“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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Census’d

For the last month or so, Mozambique has been in the process of conducting it’s fourth national census. The census occurs every 10 years, and since the last one in 2007, the population of Mozambique is estimated to have risen by more than 7 million. I remember once as a kid (probably during the 2000 census in America) sitting down with my mom at the kitchen table as she filled out our little census booklet at home. With no real functioning mail system, and the fact that many people cannot read and write, the census here is carried out mostly by teachers, who physically walk from house to house and sit with the families to complete the booklet. Because the primary work force on the ground is teachers, primary and secondary schools have a 5 week break for the census to be carried out. Unfortunately for me, our work here at the IFP is “too important” to stop (direct quote from my co-worker when I asked why we don’t get this break) and I have been stuck at school while pretty much every other education volunteer in Moz has had a 5 week vacation.

This week, the census workers apparently made it to Nakhololo, and were promptly escorted to our house, literally the only house in the entire town that contains non-residents. As we explained to the census worker and the school employee who escorted him to our house that we cannot participate because we are not residents, we were told that a resident is anyone who is residing in Mozambique at the time of the census… making us residents. They also said we would be “setting a good example for the community” by participating in this important event.

We were both in the process of lesson planning and quickly tried to clear a space on our very cluttered table for the census worker. Most of the questions were pretty straight forward such as name, age, race, religion, etc. There were some questions about whether we grow plants, and the worker laughed and surreptitiously marked “no” when I showed him my tiny sprig of a basil plant. There were also questions about how and how often we access the internet, whether we have a bank account, and if we use online banking. All and all, it was a pretty painless process, but was kind of interesting to have the census experience that everyone has been talking about for the last month.

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Official!!

~Shocking~ Myths

This week my students were giving group presentations on a variety of topics from the “Chemistry, Physics, and Natural Phenomenon,” unit that we are currently studying.  Topics included simple machines, light, types of energy, work, and thunder and lightning.

When assigning groups, I was a little disappointed that what I thought was going to be the easiest topic (thunder and lightning) went to the group of my 5 smartest students. I figured this presentation would be way quicker than the allotted 20 minutes, so I decided to start with it in hopes of making up for time that I knew would be lost with the more complicated topics.

Things started off pretty well, the group explained that lightning occurs due to a difference in charge between the clouds and the ground and why the sound of thunder occurs before moving onto how you can protect yourself during a lightning storm. As the presentation had been going so smoothly, I was only half paying attention when I hear Stella, my best female student, warning of the dangers associated with wearing a red shirt during a storm.

Assuming I had misheard, I asked her to repeat herself, and confirmed that yes, wearing a red shirt makes you a target for lightning to strike.

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(I’ve been binge watching House this week)

Trying to be somewhat neutral, I jokingly corrected them saying, “That sounds like a myth about lighting… In America we say that lightning cannot strike the same place twice but this is a myth!”

This created total chaos in the classroom, as the students began arguing that not only can wearing a red shirt put you in danger, but also that lightning cannot in fact strike the same place twice. In an attempt to regain control of the classroom I ended our discussion on lightning and told them that in our next class, we would continue the topic.

I started the next class by creating a full list of things that the students believed make you vulnerable to lighting which included:

  • Wearing a red shirt
  • Eating a mango
  • Standing in a doorway
  • Being in a car
  • Watching TV
  • Talking on a phone (cell phones included)
  • Walking with a dog
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When we watch videos in class, I try to find videos where hearing is more important than seeing, set up my speaker, and gather everyone around my 13″ laptop screen. Luckily, about half the students were skipping class this day so everyone had a good seat. Unluckily for those students who skipped, I gave a pop quiz after this video!

Luckily for me, Brazil apparently experiences more lightning strikes per year than any other country, so there were plenty of resources online for me to use to broach the subject of scientific based lightning safety. I explained that being in a car during a lightning storm is actually very safe, because the tires protect you in the same way wearing shoes protects you from shocks when using a shifty phone charger or electric stove. While I think they more or less bought this explanation, they remained skeptical when I tried explaining that lightning doesn’t know what you’re wearing and doesn’t care what you’re eating. Several students offered personal accounts of their encounters with lightning: one students solemnly stood up and told a story his grandmother was eating a mango during a storm and was struck and killed in 2012. Another student shared how when he was younger he was walking and texting during a thunderstorm and his phone became “red hot” and exploded as he threw it to the ground, and his hands were burned.

I left this class feeling like I may have failed, which was swiftly confirmed when I went home and graded my most recent set of quizzes, which included brilliant responses such as this:

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For those of you who do not speak Portuguese, this question was, “_________ % of the surface of the earth is covered in water?” to which this student responded “100%”

When my host pai died in March, my mãe had to move in with other family members who could support her and her children. Unfortunately, this move happened suddenly and while I was away from site; I had no clue where they went and no way to contact her, and hadn’t seen any of my host family since the funeral. 

Imagine my surprise this morning when I hear my mãe calling my name and running across the street while I was waiting on the side of the side of the EN1 for a ride. After quick greetings my mãe sends her nieces off to begin collecting  the laundry and walks me to her new house, where I was almost in tears as my little host sisters ran up to jump in my arms and greet me. I guess the unreliable transportation situation in Moz isn’t always a bad thing. 

Things you need*

There are lots of people who like to talk about how there’s nothing you really need to bring with you to Peace Corps, because clearly people in your host country get along just fine without things from America, and so can you. While this is *technically* true and you can buy Oreos and Pantene shampoo in Shoprite, I am the kind of person who stressed for months about creating my Peace Corps packing list. Although you can see my original list here (with a few added notes) I’ve decided to make this post with some of the things I brought or had sent to me in care packages that have become essential parts of my life here in Moz.

Best Things I Packed

  1. Travelon Anti-Theft Purse – I knew I was never going to bring my beloved Dagne Dover Tote of YSL crossbody with my to Moz, and spent a lot of time trying to find a purse I would like when my Aunt mentioned seeing these Travelon purses on QVC. I definitely felt a little silly ordering this bag with all of it’s anti-theft features, when it comes down to it, it’s a durable, small, simple purse great for everyday use here. Plus in the end I have been grateful multiple times for the clip-closed zippers when pick pocketers have been caught (unsuccessfully) attempting to open it.
  2. Bestek Universal Travel Adaptor – 100% the most valuable electronic I brought with me and worth every penny. Nearly every volunteer in my group has a Bestek and I think we all feel pretty strongly about their necessity. It conveniently has a ton of plugs, and I feel safe plugging all my stuff in even with the shoddy electricity here.
  3. Set of sheets – Peace Corps gives you sheets during training but they don’t include a fitted sheet, which if you don’t like having to make your bed every day sucks. Although you might not know what size bed your house will come with, most people have a full or twin, so getting a full set is a safeish bet.
  4. Starbucks Via Instant Coffee – It’s so much better than any instant coffee you can buy here, takes up like no space, and the individual packets just make it so much more convenient for traveling. It’s also so good to make into iced coffee which is the only way I got through hot season.

Necessary items that should be obvious:

  • External hard drive
  • Kindle
  • A ton of underwear

Best Care Package Items

  • Initial hesitation before realizing what a joy these bacon crumbles really are

    Kirkland Bacon Bits – This was def one of those care package items that I saw and thought, “Uhhh.. thanks Mom but how am I going to use a pound of bacon bits.” Since then I have used all of the first bag and requested more. These bacon bits are not like the other bacon bits (aka they’re real actual crumbled bacon) and taste so so good. They’re the perfect addition to my onion omelettes and I have developed a quasi-carbonara pasta recipe using them as well.

  • Pesto – Helps break up the tomato sauce monotony. Plus it’s green so I kind of feel like I’m eating a vegetable?
  • Mac N Cheese Powder (by the pound) – Yeah, I eat a lot of pasta. But this stuff is diverse, it also serves as a great topping for popcorn and I’ve made it into a *unique* type of nacho cheese sauce for tacos once and it wasn’t that bad. Its so good that at least two other volunteers who have come to my house and seen this have requested it in care packages.
  • Bags – I don’t know if its a girl thing or a Leslie thing or what, but at home I had a lot of bags for every occasion. Backpacks, totes, purses, pouches etc. When I arrived in Moz I was down to a huge hiking backpack, a tiny “weekender” backpack and my purse. While you can purchase/have bags made from capulana here, I wish I would’ve brought a couple more with me. I had my mom send me this foldable backpack and a couple of reusable grocery bags. They’re cheap and lightweight and take up no room, so I always throw them in my bag when I’m going to the market or city to pick up food and supplies.
  • White t-shirts – It’s really hard to keep white clothes white here. In almost every care package my mom includes one white t-shirt or tank top, and I feel way less guilty about finally throwing out the one that I’ve been wearing and is decidedly more brown than white
  • Foldable fan – Admittedly slightly ridiculous. But MAN does it get hot in the back of a chapa with 15 other people refusing to open the windows because they don’t want to get dusty. People laugh at me for using this but let me just point out that they are usually sweating and I am not.
    A picture’s worth a thousand words
  • Stuff to make you feel/look/smell pretty – Another one that might just be a girl or Leslie thing, but when I was packing I kept thinking in terms of practicality, rather than what I really liked. I somehow thought I would be a very different person here in Moz than I was in America, and that the whole “conservative country” thing would determine my entire wardrobe. While you do have to be more conservative while in town, most volunteers leave site at least once a month. When I’m in the city or on vacation I wear more of my “normal” clothes. Even at home, I find myself really enjoying things like face masks and good home made bars of soap and fancy candles. Some of the best care package items have been crazy lipsticks and short shorts that are definitely inappropriate for site but my favorite things to bring on vacation,and fancy Lush soaps and skin care products to treat myself with at home.

 

Guest Appearance: Mom and Mimi Do Moz

Screenshot_20170717-213954You may have noticed that recently, my blog posting has been lacking. And you may be asking yourself, “I wonder why Leslie hasn’t posted any blogs recently… I wonder if she’s been busy with the start of a new school semester and with the provincial science fair she’s been working on planning?” Or, if you’re anything like my brother, you message the family WhatsApp group demanding to know why I haven’t been giving the world timely updates on my life. And so, this post is dedicated to you Kyle. And so is the post I will eventually write about how the science fair went. I don’t know if you heard but I recently *doubled* my teaching hours (for a grand total of 6 hours a week) so it might be a while before I can find the time for another blog post.

Cooking with Lesh: Matu to Mesa Porco

In Nakhololo, with the majority of our food stalls and stores being without power, our options for eating meat are pretty limited. If we want chicken, we have to travel at least an hour round trip to pick up a frozen one from our district capital, or buy it in the market and kill it ourselves. Due to these circumstances, most of the meat I eat at site comes from 99 met ($1.50) packages of chorizo I stock up on at Shoprite pretty much every time I’m in Nampula city.

As much as I love chorizo, sometimes this non-perishable, processed meat just doesn’t do it for me. Sometimes Kathryn and I want to treat ourselves. And sometimes, important guests like my mom and grandma come to site and I need to try and ~impress~ them with my at site resources and cooking skills. This is where Nakhololo’s exclusive local organic all natural pork butcher, Kathryn’s very own host pai, comes in.

During our site visit, when Kathryn’s pai was explaining to us what he does, he actually referred to himself as a “pork dealer,” rather than a butcher, because he doesn’t just butcher the pigs, he goes out every morning on his motorcycle, usually with his brother along for assistance, out into the bush in search of cheap pigs to buy, bring home, and butcher. The first time I saw two grown men on a tiny motorcycle with a fully grown live pig riding between them I was shocked, but they always make it look so easy that I have somehow grown accustomed to them waving and stopping to chat if they pass me out walking while returning with that day’s pig.

Butchery in Mozambique is different to say the least. Kathryn’s pai kills the pigs in a field right behind the market where they are sold. If you happen to be walking there at around 6am on any given day you may be lucky enough to watch the pig be dragged by its hind legs, screaming, to its death. The actual death seems relatively humane by Moz standards; the pig is lain facing down a dirt incline, the throat is slit, and it bleeds out pretty quickly. Next, the skin is scorched in an attempt to remove the hair. Finally, using a dull machete, the pig is hacked into more manageable pieces and taken to the market for selling. We are lucky enough to get the family discount (120 mets/kilo) and our choice of cut. Although most Mozambicans would usually choose the fattiest pieces first, we always ask for a piece without fat and bones.

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The secret ingredient/the most delicious sweet and tangy and just most absolutely perfect vinegar ever from Oil and Vinegar Frederick (pls sponsor me and support my vinegar addiction)

This recipe, although in no way Mozambican, is one of my absolute favorites to make here. Using a constantly diminishing supply peach balsamic vinegar that my mom has been wonderful enough to continue replenishing through my first 10 months of service, I’ve been able to make this marinade several times and love it more each time.

Peach Balsamic Pork Marinade

  • IMG_20170620_101249 (2)1/4 cup peach balsamic vinegar
  • Big bunch fresh basil, chopped (or dried if your cat ate your basil plant and you were too disheartened to try and grow it again)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste ~1 teaspoon each
  • 1 kilo pork meat with bones, skin, and hair removed, butterflied/sliced thin to cook quicker

IMG-20170621-WA0014.jpgSince you’ve gotta get to the market early in the morning before it sells out, I usually prepare the mixture and let it marinate all day. Once it’s time to cook it I light up the carvão (charcoal) grill, and wait for the coals to burn down until they’re glowing hot, slap the meat on, and go until you’re sure all the parasites in the dirty matu pig are 100% dead. Really though, with it being winter here, it’s pretty much pitch dark by 5:30 which makes telling when the meat is ready almost impossible. My headlamp has become a valuable kitchen accessory when cooking dinner on our charcoal stove outside.

 

**Special shout out to my Mom and Mimi for coming and trusting my cooking of pork in Moz, hope you didn’t get any parasites. Thanks for taking this pics of me for this edition of Cooking with Lesh**

36 Hours in Nampula City

You may have noticed several references to Eléonore in this blog. Although she’s my best friend here in Moz, she lives 6-8 hours away hitchhiking, meaning we usually only get a few hours a month together. Here’s how we spend them.

Eléonore in Mozambique

This post is loosely based on the New York Times’ series: 36 Hours

Nampula City is a little known city outside of Mozambique. Reviews from Lonely Planet include the fact that Nampula “is no sultry good-looker” and Getaway admitting the city is “one of the least inspiring cities to spend time in.”  Yet, it is a haven for Peace Corps Volunteers, home to three large supermarkets and one Mozambican-Chinese restaurant. It might also be the only place to find dip-cones in the north of the country, so it is no wonder that PCVs choose to spend (often times more than) 36 hours here.

Friday:

Wa-Resta Chapa Stop – 13:30 pm

Wa-Resta Chapa stop is the western-most long-distance transportation stop coming into Nampula City. Situated inconveniently about 8 kilometers away from city center mixed and mashed into a local market, Wa-Resta will give you enough of the…

View original post 1,336 more words

“If you liked kids before joining the Peace Corps, you’ll hate them by the time you get out”

– Actual quote heard at a Peace Corps recruiting event –

Before coming to Moz my experience with kids was that one time I babysat my coworkers’ kids overnight. I made 3x my current monthly salary as a volunteer that night and still vowed never to babysit again.

Enter Mozambique, a country where 50% of the population is under the age of 18. All and all, I am lucky to be teaching at an IFP where all the students are adults (even though they sometimes don’t act like it,) and kids are technically banned from campus (even if they always find a way to sneak past the incredibly observant guards.)

Despite all this, it is impossible to avoid the packs of crinças here. Every time I leave campus, or when the kids are bored enough to wander through the fields behind our house and onto our back porch, I am greeted by groups of 7-10 kids ranging from a couple of months to about 10 years old. The leaders are usually the oldest girls, with the youngest of their siblings strapped to their backs, who echo their own mothers by ordering the rest of the group around when things are getting out of hand or there is a dispute over the proper usage of crayons.

Although I feel like I’ve come a long way in my tolerance of kids, this isn’t a story about how I’ve become some type of Mary Poppins. I don’t exactly like the kids, and they know it. Usually when they show up at the house, I pretend like I’m not home. After six months here, they’ve learned to just ask for Catarina.

Which brings us to today. The day when Kathryn left for two weeks for a conference in the city and a visit to America.

As per usual, some crinças who are neighbors with Kathryn’s host family stopped by before class and asked for Catarina. I inform them,

Já foi, she’s already gone.”

They stand there and look at me quizzically, “She went to Marcia’s (Kathryn’s host sister, and their classmate,) house?”

“No, she went to the United States.”

“The United States…? Of America…? My country…?”

“You know that I am American, right?”

“SIIIIIM!” They all yelled simultaneously

“Which means that I am from another country called America”

The kids conferred a bit, and the older ones gave what I can only assume what was an explanation of the situation in Makua. After about 30 seconds, one kid asked,

“So, Catarina is in Nampula City?”

 

“Yes, she is in Nampula city until July”

“….July….?”