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A Peace Corps Blog - Mr. Dutton Goes to Mozambique
A Peace Corps Blog - Mr. Dutton Goes to Mozambique
Mr. Dutton Goes to Mozambique
Domingo, Fevereiro 09, 2003
Yeah, so yesterday I got put in front of most of the students at school, and after the director of the school introduced everyone by their full names, he introduced me as:
John, substitute for Tober.
It's nice to know he won't be forgotten.
I had my first three classes today. They were just introductions, but went pretty well.
A big deal has been made of the fact that there are at least 50 students in each class. I'm sure I'll feel it a lot more later on, but right now, 50 seems a lot like 30 - they're still a bunch of strange kids tat don't understand me very well.
Their desks are 2-3 person affairs where the bench seat is attached to a writing surface that is angled as to facilitate writing. Unfortunately, it's not meant to ease standing.
Proper respect for a tech includes always standing when you're speaking, so these desks make things very awkward for the student to stand as they stay hunched over while trying to answer a question.
The rooms all have overhead lighting - a couple fluorescent fixtures - and a couple fans that sometimes work. Windows have screens, but if the wind is up, there are always a couple windows that rattle incessantly. All the rooms are painted with the MOZ stripe - about eye level, whatever the solid color is changes abruptly to an off-white. I don't know why, but just about every public room is painted in this manner. Chalk is usually in decent supply, but erasers are hard to come by if not impossible. Students all have their individual notebooks for each class - small, 40-page paperback journals that they are to hang on to throughout 10th grade. So when they write, it's carefully and slowly.
I spend a fair amount of time planning out what I was going to say and how to say it as my introduction to these students. When I walked into my first class, I just started talking for about 5 or 10 minutes without my notes. It was nice, but apparent that only about half of the students were understanding. During the second class a student outright told me that it was difficult to understand my manner of speaking.
Now, I know that my grammar was, for the most part, correct, and the vocabulary I was using was simple. They could definitely hear me, so it was definitely my accent. And I knew this before, but I try hard to change my accent - the way I say Portuguese words. However, the problem lies mainly in what parts of my body I use to resonate my sounds, and this seems to be different than Mozambicans. They have a very chesty sound, and mine is based in the head. So I have problems comprehending and so do they due to this.
However, this is not the extent of the problem. When I understand a grammatical construction or a complicated word, I tend to say it quickly in order to demonstrate my understanding of it. This doesn't help. This is the first step I will take tomorrow to help the students understand me.
Additionally, and most importantly, we are communicating in a mutual second tongue. Now, with people who have an English or Romance background, I have no problem communicating. Is it only the chest/head resonance issue? No, it's how we think.
The more I learn about Changana, the more I understand the Portuguese that is spoken here, because I understand the thought processes of the language. I have the same problems when speaking in English to South Africans or Zimbabweans. It's easy for me to understand, because I've been exposed to many different constructions. But to a non-native speaker, they only need to know how to express an idea in a couple ways. So if the ways I want to express myself are out of that scope, then the brain reads words and not ideas. From time to time, I have this problem with non-native English speakers, so it makes sense. It is just one of the many ways Mozambique and America have made compromises to meet in the middle, and there isn't a lot of middle ground. So the more I talk with my students, the better they will understand me and the more native constructions I will pick up. Once again, a matter of time, but for now I can work on speaking slowly and clearly.
I think it would be cool to know 5 languages when I leave Moz. I've got English nailed. Portuguese is on its way. French is somewhere in my head, but will soon get a refresher course. Changana is already starting, and Spanish will be easy to pick up again once Portuguese is in. Yeah, that would be neat. I'd also like to learn Greek, German, Russian and a Chinese tongue at some point. I've got some time for that.
Catrina went home. Don't know why, but I'm sad. So we're down to 35.
2/9/2003 05:53:36 PM
It's strange how happiness and catharsis are such nice bedfellows.
My Portuguese was pretty great today. But tomorrow I start to teach, so we'll see exactly how good it is.
Today was the opening of the school year. I arrived at school at 8AM like usual, and we waited around for 45 minutes doing nothing, like usual. At around 9, the school director came around and told us to round everyone up.
The school was teeming with students, but it didn't seem like more than a couple hundred. Well, wherever they were hiding, they managed to fit about 1000 kids in and around the school, all trying to get into the gym at the same time.
2/9/2003 05:40:25 PM
Sometimes the person or people that need your help the most are the furthest away. Sometimes you're right there. And in either case, your proximity doesn't correlate necessarily with your ability to help.
Sometimes I question whether I am a person who is seeing the world from behind the glass. Just watching, but not really being affected by what's going on around me because of how it might change me adversely. Sometimes I wonder if other people are seeing the world this way and if they can see the glass. And so I wonder if I can get them to break down that barrier.
Sometimes I wonder if people realize the world beyond their own, that it's not as idyllic as it seems and it's not as dreary as it seems. But I just want to help people get to the other side of the glass so they can discover that for themselves.
And sometimes I can't do that explicitly, so I have to do it by example and just hope others come along for the ride.
We ate dinner at the house of the woman whose son is in the US. They live in a collection of mud huts on a dirt compund that also houses a flatbed truck. The husband works for a company shipping things back and forth in Moz, but because people spent too much during the holidays, he hasn't had work.
They made us dinner: "grilled" chicken, cabbage and eggs, onion and tomato salad, and french fries. They didn't have filtered water for us, so we received Cokes, then tea afterwards. The four of us (me, Blake, Blake's sister and Blake's girlfriend) sat at the table - a plastic table and chair set provided by the main furniture supplier in Moz. We were cooled off by a fan without the front guard, plugged into an exterior outlet (in the mud hut) - by separating the wires and plugging them directly into the fixture. We could see the sun setting, creating a beautiful pink glow on everything. Children popped in and out from everywhere, just to see the strangers and to laugh. Not at us, but just for the sake of laughing. And they play just to play. Not to get out of chores, not out of boredom. Because they love to play. And so I watched them play after I played with them for a while. I felt like I was on the other side of the glass, but not long enough to experience the bad side of things. As a perpetual guest here, you're not allowed to see what's seen as Moz's faults by Mozambicans. Not yet, at least.
I realized today that I need to learn Changana soon, and that it won't interfere with my Portuguese. I'm finding it difficult to communicate with people, and I'm not completely convinced that it's because my Portuguese isn't great - it's that I'm trying to teach myself a more elevated version of the language than people speak here. But there aren't any books to learn Mozambican Portuguese. So it'll just take time.
However, when you even touch on Changana, people light up. I feel little slighted that we haven't officially learned a significant amount of the local languages, because even though I can speak with people, I still feel like a stranger.
And it's not because I'm white, American or new.
And so, on the forays I make to the other side of the glass, it's hard to stay there speaking Portuguese the whole time. In fact, it seems impossible.
But my mind isn't really stuck on this whole breaking down of barriers. I wonder if I chose the wrong time to leave for the people who already count on my help.
At the same time, it's hard to imagine going back before I've put my 100% into things here. Even if it does sometimes feel like everything's falling apart, I know people understand me and the things I feel I have to do. Maybe I'll have to start over when I get back, but I won't have to make the same mistakes.
Hopefully I'll get to check Email tomorrow and it will get me back on track. Because I can do SO much here, I'm starting to learn how, and I'm starting to have the means.
I guess this is a matter of barriers, it's just that this one I can't see through to the other side.
2/9/2003 05:38:25 PM
I played some 3-on-3 basketball today. I remember why I don't like basketball that much. It's just not graceful to me - there's very little flow to it unless it's at a highly competitive level, and then the flow gets interrupted by fouls, etc. I like hockey and soccer so much more because fouls are more rare and there's an unstoppable flow to even amateur games.
I really miss hockey.
People here don't even know what the sport is - not a tremendous surprise, of course, but it makes explaining my Hartford Whalers keychain even harder.
There's just something viscerally stimulatig about hockey. It's a fast game and unpredictable - beauty can be found in passes, saves, hits, goals and even in line changes. Playing is such a thrill for me every time because I know I can outthink most of the other players even if I don't have the physical instincts (yet) to capitalize on it. And all my frustrations come out every game, as it's a great stress reliever.
By far, one of the best feelings in hockey is reading a one-timer. Then diving to block the shot, transitioning to get up and create a breakaway that results in a goal. In basketball, you can block a shot that leads to a basket, but it's only two points of a hundred. In hockey, you never know if that one goal you didn't get makes the difference between 3-2 and 3-3. It's wonderfully random and emotionally trying.
So here's where I try and tie this into my experiences here.
I think I needed to get out of the US because it started to feel like a b'ball game. I'd feel like I accomplished something, but see it overshadowed by the big picture that I couldn't control and didn't really like. Maybe I made a connection with getting a Performing Arts Center at CWRU (college), but then all of the momentum was towards other projects. So I had to keep blocking shots just to stay in the game.
But here, it's easy to get a breakaway, and score the goal that wins the game. Getting yourself in position to do this is the hard part - it takes a lot of training (read: equipment) and you have to speak the language. And you'll dive to block a lot more shots than ever end up being shot. Meaning that you try to fix something, and you just can't. All you can do is get up again and put it all on the line. I really love that feeling.
2/9/2003 05:26:34 PM
We had a cockroach infestation tonight, and got rid of it with some heavy-duty bug spray. I'm pretty high from the stuff, combined with being mentally tired - I was doing brain gymnastics at school, making the schedule.
I was working with another professor (a very nice, polite one I might add) and we were basically speaking Portuguese for six hours straight, organizing all of the classes and subjects. Trying to translate all of the logic I was thinking into another language was VERY tiring.
I keep getting ragged on by the Mozambicans about not having a girlfriend here. I tell them I have one back home. I tell them sometimes I have a fiancee back home, but it does no good. Even my American friends are quite doubtful that I'll be able to remain single. This isn't aided by the fact that every volunteer has had at least one significant relationship, one taking back a husband.
The thing is, I'm not here to have a relationship. I can't explain that yet, but I feel very strongly that it would take away from what I can accomplish here. There are some gorgeous women here, but I'm not yet attracted to any of them. And I don't see that changing - not anytime soon.
And people also don't understand that I've spend only about a year and a half of my life - total - in serious relationships. So it's not like I don't know how to handle things on my own.
This isn't to convince myself that I can do this - I already know that - it's just to vent.
I think my frustration stems from the fact that people have a hard time believing in willpower and acting on principle. I try to always act how I believe others should act - but I don't necessarily expect others to act in that way. Principle is a very personal thing, so how can I hold others to what I value? I can't expect to behave according to others' value systems. But why can't people accept that I can, in fact, do something just because I think it's the right thing to do?
Interestingly, I think it's the people who do believe in me who become my closest friends. Because it means more when I say I believe in them.
And all my principles, all my behaviors are getting such a rigorous test here. I've had to make decisions about things I've previously thought of as cut and dried, that aren't easy decisions to make. What if someone asks me for food? To use my bathroom? Do I pick up the trash I see lying around? I used to answer yes to all these things, on principle, but now all that has been complicated. Now my personal buzzword has been "sustainable".
If I can't pick up all the trash, or nobody else will pick it up after I've taken my turn, it does more harm than good. Likewise with giving things out. All because the behavior isn't "sustainable" - because I won't be here forever and there aren't a hundred of me. Moreover, the changes have to come from within, which takes habituation and time. So if I want there to be less trash, I have to change how people think about trash - and well after I leave, the situation may change. Thus, my job as an educator is one of principles - and how can I hold others to theirs if I don't hold my own?
2/9/2003 05:19:42 PM
The singing group is coming together. I wasn't very descriptive about the makeup of the group yesterday. There are about 10 men and 12 women, about 80% showing up per day. Average age is high, around 40 or 50. I'm one of about three "young people" in the group. They rehearse every weekday at 3 PM, and I found out today I'll be teaching afternoon classes, which are from about 1PM to 6 PM. Since I've been working on the schedule, I should be able to give myself the time off to stick with this group. I think it would be really cool to teach three classes, sing, then teach a couple more. It's going to be hard, but rewarding.
I'm definitely going to have to start voice work soon, too, to keep this all balanced - especially if I end up doing theater. I noticed that, like any a capella group, when first starting out, we fall flat very quickly. I don't have perfect pitch or anything, but I know when I can hit a note one time, then it's too low the next time around, then lower, etc., that we're going flat. It probably doesn't help that the director is a baritone and the other basses are BASSES. In the States, I'm a low bass, but here I'm a definite bari, at least until my voice frees up in the low range. It's scary the notes these guys can hit. Think the bass from Rockapella times 3 people. (If you haven't heard Rockapella, they did the Carmen Sandiego theme and the Folger's commercials. Immediately purchase a CD of theirs.)
It was hot again today - probably in the mid-90s - like it is most every day. And everyone talks about the heat, for the same reason we talk about the weather. Because it's something that affects every single one of us, so it's immediately common ground.
Anyway, we have a freezer that we cycle on and off to give us cold water - which has been amazing. Most of the time, part or all the water is frozen in the bottle. For some reason this reminded me of the past summer when I'd leave Dirt Devil with a water bottle full of ice on those really hot days. Days hotter than this, riding on impossibly radiant pavement. (Was that a word? I don't know.) And I remember how great the wind felt and the feeling of getting home, changing out of my sweat-soaked clothing and walking around half-naked. Of course now, just walking 5 minutes from school does the same thing, but without the workout.
I do miss my bike.
I started a fire today.
We have a two-burner, electric stove. The right burner, when the unit is plugged in, is always warm. When we make french fries, which is often, we like to use a small pan. We also recycle the oil. We have a larger frying pan, but it's too big for the burners so doesn't work as well. We've had problems with there being too much oil and it spilling onto the burner in the past, but nothing serious.
I think that's all the background info you need.
So I was making french fries - trying a new cut this afternoon - and since I only had one potato, I figured I'd use the small pan. Knowing oil liked to spill out from that pan, I only filled it halfway, thinking that was a good level. Well, this story would be going nowhere if it weren't for the fact that I had indeed put too much oil in. As I started the fries, a drip started on one side. I tried to balance it so that the oil was level, but to no avail. Soon, the oil caught on fire - a small, little burst that ended as soon as it started. So I took the pan off, but in so doing, managed to spill a significant amount on to the burner. I transferred the contents of the pan to the larger pan and put it back on the burner.
Before I knew it, it started smoking and as I lifted the pan up, discovered a nice campfire started up. It seemed small enough to try and blow out, but in so doing, I only served to amplify the flames to eye level. This was a little disconcerting.
By the way, the burners are right by the back door. Knowing my breath was not going to extinguish the flames and that an electrical appliance which was PLUGGED IN was on fire, I reached for the unopened packet of Baking Powder and started to throw it very quickly on the flames. (Yes, I opened it first.) In the middle of this, Jorgito walks through the open door, notices the fire licking our chimney, white smoke from the Baking Powder, and just keeps on walking, commenting on the nice fire I made.
Panic is not in his vocabulary.
I finish extinguishing the inferno, talking with 'Gito the whole time. He leaves, and not a minute later, the meter reader shows up. Our meter is inside the house. Luckily, the smoke had cleared, but what would he have thought, walking in 5 minutes earlier? THAT would have been entertaining.
Telling Blake this story (after I cleaned the kitchen completely), he wondered why we weren't given fire extinguishers in our medical kits.
I figure it's probably because volunteers have to work harder to start fires than to put them out. Both literally and figuratively.
I made some good spaghetti sauce tonight:
Onions and garlic, sauteed
Ketchup and equivalent amount of water
I think I'll call it "Where there is no tomato paste". Well, there is, but I forgot to buy it.
On this, the 400th page of my journal thus far, I submit to you the nth installment of writing in my journal about writing in my journal. It's been a great journey so far, and it's really only beginning. I hope I can keep up the writing the busier I get, but this is important to me so I think it will get done. More importantly, it's crucial to my loved ones' understanding of me and my experiences here.
I often get Emails about my writing, which are encouraging but pressure me to push this in one direction or another. I've been trying to ignore this effect, but it's hard. This writing thing works best when I'm not concerned about what people want to hear.
Ironically, this is all about helping people understand another part of the world and how it affects me. Yet when I respond to the people who read this, the quality declines. Usually, people close to me or interested in my life are an integral part of my life - my day-to-day interactions. But that's what makes this situation so difficult - others don't know what this is like, so how can they expect me to write in a certain way?
I think I've beaten this to death now. By the way, thank my mom for typing all this in.
2/9/2003 05:10:22 PM
I found out today that two of my three desires for classes came true. I have only one grade (9th) and it's the grade I wanted. However, I have 8 classes which is more than I was expecting. Each class meets three times a week, so I have 24 hours of classtime every week. On the upside, I have a relatively easy schedule compared with some of the other teachers. Also, I'm teaching Bio to the ENTIRE 9th grade (well, the daytime classes). There are approximately 400 of them (50 in each class, or turma). MY high school had 350 students total!
I was on my way to do errands when I stopped into one of the Canadian's workplaces to drop off the shopping list I alluded to yesterday. I had heard singing there earlier in the week, and while inside, heard singing again. I inquired about the singing group, to which I got a very enthusiastic "Do you sing?". Before I knew it, I was in the bass section, alongside the president of the group who had the biggest smile on his face, nearly matching his girth and cavernously deep voice.
I was intimidated at first, because they were using the same notation as in church and they had more practiced voices, but I soon came to realize that this choral group was like any singing group in the States. There were many levels of voices, from confident to silent - and an equal number of personalities. The women who smiled at me, the wise-ass in the bass section, the young guy in the tenors, the altos who just can't seem to hit that melody...it was all very familiar.
However, the way they learn songs is just plain hard for me. I'm a visual learner - I need to see words on paper, then I internalize them. Well, there is only one copy of all the music they learn, and the director has it. It's handwritten in four parts, do-re-mi.
It's learned part-by-part and you memorize the words along with the tune. Typical SATB harmonies are used, and the song we learned today had a very straightforward bass line, which made it easier for me. They meet every day at 2 PM, for about an hour. It sounds like a great routine to get into, and should help me take care of my voice.
I'm reminded of a picture of Dashon and his singing group - and how out of place he seemed to look. But being on the opposite side, it's only skin color, and that's really starting to make sense.
So, my shopping list.
It had a circle in the middle with "Blake and Joao's Wish List" contained inside. Dotted lines branched off to lines curving into arrows throughout the sheet, indexing the different items. Though the whole space was used, it was not cluttered or clustered. When presented, all the items were found after the initial expectation/realization shock. It meets all the criteria of a shopping list, but looks completely different.
I'm still in the mail catch-up period with my new address, but that should change soon. I'll get mail sent to the old address pretty soon and it's been almost 4 weeks since I first gave my new address out. All this means that the stream of mail will start, and my letter-writing efforts will begin to pay off!
2/9/2003 04:51:45 PM
To give you an idea of the school I'm working at, there are 25 professors for the 25 or so turmas (groups of students, or classes), among the 10 subjects taught. This works out to having 2-3 professors per subject. In Biology there are 4, including me. So do they need me here? I don't see why not, but do they need me here more than in other cities?
I'm kind of in limbo, waiting for school to start. In the meantime, I've had some time to do some thinking, not directly related to my experiences here, but inspired by some challenges I've had. I'll try to relate some of that, mainly because I want it written down.
I wasn't completely satisfied with my description of creativity the other day. I think I can be more specific and scientific with my hindsight approach to creativity.
I see "creativity" as a combination of classis "thinking outside of the box" in combination with imagination. First, I'll tackle the box.
When someone says to "Think outside the box", I believe they are doing a disservice. Nobody knows what the box is, so how can you think outside of it? What they really need to say is, "Think outside you assumptions."
But before we define the box, the very process of thinking has to be reevaluated. There's a common misperception that there is a right and wrong way to think, which is mostly the fault of standardized education. Well, I posit that there is no right and wrong way to think, and the way you do it is just fine. The process of CRITICAL thinking is just that, a process subservient to thinking in general. It's a way to examine an idea in an ordered manner, a method of thinking. I want to establish this point so you can throw out critical thinking for a moment, and not lose your general pattern of thought.
So now we need to establish the box. Either think of the box as existing inside a circle or of the box as one of the lists (if you're not a visual thinker). The box, or first list, is full of the assumptions you have made about the problem at hand. The circle, or second list, is made up of the actual constraints of the problem.
Making the box (list #1) is not trivial. You have to look at your approach from every angle without thinking about the problem. Essentially, you're thinking about thought and discovering the way you think. Thus, you can't be uncomfortable with how you think or what you find at this step will not be completely honest. And if you use "critical thinking", you will simply layer assumptions onto your 2nd level thought processes. So keep it simple and keep an open mind to what you find.
Once you're done defining the box/list, examine the problem once again and think about the problem from a distance. What are the very real contraints for this problem? Can each constraint be more generalized and still fit every possible solution? This is your circle, or 2nd list.
Now, the "space" between the circle and square, or the items that are on the first list but not the second - assumptions you have unnecessarily made - are the breeding ground for creativity.
Don't worry, I'll get to an example soon enough.
Now that you have the assumptions you incorrectly made about the problem, you can explore the new territory you've uncovered - thinking outside the box - or simply try and start from the circle/2nd list and work your way in. This is called imagination.
Imagination is that wonderful thing we're all born with, but many of us lose because we're told to think and act in prescribed, unimaginative ways. Imagination is wonderfully simple and inconceivably endless. To be imaginative is simply to not force a thought to exist and when one does pop up, not to dismiss it because it doesn't seem to fit the cultural or specified norms. This is often called "brainstorming", but it implies that it is an active process, which it need not be. Using your imagination can take a few seconds or a few weeks. A problem that has a quick deadline is not going to be able to receive your full efforts. Brains under pressure produce adequate but unimaginative solutions.
So a simple example of this whole process is the writing of a shopping list.
A typical "box" for this task will contain the following:
Items should be listed in a neat fashion.
Items should be thoroughly descriptive so another person can read them.
There should be a title which sets the scope for the list, above the items to be purchased.
A small, but adequate blank piece of paper should be used.
One pen should be used (or pencil).
No extraneous writing should be present.
A typical "circle":
All items to be purchased should be present.
Depending upon importance, items should be described thoroughly.
I will share how my list ended up at another time. But for now, try making one using the above method and see what happens.
2/9/2003 04:42:38 PM
Yesterday, we and the Canadians went to the beach and visited Catrina, who was very happy to see us! I got a sunburn, but from the ride more than the beach.
I was in the back of a pickup for a couple hours and we "picked up" some people trying to get to Maputo. There were probably about six people in the bed of the truck with me, and a little girl sitting on my lap. She was perfectly comfortable with this and even fell asleep a couple of times. The best part was when she was getting up to leave, she just had this look on her face like she wanted to say something but thought I wouldn't understand. So I told her my name in Changana, but she still had the blank look on her face - caught between conversation and confusion. She just kind of stared at me, looking like she was trying to comprehend that she fell asleep in a white person's care. I'm really curious to know what exactly she was thinking.
I got to see a lot of the countryside, and it's really spectacular. It's not that it's alien, it's just subtlely different from American countryside and conserved. There isn't any complicated network of roads and power lines scattered over the landscape, and houses blend into the spotty forest.
Now that I'm doing more work at school (read: making more lists), I have begun to wonder about my usefulness. There are tons of professors at my school, so what makes me any more qualified to teach Biology? I'm not fluent in Portuguese and I've never taught before. I know teaching is a means to an end, but I wonder how high expectations will be of me.
My writing is suffering because I hurt my right thumb closing a latch, so I might be writing less the next couple days.
When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:
This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?
Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."
In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.
Read the stories and leave your comments.