17 January 2013
We’ve been at site for a little over a month now. Some days it feels like we got here yesterday and other days it feels like we’ve been here for years! On the whole we’ve got few complaints. There have been a few issues with security in the professors’ houses (break-ins, robbery, but so far it doesn’t seem like there’s been any sort of violence, just people trying to get the valuables that are out in the open. We haven’t had any issues at our house so far, though we’re not holding our breath. We’ve got decent locks and also have started barricading our doors with heavy (and noisy) items so that if someone did try to get in while we were sleeping we would hear it. Worrying about this kept me up every night for almost a week, but I’ve been sleeping much better as of late.
Aside from that our biggest difficulty so far has been in traveling. Our site is a little bit hard to get to. There’s a lot of transportation, but it’s not very regular or reliable and fills up quickly. We went to Pemba for Christmas and about 45 minutes from arrival, our bus broke down. So we spent 2 hours on the side of the road and when still no one had appeared to try and fix it, we decided to grab the next available vehicle. The way back was worse. We took 4 different vehicles, one with a driver that was trying to overcharge everyone in the car (and even stopped in the middle of a deserted road and refused to continue until he got everyone’s money) and arrived at site after dark, where we still had to try to find our way up the big hill to where we live. Fortunately, a nice Zambian man picked us up in his truck and took us up the hill.
Other than transportation difficulty, Christmas was wonderful! All of us 19ers stayed with some 17ers who treated us to delicious meals, wonderful stories, and even had stockings waiting for us on Christmas morning. Christmas Eve was spent with a bunch of 16er health volunteers as well who had been staying at a cool little camping center by the beach. We ate delicious American food and watched 80s music videos and enjoyed all being together. I actually came down with some sort of throat infection on Christmas day, so I didn’t spend too much time partying or at the beach, but we had a great time watching Christmas movies and just lounging and eating cinnamon rolls…etc. All in all, not a bad way to pass the holiday!
We were back at home for just a day before leaving site again to go to a nearby beach called Pangane. Everything we’d heard about it was true – beautiful, deserted, remote. It was a long (and hot) ride out there, despite being only about 40 km from our town, and we experienced a bit of harassment by the locals once we arrived, but soon we were hanging with some of the 16 and 17ers who’d come up the night before and we ended up having a great time- ate delicious sea food and camped under the stars. Definitely worth the visit!
New Year’s Eve was pretty quiet. Eryn and I stayed at site and went over to our neighbors’ house for a little while. They’ve become sort of our “host family” here at site. We helped Fatima bake cookies and talked to her husband, a French teacher at the school, and played with the kids. We ended up coming home around 11pm because we were wiped, but we did manage to stay up til midnight to at least wish each other a happy new year before hitting the hay.
Other than that this whole first month has just been getting comfortable at site, “passear”-ing, and doing our best to learn some of the local languages. We made a deal with a couple of students that we would pay their registration fees if they came over a few times per week to teach us Macua. Beyond that, most of our time has been spent prepping for school to start. Eryn and I got lucky and they told us what we were teaching as soon as we got here – which for me was a bit of a shock because I’m teaching biology! But at least we had a good month to become comfortable with the material for the levels we are teaching. I’m not great with science, so it’s been a bit of a challenge. I’m teaching cells, DNA, genetics, evolution, and ecology to 10th grade students. The evolution and ecology stuff I’ve got down, but the genetics stuff is a bit more complicated. It will be a challenge as well because 10th grade is a year they take national exams to pass from “primeiro ciclo” (8-10th grade) into “Segundo ciclo” (11-12th grade), which means they’ll be tested on material from 8th, 9th, and 10th grade…which means I have to understand all that material and help them review everything! But it’s a fun challenge and now I get to learn/review some biology concepts myself as well. I’m also teaching 11th grade English, which I think is going to be really fun. They have class 5 hours a week, so we’ll have a lot of time for discussions/debates/projects, etc.
All in all I’m teaching 25 hours a week, which is both more than Peace Corps technically allows us to teach AND about 10 more hours than I taught in Cape Verde, but our school is so hurting for qualified teachers that I can’t bring myself to complain. Plus, I’d rather be over-worked than under-worked. I do hope to still have some time to work with the kids outside of school, either by starting a girls’ club or a music group or an English conversation group or something. We’ll see how it goes…
I spent the last week helping with “matriculas,” which I guess we would call registration in English. It was fun to meet some students ahead of time and see how some of the more bureaucratic aspects of the school work. It’s interesting in comparison with American schools where the process would have been completed (digitally, most likely) months ago, but here class lists come out on the first day of school and professors don’t know what they’re teaching until the Saturday before.
School started this week and it’s nice to be back in the classroom and meet the students. Most of my classes are supposed to have between 45 and 60 students, but so far the most that have shown up is 30. I guess the first week here is kind of a joke, which is unfortunate because we’ve got a lot of material to learn! But up until now my impression has been that the students are pretty well-trained in terms of behavior and fairly respectful. I’m going into it with a much more serious attitude this time around, especially in Biology class, because it’s easy to become nicer, but much harder to suddenly become more strict. I’m also kind of enjoying the mix of teaching in English and in Portuguese. I definitely feel more “in-my-element” teaching 11th grade English, but it’s nice to be able to converse with kids at a more intellectual level in my Biology classes. Teaching a second language is always a bit limiting in terms of complexity of speech. Plus teaching Bio is a great opportunity to practice and improve my Portuguese.
Let’s see…other things of interest…
Resources are certainly lacking here – 3 students to a desk, small chalkboards, and a “bell” that consists of a large piece of metal that the secretary hits at the end of each class and the start of the next. Not to mention the teachers’ bathroom is a pit latrine (albeit very well-maintained). However, the irmas have done a wonderful job building and running the school and so far the professors I’ve met have seemed to be very welcoming and hard-working.
Well, as usual I’ve rambled on for too long, so I’ll sign off here. I hope all are well and in good health in this new year. Wishing I could be home with my parents and Jenny and my grandparents who are there visiting right now! Hopefully I’ll be home next Christmas, whether it’s to visit or to stay I don’t yet know! J
May the new year bring you much joy and peace.