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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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SUA EXCELÊNCIA FILIPE JACINTO NYUSI, PRESIDENTE DA REPÚBLICA DE MOÇAMBIQUE

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

 

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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!

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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.

Changing the world, three hours per week at a time

When the school schedules were released at the beginning of the semester, the school’s pedagogical director explained that I was only given three hours to allow me time to “learn the ways of Africa.” He constantly stressed that I could request more hours at any time, which, as evidenced by the fact that I am still teaching only three hours a week, has not exactly been proven true.

I know what you’re thinking: “wait, you left everything you love in America to teach three hours a week?” Peace Corps also seems to think this is some type of issue, because every time I run into staff members on my frequent trips to Nampula, they bring up my “issues at site,” even though I can’t ever remember complaining about anything in Nakhololo to them, because when it comes down to it, I’m really living the Posh Corps life and don’t have a lot to complain about.

My completely unrestricted schedule allowes me to come up with revolutionary classroom activities such as the “Soil Competition,” we held this week, in which I unleased my students on the world in search of the most interesting soil they could find, to present to the rest of the class in hopes of winning a pack of mint knockoff Oreos.

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wau, check out that solo calcário !!!

He knew learning about dirt could be so interesting???

While only having three hours per week of teaching has made motivating myself to do anything difficult, it has also given me time to work on the Peace Corps “secondary projects.” In Mozambique there are a handful of national projects that include youth groups, English Theater competitions, and Science Fair/Club. We had two English clubs going strong, but the numbers have fizzled down and we now only have one student from my original group who still regularly attends, and as it seemed kind of awkward to have an English group with one student and two teachers, I stepped back from this, as much as I enjoyed practicing English with this student.  Plus, it turns out we can’t even compete in the English Theater competition because our students have an “unfair advantage,” even though they don’t even teach English at our school.

I attended the youth group trainings in March, but kind of realized I’m not really a youth group kind of person… Which leaves me with ~*~**SCIENCE CLUB/FAIR**~*~

In January, I applied to become Nampula’s provincial science fair coordinator, and was selected along with Victoria, our nearest volunteer. This actually sounds a lot more important than it is, so far it has just involved multiple useless trips to Nampula city where (even when our counterparts show up) little gets accomplished. At least we can expense our Chinese food lunches.

Science club, on the other hand, has been probably most fulfilling project at site. I have been super lucky in that the other two science teachers at my school are both competent and super jazzed about the whole idea, and have really taken the project on as their own. More often than not, they lead the sessions while I stand in the corner smiling and nodding, which is fine by me.

The science club curriculum involves a series of 5 or so meetings and experiments designed to teach the students the scientific method, dependent and independent variables, and how to design their own project all in preparation of the national science fair. At the IFP, the first 3 weeks of the science curriculum were dedicated to pretty much teaching the same stuff, meaning we finished the curriculum in no time. With no more “official” experiments to conduct, I was over joyed when one of our students Jamal offered to show off a demonstration of his science fair project for the rest of the group. Using only ~local materials~ found in our market, he tested different types of solutions to see which would conduct electricity best to light a small LED light. It was awesome to seem him explain his use of the scientific method and apply his knowledge to a real life scenario: getting struck by lightening while swimming in the ocean. Or, more commonly, getting shocked by your electric stove while barefoot but not while wearing flip flops. His whole demonstration just made my heart happy, I was so proud of him for being able to correctly answer all the question the other students were asking him, like what his independent variable was. On Tuesday we are having a “workshop” for everyone’s projects, and I have high hopes for the rest of their experiments. They’ve been extremly secretive about what they’re actually doing, which kind of worries me, but means I’ll be very surprised on Tuesday when I finally will find out what they’ve been working on!