violence, and began to formulate some ideas of what we wanted our play to be about.

For a couple of weeks, we would meet a couple of times a week to work on the play. We had a core group of about five really serious students who never skipped a meeting, and about 10-15 students who would show up to participate sometimes if they didn’t have anything else to do. Work was getting done, but by August we had written a script and were ready to begin assigning roles and practicing for real. At this point I began to become super frustrated with the group of less serious participants, because we oftentimes had to wait 30-45 minutes for everyone to get there before we could begin, and by the time everyone was there, we’d practice for maybe 30-45 minutes before the dinner bell would ring and everyone would be itching to leave, for fear of missing out on the school’s already meager dinner of watery beans and xima.

After what was probably my fifth lecture about how important punctuality is, and discussing all the factors that were making people late, my students decided that the best way to resolve the problem was to meet at 4 AM.

As someone who doesn’t like waking up 2 hours before the sun, I was horrified. But after weeks of encouraging the students to take ownership and leadership of the project, I could hardly tell them that this was inconvenient for me and make them change the time. I told them that I would meet with them at 4 AM, and that I would even bring tea and coffee, but that the first time everyone wasn’t there by 4:00 on the dot I would never show up to a morning meeting again. I assumed that there was no way all 12 of the students who had become regulars could possibly be on time to a 4 AM meeting.


The fresh percolated taste that powers my students

The following morning, I was pleasantly surprised when I walked into a full classroom. Apparently the allure of tea and chicory coffee was enough to get every student out of their bed and into the classroom on time for the first time ever. I was happy that for once our meeting was able to start on time, but also deeply disturbed that I had just signed myself up for 6 weeks of 3:15 wake-ups, since I had to be up early enough to boil all the water.



And so for most of August and September, I found myself waking up at 3:15, made possible only by the overly cheery and wake-up calls from Curtis… which made me love him and also want to kill him every time. My students continued to be more or less punctual throughout this time, and constantly impressed me with their dedication. they began to meet twice a day, at 4 AM and 6 PM, in the mornings to work on their English pronunciation, inflection, etc. and in the evenings to work on their technical acting skills with the student who served as their director, Salé. This year’s competition also included a poetry competition, and the week before the competition my students surprised me yet again by preforming a song they had written to accompany their poetry performance.



During this time, I was not only working with my own group, but also planning the whole competition event. This year, we had 9 schools signed up to participate, each bringing 10 students, a Mozambican counterpart, and one volunteer, meaning we’d have about 110 participants. I was given a $5,000 PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) grant to cover all of the expenses for this two day event.

My student, Lucinio, in front of the hotel fish tank

The event started on Friday, with all of the groups arriving before lunch time. For many of the students it was their first time staying in a -real hotel- and the main activity on Friday morning was taking selfies on the elevator, balconies, and next to the fish tank in the lobby.

As the funds came from PEPFAR, one of my main priorities was to plan an HIV fair for the students on the afternoon they arrived. Working with the hospital in Nampula City, I arranged a team of three nurses to provide HIV testing and family planning consultations for all the participants at the event. The health staff also provided us with tons of materials for the event, including 500 strawberry flavored condoms. While the health staff was working, volunteers manned 5 different stations that discussed topics such as HIV transmission, proper condom application, the effects of HIV on the body, and high vs. low risk behaviors.

Click on any image to see full caption

The students had a lot of fun, and hopefully learned a bit too. I felt slightly conflicted watching students run up the hotel stairs hand in hand with fit fulls of condoms knowing full well there was no way the 9 volunteers present could monitor the 100 teenage students in the hotel…. But at least they had condoms and knew how to put them on?

After the health fair we headed over to a local restaurant for the HIV Poetry Competition and dinner. We had about 30 students present poems and they were passionate to say the least. The poetry competition was new this year, and I don’t think any of us knew what to expect. The students turned up the drama to approximately 8000% and we had lots of fake crying, screaming, and falling to the knees. But once again the students had a ton of fun, and I was happy because one of my students won first place! Check out his performance below.

Saturday morning we were up bright and early to head to the location of the Theater competition, Montes Nairucu. We got a bit of a late start, but the students had a great time taking pictures, relaxing by the lake, and playing frisbee. Once the competition got started, it took abut 3 hours to present all of the 10-15 minute plays. I was incredibly impressed by the English level, as well as the creativity the students showed. Topics included sexual abuse by professors, domestic violence towards women an children, and mob violence, all of which are unfortunate realities in Mozambique. Highlights for me included a choreographed machete fight scene, a student with a box over his head acting in the role of “television,” and student who was playing the villain happily saying “Violence for me is a solution! I beat my wife yesterday, I beat my wife today, and I will beat my wife tomorrow!” before being arrested.

Unfortunately, my students had a bit of a problem with the time limit, and lost 3 points for going over the allocated time, causing us to lose (we had one of the highest scores before the deduction!).  One student from my team was awarded Best Male English Speaker, so at least we didn’t go home empty handed! Our entire performance is below.

Most of the teams returned home after lunch and an awards ceremony, but the two that came from furthest away needed to stay one extra night to catch a bus the following morning. When we returned to the hotel, we were greeted by an unusual amount of people wearing shirts with the president’s face on them. When we walked into reception, we were told that the president had just arrived, would be staying in the same hotel as us, and if we wanted to meet him, we could just hang out in the hotel lobby until he came in.



Turns out “just arrived” meant he would be arriving in an hour and “meet him” meant he would give us a head nod at us as he rushed into a meeting he was already several hours late for. Nonetheless, it was pretty cool to be in the same room as the president, and I managed to sneak this picture of him through the fake tree in the lobby as he walked by.


With my last big project here in Mozambique completed, I am beginning to count down the days.

Number of days until I leave site: 65

Number of days until I leave Mozambique: 70

Number of days until I am home: 85



New Year, New Senhora Formadora

One of the toughest things in my first year of teaching was learning how to be a teacher. Not how to teach the content or how to do it in Portuguese, but how to actually take on the role of a teacher. My mom is not only a teacher, she was my teacher for Geometry and Algebra I. As much as I love her and appreciate how she has influenced the person who I am today, I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve had self-induced cringe listening to myself complain about my students and realizing I’ve heard my mom say the same things a hundred times.

On top of that, being a teacher in Mozambique is very different than being a teacher in America. The other women teachers at school all are all soft-spoken and matronly… not exactly qualities that I would use to describe myself. And the male teachers generally fall into two categories: the young ones who want to be the “cool teacher,” and the old ones who are conventional, serious, and like to lecture a lot. None of my students last year had ever had a professor that was younger than them, much less one that was also a white American girl with barely passable Portuguese.

Last year I really struggled finding my identity as a teacher. I wanted to be a tough teacher – I fully believe that the classes where I learned the most were the ones where I was the most challenged – but I also wanted my students to like me. I wanted to make learning and science fun for my students, but it was really hard to maintain my authority when my students weren’t used to teachers playing games or having fun experiments in class.

Luckily this year, I have some experience on my side. I actually speak decent Portuguese. I have a much better idea of what the norms of a Mozambican school are, and know what boundaries I can push and what is better left alone. A year of experience has allowed me to have a better idea of what my “teacher identity” is. As much as my students are basically my only peers in town, they’re not my friends, they’re my students. But having better Portuguese has allowed me to be a lot more fun in class, it’s way easier to joke around and do fun activities now that I have the confidence and vocabulary to threaten and yell at them J

All of these things have made teaching easier in the beginning of this year, but I think by far the best gift I have given to myself this year was a syllabus. Writing a syllabus was probably one of the most teacher-y things I have ever done, only second to the time I spent an entire 50 minute class period trying to teach my students how cheating really only hurts them in the long run. I seriously wrote things like “The only way to dominate the content of Natural Sciences is to be present in class every day,” and “I give opportunities to raise you grade every week through homework and quizzes, so extra-credit is not necessary.”

As much as I hate myself for being such a teacher I have already avoided multiple arguments with students who have been late, “forgotten their homework in the dorm,” and tried to cheat on our first quiz. Nothing feels better than saying: “What does it say in the syllabus?” rather than having to waste class time arguing.

This all is to say that this year is off to a much better start than last year. It may seem obvious, but I didn’t realize how much easier it was going to be until I got more laughs than blank stares at my stupid jokes. I left the classroom feeling so good I had to call and ask another volunteer, “Is it just me? Or does this year seem too easy?”

Cooking with Lesh: Everything Bagels

Mozambique has no shortage of carby breakfast options, but even with all the amazing pastry items that can be found at Flavors and Friends, our local ~European Style Cafe~ in Nampula city, there’s nothing I find myself missing more than an everything bagel from Bodo’s. For those of you who are unenlightened, check out their 800+ 5 star reviews on trip advisor.

So I woke up this morning with the sole intention of making bagels. Although I thought I had most of everything I needed, I grabbed my laptop to check the recipe before going to the market, only to discover it wouldn’t turn on. And then I noticed the little light in front was blinking an ominous orange I had never seen before. I google’d the symptoms and was able to diagnose my computer with “invalid installed memory.”

Because I cannot handle stressful situations like this on my own, I called up Curtis, despite the fact that it was 1AM in America and he had just gone to bed, to walk me through the incredibly clear video he had just sent me, detailing what I needed to do to troubleshoot my problem. Using my Leatherman multi-tool (literally the only tool in our entire house) I carefully opened up my laptop, unplugged the battery, then the memory, cleaned some stuff using Q-tips, and tried rebooting, all to no avail. I let Curtis go to bed and I prepared to quit Peace Corps.

After wallowing in despair for an hour or so and imagining what life without a computer would be like, I texted fellow volunteer and tech support expert Matt.

Basically me
Basically me

Since I had already taken my computer apart, he was able to quickly and easily guide me through some simple steps that in the end fixed my computer. The cause of this narrowly avoided disaster is still unknown, but I am choosing to blame faulty electricity rather than the virus I may have gotten from the sketchy sites I used to watch the season finale of 90 Day Fiancée last week.

After 2.5 hours I was able to fix my computer, and finally get access to my bagel recipe from the Peace Corps Mozambique cookbook. Despite all the trouble, my bagels were worth all the hassle and ended up coming out amazing.




  1. Combine yeast, sugar, salt and warm water. Add the flour until kneadable. Turn onto lightly floured surface and knead until elastic (8-10 minutes). Place in greased bowl and turn over so top of dough is also greased.Cover with clean towel and let rise in warm place 30-40 minutes.
  2. Punch dough down. Separate into 6 pieces. Shaped into balls and stick your thumb through to make ½-1 inch hole to form bagel. Let rise 20 minutes.
  3. Put 2-3 bagels at a time into a large pot of boiling water with 1 tbsp of oil added. Let rise to top, and boil for 1-2 minutes (longer boiling time = more chewy bagel). Remove and sprinkle with salt, onion, or more seeds if desired.
  4. Bake on greased pan at 400 degrees (or whatever temperature your electric Dutch oven can achieve) for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

Although these bagels were delicious, and super easy to make, I think next time (and there will be a next time,) I think next time I would try a different recipe to have bagels with a better texture, as I found these to be slightly lacking in that department.

(what I hope is) My “Mid-service Crisis”

Pt I – Letters from home

Before I left for the Peace Corps, my incredibly thoughtful mother secretly put together a journal of short letters of encouragement from my friends, family, roommates, coworkers – pretty much everyone who mattered to me. I’m not sure when she started this project, but over the course of what must’ve been months, the book was passed between all the important people in my life. The day I left home in Maryland, my mom gave me the journal wrapped in brown paper and told me to open it when I got to Mozambique. My first night in our training village of Namaacha, this package was the first thing I opened when my host family finally left me alone in my bedroom after helping me make my bed and set up my mosquito net.

That first night I cried myself to sleep as I read the first few pages that included notes from my mom and dad. Over the course of training, I probably read about a third of the notes in my journal, trying to limit myself to one or two each time I opened the book, which I only did on nights when I was feeling particularly discouraged and homesick, which was kind of a lot, especially during my first month in Mozambique. I tried to ration myself so that I would have fresh words of encouragement whenever I needed them.

After about a month, after getting my phone activated, making some friends, switching off the anti-malarial Mefloquine, I began to adjust to life in Moz and read some of the notes from home happily, rather than when I desperately needed encouragement to talk me down.

During my first year of service, there have been countless ups and downs (as shown in Peace Corps’ handy “Cycle of vulnerability and adjustment” graph) – times when I go a month without opening my journal, and some times where I re-read notes every night. All and all, I’ve read through probably three-fourths of the letters in my journal.

Pt II – Return to Mozambique

After my whirlwind trip home, where over the course of 21 days I don’t think I spent more than three nights in a row in the same state, I came back to Moz refreshed and ready for year two. I spent a couple weeks visiting the provinces in southern Mozambique, where due to the distance I haven’t yet had the chance to visit. After getting some much needed relaxation came our Mid-Service Conference, where all the volunteers in my group came together for the first time in over a year. I was excited to have time in the capital with many of my friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen since training.

During the first day of midservice conference, I began to hear from the other volunteers who teach at the IFPs (teacher training institutes like my school) that they were being moved to other schools due to problems with the ministry. After a couple days of being told by multiple staff members that “we will have a meeting to discuss it later,” the country director casually mentioned in his update that we were, “No longer welcome in the IFPs,” but that the effected volunteers should be able to stay in their houses and work at the local secondary schools. Which is great except for the fact that in my town there is no local secondary school, so if this information was true, it would mean a site change for me.

After sitting and imagining the worst until this session ended, I approached my regional director and was basically like: giphy.gif

He told us that at this point it didn’t actually look like the ministry had taken notice of the fact that Kathryn and I were at an IFP and that for now, the plan was to hope they continued to not notice us, although he did throw in the very reassuring fact that “you could be moved at any time.” Considering that all the volunteers in the more northern province of Cabo Delgado found out later the same day that they were going to be moved out of province, I basically decided that not being noticed probably wasn’t the worst outcome.

This all happened on the last day of the conference, and the next morning I was back to site. My school director kindly picked me up from the airport and on our drive home, I tried to feel him out about whether I had a job or not. He seemed completely oblivious to any problems that Peace Corps was having with the Ministry of Education which I took as a good sign. School was supposed to start in a short 10 days, and I figured that soon enough, we’d know whether or not we were teaching. In typical Mozambican fashion, our school was a bit behind schedule, and has not yet even finished up the admissions process, and so the start date has been pushed back indefinitely.

In this time, Peace Corps’ problems with the Ministry have apparently come to our assistant director’s attention. After badgering Kathryn and I to provide copies of our diplomas and transcripts to ensure that we are qualified, he called us into his office for a meeting. During this meeting he told us that the Ministry needs to verify that we are qualified to teach our subjects, science and math, and he was concerned because we both have “art degrees.” We tried (and I think failed) to explain that our degrees are Bachelors of Arts in our disciplines but unfortunately it doesn’t look like our school, or the Ministry will be making a decision at least for another couple weeks or so. For now, we just play the waiting game.


Pt III – Here and Now            

This brings us to my current situation, where once again I sitting around with nothing to do, this time with the added bonus of also waiting around for a decision that could make or break my second year of service. I don’t want to sound dramatic (although this has probably been my most melodramatic blog post to date), but there’s not a whole lot that could be worse for my second year than leaving my incredibly comfortable life here in Nak.

These last couple days of extreme boredom and uncertainty led me to opening up my journal again last night… Where the next two unread notes were from my Uncle Tommy and then my Grandpa Bruce, both of whom died while I was in Mozambique. While I cherish having these notes, they weren’t exactly the emotional pick me up I needed last night.

So here I am, experiencing what I hope is just my “mid-service crisis.” I don’t know what the next year will be like, which is hard after being so ready to start my second year where I expected to have a much more solid footing. I hope that I am being overly pessimistic, and we will be able to stay in Nakhololo and have an exceptionally uneventful second year. For now I am ~trying to cherish all that Nak has to offer~ by forcing myself to go into town at a couple times a week even though the oppressive heat and rain has made it easy to choose staying home and reading my book or listening to podcasts.


The mares go down for their evening feed, into the meadow grass.
Two pine trees sway the invisible wind – some sway, some don’t sway.
The heart of the world lies open, leached and ticking with sunlight for just a minute or so.
The mares have their heads on the ground, the trees have their head on the blue sky.
Two ravens circle and twist.
On the boarders of heaven, the river flows clear a bit longer.

The Evening is Tranquil, and Dawn Is a Thousand Mile Away
Charles Wright

Cooking with Lesh: The Toast Post 

It’s the end of the school year here and summer break is almost here in Nakhololo which means a few things:

  1. It’s incredibly hot and dry
  2. Life is beyond boring with most of the students gone from campus and no work to do
  3. Tempo de fome or time of hunger has arrived

Tempo de fome is the time of year when the hot season has begun but the rain has not, meaning that hardly anything will grow, and our already limited food supply in Nakhololo becomes even more sparse. Gone are the days of plenty where I could get tiny peppers and cabbages on the side of the road, returned is time of cherry tomatoes, onions and garlic, with the occasional potato.

Today is officially my one year anniversary in Nakhololo. I survived last year’s tempo de fome by making frequent trips to Nampula to explore the city, buying food at ShopRite to fill the new freezer, and veggies at the central market to add some variety to my diet. Recently, I can’t even muster the will to leave the house during the heat of the day, much less wait on the side of the road for a hitch hike to and from the city. To make matters worse, I am impatient awaiting my visit back to America in a few weeks, and my computer charger has lived it’s last days, meaning that desire to do anything besides staring at my phone screen while laying in front of the fan is at an all time low.

This, combined with the lack of food that is easily available has led to a simplification in my diet, and the lack of Cooking with Lesh updates, which brings us to the theme of this post: toast

Egg Sandie at Sunrise

In my bedroom, I have two index cards hanging on my wall with various food ideas because I tend to get stuck in a rut of eating the same thing over and over, and have to be reminded of all the other food options that exist. I have one that is specifically for bread/sandwiches that contains different possible sandwich combinations that I can make with the ingredients I almost always have on hand:

What I can make with ingredients we almost always have at home or in the market

For breakfast I’ve been doing peanut butter and jellies. Peanut butter and bananas and jelly. Buttered toast with jam. Buttered toast and an omelette, or scrambled eggs. Egg sandwiches with ketchup and mayo, as is typical in Mozambique.

For lunch I try and go bread free – I’ve been making deviled eggs a lot, or eating leftovers from the freezer, often beans or fried rice.

them-are-you-religious-me-facebook-com-garlicbreadmemes-th-of-garlic-bread-28948324.pngDinner is usually one of the pasta options from the list, cream sauce made with powered milk, macaroni noodles with pesto, but more often than not red sauce, portioned out from the frozen leftovers I have after making a huge batch about a week ago. Always accompanied by a roll of garlic toast.

Tonight, to celebrate one whole year of service, I plan on making chicken parmesan to ~spice up~ the usual spaghetti dinner, using some chicken breasts I bought last time I was in Nampula.

Although living on an egg and carb diet has sustained me for weeks on end, I can’t wait to go back to America and eat anything besides pasta, eggs, and toast.

Adult Sex Ed in Moz

Even though my school year has technically ended, the students at the teacher training institute still have to take época tests in the six main disciplines – Portuguese, Bantu Languages, Pedagogy, Math, Natural Science, and Social Science. For every student who got less than a 80% average for the year in these disciplines, these tests are the last thing standing between them and becoming a teacher. As such, this last week has actually been pretty busy because even though we do not have classes, Kathryn and I have been hosting study sessions to help prepare the students for these exams.

Although these exams will in theory cover all of the material we have covered this year, based on past years’ exams it is clear that some topics are more important than others, and for science, it seems like by and large the most important unit was the very last one we covered, the human body.

I knew that many of the students had been looking forward to the human body in general, but although they were generally pretty interested in the respiratory, digestive, circulatory and renal systems, it was clear that they were really waiting for the reproductive system.


When it finally came time to teach this system, which I had saved for last, I was a little nervous. Although most of the reproductive words are the same in Portuguese and English, many of the ideas around sex are very different in Mozambican and American culture. Although Mozambique is generally more conservative than America, that doesn’t mean that kids here aren’t having sex. UNICEF found that in 2011, in Nampula province, more than 50% of girls had had their first birth before age 18. 

Many students in my class, who range from ages 18-26, have kids. Despite this, on the first day of our reproductive system lessons, I was both surprised by some of the questions and misconceptions I heard and frustrated with the fact that every time I used a word like “lubrication,” “ejaculation,” or god forbid “female orgasm,” I would lose control of the class.

Luckily for me, I knew that the maturity level of my students was about that of 7th graders and rather than lecturing about reproduction, we started with three stations: one where students solved a STD crossword puzzle, another where they watched videos about different types of contraception and played a “myth or fact” game at the end, and one where they learned about the reproductive organs and their functions. I floated around from each station and answered questions as the came up, and told anyone who had questions they didn’t want to ask or we didn’t have time for to write them on little slips of paper for me to respond to the next class.

Some of the questions were straightforward and to be expected: when can a women get pregnant, what are the symptoms of an STD, does a women pee out of the vagina, etc.

Other discussions were a bit more complicated because of various misconceptions and sentiments towards sex that exist here. For example, when printing some diagrams of the reproductive systems in the office, a male administrator was shocked that I was printing out penis diagrams, and asked me, “you’re not scared of it?” I confusedly asked him if he was scared of the picture of the vagina and he only replied, “it’s different,” (*eye roll so hard I almost went blind*) and then proceeded to gossip about me with all the other teachers who for the rest of the day kept coming up to ask to see my drawings. One of the written questions I received was “Can women feel sensation during the art of sex?” I was partially happy that this student was at least thinking about how women feel but also really hope he hasn’t had sex with anyone if he needed to ask that question. Upon attempting to answer this question, I learned that many (if not most) of my students (including the girls) do not believe in the female orgasm. I shocked my students by informing them that I have the Implanon birth control implant and shocked them further by telling them that I use it to help reduce symptoms associated with a period, such as cramps and headache. Most of the boys didn’t even know periods could cause cramps.

One thing that has come as a bit of a surprise to me me is that with this topic, my girl students are much much more knowledgeable than the boys. Generally, with far less barriers to education, the boys have more background knowledge than the girls and are generally the higher achieving students. This unit however, I have often seen the boys sitting there with shocked faces as I explained things while the girls nod along knowingly. On a related note, I have been flabbergasted at the man-splaining that some of these kids have been doing. I had one student ask me what will happen to a girl if she goes a long time without having sex after he body is “ready” (???). I kind of blankly stared at him and said, nothing. He continues, “No no I don’t think you are understanding the question,” and proceedes to repeat himself slowly and clearly to which I respond again, yes, I understood the question… The only “consequence” a woman will suffer from not having sex is that she will not have a baby. He tries AGAIN to tell me I’m not understanding him, and thankfully a female student cut him off and told him that I understood and re-explained it again. I jokingly said that this sounds like a myth boys tell to convince girls to have sex with them and all the girls in the room laughed and high fived.

Despite the difficulties and some awkwardness of this lesson, feel like I was able to educate the students on something they have a serious lack of knowledge on. If this wasn’t made evident by my students’ unusually high grades on the weekly quiz, it has since been made clear by the way the word of my lessons has spread. Since giving just 2 lessons on the reproductive system, I feel like I have become a ~local sexpert~ as students I have never even talked to before have begun to ask me incredibly personal questions like, “suppose a person had has unusual fluid coming from their penis, would this be a sign of an STD?” Since giving this lesson, I have not been able to have a single study session that does not end with, or completely evolve into personal sex ed Q&A. Part of me loves this, because the students know I am a source who will answer any question at all and I feel that I was able to make a difference and all, but at the same time, it’s a little hard to review botany and simple machines when someone in the back just keeps asking me to explain the mensuration cycle for the hundredth time.

Had I had more time I would’ve loved to talk about topics like respect, and consent, which are important but unfortunately not part of the science curriculum. If you’re interested in reading more about the premature marriage/adolescent pregnancy situation here in Mozambique, download the PDF of UNICEF’s report here.

End of School Year/Malaria Prevention Month Mash-Up

With one week left of classes, my students have begun to worry about their grades, and have been absolutely *begging* me for recuperação aka make up work because I am pretty dead set against the idea, and my students know it. To me, the students should have to work all semester long to pass, not just during the last few weeks, I’ve been really big on trying to teach my students responsibility, but our director has spent the last week telling us how important it is to “coordinate” with the students to give “everyone the opportunity to have a positive grade” of 50% or more. With about a quarter of my students having negative grades, I finally caved and said I would give one recuperação assignment… as October is Malaria Prevention Month they’d have to create a song and play about malaria and preform it at the daily morning announcements in front of 350 of their colleagues, 50 primary school students, and 15 or so professors.

Considering that this group of students has had negative grades on almost every exam and quiz I’ve given, I was surprised at how much they moaned and groaned at the prospect of just performing a 5-10 minute play, but after reminding them that they either could do this or fail my class and repeat the school year, they all agreed, and I was pleasantly surprised at what a great job they did!

They preformed the play in a mixture of Portuguese and Makua, so the young students from the primary school would be able to understand. In case you don’t speak either of these languages, here’s a brief summary:

A young girl goes to school, where the lesson is about malaria. Partway through the lesson, the girl starts feeling the symptoms of malaria (fever) and is rushed to the hospital where she receives a rapid malaria test that is found to be positive. When asked if she has a mosquito net, her mother replies that her father uses the net for fishing (which brings a huge laugh from the crowd as it is a really common situation here). Ultimately, her family receives a net and her parents agree that she will sleep under it in the future.

They were definitely more nervous when they preformed it in front of the audience than they were when it was just me and Kathryn the night before, but considering that Monday morning announcements usually just involve chastising the students about whatever bad behavior  they got up to over the weekend (leaving campus without permission, going out drinking, not doing their chores, breaking dress code, etc) it was a much needed break in the monotony and got the last week of classes started off on a positive note!

“Não tinha certeza se poderia encontrar os materiais para nosso experiencia hoje, mas tivemos sorte! Um homem em Nakhololo morreu ontem e nos deu um sistema digestivo!”

I wasn’t sure if I would be able to find the materials for our experiment today, but we had luck!  A man in Nakhololo died last night and gave us his digestive system!


The 25 students who showed up to our Wednesday afternoon class stared at me blankly for a few seconds before realizing that no, I wasn’t speaking in unintelligible Portuguese, I was making a joke. They laughed indulgently and asked me where the intestines laying on the laboratory table actually came from, and I explained that I bought them from the pork butcher in town that morning.

We are approaching the end of our school year, and have started the long anticipated unit on the human body. I have been promising my students for months that when we arrived at this unit we would have many experiments and demonstrations, and with our first bodily system came our first “experiment” in which the students were able to see the organs that we had been discussing for a week.

While in America you can go online and buy an entire pig prepped for dissection for $20, things are a little different here in Moz. I went to the local pork butcher Tuesday afternoon and told him I had a special request. After explaining what that we were learning about the digestive system and I wanted to bring in some materiais didáticos (teaching materials) he laughed and asked exactly what I needed. When I told him I needed everything from the esophagus to anus and he laughed at me and translated my request into Makua for the rest of the staff to understand. He told me to come by his house at 6 am tomorrow to pick everything up.

When I arrived at his house fashionably late at 7:30, the pigs were looking much cuter than they should have. I waited around for a couple hours while they did the pre-butchery preparation, and when it came time to finally cut them open, they had me come over to explain exactly what I wanted. Starting at the end, it was pretty easy – anus, large and small intestine, stomach, all the way up to the esophagus. They were surprised to hear that the liver and pancreas were also considered part of the digestive system, and left those attached while removing the lungs, heart, and kidneys. One of the workers said that he felt like he was back in school as I explained each part and its function. I was the overexcited teacher giving a lesson that nobody there had asked for.

I left a couple hours after my arrival, my backpack filled with about 10 pounds of digestive organs (triple bagged) and only $3 poorer (what a bargen!). It was a long hot walk home, and the whole time I was wondering if it was pig organ juice or sweat running down my back #PeaceCorpsProbs

When I got home and gave the intestines a bit of a cleaning, I was pleased to see that these intestines looked almost exactly like the diagram we had been using in class. And much to my surprise, when the students gathered around the demonstration table to see the organs, they began pointing out what each part was before I even came over, no explanation necessary! Almost every single student received 100% on the quiz that followed the demonstration, in which they were assigned two organs and had to identify them on our model, and tell me the function. Crazy what can be accomplished when everyone arrives to class prepared with their homework done!

The students were much more willing to be hands on with the intestines than I was

Unsurprisingly, at the end of class a few students asked me what I planned to do with the intestines. I told them that I didn’t really have any plans, as we don’t really eat too many intestines in America and neither Kathryn nor I know how to prepare them. These students decided that they didn’t need the intestines but would gladly take the liver to cook up in a stew with rice tonight for dinner.


I was still left with 2 gallon ziplock bags of intestines, which my neighbors gladly took off my hands when they saw me walking home with it. They said they’d let me try a bit for dinner… although I’m not sure I’m ready to start eating my science experiments quite yet.

The Bane of my Existence: Academic Dishonesty in Moz

Cheating is an incredibly common topic of discussion among education volunteers. I remember hearing stories of rampant cheating week one in training, and experienced it myself when I gave my very first homework assignment, in which I asked the students to write a short paragraph about themselves, their prior education, and why they had decided to become teachers. Yes, you understood that right, my students cheated on a personal narrative assignment. Now, I use homework as more of a review tool rather than practice; the students who do it reap the benefits and the cheaters get nothing out of it. Due to the unreliability of homework as an evaluation method, I am forced to give quick bi-weekly in class pop quizzes, which my students absolutely hate. Despite the fact that, during our lessons on pedagogical methods, we discussed the necessity of individual student evaluation, they do not see how constantly cheating on homework correlates to me having to give more in-class evaluations.

Every volunteer has their absurd cheating stories. Just last week, my friend and fellow volunteer Nico told me about a homework assignment in which he asked the students to define lichen. Due to a simple mistranslation, he received multiple descriptions of lichen (or as google may have suggested, linguine,) as a thick, spaghetti like pasta. I honestly don’t even know if I have a favorite/most obscene cheating story, because every single test I give seems to top the last.

During provincial exams, each class will take the test for the same discipline at the same time. The test for each class is proctored by a professor who does not teach that subject, or that group of students. While the idea behind this is to prevent cheating/corruption, the outcome is not always great due to lack of consistency between the professors proctoring. Although there are a fair amount of professors who actively try to fight cheating at my school, Kathryn and I take it *a lot* more seriously than the majority of our colleagues.  When grading the final exams last semester, I caught 12 of my 43 students blatantly, obviously, without a shadow of a doubt, cheating. My policy is that when you cheat, you receive a zero. With over quarter of my students receiving zeros on the final, I tried to be merciful. I gave a long speech about academic honesty (for the third or fourth time,) and told them that any student who admitted they cheated before I gave the tests back could retake the test. No one came forward. When I finally handed back the test, the students were mutinous. Students who didn’t even cheat were in an uproar. I told them it was not up for discussion, and they immediately went to the Pedagogical Director’s office to complain. I was slightly surprised when he backed me up, and said the only thing I should do to confirm the cheating is to talk to the professor who proctored the exam to clarify before really giving the zeros.

The next day, I went to speak with the professor who had proctored the exam, and was surprised that before I even asked him a single question, he assured me that there was no way any student cheated. Taken aback, I showed him how many of the students had, word for word, the exact same answer to *multiple* open questions. He once again stated that there was no way anyone cheated under his watch. With how pervasive cheating is, and how many students there are in each class, there is no way that I could ever be certain that no one cheated on a test I was proctoring. But as he would not back down, I eventually left. As I was leaving, another professor informed me that this professor was related to many students in my class… including 4 of the suspected cheaters. In the end, I decided to just give all of the cheating students half credit on the test, because after all the fighting, it was causing me more stress that it was worth. And most of them failed anyway so, whatever.

After this experience, my testing style has had to evolve out of necessity. I no longer care if students cheat, I just make it almost impossible for them to pass if they are cheating. I give 3-4 versions of the test, often with questions that look similar to a quick glance, but have completely opposite answers. E.g. version A of the test asks the boiling point of water while version B asks the freezing point. I never have questions with direct definitions of things we discuss, so that even if they bring in a cheat sheet, it is useless. I make the students leave all their belongings in the front of the classroom, and do not even allow a single piece of scratch paper on the desk. If someone is glancing at their neighbor’s paper, I make them complete their test standing in the front of the classroom facing the wall.

I absolutely *hate* having to distrust my students and treat them like children. I have told them many times that I wish that I could trust them, but much like the academic honesty talk, this seems to be a concept that they can just not grasp. I tell them that in college in America, professors don’t even have to stay in the classrooms because they know the students don’t cheat, that if you get caught cheating once, even on a homework assignment, you will get kicked out of school and no other school will accept you. I ask them what they are going to do when they are teachers next year and there is no one to copy off of when they are teaching their own classes, if they are going to let their future students cheat. They usually stare at me blankly or laugh.

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This post comes from a place of deep frustration, after three days of proctoring provincial exams. To me, testing bring out the worst in students, and in me. I leave every test annoyed, frustrated, and feeling deeply mistrustful of every student. And that feeling doesn’t stop when the test is over, because as soon as I leave the classroom I am met by the cheating students who I kicked out asking for me to forgive them or to give them a recuperation test.