Adventures in Africa


Location: Mozambique

I will be in Mozambique with the Peace Corps for the next 27 months. While in Africa, I will periodically post thoughts about my experiences so anyone interested can keep tabs on my happenings.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

back to work

Hi all. This is going to be a rushed job because I don't have a lot of time, and I haven't prewritten my post like I usually do. I have been pretty bad about posting, but its mostly because I don't really have internet access at the moment. Currently I am in the Vilankulo CARE office, using the internet from the desk of one of my fellow peace corps friends. I am working on getting internet back in my house again, but this being Mozambique, I have no idea how long that will take. I will let you know when that gets rolling. Once I have it I be able to keep in touch better.
Before I get started on the Moz, I just have to say thank you to all of you who I saw when I was home for the holidays. I got to see so many of you and it was just what I needed to recharge myself for this year. I had so many different social events with my sisters wedding, and the holiday parties, and it gave me a chance to cover most of my bases. Thanks for all the warm words and encouragement, and if I forgot to say thank you for an email or a package that was sent, forgive me, I was a bit overwhelmed at some points by all the people I was getting to reunite with. If I didn't get to see you, no worries... I'll be back in less then a year!

Getting back to life here, I have started teaching again. This year is shaping up to be a lot different then last. The school is being structured differently because we are sharing our space with a new university that is arriving in Vilankulo next week. Now I have my opinions about this, and not all of them good, so I won't say a lot here, but the gist of it is that all of the 8th, 9th and 10th grade classes are being held at the old secondary school in the middle in town, while our school is just responsible for 11th and 12th. (The problem that I have with this is basically that there is no room over at the other school to accomadate all these students, thus they are crowding 75 kids to a class, and having them put in tents and sitting on the floors, but don't get me started). I am teaching 11th grade at the same school I was at last year, Mucoque Secondary School. I am actually enjoying it a lot. The students are at a higher level (or are supposed to be), so I am able to do activities with them that are a lot more advanced. I still haven't given my first quiz, so maybe I am going to find out that in reality a lot fewer of them understand what I am saying then I think, but I'll deal with that when the time comes.
I have a few projects in the works this year that I am trying to focus my time on. I asked my director if I could teach fewer classes so that I could have time for these projects and, suprisingly enough, he actually listened to me. So, this year, I have 5 classes instead of 8. This gives me about 180 less students, which makes a world of difference come correcting time. I am psyched! I have already gotten underway on my first project, which is an English club. It involves having my former students come to my school once a week to study English with me. I have gotten permission to use the library, so I am having 2 different groups of students in the 9th and 10th grades. The basic idea is to study English in a less formal, more interesting setting, with a lot less students in the classroom (i.e. more one-on-one teacher-student time). We will see how it goes. So far I've spread the word to the students about our first meeting, which is on Wednesday of next week. I have also gotten other teachers involved who would like to come to the club meetings to help. This is great because as volunteers we want our projects to be self-sustaining, and be able to continue after we are gone. Also, one focus of Peace Corps is to transfer ideas and information between volunteers and counterparts that we work with in Mozambique. Doing the club with other teachers is an excellent opportunity to share teaching methods and activities to improve how English is taught in Vilankulo. I am excited about these groups because there will be many less students, and all of the students present will actually want to be there and want to learn English, not quite the case in a normal classroom. Anyway, I think things will be a lot smoother and more fun with these groups. We'll see...
The other project I'm trying to get under way is teaching computers. I have actually been given the okay to do this, but there is still no time table for when I can start. The school still apparently does not have the electricity to use the computers, but I don't actually think they have checked to see if this is still true. I am going to keep on them until the things get moving. I haven't actually used any of the computers in the labs (there are 40), so I have no idea what kind of condition they are in, or what kind of programs they have. It could be quite a mess, and although I know how to use a computer, I am no technician. Maybe some of you back home will be able to give me some advice when the time comes... Let me know if you know anything about computers and are up for this!
Outside of teaching, life is good, but always a bit crazy. I arrived back in Vilankulo to find that my dog had had 4 puppies. I have since given away 3, but am having a little trouble getting the owner of the 4th one to actually pick it up and take it away from my house. I love puppies, but they are a lot of work and really messy. I really only have space for my dog, Gus.
My weekends are usually filled with trying to keep my house/yard clean... a tough job... I never realized how much work goes into keeping up a house. I also have a constant stream of visitors (mostly former students) at my house all the time. This is great, but it is also a bit difficult when I am trying to either get house work done or just get some alone time.
For the most part this year is already flying by and going a lot smoother. Last year was tough because I really couldn't speak Portuguese when I first arrived at site, but at this point I'm comfortable with the language, know how the school works, know the people here, and I'm much better at being vocal and speaking up for things I need. It's really important here to be able to be forward and direct in order to get things accomplished, and this year it does not come so hard to me. So, like I said, life is busy, but I am happy, and feel like I am going to be doing good things this year.
Let me know how you are and any big news. I miss you all, but will be home soon enough. Take care, and I'll do my best to stay in touch.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Here is a picture of Kevin with some of the kid's in his singing group

A lady with her baby on the back of our orange truck adventure.... I couldn't resist this picture.

one year in the moz

Our Moz 11 group has just marked our one year anniversary since arriving at staging in Philadelphia. It is hard to believe that we have been here a full year already. I have had a great year... I don't think I've every been challenged in so many different ways on a day-to-day basis, but in all I think it has really been worth while. I am pretty exhausted though, and am looking forward to the break coming up to recharge myself a bit, and see my family and friends.
The last few months have been pretty busy. We had a month off from school in July and August because Mozambique was doing a census. In order to do this census, they needed everyone to go back to their districts to be counted, and they also needed a lot of teachers and students to act as the counters... As you can imagine, its not so easy to get a head count on people in a country like this... Although I live in a fairly developed area, there are many parts of the country that are very difficult to get to. People are just spread about in small little villages all over the place and roads are more often then not in poor condition. Mozambique is a huge country, and people had to be hired to go to all of these little towns to get an idea of how many people are living here. I have no clue how they are going to organize all this information, but it should be interesting to see the results. The last census was done ten years ago, and I think the population count has changed dramatically since then. I have a feeling, as with everything, we will be waiting a while to see the results.
Over my break I got to do a bit of traveling. I went with my friend Katie on a trip from Vilankulo up to Nampula City in the north. We stopped and stayed with a bunch of volunteers on the way. We made it up to Chamoio, then to Caia, after that to Zambezia province. In Zambezia we went to Macuba, and then to an absolutely gorgeous town in the mountains called Gurue. Finally, we spent a day in Nampula City before flying back down. We did the trip up by chappa.... it took a long time, and we had a lot of interesting rides. We were gone about 2 weeks. I will say that I am on my way to becoming an expert traveler. I remember the days when I used to complain about the greyhound bus from Boston to Hartford... and those rides often had movies playing! Those days are no more. The way that people get shoved into chappas here is unheard of... they have at least 25 people sitting in a 15 passenger van... if there are children, and there are always children, they are placed on any and every unoccupied lap. To be sure there are always various food items that are being transported to resell in towns along the way, and there are usually a few chickens stuffed in as well. For my own well being I have learned to strategize about my seat placement in the chappa... tips for travel: do not sit by the door under any circumstances... you will always have at least 6 people crowded into a space designed for just 3... discomfort is nothing if it means more chappa fares. Despite the discomforts of travel, the traveling was at times kind of fun. At one point we got a ride from a guy in a pick up truck that was stopping at every possible location to buy oranges from ladies on the side of the road so that he could resell them in Malawi. He kept on dumping all these oranges on top of us in the back of the pickup. We were sitting knee deep in oranges, stuffed with chickens, and babies... I mean how can you not rejoice in the comedy of life in a situation like that...
The trip was too jam packed to relay all, but a couple of highlights were visiting my friend Kevin in Caia, and a 3 day hike that I took up to the highest peak in Gurue. Caia was nice just because Kevin is an excellent and thoughtful host. He did a great job showing us around his little river town. He has just been dealing with a lot of the backlash from the flooding of the Zambezi river at his site. There were thousands of people who lost their homes and farms during the flooding. By the time we got there, however, things were starting to get back into place. Kevin took us around the railroad and train yard that were abandoned during the war. He took us on a great walk through some of the local neighborhoods. We ate great food, and got to see him meet with his group of little neighborhood singers that come to see him every day so that they can sing with him as he plays the guitar. It was absolutely adorable. He is doing a great job in Caia, and it is nice to see someone so enthusiastic and settled into their community.
The hike we took in Gurue was also fabulous. Katie and I met up with some other volunteers, and we took a hike up Mt. Namuli. I didn't realize quite what I was getting myself into at the time, but I'm glad I did it. The hike in to the base of the peak was about 7 hours... most of it up hill... not easy (I have to admit I am a little out of shape). We got to the base and spent the night camping at a local woman's home. She is actually referred to as a queen, because her late husband was the chief of this mountain area. We had to ask her for permission to climb the mountain, and then do some traditional ceremonies in order to keep us protected on our hike up. We also had to give quite a bit of money, which may or may not have been part of what is required of hikers passing through, but in the end I think it was worth it. We made the climb the next day... a really tough climb, with a lot of scrambling and pep-talks between Katie and I so that we wouldn't quit before reaching the summit, but all of us made it, and the views were gorgeous. The hike out was a bit shorter... we did it at 2 am with a local guy (we had to get back in to town that morning) and he took us on a shortcut (which included hiking through a freezing river at about 4am, which did the trick of waking us up). In all, it was just a really beautiful walk through an amazing part of the country. I love hiking, so I was in heaven.
Now I'm back at site. We are already coming to the end of our third trimester. We are giving final exams next week. After that, I get to turn in my final grades, and then they do more exams for the 10th and 12th grades. These two grades have to take national exams that determine whether they pass or not. I'm not really sure what's entailed, but I guess I have to take part in proctoring and grading. My roommate, Josh, is winding down his last couple months of service, so next year will be quite different without him around. I'm not sure quite what to expect once I am back from my trip home... apparently they might be rearranging the schools, and maybe moving some of our students over to the old school. They are supposed to be putting a university agriculture here in Vilankulo, and they are probably taking up residence at our school until they have a place of their own... Anyway, it should be interesting and full of all new adjustments. Hopefully I'll be full of energy from my break, and be ready to take them on.
All in all, life is good. I have some great friends here, both in other volunteers, and people from my community. I do have moments of frustration and loss of patience, but I think that is fairly typical. Today is a holiday, so I get to relax a bit... wash some clothes, grade some papers... maybe walk with my dog to the beach. Not so bad.
I hope all is well at home. Happy birthday Dad. I will see lots of you in just 2 short months!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Hi all. Sorry it's so long since I wrote. Now that my life has settled into some normalcy I don't always feel like I have a whole lot to say. Today isn't really different, but I have been reminded by my mother a few more times than I would like, to update, so I will do my best to come up with some interesting information.
Everything is going well. I love teaching, but like I always say, it really is a lot of work. By the time Friday night comes a long I am really looking forward to the few days that I have off on the weekends. My weekends are usually no less busy, but at least I don't have to worry about making a bunch of lesson plans. I guess the worst part about teaching for me is the discipline. It is obviously important to discipline students and to set expectations for good behavior, but that is also the part that is the least enjoyable for me. I really do not like kicking students out of class, or calling students out when they are bad. In a perfect world the students would all be angels, hang on my every word, and be really excited about learning. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. There is a lot I can do to make the lessons exciting, and distract the students who are less then thrilled to be at school, by giving them something fun to do, but it does get hard at points. So that is the bad. The good is I really do love my students. Most of my students. I spend a lot of time with them, and I don't think that they are used to having a lot of teachers or adults that do that, so I think a lot of them appreciate me. They want to be around me, and that of course makes me feel good. Yesterday I organized a few soccer games for students of the different 8th grade classes so I spent all morning with them. On the sidelines I had some of the students teaching me Xitswa (okay, trying to teach me), so that was entertaining for them. It is nice for them to get to laugh at their teacher and to have the tables turned on who is teaching who. Of course they teach me a lot every day, but not in such an obvious way. So Xitswa is really difficult. The prununciation is different then any European language, and it is also not really written because it was always an oral language. I'm not great with languages anyway, but I think if I can learn a little they will see I am making an effort. The reason this came about is because as we were sitting on the sideline, and I kept telling them to stop speaking Xitswa because I couldn't understand anything they were saying. This is the language that they grow up with, and it is comfortable to them, so, they decided a better idea was just to teach me. Well it will be a project over the next couple of years.
My roomate and I have tried to plant a garden in our yard. I fear it is faling.... miserably... The problem is, first, that we live in a sand pit. Vilankulo is all sand, which would be okay if we put some sort of fertilizer down before we planted, but of course we didn't. So, while my neighbors gardens are growing really fast and starting to produce fruit, ours is just staying pretty small and not doing much growing whatsoever. I have learned my lesson though for next time... I could probably actually save it by putting something down in the sand, but I will admit I am a bit lazy at this point and have kind of given up on the thing. We still water at morning and night, but that may eventually be stopped too. We do have a ton of pineapple plants in the yard though, and those should be having their first fruits in the summer (maybe starting in November) so that will be nice.
My students are also writing letters to my Mom's youth group in CT. That has been a lot of fun. My Mom's students sent letters from the United States with pictures and the students really loved them. They have been having a fun time trying to write them back. Some of the things that they think to say are really funny. Specifically, two of my boys have big crushes on two of my Mom's blond students, so they are writing asking questions about them to their male penpals... harmless of course, but really entertaining. I think that it is really helping some of them improve their english though, and they are getting to use English in a useful way, so a lot of them are really enjoying the project.
Last thing, I am officially coming home at the end of November. I will be flying in to JFK on the 23 of November and leaving on the 4 of January... plenty of time to pack in lots of visits. Kate (my sister) gets married Dec. 1 and after that I am planning on seeing lots of friends and family, going to some movies, eating good food, and enjoying my Aunt Susie's Christmas Eve dinner that I missed last year. I can't wait!
I hope all is well at home. Happy Father's day, and happy graduation to Emily and lots of others. This is always a fun time of year back in CT. I am definitely thinking about all of you. Email me with interesting things going on in your lives if you have time, as I always enjoy hearing news from home. Take care!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Hi everyone. Just checking in.
All is well in Vilanculos. We are at the end of our first trimester. Next week is vacation for the students, while the teachers work on getting all the final grades for the semester in. I can’t believe the first trimester is already over. Time really flies here. I have been here for over 6 months now and I don’t know where the time went. I guess that is a good sign… I’m still really happy and love it here.
The town has really bounced back from the cyclone. My school is pretty much fixed, although there are a few smaller jobs still to be done. The rest of the town is looking a lot better too. The electricity was restored to people’s houses, they have opened most of the stores back up. It is even starting to get green again. The trees and many of the houses have a bit of a slant in them from the winds though, just so we don’t forget.
Teaching after the cyclone was a little hectic. I lost a lot of time so I’m behind in the curriculum, but I think it’s the same story with all the teachers. I am going to get my soccer team started (or at least try to) this coming semester. I don’t have much time during the week because of classes, but I am going to try to organize games and practices on the weekends. I have already gotten a lot of interest from my students, both boys and girls, so we’ll see what we can put together. I already go over to the school a lot to play pick-up games with the students, but we haven’t actually organized anything formal yet. My friend who lives in a town an hour north of here, in Inhassoro, is starting teams as well. We hope to have our teams play each other a couple of times a year once we get things going. The transportation is a little tricky but we will figure it out. I was sent a ton of soccer balls by people back home in CT. It was amazing. I kept 5 balls for myself and the rest were distributed to other volunteers in the southern region of Mozambique. I was instantly popular in Vilanculos as soon kids started figuring out that I had the balls. The students are so appreciative, and playing keeps them busy and out of trouble. I have also heard that more balls and even cleats and shin guards are being collected to be sent here. Thanks to all who are helping out and donating these supplies. I will get pictures out ASAP so everyone can see the kids that are benefiting from these gifts.
In other news, my sitemate and I figured out that our oven is gas, so we have been able to start cooking cookies, brownies, pizza, and other yummy things. My life just keeps getting better. I have brownies waiting for me right now that I am going to run home to. Take care, and send me an email if you get a chance. I have access to the internet now on a regular basis, so I can be a better correspondent. Até ja!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Many of you will have heard already, but Vilanculos was hit hard by a cyclone 2 weeks ago. I was evacuated beforehand by Peace Corps, so I was not in town for the storm, but I came back the next day to see the destruction it left behind. The town proved to be in really bad shape. Most big buildings in town had lost their roofs, many had damage to their cement structure. Our big market where people sell fruit and vegetables had crumbled to the ground. The hospital has had all of its buildings badly damaged. The gymnasium at my school was destroyed, we lost parts of the rooms to some of the classrooms and some of the buildings where students board. The second high school in town lost complete buildings. Mostly everyone I know has had damage to their house, either losing their roof or in many cases the entire structure. Trees were down everywhere, the power lines were all down on the ground too. Basically, the town was ravaged. Driving in was surreal, it was like driving into a war zone. I think the lack of color from all the trees being down had a lot to do with the effect. It was just grey and dark, and there was garbage, clothing, and tin roofs scattered around everywhere.

I did not know what to expect going in to the town. I had visions of complete chaos, health problems, no food and clean water, my house being looted since I had left it during the storm. I was scared to go back, but I really wanted to go and see what I could do to help, and to spend time with my friends that I have made in town over the past few months. To be honest, things are completely different then what I was imagining. No one in town had taken this storm very seriously. When I was evacuated everyone kind of laughed at me because I was “running away”. I didn’t know the severity of the storm either, so I was just kind of looking forward to spending time with the other volunteers that were being evacuated from other nearby towns that I don’t get to see too much. When we first got back in to town, people were still in shock from the fear of sitting through the storm. The brunt of it lasted about 6 hours, and I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to see tin roves flying off your house, and walls of houses flying away. I have to say though, I have been really impressed by the resilience of the people here. Immediately, people started to fix their houses and to get together their things that they might be able to salvage. Within a couple of days the big trees that were across the road were cut back, people were setting up stands out by our second market. The supermarket which was left in tact was opened for food. The hospital brought out tents that it had from UNICEF to set up for patients. People’s attitude shocked me too. I guess I was imagining a little more chaos… maybe more violence and looting. I have seen none of that. I am sure that there are people taking some things, like the tin that they find on the ground to put up as a roof to their house, but people for the most part just seem to be concerned with trying to get a place for their family to live. In a way, it seems like people are used to having these kind of problems. This isn’t the first time they’ve had to deal with devastation, and they do not react as people in America might at this kind of situation (I’m thinking about Hurricane Katrina).

In the last couple weeks I have seen people clean up their yards, cut back their trees, try to put some sort of roof back on their house. The president came to town for a day to visit. I am not exactly sure of what has been decided to do for the town and the surrounding affected areas by the government, but UNICEF has brought in tents to use as classrooms for all the schools that lost their buildings. They are already at work fixing our school. We started teaching again 5 days after the cyclone. Basically, people are just kind of getting on with life. People did not really stop and wait for aid to come in and help them to solve their problems. They have just tried to do what they can to get back to some sort of normalcy. This is of course, just what I see. There is probably a lot going on that I am not aware of.

So anyway, life has changed, but not as drastically as I expected when I first learned the devastation of the storm. Vilanculos has been thriving the last few years. Their have been new hotels, restaurants, and stores built in town. We have yet to see what kind of effect the storm will have on the tourist industry. I hope not much. The beach is strewn with trees at the moment, and I am not sure of the conditions of all the hotels, but hopefully it is not too difficult to fix. As for me, I am just getting on with teaching. I have been given three more classes of the 9th grade to teach, so I am much busier then before. I am in Maputo for the next few days for a Peace Corps conference and when I get back into town we will have about a month left before the end of the first trimester. I have already been here over 5 months… hard to believe.

I hope everyone is well at home. Thanks for all the emails and kind words. I will update again when I have access to email.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


So I am officially an English teacher. We started classes last week and so far they are going pretty well. One fabulous thing about Mozambique is that most everything is saved to be done at the last minute. I received my class schedule and the grades that I was going to teach the day before school started. A bit stressful, to say the least. I could not even look at my curriculum until two hours before I taught.

I was given the 8th and 9th grades to teach, but I have thus since been relieved of my 9th grade classes. I am quite happy because I went from having 8 classes to 5. 8 was a lot… I was teaching 5 or 6 classes in a row every day of the week. Having five is completely manageable. It gives me a lot more time to plan, and also to do other projects. I was stressed out about the 9th grade too because the curriculum is all centered on Mozambican culture, of which I am no expert. The material that is supposed to be covered is also really advanced in comparison to the students’ actual skill level. I would have figured it out, but it is nice that I don’t have to.

I am also Director of Turma. This means that I am kind of like a home room teacher. I am in charge of about 60 kids, making sure to keep them organized, help them with problems, and take care of behavior issues when they come up. It is more work but it will give me a chance to get to know these students better, so that will be nice. What else? The set up here is different. The students are all organized into groups called turmas. Each turma is assigned to one classroom, and the students stay in that class together for the duration of the school day. The teachers move around between the turmas that we teach. The students also get no choice in what subjects they take. For 8th, 9th and 10th grade the students have Biology, Chemistry and Physics classes. A lot of science, if you ask me… I am not surprised that so many of the students do poorly. They also theoretically take history, Portuguese, English and Physical Education. Theoretically because there are not enough teachers to teach all these subjects

The first week was a bit crazy. There were no set class lists so students were leaving school early and by the end of the day we would only have 10 students in each class. Because there is a shortage of teachers, students have a lot of free periods. At these times there is no one keeping control, so the students are allowed to go wild. It has been really loud outside the classrooms where students congregate, making it hard to teach with all of the noise echoing inside the classroom. The rules are starting to be laid out, so this week is better, but it is still not great. I of course have to play mean teacher so that the students don’t mess with me. I actually think I do pretty well with the classroom management though, so I don’t have students doing anything really out of line.

I have a couple of projects that I am already starting at the school. I only teach in the afternoons, so I am going to organize the library and play librarian in the mornings. There are a great deal of text books at the school, but the students have had no access to them because there is no one in charge of the checkout. Students usually do not have their own text books because the books are too expensive. At this point the library is completely disorganized. I have to go through and catalog all the books, then come up with a system for borrowing, and some rules to keep everyone under tabs. I love books and libraries, so it is not too far out of my range and I think it could be fun and really helpful to the students.

I have also been asked to help take care of some of the female students that board at the school. There are about 200 students that live at the school, and one teacher was asked last minute to be in charge of them all. He asked me if I could help him with the girls, because he thinks there should be a female teacher for them, so I said that I would. I’m not exactly sure what my job entails, but probably just spending time with the students, taking care of issues that arise, and just trying to keep overall control. Not easy with such a large group, but I’ll figure it out.

On the personal side, things are going fine. I am busy, as you can see, which is good for me. At the moment I am sharing my house with another Mozambican teacher and her two daughters (11 and 14). She is from Maputo and was promised a house upon her arrival. Unfortunately, when she got here all the houses had been taken. It isn’t easy to live with a family, but I think things could be a lot worse. The girls are well behaved and they are all really nice. They put up with Gus and her antics as well. They moved in with me last week, and I am going to move out into one of the smaller houses when it is ready. They got one of the families to move out. Now, the only problem is, the house has no stove and no refrigerator (and we still don’t have electricity). The school is going to buy these things, and when they do, Gus (my dog) and I will move. The house will be smaller, but still new and nice, and since there is only one of me, it makes sense. Gus is doing well too. She is getting bigger, and despite the fact that she is a ton of work, she makes a good companion.

I will write again when there is more news. I can’t believe I have already been in Vilanculos for 2 months! Time is starting to fly. I hope everyone is well. Send me an email to let me know how you are. I still have limited internet access but I make it in about once a week.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

These are some more pictures of Namaacha, and one of my new puppy Gus... I do not have any of Vilanculos up yet but I will try to do that soon.