Brief Update

19 November 2011

I have been back home for the past few years, but not a day passes without a thought or memory of my time in Mozambique.  The sights and sounds, watching the hot sun set into a cool, starry night, my students, my friends, the family I came to love and be a part of, the sickness, the hope, the despair, the sight of two men sharing a single pair of shoes to carry a heavy load, the child eating the remaining flesh off a mango seed in a dry season, an emaciated lady holding a young child, a dusty bicycle carrying a lifeless body to the clinic, students seated on the floors of classrooms, a student explaining the combustion of oxygen to his peers, a walk through thousands of coconut palms near a beautiful beach, saying goodbye to close friends — these images I will never forget.  There is yet hope, there is yet a place for each of us to make a difference in that country and in others like it.  I am happy to be back, in medical school, enjoying the riches of a fortunate nation, but part of me is left there, and it stays there – still linked to me and forever tugging, reminding me of the differences between us as individuals, as Americans, as fortunate ones, the miles between us, and also of just how close we are to one another.

– Christopher

“One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor.”

A Presidential Hero: Samora Machel

19 November 2011

Mozambique’s first president, Samora Machel, was an extraordinary leader with extraordinary ambitions.  In the following documentary, a journalist asks Machel whether the revolutionary changes he and his party instituted upon independence were enacted too soon.  The question was motivated, I presume, by a feeling that his abrupt nationalization of privately owned institutions had precipitated disorder and failure of a colonially-oriented economy.  He responds:

“It was neither too soon nor too late.  We acted at the opportune time, with force and firm conviction.  We decided what our revolution would be.  We took back the land soon after declaring independence.  Do you think that was too quick – taking back the land?  It was held for 500 years in the hands of a few.  500 years!  We took it back after ten years of war.  We were victorious and we said, ‘We will now give the land back to the people.’  Was that too quick?  We nationalized schools and hospitals that were serving the minority.  They were instruments of privilege.  Do you think that was too soon?”

Samora Machel’s death in 1986 is marked with controversy and uncertainty, but his journey from a poor farmer to the first president of an independent nation is inspirational.  Please watch from the following documentary, split in two parts.  A luta continua!

– Christopher

Part 1:

Part 2:

Important Documentaries: Trailers

19 November 2011

“One of the main characteristics of a colonial system is to refuse the right to education.  They clearly understand that when people are educated, when people have access to information, they will claim their rights.”

– Graça Machel

 

12th Grade Chemistry Final Exam

23 November 2008
Page 1

12th Grade Chemistry Final Exam: Page 1

Page 2

12th Grade Chemistry Final Exam: Page 2

Marauding Monkeys

23 November 2008

Much of my time in October involved giving final exams, grading them, and preparing my biology and chemistry students for the national exams they must pass to graduate. After one long week of exams and intense heat, we now await their scores.

A final exam variant for one of my twelfth-grade Biology classes.

A final exam variant for one of my twelfth-grade Biology classes.

One of my Biology classes taking their final exam.

One of my Biology classes taking their final exam.

The weather forecast for the week of National Exams, as predicted by Accuweather.com on an 89ºF Saturday night.

The weather forecast for the week of national exams, as predicted by Accuweather.com on an 89ºF Saturday night.

This year Mozambique’s Ministry of Education decided to ‘scantronize’ the national exams in an effort to streamline grading (exams were previously free-response and hand-graded). Apparently the idea of taking a formal exam in pencil was unacceptable to about a quarter of the test-takers: before turning in their penciled-in answer sheet, they took out their pens and marked over their responses. When told by the administrators after collection that the answers wouldn’t be read by the computers in Maputo, a small riot erupted.

Also, the neighborhood monkeys have been jumping into our capoeira, the chicken coop, to snatch freshly-laid eggs. When the jumping monkeys arrive the chickens yelp and flee, abandoning their eggs and, incidentally, providing a small snack to the marauding looters.

The local 'squinho" getting away with his loot.

The local 'squinho' getting away with his loot.

People have been congratulating me on our new president, Barack Obama. I’m often asked, “Are there Black people in America?,” and now by mentioning the multi-racial background of our President-elect I have an even better answer than the usual affirmative. And upon hearing that we’ve elected our first black/multi-racial president, my neighbor Dona Teresa asked if Michael Jackson is now regretting his decision to become white.

Entertainment

30 September 2008

All the windows in my house have mosquito netting to prevent flying insects from entering, but the netting also prevents flying insects already indoors from returning to their fresh-air habitat. Seems as though a few spiders have noticed the mosquitoes, flies, moths, gnats, fruit flies, and wasps that congregate at the net endlessly searching for an exit.

So, here’s a short clip of an African jumping spider hunting a fruit fly on the netting of my bedroom window.

The furry sock-loving tarantula-spiders still have the honor of being the most unappreciated insects.

Quality Assurance Not Guaranteed

30 September 2008

The quality of goods purchased in Mocuba is understandably low, and most imported goods are counterfeits of American or European brands.  Here’re the tags of the last pair of “Levi” jeans I bought in the market down by the river (click for a larger picture):

"This is a pair of Levi's."

“CRAND SILVER MEDL, AWAROED BY MECMANICS INSTITUTE.”

“…and have a reputation for durability known the wirld over.  Only selected materials have been used in their manufacrure.”

“Levi’s garments come pre-washed and pre-shrunk for your conveniencre and satisfaction.  We make quality basic garments for comforyt.”

"Authentic"

Toilet paper, on the other hand, is not counterfeit but is certainly low-quality.  It’s high cost prevents it from being widely used (I learned this the hard way while sick and spending two nights with my neighbors in June), and the small stock of TP that is available is made from recycled materials.  Reduce, reuse, and recycle, yes, but recycle well, please!  Here’s a picture of two sheets of toilet paper from a roll I purchased at a fancier store in Mocuba.  Letters are still visible in the TP.

Reminds me a bit of the word magnets that trendy intellectuals have.

Reminds me a bit of the word magnets that trendy intellectuals have.

Littlefoot and Gazelle

30 September 2008

Two months ago, on his way back from a small town near the Zambezi river called Murrumbala, my neighbor brought Gazelle meat on the side of the road.  He made a meal and invited me over and, well, gazelle is delicious.  

Since then I’ve found gazelle meat in the Mocuba market, but because it’s caught and killed outside of Mocuba and transportation isn’t readily available, it comes dried and looks like the other half of a mounted hunting trophy.

I hope no one equates hunting Gazelle for food with poaching; indeed, a group of Mozambicans making their living by selling Gazelle meat would be a better guarantee of their continued survival than a group of Mozambicans who see them only as large pests stealing crops from their subsistence plots.

The inedible leg.

The inedible leg.

(But not inedible for Littlefoot).

(But not inedible for Littlefoot.)

Medications

30 September 2008
Assorted medications and a Malaria Test

Assorted medications and a Malaria Test

Here’s the latest delivery from the PC Medical Officer:

Mefloquine (malaria prophylaxis)
Rapid Malaria Test 
Ibuprofen
Pepto Bismol

Theater Competition in Gurúè

21 September 2008

Today I arrived back in Mocuba much later than expected.

The Mocuba Secondary School's theater group heads to Gurúè.

The Mocuba Secondary School's theater group heads to Gurúè.

The trip started out well; our group assembled itself and our rented minibus showed up on time and in good shape for the trip. The driver, Trigo (English: ‘wheat’), was an older man with a cheery disposition who sported a scruffy mustache. After about five hours of travel, we arrived in Gurúè (an equidistant trip in the states might take two hours), ate lunch, and the students prepared themselves for the afternoon competition.

Near the market in Gurúè.

Near the market in Gurúè.

Alto-Molécuè's theater group.

Alto-Molécuè's theater group.

Groups from Nicoadala, Namacurra, Mocuba, Ile, Gurúè, Nauela, and Alto-Molécuè all participated and all acted extraordinarily well. The competition’s unifying theme was HIV/AIDS and the pieces ranged from stigma within families to myths about the spread of HIV/AIDS. Our group focused on domestic violence and how significant power imbalances in relationships relate to the spread of STDs. Alto-Molécuè took first place and Nauela second.

The competition was held in an old theater house built with Portuguese funds in the early seventies, prior to Mozambique's independence.  It's a bit rough around the edges, but the city council has done a good job at keeping it in decent condition.

The competition was held in an old theater house built with Portuguese funds in the early seventies, prior to Mozambique's independence. It's a bit rough around the edges, but the city council has done a good job at keeping it in decent condition.

After breakfast the next day, we patiently waited for our driver to pick us up only to discover – after much delay – that he was at the police station. When Bethany and I walked there to meet him, he was sitting on the sidewalk with the minibus locked and parked on the street. The police had taken the keys from him.

Despite his claim to the contrary, the police accused him of running into a pedestrian the previous night while driving drunk. He said he wasn’t drunk and the lady ran herself into the car hoping to extort money from him. One of the teachers attending the competition told me afterward he thought the police were most likely in cahoots with the lady, and that if we paid a bribe then we would be on our way and they would split the money.

Senhor Trigo and our rented minibus.

Senhor Trigo and our rented minibus.

While waiting for the police chiefs to return from their walkaround, the kids and I decided to wander through the central market. Someone suggested that white potatoes were very cheap in Gurúè and that they should use their per-diem allowance not for food and drink during the return trip as it was intended, but to buy a few kilos of white potatoes to resell in Mocuba.

Buying white potatoes.

Buying white potatoes.

The driver, my counterpart teacher from Mocuba, and the police eventually resolved their disagreements and we were on our way. The kids sang songs the whole way back, most of them call-and-response, including one song with the lyrics (translated from Portuguese):

Peace Corps gives us the peace. (Corpo da Paz dá nos a Paz)
Peace Corps gives us the peace.
Peace Corps gives us the peace.

We don’t want violence.
We don’t want discontent.
We don’t want dishonesty.
We don’t want envy.
We don’t want corrupt people.
We don’t want fighting people.
We don’t want malevolent people.

Peace Corps gives us the peace.
Mozambique gives us the peace.

We don’t want evil-doers.
We don’t want traitors.
We don’t want xenophobia.
We don’t want ambitious people.

Peace Corps gives us the peace.

Here’s an mp3 mix of that song: pc-gives-us-the-peace. I found this song incredibly amusing, mostly because the students never seemed to tire from saying that Peace Corps gave them the peace and I doubt anyone knew exactly what “the peace” was.

Another improvised, self-growing song described Peace Corps as a “big family.” I’ve pieced some of the other songs together here: theater-trip-mix.

They also talked about how the administrator of Socone, a small locale in Zambézia, complained at a community meeting that too many kids are dropping out of school to become full-time rat hunters. Apparently rats are plentiful and profitable in Socone.

Another student said that he had wanted to take a bath when he woke up this morning, but couldn’t since there was no cold water and he wasn’t accustomed to using warm water. Apparently his hotel-room shower’s coolest water was too warm for him, and he said that would have made his skin itchy the entire day.

After we stopped at a small village to buy tomatoes and peanuts on the way home, the kids discovered that white potatoes were indeed more expensive in Gurúè than in Mocuba and they would unfortunately not be able to resell their potatoes for any profit. The next half of the trip was spent complaining about how they shouldn’t have wasted their money buying so many potatoes and about how they were the ones who really deserved to win the theater competition.

Part of the theater group waiting to leave Gurúè after buying their potatoes.

Part of the theater group waiting to leave Gurúè after buying their potatoes.

Arriving home and taking a bucket bath refreshed me, and, as I see it, the trip was quick, adventurous and enlightening.  I hope it was as enjoyable for the kids as it was for me.


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