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.

 

81c5+RLpNJL._SY450_
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.

Lucinio
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.

 

IMG_5225
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

 

Advertisements

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!

IMG_20171011_090041

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!

IMG_20171011_143846
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.

IMG_20171011_151245

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.

Cooking with Lesh: Nampula City Central Market

Nampla city is the third largest city in Mozambique, the capital of Nampula province, and best known for its highly skilled pick pocketers. I can get from my front door to the city center in about 1.5 hours on a good day, and frequency make day trips to pick up supplies.  In a recent Instagram post in which I described Nampula City as “The Happiest Place on Earth,” many other volunteers were quick to offer their personal Nampula City horror stories. Despite its largely negative reputation, I love Nampula city. It does smell like pee and thieves have attempted to pick pocket me 6 or 7 times, and I have had several encounters with the notorious “Nampula City Kisser,” who likes to hang out by the super market and kiss unsuspecting shoppers. Despite all this, Nampula City is really my happy place. Unlike my little town of Nakhololo, there’s always something going on, peole to talk to, things to buy, things to eat.

IMG_20170526_184317
Check out that pus! Not what you expected from a cooking post, huh?

This brings us to today’s installment of Cooking with Lesh: Nampula City Central Market edition. Last week I went sent to the city for medical treatment for a scraped knee. Which sounds slightly dramatic until you see the pictures of the resulting infection which I have included here for your viewing pleasure. Luckily after 3 days under the care of the Peace Corps nurse, my knee was looking much better, and I was told I’d be returning home on Thursday. After talking with a friend who lives in the city but works in Nacala (large port city 100k down the EN8 from Nakhololo), and procuring a ride home for that afternoon, I headed to the central market to stock up on some veggies to bring back to site.

Even though we are still during the time of the year where produce should be available, our local market has remained pretty space. Cherry sized tomatoes, small red onions, okra, and the occasional knobby green pepper are pretty much the extent of what is available. Even in our district capital, we can only occasionally find things like cabbage and carrots.  So when I am in the city, I usually try to bring back as much as Kathryn and I can eat before it goes bad.

IMG_20170526_175815I bought all that you can see in the photo abover for 300 mets, or about $5. While it might not look all that exciting, being able to get things like cabbage and carrots and peppers (all of which I never ate before coming to Moz) is often the highlight of my trip to the city.

I plan on using a good portion of the cabbage, peppers, and carrots, along with tomatoes and garlic from our local to make a huge pot of beans to eat next week. The lettuce is a huge treat, but will have to be eatten in the next day as it wilts and goes bad so quickly without refrigeration. Green beans are the vegetable that I most like to get (despite their relatively high price of 100mets or $1.50 per kilo) because they can last us a long time. With all these veggies, we will be eating good for the next week in Nakhololo!

salad.jpg
The secret to a salad that literally made me cry: expired goat cheese from ShopRite with trail mix and lemon vinegar from America

Cooking with Lesh: Curried Mandioca Burgers

Mandioca. Yuca. Cassava. All different names for the same plant that is a staple in the Mozambican diet.  The leaves are used to make a stew called matapa and the roots are eaten dried, fried, and ground into an interesting kind of porridge called caracata that tastes kind of like what I imagine a mixture of sand and rubber cement would taste like.

Based on my previous lack luster experiences with mandioca I never felt all that inclined to do too much cooking with in on my own, until my friend and fellow volunteer Nico came up with the idea of mandioca veggie burgers. Given the prevalence and affordability of mancioca, and the number of times I have eaten beans this week (9), I was excited to try something a little different. I was also excited about this recipe is because it could be made with ingredients I can reliably find at site or in my district capital (~30 minute car ride away,) because I feel like I’ve been relying a lot on ingredients from Nampula City which is close to two hours away.

Ingredients

  • 1 smallish stick of mandioca
  • ½ carrot
  • ½ small onion
  • 1 blub garlic
  • Little bit of flour
  • Bun
  • Cumin, curry powder

How to:

  1. Start by peeling and cutting the mandioca into small cubes, throw it into a boiling pot of water until soft, about 30 minutes or so
  2. Dice the onion, carrot, and garlic into very small pieces, and sauté until lightly browned.
  3. When the mandoica is soft, mash it, and add in the other veggies and spices to taste.
  4. Form into patties, coat in flour (to form better crust) and pan fry.
  5. Toast your bun and add whatever toppings you so desire!

img_20170218_145719-2

The final product was a little bit crumbly, but made a delicious sandwich nonetheless. I added a fried egg (yay protein!), some piri piri sauce, and caramelized onions. I think if I were to make it again, I would also add some avocado because the mandioca itself was a little dry.

Cooking with Lesh: Feijoada

It seems lately this this is turning into a cooking blog, pretty much because cooking has become the most noteworthy part of my day. We still don’t start school for another 3-4 weeks, and to be honest the novelty of going into town to hang out with the neighbors who only speak Macua (which we don’t) and to hang out with the children has kind of worn off. I still usually make it into town at least every other day, mostly to buy bread, tomatoes, and eggs, which along with onions and dried fish make up the majority of what is available in our market. Although our freezer (which cost us a month and a half worth of pay and was worth every single metical) has helped a lot with food storage and variety, these items still have to be used within a day or so of purchase, which means they have to be purchased every other day. It’s semi-annoying to have to go to the market all the time, but at least it forces me out of the house every now and then.
While making our normal rounds from my host family’s house to the market, we noticed that one of the stands along the way had huge bags of rice, grains, beans, and corn for sale by the kilo. We decided to buy some dried beans to make feijoada, a bean stew dish that is pretty common here. Although our recipe deviated slightly from the typical Mozambican version by being about 50% vegetable, we were very pleased with it and I will definetly be making it again (aka tonight because I don’t know if I’ve ever had a more nutritious meal and I want to keep that going)

Feijoada

  • 1.5 cups dried beans – we chose ~boring brown beans~ because they are then only type sold in our market
  • 1/2 cabbage
  • 1-2 carrots
  • 4-5 medium onions
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 10 small tomatoes
  • 1 200g package of chorizo (optional)
  • Curry powder, salt, pepper to taste
  1. Pick out all the sticks, rocks, and leaves that come in your beans when you buy them from the market
  2. Soak beans overnight to help you digest or to stop you from farting or something idk but do it
  3. After beans have soaked, throw them in a big pot of water to boil for about 1 hour. Add a bay leaf or two if you’re feeling it
  4. Cut up all veggies.  Once the beans are at about the halfway point, sautée all the veggies together until they’ve softened up and browned a bit. If you’re going to use chorizo, you can dice it and cook it at this time as well.
  5. Once the beans are mostly done, drain, reserving about a cup of liquid. Add the veggies and chorizo to the bean pan, mix, and add the reserved water if necessary to give it the right texture.
  6. Add in all spices. We used about a tablespoon of medium curry powder and some piri piri sauce because we like things a lil hot. We also found that you need way more salt than we originally expected.
  7. Let it cook down for a bit until it seems right or until you are too hungry to wait anymore.
Pls ignore the dirty grout – cleaning it is my project for this week. I told you my life is boring!

Usually feijoada is served over rice, but we decided to forgo the extra carbs and it was amazing. I ate the leftovers with a fried egg and an iced coffee slushie the next morning for breakfast and can only say that it was truly a transcendent brunch experience for me here in Moz.

Cooking with Lesh: Mozambican Piri Piri Sauce 

Although restaurants here are consistently running out of basic ingredients (e.g. last month when the restaurant in our district capital that only sells chicken ran out of chicken,) I have never been to a restaurant here that failed to serve their food with a side of piri piri sauce. Each restaurant makes the sauce a little different, but the essential ingredient is piri piri peppers that can be bought in any market. After going through multiple bottles of store bought piri piri sauce in our first month here, I decided it was time to try my hand at making the sauce. I consulted a couple of cooks at resutrants where I like the piri piri sauce and a couple of neighbors, and came out with a pretty delicious sauce.

  • 1 big handful piri piri peppers
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 large onion
  • Juice of 10 large lemons
  • Salt
  • Paprika

In asking people how they make the sauce I basically was just told to chop it all up and throw it in a pot, so thats basically what I did. I chopped the onions and garlic up really smally and sautéd them in a pan with oil first, then threw in the chopped up peppers, lemon juice, salt and paprika, and just left it to simmer for a bit. I then let it cook and used a pilão (pestle and mortar) to grind everything up, although you could just use a blender in America.

Usually when you buy piri piri sauce in the market it is sold in empty alcohol bottles, so I put the final product in an gin bottle for that real Mozambican authenticity!