Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Goats for grades!

So I have finally left site after more than six weeks, so I can write an update at last. I am a very happy girl at the moment, as I had a doctor's appointment in Maputo so I get to indulge in the wonders of free internet, thai food, ice cream, hot showers, sleeping under piles of blankets with air conditioning blasting, chit chatting with cool peace corps staff and hanging out with one of my best friends from training, all while missing Conselhos de Notas, the bane of our existence here. Once again I find myself dazzled by the big city with its twinkling lights and the intrusion of the Western world. I never thought Maputo would feel so cosmopolitan. I will probably die of shock (if not from cold) when I get back to the states. How life changes.
Signs of change:
- i discover a vast quantity of bugs in my flour of various species and then decide to spend twenty minutes sifting them out with my fingers before proceeding with my recipe
- i kill 48 cockroaches in one day and am not too concerned because they were mostly little cockroaches
- my mother laments me not having easter bunnies, and i tell her that i saw rat hopping across the street (she didn't seem to think these were the same thing...)
- i am thrilled that now it is only 100 degrees in the shade in the afternoons
- children proposition me for grades
- teachers offer me goats for the grades of their nieces, girlfriends, etc.
Ah Mocambique.....

I imagine that many of you are wondering the fate of my sitemate. Mary is back in the states, and not coming back to Mozambique. Obviously this is a disappointment for her and for the town, but she is feeling much healthier there so it is ultimately for the best. After my initial panic I discovered that I actually like being alone at site. I have always been a rather independent person, and now my creativity has even freer reign as my projects take over the house. Between getting my garden going, making furniture, making clothes (six skirts and three shirts so far), making pillows/a tea cosy, etc., working with the admin on book projects (if you want to send stuff, let me know! dictionaries are particularly helpful), cooking and baking on my charcoal stove (my mango chutney is awesome), growing sprouts, listening to the American/British/French/German/Chinese/Dutch/Australian news on my shortwave radio and Border Crossings, the oh-so-fabulous radio request station (Larry London is my hero), reading a ton of books (35 in english, and 3 in portuguese so far!), starting an english club (no one showed up for three weeks, but now they are starting to come together) and oh, right, teaching bio! So as you can see, i keep rather busy.

The first trimester has come to a close, and I am rather happy to be done with the osseo muscular system, am rather tired of bones and muscles, and will be happy to move on to the digestive system and nutrition etc. Will be able to give more examples and demonstrations, which my kids love. I have learned the tricks of catching their attention, these include:
-making someone eat something (a piece of bread is enough to send them into hysterics)
-mentioning America (they are totally spellbound)
-doing something silly (climbing a desk, dancing, hitting a wall)
-using random objects for make-shift visual aids (just wait until the respiratory system...a water bottle two condoms and two rubber bands make a fantastic diaphram/lung model)
Giving tests was very stressful, and the kids cheat like crazy! In my two midterms I caught 45 children cheating, plus a bunch more on the final. My students groan ''A Senhora Professora controla moluku!" (teacher, you control exams like crazy!) School policy: you cheat, you get a zero. I did give make up tests, though my rule is that if you cheat twice not only will you not pass, but i turn in your cabulas (cheat sheets)--if you have three registered in the school office you get kicked out of school for two years. Not something I like to do, but a fair number of my cheaters are become good students now, so it seems to be working at least to some extent.

The other teachers are extremely amused by my firm anti-corruption attitude. One of my fellow teachers offered me a goat if I will make sure his niece passes biology. They all giggled when I said she would pass if she works hard and gets good grades. Another teacher claims to have 90 goats that he has accepted from students for grades.....which they justify by explaining (legitimate) problems with the education system. Most notably; you can't fail in primary school (grades 1-7), so you get tons of kids arriving in 8th grade who can't read/right and/or speak portuguese, and thus have no capacity to pass. Combine this with the fact that if more than 50% of your students fail you are considered a bad teacher, and may get fired and you have a system ripe for grade buying.

At the end of each trimester there is a week of Conselhos de Notas, in which the teachers discuss every students grades, and argue bitterly, changing grades left and right. Common philosophy: no child can pass all ten disciplines, so we should help them out in a few subjects if they are somewhere close to passing (and 9.5 out of 20 is passing!). I got in trouble and there was a teacher meeting about the fact that I wrote my grades in pen in my grade book. All the teachers were pissed because this means they can't change my grades, and my delgado (department head) wanted me to re-write my students names and grades (560 students with six grades each, so over 3000!). I was rather stubborn, but got off rather lightly and just had to meet with the school director and the pedogogical directors (equivalent to the principal and assistant principals) to justify my grades. When they found that i have the best percentagem in the school (75% passing), and when i explained that in addition to the standard two midterms and a final i gave a series of homework grades, two make-up tests and bunch of extra oral exams, they let me keep my grades as is. And happily I am living it up in maputo instead of tearing my hair out as teachers get into heated arguments about grades all day every day for a week!

So the chefe of my post office in my village is very responsible, and I have been highly successful in getting mail, so very exciting! Let my mum or me know if you would like this address.
People on the fast track to sainthood:
Packages: Uncle Dave, Grandma, Jon and Marie: AMAZING packages, wow! Cheesy crackers are ridiculously exciting in a cheeseless existence, and all the rest is being happily rationed. Tea, cookies, marshmallows, oh my! My dearest Ira (chocolate chips were brilliant, and marshmallows are sublime roasted on my charcoal stove). Marie Hewitt, what lovely birthday presents, water color will be fun to try my hand at! Frank and Lisette must be psychic, because I was really starting to miss Mary's headlamp, as it makes cooking much easier after the sun sets at 5:45ish! Plus I have found a source of the batteries it takes in Pemba! Mum and Dad of course, as they send me an obscene number of packages. Plus mummy forwarded a great book (already devoured) from Caroline! I hope I am not forgetting anyone......but as you can see I have been an extremely lucky girl.
Letters: my lovely Laura, Cons (oh how i love receiving batman stationary here) and my daddy.
Emails: Aunty Marie, Uncle Jon, miss Marie, Laurie, Tammy Dave & Emily, Mum, Dad, and Trev
I will be buying stamps at the Maputo post office tomorrow (they don't sell them in most places in the North), so I can be less stingy with my letters, and send you proper thank you's and more regular correspondence. Will be in the city for another day or two, so send me emails and I'll answer, and tell me if there is something you want to hear about on the blog, plus I can use AIM here, so I've been happily chatting away and hopefully will continue to do so!

Lots of love to everyone at home!


At 4:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i love reading your blog! i'm awaiting a Sept 07 invite... perhaps for mozambique. keep writing! :o)

At 1:38 AM, Blogger CK said...

I love reading your blog too! My gosh Laura-girl, your life sounds so fantastically amazing, and you're kicking ass, just as I knew you would :). Isn't it amazing how we adapt to the craziest of situations, and all the skills that we've built up in life suddenly come into play in the most surprising ways. I want more pics of your new clothes, and your kids, and I wish I could hear you speak Portuguese and watch you stand up to those crazy teachers and teach! Christmas is too far away!

In endless admiration,


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