Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Wow, what a difference a year can Make.

What a difference a year can make.  I remember my first day of school last year.  I remember feeling nervous, unprepared, and overly terrified.  Flash forward one year, and it felt like walking into high school the first day of senior year. You think you own the place. Correction, you know you own the place.  This time, even though my Portuguese still isn’t my strong point, it didn’t matter.  I didn’t have to script my introduction.  I wrote down points.  I wrote down a basic outline of what I wanted to go over, and I let my mouth take it from there.  For the first time in a long, long time, I really felt like I actually knew the language.  I was putting together paragraphs upon paragraphs of fully scripted based on what I thought would be comprehensible sentences. No, no no, and it was incredible!  I asked if the kids understood what I was saying, and they said yes.  And then, knowing that these kids are incredible bullshiters, I asked them to restate what I had said in their own words. And they did it!  Wow!

Now onto business:  First day of school here is pretty weak.  Half the students don’t come because half of the teachers don’t come, because half of the students don’t come, and so on and so forth.  It’s a miserable cycle, but it’s the reality here.  Neither party will try to change because they know it’s a waste.  What a shame.  So we pretty much waste Week 1 by doing nothing.  Anything you teach, will have to be retaught anyway, so instead, most of the teachers who do show up just spend their periods doing “Apresentacao,” which is essentially just an introduction.  That’s what I did.  I walked in, introduced myself.  Told the kids (a lot of whom I had last year!) about myself, where I came from, and my experience, and then opened the floor up for questions.  First, they all wanted to know how old I was.  Then, as if it were planned, someone would ask if I was married.  When I replied no, in unison, they would all give me give me the most perplexed face you’ve ever seen.  It was like they tied their faces in knots.  “How could you not be married?  You’re so old!”  Wow, thanks kid.  I would explain that I hadn’t found the right girl yet, a girl who I not only like, but one who likes me back.  They all seemed to get a kick out of this, sadly the girls were laughing too. 

Marriage for love is a pretty new concept.  For men, you look for a woman who will have sex with you.  For women, they usually look for a guy who has and/or comes from money, thus improving the chance that he can provide for you.  Actually, it kinda makes sense.  At least from the woman’s standpoint.  The man’s side makes sense too, but there’s not really a whole lot of thought about picking. I’ve found that a lot of educated Mozambican’s (though certainly not all of them) are starting to look at marriage through a pair of western glasses and now try to find more of an emotional connection, but outside of the cities, this isn’t as common.  Meh, it is what it is.

After the laughing was all said and done, I finished the Q&A session by thanking them all and telling them how much I was looking forward to not only teaching them Physics, but getting to know them as well. I told them to look forward to the following week when we’d enter the marvelous world of physics.  Then I told them to bring me snacks and not make fun of me for being white.  Neither of those things will happen.

I miss my family.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Abertura, Round 2.

Oh the humanity!  Just when you think you’ve managed for forget something so awful, it comes right back, smacks you in the face, laughs at you, and makes you feel even worse than it did the first time.  That was today.

I really hope that this year’s Abertura (the Opening Ceremony held at the Secondary School's to mark the start the new school year) doesn’t reflect the pace of this school year. It was so slow, like every single individual part. And we spent so much time just sitting and waiting. They said it would start at 8am, and even though all the students arrived on time and were seated in the cafeteria ready to begin, we didn’t start until nearly 10am.  Typical.

At 830am, we professors began our walk down to the event from the teachers’ lounge.  I swear to you, it couldn’t be more than two football fields, but you’d have thought that by the pace my colleagues were walking, a new-born could have learned to write Shakespeare-esque tragedies before we arrived at our destination.

We were directed to sit in chairs in the front row and along the sides of the room.  After taking our seats, we sat there and waited with the students an hour and a half for the Municipal President to arrive.  He finally got there a few minutes before 10am, and we immediately started what would be (spoiler alert) an extremely long and boring ceremony.

First we sang the Mozambican National Anthem, which, if I haven’t already complained about it, is like a patriotically-Mozambican version of UB40’s Red Red Wine, in that it’s pretty much the same loop on repeat for 20 minutes, just a whole lot less catchy and a whole lot more lethargic.  It’s about 17 minutes too long, and in reality, kind of epitomizes culture here in that it’s inefficient and loves to waste time.  When we sung it this time though, we sung it extra slow.  It’s like they knew I was already in pain.  Jab the dagger in my gut and slowly, slowly twist.  I experiences the energy-zapping power of this song, and this showing was by far the most unenthusiastic version I have ever witnessed here in Moz.  I think one of the older guards actually starting have a boredom-triggered stroke about half way through the song.  Unfortunately for him, because you are required to show respect by standing completely still, he had to suffer until we finished.  Poor guy.

After singing, we did elongated introductions where the director introduced each class (8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th) and then each group of professors (Portuguese, Ingles, Math, Chem, Bio, Physics, etc.).  This was actually pretty fun because all the students yell and scream for the groups of teachers as they stand and wave.  It makes you feel pretty good about yourself!

Our director then began the most painful part of the ceremony (yeah, it was even worse than the anthem, it was like five anthems combined into one): the reading of some extremely boring document (more like a book) in its entirety.  He literally read every single item on every single page, even taking the time to say each point.  “Section 1.1 Tuition…Ponto 1.2: First Day of School…Ponto 2.1.1: Grades…Seccao 3.1.2.4.19: More boring things you don’t need to know, but I’m going to read anyways because here in Mozambique we make a big deal about petty things just for the sake of feeling important.” 45 minutes later, after the guard had another boredom-induced stroke and we lost a handful of students to mid-morning naps, he finished. 

The ceremony concluded in a similar fashion to what happened the year before.  We all went outside and watched as the important people planted trees.  I actually really liked this part.  I took some pictures and we called it a day.

Here’s to a great – and hopefully fast-paced – school year!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Chickens!

When my cousin’s and I were little, my grandma used to tell us stories about my dad and his brother’s antics while growing up.  It was awesome. And although the themes of her stories these days revolve around Kumidan, the lack of vegetables in her diet, my grandpa falling over, and her fights with the nurse, she’s still got a knack for telling some of the classics.   One of my favorites I was able to hear again while I was in Florida back in December was about how my Uncle randomly brought home some chickens one days. I’m gonna spare you the details, but all you gotta know is that he got some, and then kept them in the basement. All in all, the 70’s sound like they were pretty freakin’ sweet.

Well, in taking after my uncle, today I bought two real, live chickens!  Fortunately for me though, I don’t have a basement, so instead I’m planning on keeping them in the chicken coop in my back yard.  So, I’m now the proud owner of what will hopefully be the start of a successful chicken family living inside my new chicken coop.

My Chicken Coop!

Originally, it wasn’t supposed to happen until Saturday.  But when life throws you lemons, you..ugh…take advantage of the fact that you’re already in the city with your friends and buy the chickens then.  Yeah, I think that’s how that expression goes…

So anyways, I took my friends Elizio and Betinho to the city today to run some errands.  I brought some walkie-talkies back from the States for all the kids in my neighborhood to play with, and they’ve gotten a kick out of them so far.  They always come over and ask for them.  But today, we took them to the city.  I had to go visit Anna and our new site-mate Jeanette first for something, but told them that we’d meet up afterwards. I gave them one of the walkie-talkies (they call them telephones) and told them a time to be in the city.  Sure enough, about ten minutes before we were supposed to meet, I turned on the radio to hear them jabbering away like I had been online the entire time.  We did a little shopping, and then, because we were already passing the guys selling chickens, we bought two.  300 mets, which is just about ten dollars.  A steal if you ask me.

We marched back home excited to show the chicken their new home.  I’ll also admit that I was equally excited or them to start making baby chickens.

The walk home was a long one as question after question ran through my mind:  How is this all going to go down?  How will they know that my coop is their house?  What would they eat?  Were they just gonna run away?  When are they gonna fall in love and making more chicken?  If I were to get hungry one day, could I just up and eat one?  You know, typical stuff any new chicken owner would think…

Chickens! inspecting their new digs under my clean laundry.

All my questions were answered upon arrival.  Elizio immediately went into the ritual that apparently needs to occur when chickens are brought to a new home.  I, meanwhile, grabbed my camera to film it. The video is posted below.  If you’re impatient, fast forward to about the three minute mark where he grabs each chicken and shows it how to enter and exit its new home all the while talking to it in Macua.



UPDATE: March 15th – I’ve got EGGS! Check it out! I’ve got eggs!
Coming soon...More chickens!

UPDATE – March 17th – Two more eggs!
No picture, but there are two more egg’s in the coop! Shit yeah, at this rate I’ll be eating omelets by next week.  I think?

Another UPDATE - April 8th - This Hen is committed.  She's got ten eggs now and has hunkered down on top of them.  Apart from taking about ten minutes a day here and there to roll around in the dirty, she pretty much spends all her time sitting on them in some crazy trance where she doesn't blink or acknowledge my existence no matter how close I get. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

We've got Wood

Ahead of schedule; that’s what we are!  And lucky us too, because our team is about to get one person smaller.  Armindo, my language tutor turned counterpart/go-to guy for everything, is leaving to go start college in Cuamba at their local branch of the Universidade Catolica de Mozambique (UCM).  He’ll be specializing in Agriculture, and is beyond excited.  Alan, who’s been mentoring him for a number of years, managed to find him a scholarship when someone from his network back home (a former intern I believe) e-mailed him asking if there was anyone he could sponsor.  Pretty incredible timing if you ask me, and there is no one in Montepuez that is more deserving.

20 years old, but wise beyond his years, Armindo has been an integral part of the project, helping us every step of the way thus far.  His patience, determination, and desire to make the world a better were apparent from day one when I was still a newcomer to Portuguese, barely able to ask him how his day went (I’m still don’t say it right, but he’s now familiar enough with my way of speaking that he knows what I mean).  He’s introduced me to countless people in and around our city, and even when we leave the city, we always seem to run into someone he knows.  The guy knows everyone.  And he knows how to get things too.  He’s like a real life version of Morgan Freeman’s character Red in Shawshank Redemption, but he’s not old and hasn’t killed anyone.

Armindo has been a huge component of my life here in Montepuez, and I’m going to miss him dearly.  If you’re reading this buddy, thank you for everything you’ve done.  We couldn’t have gotten to this point without you.  I only wish I had the ability to truly express how appreciative I am, and how important you have been.

Anyways, on to our progress.  Armindo’s final project prior to his departure from Montepuez was to start the wood procurement process.  He used to work north of town with some of the wood cutters, so he had a bunch of contacts up there. He knew that this was the time to buy (the first six months of the year are difficult to find wood because everyone is working in their farms, and not in the forests), so we put him in charge and let him do his thing.  Over the course of a few weeks, he managed to find all the decking panels that we’ll need to use to form the surface that people will use to walk across.  Alan’s got them locked up in a shed behind his house where they’ll remain until it’s time to install them.

With wood now checked off the list, we’ll continue the material procurement process up until construction begins.  This is the part I’m most looking forward too, since it’s really the first time that we’ll actually see the results of our hard work starting to materialize (getting all the money together was great, but it was pretty much all done electronically).  Turning money into stuff feels good!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Thank you!

Dear everyone who donated, tweeted, shared, and/or passed along information thus helping us get the word out about our project,

First and foremost, thank you.  Our fundraising campaign has been a HUGE success.  Never in my life have I ever received such an incredible outpouring of support, and I certainly never expected us to hit our initial mark so fast.  But we did, and it took us less than a month to do it! 

I can’t even begin to fully express my gratification to everyone who helped out.  Whether you donated to the fund, passed along our message to perspective donors, shared our website on a social media site, or just told your grandma about it, your help lead to our success.  I am eternally grateful.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Unfortunately, Peace Corps has a strict policy of not sharing the names of those who donated through their website unless you specifically checked a box that said something along the lines of “It is ok to share my name with the Volunteer running this project,” so I cannot personally thank everyone who gave.  I apologize for that.  I do, however, have a list of 26 names and am writing you all electronic thank you notes, so if you did not receive an e-mail, but did in fact donate, it means you are not on the list I was given.  If you did donate through the website, but forget to check the box, please let me know.  Have no shame, I’d really like to give thanks where thanks is due.

Now for a funny/pitiful story on why the success of this fund-raising campaign means that much more to me. 

This was not my first attempt at fundraising.  During my junior year of college, I started volunteering at CUHelpLine, the on-campus Mental Health Support Hotline.  Our purpose was to provide confidential, non-judgmental, and unbiased support to CU Students, their parents, and the Boulder community in general.  We staffed phone lines seven nights a week and took calls on topics that ranged from simple stress to suicide.  It was an undervalued service, which was also severely underfunded.  Four months into my first year there, we came about this close to shutting down due to some confusion involving our grant from two years before.  The grant expired when we still had bills to pay, and we had no money to pay them with.

So I had this great idea:  Let’s ask the community for help!  I thought to myself, “With the service we provide, I bet they’d be more than happy to throw a few bucks our way and help us pay the rent.”  So I wrote a letter.  And then I edited the hell out of it.  I got input from my mom, my dad, my sister, my friends, and some of the other members of the organization.  I then walked down Pearl Street (the business hub in Boulder), starting at 9th, and wrote down the name of every single business that was currently occupying space until I ended up in the neighborhood past 15th.  I must have had about 150 names on my list.

I then took that list, and personalized every single letter I wrote so it read “Dear Illegal Pete’s,” or “Dear Hapa Sushi,” and stuffed it into a personalized envelope.  In the days that followed, I went back to Pearl and hand-delivered those letters to each of the businesses I had written down.  “That was easy,” I’m sure I said to myself, sitting back on a couch somewhere now expecting the money to flow in.  And then I learned an important lesson in economics, and how timing is everything.

The year was 2008. And I was living under a comfortable, financially secure umbrella my dad was holding over my head.  It felt good being oblivious to the world, carefree and unconcerned about the utter shit that was in the process of hitting the fan. And, in doing so, I learned that it is never a good idea to try and fund raising in the midst of a global financial crisis.  We ended up getting one donation: from my parents. It was pretty pitiful.   All that work and nothing to show for it.

Everything ended up being ok.  Even though we didn’t really raise any money, we didn’t end up collapsing.  Our incredible directors managed to keep us afloat by forming a partnership with the Health Center.  I doing so, they added us to their operating costs or something and we were able to receive a little funding to pay the rent and the phone bills.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I did take away something else from this experience: experience!  I was able to use this failure to learn. My second attempt at a large scale fundraising campaign was the opposite of my first attempt. Yes, the economy may be a little different now, but I think there are a number of other factors that influenced the outcome as well, lessons that I learned from that first failure became improved ideas for the second try.  I’m extremely happy with how things turned out and feeling honored to know I have such an incredible network who has my back.  Again, thank you to everyone for all your help and support.  I truly appreciate it.

Much love from afar,

Will

Thursday, January 16, 2014

How Humbling Fund-Raising Can Be

Nervous. Pessimistic. Frustrated. Worried. Scared. These are all words that describe what I was feeling just one month ago.

Blown Away. Humbled.  Surprised.  These are all words that describe how I feel today.

Why the drastic change, you ask?  Well, it’s because within the past month (and actually, in less than a month), we overcame (and that is a drastic understatement of how we actually did it) what I perceived would be the hardest part of this entire project: Fund-Raising.

Although all the others aspects of the project are certainly no easy tasks in themselves (assembling a support team, micro-managing them, building a budget, designing a bridge, constructing it, networking with partner organizations, and procuring materials), Fundraising what I’ve been most nervous about.  Money makes or break a project, and it really doesn’t matter how much effort I put into something if we don’t have money to implement my ideas.  It was a lack of faith in my network, and certainly not a lack of faith in others.  It was more so a worry about how far my network actually expanded.  Did I know enough people who would be willing to donate?  Would the current state of the economy allow people to be a little liberal with their donation?  Maybe most importantly, would people have enough faith in me to think I could really pull this off?

Well, apparently they do.

It’s funny, I feel like a huge hypocrite.  One of the hardest adjustments I’ve had to make in Mozambique is accepting how acceptable it is to straight up ask for money. Getting “pedir-ed” for money (“Hey you, white person; give me ten mets.” says every drunk man I pass, every single time I pass them) was something I struggled with during my first six months in-country, and even though I’ve developed a means of managing it now, it’s something I still loath. I’ve vented about it in my blog, complained to my fellow volunteers, whined to my family, and empathized with the authors of PC-related internet meme’s (INSERT MEME HERE). And now, here I am, shamelessly “pedir-ing” my friends and family in a similar fashion.  Ha, I guess I’ve assimilated to culture here a little better than I thought.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The River is Starting to Fill Up!

Alan, Armindo, and I took a short field trip to the River today after hearing reports that it was starting to fill up and that they are already using boats to cross.  It had been raining for about a week straight prior to my return to Montepuez, so I was expecting to see big things.  Unfortunately, since getting back from a trip I took to Ilha de Moçambique, the rains had taken a break providing ample time for the runoff to, well, run off.  Still, we were surprised to see just how much change had taken place in such a short period of time.  The former crossing where logs had been laid out was completely submerged, and we even managed to see one of the boats.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  This “boat” was not much more than a continuous piece of bark.  Whoa.  Check out some of our pictures below!

Looking Up the River.  There's another picture I took once of a bunch of farmers in front of the river.  This is that same shot today without the farmers.

The former crossing where logs had been laid.

A boat made of bark!?

These adventurous souls crossed by foot, but the water came up to their waists when they left that little island.

Our tentative construction site.