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 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.
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