Monday, February 8, 2010

Teacher, you know Akon?

Sorry for the lack of updates. Things have been a little hectic here, adjusting to the sudden change of plans. I accepted a Peace Corps position to teach Biology, completed a three-month training for that purpose, spent one month at site anticipating it… only to have the rug yanked out from under me. But I have pulled things back together. I got an English teaching position at a nearby school and am teaching a computer class at my original site. I feel like I’m shooting from the hip (I have never taught English or computers before and didn’t have any time to plan) but I’m learning a lot and I hope that I can say the same for my students.

Yes so… teaching! I’ll recount my day on Friday to give you an idea. It was raining when I woke up, which meant cooler weather but also lots and lots of mud. As soon as I stepped off my front porch I slid and nearly tanked in the mud. I waited under a tree until a chapa came screaming up the wet road. I waved it down and it pulled over about 20 yards ahead of me and started beeping. I ran towards it, again barely escaping a mud bath and leapt into the open door only to find the chapa was already over capacity. So ducked inside the best I could, my butt against the window, my back on the ceiling and my face very much in someone’s cleavage and braced for the ride.

The chapa kindly dropped us off on the school compound and I navigated more mud until I had solid footing on the cement walkway outside the classroom. I stood there watching my students in their clean pressed uniforms carefully pick their way across the soggy courtyard. While we waited, some students asked me the meaning of random phrases in English (e.g. Teacher, what is meaning the word “hustler?”). One of them pointed to a beautiful moth with dark brown eyes on its wings. I explained that it was a moth and asked them not to touch it.
- “Yes teacher, we do not touch. É venenoso (it’s poisonous).”
- “What??”
- “É venenoso, o pó que tem na ala (it’s poisonous, the powder it has on the wing)”

For all I know they were right. There are all sorts of venomous creatures here that I have never encountered before. Later that night Valerie and I saw that Charlotte (our pet black widow spider) had invited a friend. This one had an egg sack on her back. In my mind were images of black widows hiding out under water jugs, in my running shoes, climbing up my mosquito net at night… eeek!!! I grabbed the Baygon (insecticide) and held it at the ready… then handed it to Valerie and stood behind her squealing as she sprayed poison all over our back porch.

Right… back to school. So Fridays are my marathon teaching days. I had three double periods (90 minutes) in a row with less than 5 minutes in between. Those five minutes seem even shorter since in Mozambique it’s the teachers that move from classroom to classroom while the students stay put. As a warm-up activity we sang “Row, row, row your boat.” They learned this the week before when they were identifying parts of speech (you know… “gently” is an adverb, “your” is an adjective, “boat” is a noun etc...). So I had them stand up and they sang at the top of their lungs while I conducted with my arms and walked around the room. (May I pause for a moment to inform you that this is 11th grade English and that some of the students are my age?) Luckily my high schoolers are not too cool for this kind of thing so class is a lot of fun.

Once I settled them down again we reviewed future tense and then played MASH (remember that game from grade school?). The categories were: profession, name of spouse, town/city, number of children, and hobbies. I put a chair in the front of the room and a brave volunteer sat with their back to the board while we told their future. In my second period, the volunteer refused to sit in the chair, claiming it was dirty. I saw a few little specks of dirt and tried to wipe it off with my hands, only to have it smear all over my hands. I ran to the open window and poured my water bottle on my hands to wash them off. “What is that?!?” I asked my class. They were yelling some word in Xangana. I told them I didn’t understand. Finally one student says “murcego!” (“bat!”) and points to the ceiling. Of course! I remembered the flapping and high-pitched squeaking that had been going on in the false ceiling over our heads and saw brown smears dripping down the sides of the walls. It was bat shit. Lovely…

Having cleaned the bat shit off my hands, I continued with the lesson and gave them their first Friday Quiz. I had written the quiz on a large piece of paper (since I can’t print anything) but did not remember to bring tape. I tried clipping it to a nail on the blackboard but a strong breeze kept causing it to fold over. I walked over to shut the window, only to find that there was no glass in it, so I was stuck in the front of the room holding the paper down for the duration of the quiz.

My last period ends at 12:05, but one of the teachers decided to let his class out 20 minutes early. This caused all kinds of disruption since my students insisted they ought to leave too. Sorry kids, no dice. In the last minutes of class I opened the floor. Some of the questions/comments I received:
- “Teacher, you know Akon?”
- “Teacher, you know Beyonce?”
- “Teacher, how old are you? you married? how many children you have?”
- “Teacher, I want Barak Obama come to Mozambique. You give me his phone number?”
- “Teacher, my name ‘Reeems man’ (‘Rhymes man’), I am gansta.”
- “Teacher, I want you take me to Ameeerica!”

I’m always in a good mood after class. My students are so darn cute. They crack me up. It’s not all sunshine and butterflies though. I won’t lie; it’s stressful trying to make it up as I go with these English classes. I would prefer to have all my lessons and units planned out in advance, following the curriculum. Unfortunately that would require the students to have learned all they were supposed to during their last three years of English classes, which is definitely NOT the case. Many of them can barely form a sentence. So it’s a process of trying to figure out what they do know and filling in the many, many gaps. If anyone reading this blog has TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) advice, please send it along!

I will post more photos I promise. I just haven’t taken any yet…


  1. Hey Clancy, I've just discovered your blog and I'm glad to see it seems you're having a good time! I'm actually a little jealous, your life seems quite a bit more exciting than mine. I hope everything is going well for you.

    I also happen to be an English teacher, so I'd love to chat about things. I've got a lot to share--some good, some bad. I'll try and think of some helpful advice. Until then, good luck!

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  3. Clancy,

    I've been bad at keeping in touch but just got a chance to read your latest blog entry. That's crazy that your teaching English (and computer)now, especially after preparing for biology. Who knows maybe you'll come back and pursue a career in computer technology!

    In Kenya one attribute I came to appreciate was patience because in many cases things did not go as planned.I guess that's part of the excitement! Although it can also be exhausting.

    Anyways, it's great to hear about your work there and a lot of what you mention reminds me of Kenya. I'll have to send you an email. Do you ever use Skype??

    Laura W

  4. It sounds like you are having a blast there. I'm sure if I had bat poop on my hands I would laugh about it everytime I remembered it.