Recebendo Visita

It’s been over four years since I sat down for my first day of study abroad orientation, in São Paulo. The first thing the professor told us was “for the first couple of weeks, there will be things that will shock you, surprise you, confuse you… write them down because soon you’ll be used to them” and so I did. Or so, I tried.

So when I moved to Mozambique, I thought I’d do the same…. but life caught up and I forgot. After some time, life here seems normal. My house quickly became a home, and the things that annoyed me (roosters at 4am), confused me (the call to prayer), shocked me (blatant low level corruption in schools), soon became the norm.

I’ve always thought that a home is where my family is, but even without them, Malema quickly moved from being where my house was, to where my home is. It all came full circle when after 21 months in country (almost exactly!), mom and my littlest (taller than me) sister stepped off of a teeny 37 seater airplane into the lovely Nampula airport.

Full circle. Worlds collide. I assumed that because I’ve called home (almost) every single day since I’ve arrived to Mozambique, my mom would not be shocked/surprised/confused about anything. But I’m especially thankful for having a visita here, which helped me see both Malema (and the rest of Nampula) with new eyes while also reinforcing everything I’ve loved about this country for the past 21 months. (especially the people, who are ever so hospitable, but also the food, the mountains, the oceans, the school including the indisciplinados…)

I will never be able to choose an eloquent set of words to explain the emotions, (including the tiniest bit of frustration), awe, and happy tears, that I had for Mom and Pauline who stayed in my little house in Malema for four nights and were patient, polite, and understanding (turns out DuoLingo Portuguese really works!) with me, my neighbors, my school, a district science fair that started with a three hour delay, countless photoshoots with my friends, eating chicken without utensils, and all with minimal food poisoning (though that last point was probably just good luck).

Most of these pictures are stolen from their cameras, since they saw everything with fresh and bright eyes and gave me a new appreciation for the beauty of Malema, Ilha, and even Nampula City.

Without further ado, my favorite pictures of our time in Mozambique together.

 

 

 

Ps. If by chance there are any Peace Corps families contemplating visiting…. I highly recommend it! Clearly, I reaped the benefits (restaurant meals, hotel beds, an entire suitcase filled with snacks and dictionaries for my students!) But it was so beneficial for me to see that there was someone from home who lived a piece of minha realidade.

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Love My Pit Latrine

A few months ago, I was at the airport awaiting the verdict on yet another cancelled flight. As hoards of passengers rushed towards the check-in section, I befriended a trio of angry Mozambican chefes. When the airline lady confirmed our worst fears— that the plane wouldn’t leave until the next morning— my new friends complained as I halfway rejoiced.

“Well at least we’ll have a warm shower.”
“What do you mean? You don’t have a shower at your house?”
“Nope, it’s just me and my pit latrine.” I replied, to three faces who were shocked and amused at the same time.
“You Americans are crazy.”

Pit latrines consecutively top the list of frequently asked questions that Peace Corps Volunteers have as they land in Mozambique. On my third day in Moz, arriving to my host family’s house, I was relieved to see that they had the nicest type of bathrooms for Namaacha— a dump flush. A real toilet placed over a hole inside their house— I was relieved that I didn’t need to learn how to squat over a black hole like my friends who were unfortunate enough to only have a pit latrine in their host houses.

After swear-in, I arrived to my new house in Malema, apprehensive and disappointed when I saw that I had gotten a outdoor bathroom, the new home of my pit latrine. Though I didn’t know it on day one, throughout its’ 17 months of use, my pit latrine would bring in praise from all volunteers who visited my house.

As trainees, there was a definite hierarchy in terms of toilets. The gold medal went to the flushable toilet that we all knew and loved, (one that would become a rarity in the next two years). Silver went to the dump flush. This mysterious entity was almost a toilet, just one with no running water— in order to flush, one would have to dump copious amounts of water at just the right angle to make number twos disappear— hence the name, dump flush. The bronze went to the pit latrine, the most under appreciated of all toilets. Though every pit latrine has their own personality- they are generally in an outhouse separated from the main house building. Made of a concrete block with a hole on it, in order to use it, one must perfect both their squatting and their aim. As trainees, its’ safe to say we were scared of pit latrines.

The hierarchy quickly changed as we started living on our own. My pit latrine – though scary to use at night and the home of a stubborn family of cockroaches, never smells. I can’t say the same for all my volunteer friends’ who have a dump flush. Though symbolically a fancier version of the pit latrine- the upkeep of a dump flush is ridiculous. My host mãe would spend 15 minutes scrubbing ours every day… turns out most volunteers aren’t as determined as she is to keep it clean.

Until I joined Peace Corps, I took every toilet I sat on for granted. Around the world, 2.5 billion people are still without access to improved sanitation, the fancy word used to determine a facility that separates human excreta from human contact, aka my pit latrine. The statistic for Sub Saharan Africa is even more shocking, the lowest in the world, with only 30% of the population having access to improved sanitation devices. Open defecation is a grave reality here. The issue with having a lack of access to improved sanitation facilities does not only mean that we have a smelly situation. It means disease. Even small amounts of human excreta can pass on diarrheal diseases, such as choleraDiarrhea is the second leading cause of death among children under the age of five, disproportionately harmful for those affected with HIV.

Environmentally speaking, pit latrines are extremely environmentally friendly. I never need to dump water into it, And after perfecting the art of the bucket bath, (it’s surprisingly easy to rinse out conditioner with no shower!) I’ve been able to keep my water usage to under 20 liters a day (including drinking water), 1/20th or five percent of what the average American uses daily. 

So the moral of the story is that even though I once doubted it, yes, my pit latrine, and everything it represents, is the shit, but that won’t take away from the fact that I will rejoice a bit when my flight is cancelled and I am put into a hotel with a flushing toilet and a shower with lots of water pressure.

Second Time’s the Charm

 

Two weeks ago was the last-first-day of school for Professora Leonora. Armed with my first lesson written on papel gigante, giant paper, and a list of bullet points of what administrative things I had to talk about in the first class— I walked in, shoulders back, chin up.

I don’t remember my first-first-day last year, it was a bit of a blur. I know I was nervous, sweaty (but I blame that on the weather) and just beyond confused. I didn’t know where the classrooms were, the students were taller and some were older than me, and I blanked on the Portuguese word for cheating.

Next week I’m entering my 18th month of service. Over that time the group of 65 Peace Corps Volunteers I’d arrived in Mozambique with has diminished to 54 for multiple reasons– health, safety, boredom, salaries/relationships waiting in the U.S. I would be lying if I said there weren’t (many, many) times where I considered hopping on a plane to JFK and not looking back, but older volunteers kept saying that the second year is much easier.

I didn’t really believe them, overall, my first school year had gone pretty well— I liked my students, and most of them liked me, most importantly I never felt disrespected at school. I liked my house, my neighbors, and I had found numerous ways to cope with the boredom, isolation and the harassment that is bound to happen when you are a woman living alone in a foreign country.

So I didn’t think much would change between the first and the second year. As I walked in my first class, though, I didn’t feel nervous. My five minute introductory presentation about why they have a American mukunha teacher this year flowed perfectly. I didn’t trip up on my Portuguese, I didn’t stutter. I was almost on autopilot.

As Peace Corps Volunteers we talk a lot about how we’re always tired. There are many reasons for this; bad quality mattresses, constantly being surrounded by new things, new mannerisms, new norms every day, having to communicate in one or two new languages while walking around a new town. I can only speak for myself, but I’m very rarely on autopilot here. I find myself paying attention to everything that is happening around me, because even if I’ve been in Malema for over a year now, everything is still new(ish).  But these past two weeks at school, I’ve been (almost) on autopilot. I now know how to take attendance, where to get new chalk, how to organize my notes on the board so that they’re written in the most comprehensible way for my students. I can recognize the faces of confusion and know which words in Portuguese to use when begging them to ask questions or let me know what they don’t understand.

I’m not saying that I think things this second year will be easy, but they will definitely be easier. Monday marks the start of the third week at school. I just finally got my class lists, and with a budget shortage, the Mozambican government is also experiencing a national teacher shortage. My classes are about 20% larger than the were last year- topping off at 103 students per room right now, but inscriptions are going on until March- so that number will continue to rise. Yet, in comparison to last year, I feel like I actually am a part of the school, with a few interesting projects in the works— another professor and I are going to start up a Science Club, my students from last year want to get English Club and Theater going as quickly as possible, and I’m hoping to be able to paint a mural or two with the design students.

I have about nine months left to my contract here, and though there will still be days when I will want to hop on that plane back to New York (and eat a bagel with lox), I’m looking forward to the next 280-ish days (but whose counting?)

 

…..

Ps. If anyone knows of any companies that will want to hire me come November 2018, let me know!

Estou Doente

I hate being sick. I don’t recall a time I’ve vomited without crying, longing for my mom while I’m hunched over the toilet. My biggest fear about living in Mozambique was being sick. The running joke between Peace Corps Volunteers is that you aren’t a real PCV until you’ve shat your pants. I vowed never to get to that point (and I haven’t yet, thankfully).

My fear of being sick probably has a lot to do with the fact that I was always a low key hypochondriac, the hypochondria escalating when I got sent to live alone. In order to combat this, I’ve done everything I can to stay healthy. Boil and filtering my water, peeling, bleaching or cooking my vegetables. Making sure my meat is thoroughly cooked through, getting my eight hours of sleep, taking my multi-vitamins and my anti-malarials.

Overall, I’ve held a pretty good sickness track record in Mozambique. Mild food poisoning, a few bouts of fever, a possible encounter with rabies (and the accompanying vaccines). Nothing compared to most of my friends, whose intestines seem to be mad at them since the first day we’ve arrived in country. I think I’ve been lucky for the most part, my immune system is strong and holding up, and my sickness paranoia has helped me avoid taking unnecessary risks. I also think it’s not fair to my students for me to be sick. I only teach three (loaded) days a week- and if I’m sick, it’s not difficult to miss all three days, aka 1/14 of the classes of that trimester.

That brings us to this Monday. Usually, I don’t work on Mondays but the school year is over (finally!) and I was at school in order to proctor exams. Honestly, one of the most boring jobs of the school year, spending ninety minutes staring students down and explaining that yes, looking at your neighbors’ paper is cheating. Minus 5. Sitting on my chair, I started to cold sweat, and after the first 90 minute period, I fled the school, hopped on my bike and had to run to my bathroom when I got home. Damnit, I was sick.

I thought it would pass after 12 hours, but it just seemed to be getting worse. Peace Corps doctors recommended I stick to a BRAT diet, which I realized wasn’t possible since I had zero of those things in my house. (When will I learn to hoard saltines?) After 24 hours of Gatorade, oral rehydration salts and eating the last banana I owned, I decided it was time to look somewhat acceptable and knock on my neighbors door. I could hear Neusa and Leticia, the two 10-year-old first graders and arguably my best friends here at site, arguing about what music to play.

“Hey, if you guys are done with school do you mind going to the market and getting me bread and bananas, I’m sick and I have no food at home.”

“Uh oh are you okay? We can’t leave the babies at home alone- wait, we’ll go find someone to watch them!”

They said as they ran around the bairro looking for a cousin, neighbor, or older brother. I tried to tell them I could wait until the afternoon but not even three minutes later they had found their step brother and his friends to watch the house and the babies. Less than 15 minutes later I was the proud owner of 3 days worth of bread and 10 bananas. In exchange, they each got a shiny 5 met coin (the equivalent of $0.08) and a lollipop. I think I just invented Malema’s very first delivery service.

Being sick in Mozambique is nothing like being sick in America. Gossip spreads like bush fires here, and after missing school for 12 hours, I started getting multiple texts and Facebook messages from students (even those who barely participate in class). “Professora, rapidas melhoras” Get better soon. My door started knocking, neighbors mad that I didn’t tell them I was sick because they would have brought me sopa or xima, which they promise would make me feel better. Others telling me they’ll take me to hospital, not letting the subject drop until I tell them I’m already in contact with my projecto doctors, and that likely, I have all the medication I need in my med kit we were given during training.

In a sense, its a bit annoying to be feverish, not having brushed my teeth in 24 hours, let alone put on deodorant and have to answer the door multiple times a day to tell another person that I’m fine, it’s just stomach issues. On the other hand, wow, knowing that people just want to check up on you when you’re sick is the Peace Corps’ equivalent of your mom feeding you soup and saltines when you have the stomach bug. And though I never ever ever want to get malaria or another serious illness, it’s reassuring to know that if that does happen, I’m in great hands here in Malema. 

O Dia Internacional da Menina

Today, October 11th, is the international day of the girl. As I’ve said again and again, living in Mozambique has made me more aware of my gender than ever before.

Here woman and girls face disproportionately high rates of HIV, premature marriage, and early school drop outs because of the enormous rates of gender inequality.

Fellow PCV and friend, Leah, made a beautiful and equally sobering video with help from girls in her town, about what it means to be a girl here in Mozambique.

Some sobering statistics that I repeat everytime someone asks me why we need to have a “day for girls”:

But this can change! And this should change! Because…

So the point is, not only is it fair to keep empowering and educating girls around the world, but it’s also beneficial to society as a whole.

Viva as mulheres. Hoye!



ING-glish Tea-YAY-ter

During training about a year ago, we had an afternoon information session on the secondary projects that already exist in Peace Corps Mozambique. REDES (a girls empowerment group), JUNTOS (a community activism youth group), Science Club, Grassroots Soccer and English Theater. All of those sounded pretty cool except for English Theater. I have never been a theater kid, never had any theater friends, and got visibly embarrassed when called up to the front of a classroom to present a 45 second skit. That is the one secondary project I would never do, I thought to myself. But… as Justin Beiber once said, “never say never.”

Fast forward to the second trimester of the school year and a student I didn’t know comes up to me, and in explains that he used to go to school in Meconta and there were these American teachers that did theater, would I be doing a theater group as well? It took me a while to understand the request through the broken English and commotion of passing time, but how do you say no to a kid who just wants to learn. “Uhhh… yeah I guess we can do it,” I hesitantly promised.

I called my first meeting for a Sunday afternoon at school. “Ha, no one is going to show up,” said a colleague, “these kids in Malema are too lazy”.

17 showed up. We had a group.

The first assignment was to watch novelas and decide what parts we liked. “The guns!” “The drama!” “The babies!” The second assignment was to decide a plotline for our piece. We already knew we’d need to choose a final group of nine to compete in the provincial competition. This year’s theme was “different isn’t bad” and the group settled on albinism. Right as we chose our topic, the New York Times came out with an interesting photo essay about living with albinism in Northern Mozambique and Malawi. 17 copies of that later, we spent days reading the article out loud. Awkward chuckles when we had to repeat the word albino, over and over and over again. Al-bee-no, albee-now, al-bin-aw, ohhh, oh, AL-bine-oh.

Pronunciation was not a strong point for Malema.

Third semester began and I was getting more nervous. Rumor had it that the city schools were GOOD. Audition time came around, and the chosen nine were the ones who dedicated the most hours to writing the script and coming to practice. Should I have instead chosen the best speakers who always showed up late? As September approached, I was running around town, printing revised version of scripts, permission slips, and letters of explanation.

“Teacher, I’m not sure my dad will let me go. After all… you are… you know, white… and I’m not sure he wants me to travel with a mukunha teacher, this is the first time a field trip has happened for students from Malema, and he thinks I’m just going to namorar (date),” my star actress told me two weeks before the day of the competition. Shit. I only had three girls, and I didn’t want to lose them. I was desperate to prove that girls can excel too. Cue a few more days of tracking down any important chefe of school. Director, vice-director, or any important teacher with a chefe-belly. A last minute with them and the parents explaining that yes, it will be overnight on the Island of Mozambique, that all transportation, food and lodging costs would be taken care of. “My phone will be on loud all weekend, girls and boys will be sleeping in different rooms, this will be a great opportunity for your child?” I pleaded and reassured, as they one-by-one signed their child’s permission slip.

The nine hour/two chapa journey to the island was easy. I practiced by PTA-Field-Trip-Mom skills, making sure these teenagers were fed and not lost or car sick. We even got there early enough for the kids to drink a soda on the beach, first time at the beach for at least half of them. For a friends’ group- it was the first time that one of his kids’ saw a paved road!

The competition went smoothly. Topics included socio-economic classes, religion, sexual orientation and albinism. Some groups had boys dressed as girls, which made me even prouder that Malema was the group with the most girls participating. (though only having 1/3 of girls is really not something to be proud of, this country has a long way to go). There was a stark contrast between the levels of the city schools, which usually have smaller classes and more resources, (some even have youth centers where kids can go for after-school tutoring), and rural schools, with enormous class numbers. (Mine are between 87 and 92 kids each, while some friends have less than 40). But that’s how Mozambique is, that’s how the world is. A culmination of small variables; location and luck, that determine the opportunities a child will have throughout their lives.

Though we didn’t place, I think this was the closest I had ever felt to being a proud parent. Trying to console kids who are almost my age that yes, we are still winners, we didn’t place but we were “probably” in fourth place (pipe dreams). It was incredible to see these nine kids grow, as English speakers, as studiers, as self-confident young adults. I couldn’t be prouder of my three alunas (girl students), who went home certificate in hand, and were back to school on Monday answering questions correctly with their voices loud and strong.

Tomorrow will be Malema’s very first English Club meeting. A group that the theater kids insisted on starting. “Teacher, we need to work on pronunciation, other groups spoke with YOUR accent. We want to learn your accent teacher.”

So as much as I was dreading starting a theater group, it is by far the most rewarding experience I’ve had in Malema. Spending countless hours with those kids, I have learned about their hopes and dreams, and I couldn’t be prouder to say that two of them want to be English teachers as well. As for the English, well, the students of Escola Secundaria de Malema have a little bit of a ways to go before speaking with my accent, but we’re off to a pri-TEA gr-ate stART.

Cheias e Secas

 

It’s somehow fitting, yet sadly ironic that the day I started my unit on ‘Droughts, Floods and Climate Change’, breaking news reports were saying that hurricane Irma was to be the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic.
“The theme today is floods and droughts, I told the class. Cheias e secas.”

Mozambicans live outside. They may sleep inside of houses but their lives depend on outside. The success of machambas, the substinence farms every Mozambican tends to, depend on the rain. Washing clothes, dishes and bodies are done in the river. Drinking water comes from wells. Finite sources which can run out after a few months of falta de chuva. Some rural towns have a falta de agua, lack of water, for three months of the year. Cities have water shortages. The taps only work two hours a day twice a week.
During rainy season, rain is king. The predictable storms mean that in the morning, people are farming and in the afternoon, no one attends class– it’s not like you can’t hear anything the teacher is saying if the rain is beating down on the tin roof four hours a day.

The first time I heard a Mozambican mention climate change was my third day here.
“What are those types of trees?” I asked my host Pai, still new enough in the house where making conversation was a must in order to be polite.
“Tangerines…. when I was young the trees were FILLED with them. From May to December we had tangerines. But for the past couple of years we have had none. Namaacha doesn’t have enough water, the weather is too hot.”

As while the United States has climate denier on what seems like every street corner (and even in government offices), in Mozambique; I have yet to meet one.
When people ask us what our projecto is about, we almost always reply “é para fazer um troco de experiências entres os dos países,” to faciliate an exchange of experiences between both countries. So here is something maybe Americans can learn. Climate change is real. And it may not affecting us Americans much. We can’t feel the warmer summers because our air conditioners keep our houses to a cool 67, we don’t notice that tangerines don’t grow, because they are stocked year round, imported from far away places, in the supermarkets. But in Mozambique we can feel it. Climate change is an elementary school missing a roof because of the strongest cyclone of the decade, it’s the child who dies of malnutrition because the past year didn’t have enough rain, and thus nutritious foods are not available or affordable.

In this weeks’ lesson plan, one of the fill in the blanks was “Both droughts and famines can result in water becoming contaminated.
This can cause waterborne diseases such as cholera.” Another sentences was more reassuring. “Although droughts and famines are natural disasters, there are things we can do to prevent them.”

So if you don’t do anything to slow down climate change for yourself, do it for the rest of the world. As today’s grammar exercises reminded, diarrheal diseases (of which cholera is one of them), is the second leading cause of death for children under five.

Class ended with my iPad screen showing videos of Hurricane Harvey rescue missions. I attempted to explain that these aren’t usually rivers, they are highways, this isn’t usually a lake, there are two-story houses somewhere underneath there. Yet, there are still people who don’t believe in climate change, I exclaimed.
Uau, estão mal lá, parece que a terra está zangado com eles.” A student replied. Wow, it is bad there, it seems that the earth is mad at them.

Day 365

Today marks 365 days in Mozambique. Volunteers from Moz 27 are commemorating in their own special ways all around the country- I’ve put together a short video showcasing the views from the Estradas Nacionais, the main roads, especially the EN13- my most frequented road.

As much as I wish I had the eloquence to be able to sum up the past 365 days with words, I’d rather copy-paste the start of a poem one of my friends and fellow volunteer, Peggy,  wrote about the past 365 days. (I highly recommend checking out the whole thing, and her whole blog!)

HERE’S TO 365 DAYS
Of filling up water buckets at the crack of dawn
Of hand washing clothes on the back lawn
Of boiling kettles water for hot bucket baths
Of walking to school to teach kids maths
Of uncomfortable rides in overcrowded cars
Of eating xima and pork at local bars
Of setting small fires to burn my own trash
Of waiting in long lines to withdraw cash

Of nodding through conversations without knowing what’s said
Of becoming friends with the ladies who sell me bread
Of eating countless meals of rice and beans
Of 80 degree days being cold enough for jeans
Of wearing a white bata that can never stay clean
Of trying to turn down proposals without seeming mean

Recenseamento Geral da População e Habitação

’Tis the season for the national census. Primary and secondary schools have been given an especially long break between the second and third trimester for this once-in-about-every-ten-years special occasion. As I packed my bags to cumprimentar minha familia in Europe, I didn’t think twice about the census, but the week I got back to Malema, two men in bright yellow t-shirts and matching hats knocked on my quintal door.

“Oh, this is for the census?” I asked, hating myself for saying that after having read their shirts that said in clear bold capital letters: CENSUS 2017- 4th Population and Housing Census of Mozambique.   “I’m not sure if I’m allowed to answer though, I’m not Mozambican?” (Clearly…. Eléonore stop stating the obvious.) I could hear the crianças next door giggle.

As the yellow-clad men explained that the census was for every person in Mozambique, I invited them to sit in my bright orange chairs.

“Name?”

“Eleonora van Tulder” I glanced over to see how they spell it. L-i-o-n-o-r-a V-a-n-t-u-t-e-r, close enough.

“Where were you born? City and province please.”

“Nova Yorke…. uhh New York, qualquer” N-e-w I-y-o-r-k, I watch them spell, not working up the courage to correct them.

“Age?”

“Vente e dois”

“Do you live here alone?”

“Yes, makes it easier for the paperwork right?” That got a chuckle as they skiped over the next couple of pages.

“No kids? Aren’t you lonely? You should have a baby in Malema!!” This went on for a while, as it always does… but the next questions are the ones that got more interesting.

“You speak Portuguese, and English right? Mahkuwa? Any other languages” I chuckled as I watched them fill in a blank for French.

“How do you get around, you have a car right?” I chuckled and pointed to my bike, “só isso.”

“Do you use a phone? Computer? M-Pesa?”

M-Pesa is the mobile banking system that started off in Kenya over a decade ago. It is credited as the reason why Africa is known as the leader in mobile banking services, and being able to reduce barriers to situational poverty because of easier access to money when banks and ATMs are not available. 

Some of my friends even got asked whether or not they owned an iron to iron their clothes. Though I’ve never been responsible for filling out a census in the U.S., I’m sure the questions aren’t as telling as the ones here in Mozambique. With a census done every ten years, it is a valuable way to track development in the country, and in the specific locations within this country. The last census, done in 2007 recorded 20.8 million inhabitants, the number estimated to reach 27 million this year. Despite there having been some logistical difficulties during the first week, the census teams have already recorded 6 million people and are on track to finishing by August 15th, in time for the first day of the third trimester— August 21st.

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

 

6:45 am, the national anthem has been sung, the flag is waving and the students are lined up ready to go to class. “One last announcement for the girls,” says the Pedagogical Director, “We have already had to move 16 girls to night class this year because they got pregnant. If you are pregnant, or your stomach is getting bigger, you’ve missed your period, or you’ve been having sex, you have until Friday to get the secretary to move you to night class or you will be kicked out of school the second we realize that you are with child.” My eyes probably visibly rolled because I am getting more than a little bit annoyed by the announcements directed towards girls and only girls— last time I checked, it takes two to make a baby.

I walked into my first class and brought up the announcement. “Just a reminder that that there are free condoms at the health center. And as always, qualquer duvida, any doubts, you can come to me as an anonymous resource.”

The class clown fished a bright red condom packet out of his wallet, “Senhora Professora, I always carry one on me,” he said, making everyone giggle again.

The condom discussion lead to a know-it-all tell me that “we all already know what condoms are, tea-chah,” only to have the class shush him. “Ah, é? Oh yeah? Who can come up to the front and show the class what the best way to open a condom is, does anyone know if condoms have an expiration date?”

Nãooo, Professora, we don’t really know, he’s just being a troublemaker, do you think you could bring some condoms to class tomorrow?” I sent a quick text to my health site mate in order to set up a mini-presentation about condom usage for next week. Mozambique’s secondary school curriculum does not have any specific sexual education classes, sex ed is recommended to be included in 8th grade biology, but my students confirmed that all they know about sex is from talking to friends, and the rare presentation.

Because I am a foreigner (ain’t it obvious?), I try to use my foreign-ness as an asset when talking about taboo-ish topics such as sex. My students know that I don’t know their parents, that I won’t gossip with the school secretaries, they also know I have zero shame walking into the health center to pick up condoms for them.

Mozambique has an estimated 11.5% rate of HIV prevalence, the 8th highest in the world. Teenage pregnancy is a lot higher, with over 40 percent of girls having given birth before turning 18. Other Peace Corps Volunteers who have gone to Science Club trainings with their Mozambican counterparts have told me that the HIV/condom demonstrations were the first time most of those counterparts had seen a condom.

After class ended, a student came up to me, and in a half whisper asked if maybe we could do HIV testing at school on the day of the presentation. “I’ll see what I can do,” I said, realizing silently that there still needs to be a lot more talk about sex, baby.

Inspiration for this post’s title comes from the 1990’s hit, Let’s Talk About Sex, which was written with the intention of facilitating the conversation about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States.