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!