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. 

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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.

36 Hours in Nampula City

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

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

Friday:

Wa-Resta Chapa Stop – 13:30 pm

Wa-Resta Chapa stop is the western-most long-distance transportation stop coming into Nampula City. Situated inconveniently about 8 kilometers away from city center mixed and mashed into a local market, Wa-Resta will give you enough of the shock to enter Nampula City. Usually by the time you’ve come here from my side of the EN8, it means your boleiaing, hitchhiking, situation didn’t work out as planned and you’ve had to opt for public transportation. 2/3 of the time, you drank too much water in the Chapa and will be forced to catch a 200 met taxi towards Ruby’s Hostel, instead of the 10 met inner-city chapa, because otherwise you will pee your pants. While at Wa-Resta, make sure to hide your phone in your money belt and lock your backpack tight, banditos are no joke here.

2. Ruby’s Backpackers – 13:50

A 20 minute taxi ride towards city center will bring you to Ruby’s. A favorite Peace Corps hang out stocked with two rooms of dorm beds that will set you back 750 mets, and a few private rooms, Ruby’s is also conveniently located between Nampula’s three supermarkets and some of the best bars. Ruby’s veranda is a favorite to lounge eating take-away if one is too tired to actually leave the hostel for dinner or lunch one day.

3. Lua’s Chinese – 14:20

After having peed and checked into Ruby’s, head down the street and to the left until you find a hidden restaurant stacked on top of storage containers. You’ll probably be the last to arrive at Lua’s meeting up with other PCVs on the so-called balcony, decorated by sun-washed red lanterns, and Cerveja Manica plastic coated tablecloths. Try the 40 met spring rolls and split order 103, frango com amedoin, piri-piri e verduras. If your stomach doesn’t hurt from having overestimated your hunger, then head across the street to get a chocolate dip-cone (110 mets) before heading back to Ruby’s to rest through your food coma in peace.

4. Sporting Bar – 20:00

By 8pm, it is pitch black outside, your food coma has mostly disappeared, and you and a couple other PCVs are craving gin and tonics, amarrula and coffee or whatever drink of choice that you can’t find at site. Take a left and then an immediate right as you are exiting Ruby’s, and three blocks later, you’ll find Sporting Bar. Named for the Portuguese soccer team and with arguably the best terrace in Nampula, its a perfect place to post up at the bar in front of whatever soccer game is playing that day (but don’t forget your bug spray and malaria prophylaxis!) As you order your drinks, realize that you won’t be back in the city for another month or two, and treat yourself, order the shrimp petisco with garlic sauce or the beef kebab.

Saturday:

1. Nampula Central Market – 6:45

Wake up at Ruby’s, clutching a bottle of water and wondering if last night’s idea of starting Nampula’s first sushi-sake bar with a fellow Peace Corps volunteer is actually a feasible idea. Look at the bunk across from you and see that said PCV is awake and also craving avocados. Put on your fanny pack, bring 100 mets, leave your phone behind and head out to the Nampula Central Market, on the hunt for eggs, avocados and onions, to make avocado toast for breakfast. Spend 15 minutes walking about the aisles, wondering why your site only has tomatoes, onions and the lonely cucumber, compared to the Central Market which oddly reminds you of Mozambican versions of the Whole Foods’ vegetable section.

2. ShopRite – 9:00

After a lovely breakfast, it’s time to get down to business, you have at least 15 items on your shopping list and that requires a stop at at least 2 of the 3 aforementioned supermarkets. First stop is ShopRite, where you spend more minutes than you want to admit oogling at the cheese section. The wine aisle is a quick stop— where you fit a PCV favorite: a dry white called Unbelievable, in your basket. At the cheap price of 229 mets and the fact that it does not taste awful really does make it unbelievable.

3. Flavours and Friends – 10:30

After checking out of ShopRite, making sure none of the creeps that hang out in the entrance try to kiss you, you speed walk across the street to Flavours and Friends, a new café with delightful ham and cheese puff pastry tarts. Settle for one of those accompanied with a seasonal fruit juice (last month’s was beet-apple-orange) and get all those vitamins inside your body! Make sure you tip the waiters, who put up with a bit too much shit and yet are extremely attentive.

4. Cafe VIP/Supermercado Spar – 12:00

After spending an hour lounging in Flavours and Friends it’s time to hit the road again, grab your bags and walk the 10 minutes to Cafe VIP/Supermercado Spar. Conveniently located one on top of another, VIP is known for its delicious and enormous Shwarma Platters while Spar usually has Nutella and shampoo on sale. Order the Shwarma de Carne or Kafta, and try to force yourself to finish the copious amounts of food (fries with garlic aioli) until you give up and return to Ruby’s for your second food-coma nap of the past 24 hours.

Quick tip: On your way towards VIP, you might stop by an abandoned veranda where four of five men are selling what we call “Nampula Sandals.” Leather and beaded, made in Tanzania, they come in all shapes, colors and sizes. Haggle them down to 600 mets, wear them for a day to break them in, and then never take them off again.

5. Museu – 16:00

By 16, you’re up again, wondering what you have to do for the rest of the day. Three blocks away from Ruby’s is the Museu, a museum of ethnology in Nampula. The large building can be visited for 100 mets, but the real treasure is the hidden artisans’ market in the courtyard behind the museum. Makonde craftsmen working with pão preto, black wood, making sculptures, pilãozinhos, and even keychains with your name or phone number. Prices are easily 5 times less expensive than the Maputo Artisan Market (but the selection is a lot more limited). After wandering the different stands, enter the straw roofed restaurant hidden under shady trees on your left and enjoy a fresh pineapple juice (shot of rum added in: optional) for 170/250 mets.

6. DDPub/MP3 – 23:30

If you have the courage to go home exhausted on Sunday, the two most popular night clubs in Nampula are DDPub and MP3. In order to look your chiquiest, wear mostly white clothes (which will glow under the blacklight) and pull out that lipstick that you were sure you had misplaced. Mozambicans love to dance so gather that courage and twirl into the night to the sounds of Mr. Bow or CEF. For more information of DDPub or MP3, look up their Facebook pages, where you’ll find out if theres cover and/or a theme.

Sunday:

1. Wa-Resta Chapa Stop 8:00

Your journey on Sunday will end right where it began 36 hours earlier. The one and only Wa-Resta. Get there early and stare at the EN8, wondering if any of these cars are going to your destination. Walk ten minutes past where the chapas are parked and start waving your hand and smiling as hard as you can to every Ford Ranger or Toyota Hilander you see passing by. Either you get lucky and someone brings you towards your home, or you give up after an hour or so of waiting in the hot African sun, and get yourself on a chapa, bracing yourself for the discomfort, bruises and smells that come with Mozambican public transportation.

Honorable Mentions (for those who have more than 36 hours in Nampula City): Sunlight Food Court, Istanbul Restaurant, Cobacana Restaurant, Milenio Hotel and Restaurant, Rocheio Supermarket.
A HUGE shout-out to Peace Corps Volunteer, and fellow blogger, Leslie for teaching me how to love Nampula City and for at least half of these pictures. Namp City wouldn’t be the same without you.

That Conference about ‘Girl Issues’

 

Armed with lots of papel gigante, a 12 hour flight delay, and a good nights sleep in a fancy hotel room, my counterparts and I were ready to attend the (final) Let Girls Learn Conference. Student Friendly Schools: Combating Gender Based Violence in the Classroom was the official title of the conference, which I presented to my school director back in March, asking if perhaps he would know a female teacher and a pedagogical director that might be interested in the topic. I had my thoughts that the topic would probably not go over well, just as I was walking into my director’s office I heard two professors talking about “how hot the eighth graders are this year.” Rumor had it that some (maybe even most) of the male professors at school have at least three girlfriends per classroom. Some go as far as failing girls when they reject their advances.

The conference lasted three days, filled with hot showers and breakfast buffets, but also interesting conversation topics and coming up with action plans on how to make our schools a safer place for all the students.

Small tips like making sure there are set expectations about mutual respect in the classroom, a no-touching-others rule— no matter whether the other might be your boyfriend or best friend. Changing the seat order to be boy/girl/boy. Explaining the difference between sex and gender. Going over the rights of a child, and the code of conduct for Mozambican professors— both of which repeat multiple times that a student/child has the right to be free from sexual harassment. Using in class examples that go against traditional gender roles – Maria is strong. John washes the dishes.

I came back to Malema hyped and ready to implement whatever small change I could make. I first started by changing the seat order to boy/girl/boy, talking about a safe place, and even had to kick out two boys for pulling on girls’ hair and one for pushing another boy into the door. I was feeling on top of the world, maybe my students were finally going to understand. This afternoon, my counterparts and I were summoned to present our “knowledge about that conference about girl issues to seven male members of the school council only to be told that they already tried having an even number of boy and girl chefes a few years ago, but the girls didn’t work out because girls “don’t command the respect that the boys do.”

Frustrated is a good descriptive adjective for my time here in Mozambique, especially when faced with the issue about gender based violence here at my own school. I have to accept that sex between students and teachers here is a norm, and that one conversation is not going to change that norm. I have to accept that as much as I bring up the topic, the ones in charge at my school have friends and/or sometimes are the ones who, have students as “girlfriends”. The reality I live in here in Malema is both frustrating and infuriating. I can’t just walk into the school and call them perverts and yell at them— that wouldn’t help my integration nor earn me any respect. On the other hand, some girls are proud to get the attention of a professor, recently one of my neighbors was proud to tell me she got knocked up by her teacher when she was 15. As much as I wish I could magically create change in one day, new ideas have to be brought on slowly, and I have to understand that slowly can mean anywhere from a few years to a few generations. I also have to accept the fact that some girls are encouraged by their family to give professors what they want, after all professors have a lot of respect in the community, and being a professors girlfriend might elevate that girls’ family’s social status.

As a tumblr quote once told me “change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end.”

To sum up this rant, a song one of the female counterparts taught us at the conference: “Educar uma mulher e educar uma nação, educar um homem e apenas educar uma pessoa,” educating a woman is educating a nation, educating a man is only educating one person. Needless to say, it was very controversial between the men attending the conference, but it is still some food for thought.

Mulheres, Hoye!

Before moving to Mozambique, I had never needed to be this aware of my gender. So far, I have not been able to spend a weekend without being reminded that Sexta e dia do homem, Friday is the man’s day. I have been told that if I want to get married, then I better hurry up and learn how to cook, clean, and take care of a man. I have been told that I shouldn’t be living alone because I need a man to guard me. I have been told that my man’s bike (who knew that was such a thing?) makes me look both masculine and promiscuous. I have been told to wear more skirts, more dresses, more makeup. I have been told not to accept drinks from men because it is seen as a promise of sex later that night. I have gotten out of threatening chats with police officers by making false promises of one day showing them the United States. I put up with kissy sounds and whistling as I walk to the market in the equivalent of PJ pants, and have to tell the market men, that no, I do not want them to come over so I can cook for them.

Being a woman in Mozambique is difficult. Not just an American woman in Mozambique, but being a Mozambican woman in Mozambique is difficult.

Today, Friday, April 7th, we celebrated Mozambican Women’s Day. A day of commemoration of the death of the first first lady of Mozambique, Josina Machel. I spent the morning at various ceremonies around town with my female colleagues, (6 out of the close to 90 professors at my secondary school are women) wearing matching capulanas, looking chiquey, and watching various dances, theatrical pieces and songs being preformed. Some of my male students and other professors have stated to my face that its’ ridiculous that there is a day dedicated only to celebrating women. So here’s a list of reasons why women (here but also everywhere) need to be celebrated (and not just once a year!)

  • Mozambican women wake up at 3am, cook, clean, get water at the well, wash clothes, wash the dishes, bathe the kids and some then go to work. The cycle then repeats. Multiple times a day, every day.
  • Almost 50% of girls in Mozambique will be married off before the age of 18.
  • Last week, Malema’s administradora strongly recommended women to denounce their husband to the police if he was physically abusing them, but NOT to divorce them, because women are the glue that hold the family together.
  • The female literacy rate in Mozambique is 28% compared to 60% for men.
  • It is a common occurrence for school professors to sleep with female students in order for them to pass a class.

It has been proven time and time again that empowering women can be the solution to developing countries’ economic growth. But it all starts the population acknowledging the hard work that women all over the world do. In the words of the quintal music blasting around town, “ha uma coisa que voces tem que saber, e que a mulher tem força.” There is a thing you need to know, women have strength.

Currently blasting out of my bluetooth speakers as a subconscious reminder to my whole bairro.