Saturday, August 28, 2010

Settling in to the new semester

It's a Thursday night and I'm listening to the wind howl outside. The doors are rumbling in the doorjams, a metal gate is swinging on a rusty hinge and the trees are rustling. The lights keep flickering on and off as gusts jostle the shoddy wiring to the house. August is the month of swirling winds that pick up dust and knock the red leaves off amendoa trees. The winds signal a change in weather. We're leaving winter and headed quickly towards summer. Already today I began to feel the heat. During Chemistry class I had a moment of wooziness and realized that, while explaining the contributions of revolutionary chemist Antoine Lavoisier before his death by guilotine, I had gotten rather over-heated. We had a lot of material to cover that period because we started 20 minutes late. I have the misfortune of teaching a post-lunch period on Thursdays and Fridays and the cooks are chronically late in preparing the daily beans and rice. Granted they are cooking over woodfire, but you'd think they could start earlier! To add insult to injury, my second class today (Biology) was cut 20 minutes short when we lost electricity. It was already getting dark and I had to face the fact that my students couldn't see the board or their notebooks. When they started using the light from their cell phones to see the page in front of them I finally gave up. These interruptions are irritating and it’s tempting to think how nice it would be to work in a reliable American school system, but then I remember all the unexpected interruptions we had to deal with there - snow days, bomb threats, fire drills... at least I don't have those things to worry about.

Other than the typical inefficiencies and frustrations, things are going well. My little bird walks are becoming a weekly affair. Last Saturday I had a large group of male students. A few of them got pretty serious about it, telling the others to be quiet so they could hear the birds, intensely following a dove from tree to tree and arguing over the identification, excitedly pointing out every bird they saw... It's pretty darn cute to see teenage boys get worked up about nature.

My girls group (REDES) is getting back on its feet. We're still making earrings out of bottle caps and scraps of capulana and I'm hoping the girls can begin selling them soon. Our next project will be embroidery, taught by my neighbor Dona Adelia. The meetings are a chance to talk about important issues and we're working on a curriculum including topics like safe sex, family planning, nutrition, good study skills, higher education, HIV/AIDS, etc... Other plans include taking the girls to a conference in September, writing to American pen pals and visiting the preschool where we painted the mural last semester. I just hope I can keep their interest and continue having a good turn-out.

There's also work to be done in my garden. I had a huge harvest of tomatoes, many of which I've given to neighbors since we couldn't eat them all ourselves. It was very satisfying to hand a huge bag of tomatoes to the same neighbor who was quick to criticize my failed corn and pumpkin. He was actually full of praise saying, "Wow! And you grew those without any artificial pesticides or fertilizers? Those are healthy tomatoes." He said he'll help me when I replant the garden. It will be good to have his input.

Tomatoes from my garden

There isn't much time for extracurriculars at the moment though. I've been swamped with work trying to plan Chemistry and Biology. It didn't make sense to plan too much before the semester started seeing as I didn't know what I was teaching, how many periods, how many students, etc... I didn't find out I was teaching Chemistry until after classes began! Needless to say I have a lot of catching up to do, on top of grading. I'm hoping to get ahead with my lesson planning so I can relax a bit and be better prepared. Sometimes I need to do a scavenger hunt around town to find supplies for an in-class demonstration but I have a growing collection of useful materials in my room: balloons, vinegar, baking soda, iodine, food coloring, modeling clay...

I'm also trying to keep up my running habit. It's important for my sanity. But to run, I must wake up early, which means not staying up late preparing for school. Also, as summer approaches, I have to run earlier and earlier to escape the heat, sometimes waking up at 4:30 am!

That's my simple life here in Mozambique at the moment. I'm off to bed now because it's already late. Nobody is blasting music and the neighborhood dogs are quiet so I'll be able to fall asleep to the sound of the wind.

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