January 25, 2003: Headlines: COS - Mozambique: Internet: Blogs - Mozambique: Personal Web Site: Mr. Dutton Goes to Mozambique

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Mr. Dutton Goes to Mozambique

Mr. Dutton Goes to Mozambique

Mr. Dutton Goes to Mozambique

Sábado, Março 29, 2003
The neighborhood kids are fantastic. They run up to me after school with huge smiles, they wave and yell my name every time I walk by, they hang out at my house and play and dance. They just generally have a good time, all the time.

But it hit me today that many of them are going to die before their childhoods are over, and their friends will see this and move on. And so death will continue to be accepted as a very real part of life and everything else will continue to be less important.

Like school.

It's ridiculously difficult - in fact impossible - to keep kids from cheating on tests. I confiscated several cheat sheets, made everyone put all their belongings in the front of the class, had them leave while I checked for material left behind, collected the paper they were to use for the test, redistributed it, then gave points off for talking or looking at another paper. I excused four students for excessive cheating. One I had to give a red falta to just because he would not leave. I had to physically escort him out by holding his arms tightly but not painfully. I never threatened physical harm, but the line got blurry.

And in the other turma, I was going to give a quiz to, it never happened because they were too noisy.

So why all the discipline problems and cheating? I'm not quite sure why just yet, but large class sizes definitely have something to do with it. The more anonymous you can be, the more you feel you can get away with. And when you have to take quizzes and tests in very close proximity, it's very easy to cheat. Almost too tempting.

Even with all this cheating, there's very little studying. And the studying that is done is memorization. This is the way of the developing educational system - the system educates only the most motivated who then go on to improve the system they survived by teaching or administrating. It's a slow process, but the thought is that Peace Corps' presence can speed things up and increase the total quality of teaching. I tend to agree with this, but I think our real power lies in what we can do for the communities.

We have motivation, time and resources. I know I can accomplish a lot here, though I may view my accomplishments as minor. I know that every little bit helps and I believe strongly that if everyone found one (more) way they could aid society, that the world would be safer, healthier and happier - especially in America where prosperity (from a third world perspective) is very much taken for granted and creates a whole host of imagined problems (how do I get the kids to their soccer game after play rehearsal?, etc.) Maybe it's my naivete that makes me think it's possible to get under the skin of a culture and change it from the inside, but I believe strongly in social revolution. Why can't the "new business model" include optional community service as part of a 35-hour work week? Any worker could take a paid "service" day once every few weeks. And workers would only be allowed to work 35 hours with rare exception, changing the way in which people delegate and look at efficiency. And change more private schools to emphasize affordable education by phasing out the idea that tenure is necessary for the free exchange of ideas, and thus saving money from the salaries of professors who are tenured, but in name only. Then, more students can participate based upon merit and not inheritance.

And phase out defense spending, putting our money where our mouth is in terms of disarming weapons of mass destruction - our own. Then reallocating that money to start national health care programs ensuring that everyone is covered.

Especially the children.


3/29/2003 07:35:09 AM

I'm trying to start over with discipline - by this I mean that I'm trying the simple stuff again, in larger quantity, to see if it helps. In my first class today, I made about 6 kids stand and told about 3 more to leave. By the end, it was quiet. But does this turma learn? No, they don't get it.

And the material? They barely get it. The curriculum is hard because the students' background is insufficient. Tomorrow I give my first quizzes, so we'll see how that goes.

I still miss people tremendously. That hasn't changed, and I don't expect it to change. People I know back home can offer so much more than people here because of our commonalities and similarities.

A student asked me today about a medical problem. He has to pee every hour and drinks plenty of water. The urine isn't discolored and he's not in pain. Not really knowing what it could be (urinary tract infection?), I told him it didn't sound urgent, but that he should try and talk to a doctor at some point. Looking in my "Where there is no Doctor" book, it seems like his symptoms could be aligned with diabetes, which is rare to develop at about 22 years old, but not unheard of. I'll try and confirm other symptoms tomorrow, then let him know if he should go to the doctor. Sending someone to the hospital here is always tricky, but if he already has a preliminary layman's diagnosis, it could be beneficial. Of course, I don't know really what I'm talking about in regard to medicine, so I'm just trying to stay on the right side of the helping/harming line.


3/29/2003 07:30:35 AM

I'm on a chapa coming back from Maputo, getting some pamper therapy by staying in a hotel. It was nice, but I'm anxious to get back to site. I've been sitting in this chapa not going anywhere for about 1 1/4 hours now, reading and talking. Eh pa.

I went to a club last night with another volunteer, Monica, and a local whom we know. It was a club that rivals the nicest clubs in Cleveland - from the inside and from the clientele. It was quite bizarre to see so many European faces and then think of conditions at my site. The juxtaposition was so surreal that I had to keep reminding myself where I was. To some extent, we're really adjusted to life at site and we experience a fair amount of culture shock getting back into Maputo.

In order to help my understanding of the Portuguese that doesn't exist in books, I bought a rare-find book on "Mocambicanismos", or listerally, words that Mozambique uses not in conventional Portuguese. It's in Portuguese, so it will help my language all around. I'm hoping to translate the "definitions" into English for future Mozambican groups, as I think it can be extremely helpful. I've already seen lingo in the book I've been wondering about for some time, but have never gotten around to asking about.

In seeing a few other volunteers here over the past day, I was able to share what happened this week and we could trade discipline stories. It seems to be the same basic problems everywhere, as expected, save for the seemingly excessive hitting at my school. And being told by teachers that I should hit students does not seem to happen with others. I don't know how I can do something about this except by being a role model. This means I need to be careful with my discipline in the face of students who have no respect for me - and probably stop stooping down to silly and belittling discipline, however much it may seem to help. Of course, that leaves me in an even tighter situation than before, but since Laurenco agreed and volunteered to talk to disrespectful turmas for me, I do have another lifeline. Plus, he said he'll be watching some of my lessons soon, which is great for feedback but intimidating beyond belief.

Chapa tip #34:

If your driver is looking tired, and you're stuck in the chapa for one reason or another, insist he drink a nice cold Coke. I've never been so glad to see a sode in my life.


3/29/2003 07:30:19 AM

We got a tremendous rainstorm last night replete with huge lightning and some minor flooding. I had to wade through a few inches of water on my way to and from class. It was worth it, though, as I had a good day. My Portuguese was really good, my comprehension was also right on, and my classes went fairly well.

The only exception to that last part was when one of the students would not be quiet or would be asking stupid questions all the time. So I covered the teacher's table with chalk dust and told him to sit on it or leave, knowing that he wanted very much to stay, but would shut up if he sat on the chalk, which he went ahead and did. Unfortunately, like most new discipline, made the class go hysterical. Another professor asked me to cut the noise out, to which I replied that I wanted th same thing. Still sucked that I couldn't control them.

I think I've figured something out about the educational system here. It's still young, and so the emphasis is on gaining information over understanding the underlying concepts. Which makes sense. If you have students who know the facts, they become teachers who can teach the facts and the students can then take the next step and find the underlying concepts.

Example. I say the chloroplast contains chlorophyll, and photosynthesis occurs in the chlorophyll. But when I ask what process occurs in chloroplasts, I get a lot of blank stares. Basically, I'm having to change how I teach and essentially WHAT I'm teaching, a whole lot.


3/29/2003 07:18:39 AM

Today I talked with a student who was close to the murder - in fact, he almost got killed himself. Apparently the assailant swung the knife around behind him, narrowly missing this student and hitting victime in the hip with a very long knife. Seeing his general demeanor, the demeanor of those who helped carry the victim, and those who saw nearly nothing, it's easy to see that people are used to dealing with death as long as they don't see it. It's something else to laugh at when it's not their kin.

And seeing where they're coming from, I understand it pretty completely.

I played some volleyball with some of the students this afternoon. They have some interesting habits. The setter is permanent, but takes his serve and runs back into position. If a ball is going out, people will get it if they can, regardless of whether it's clearly out. This is because it's a pain in the ass to chase the ball, and what's the sense in being so overly competitive? Setting is always done from the center, the back line isn't really obeyed, feet are used as a third arm, and the spiking is pretty weak because there aren't that many tall players. Once I figured all that out, I had to go, but now I know for next time.


3/29/2003 07:18:07 AM

Foot & Mouth
Quinta-feira, Março 27, 2003
A "live" update:

There´s a CNN story on Foot & Mouth disease outbreaks in parts of Mozambique. That is very close to where I am, but I have not heard anything yet either from PC or my school about precautions that I need to take. Which is to say everything´s fine and I´m aware of what´s going on!

3/27/2003 10:24:17 PM

I showed up at school a little early today to see what the reaction would be. Students were gathered together, meaning that some meeting was going to happen.

I stood with Laurenco and another professor as Laurenco (my pedagogical director) explained what was going on. He spoke in very vague and delicate terms about the boy who died yesterday.

He was in my 2nd oldest turma, the first class I had to teach today. He died trying to subdue the boy who's currently in jail.

Laurenco went on to talk about the funeral and memorial service. We will have a service Saturday morning at 8 AM.

After he finished, a group of we teachers talked for a little but about his family and the incident in more specific terms. After about 20 minutes of the first class were gone, I walked into my first class, the turma that lost a member.

I didn't know for sure at the time that it was this turma - but it was quite obvious these students weren't acting like the rest. Though they see death every day - in some form or another - they were very definitely affected. I didn't know how to address the situation with them, but communication isn't all about words.

As usual, they stood to greet my, saying good afternoon. I responded likewise and, as usual, asked how they were doing. The automatic response is "We are doing well", but today there was an awkward silence and then mutterings of "We are doing badly" or "We are doing normally". Then they asked how I was (which isn't the status quo) and I started to give them a thumbs-up but changed it into a horizontally-waving hand meaning "so-so".

I could feel my eyes start to well up, but knew I couldn't afford to start crying in front of the class - for too many reasons.

I took a couple deep breaths, spoke very poor Portuguese to absolutely no laughter or comment, and started a very brief lesson. A few times during the lesson, my concentration slipped and I could feel the lump in my throat. I tried my best to keep things light, but realized I was just biding time.

I hope other professors took the time to talk about what happened - I think I'm going to try and talk with a couple kids from the class before lessons start tomorrow afternoon.

In college, I remember dealing with a few deaths - and how organized and open everything was.

Here? Well, it doesn't quite feel real because I'm not seeing all the typical signs of grief or trauma. Most of the kids seem completely unaffected and are joking about the whole thing.

So does that mean they are really in denial? From an American perspective, without a doubt. But from their culture, it almost seems like their method of grieving, to simply accept it as a part of their lives, especially when they aren't close to the victim.

And it's been confirmed that the boy was killed while trying to help out.

The killer apparently had walked into this professor's class earlier in the day, and not being a student at this school, the professor told him to leave - and violence might have been used at this point to make him leave. His actions were, as the rumor goes, in response to this violence.

I've had a couple light disciplinary incidents which would never fly in the States, but I thought I would share.

In one of my turmas, there is this abnormally short kid who's always giving me crap in one form or another. After one comment, I figured I'd really cut him down to size (pun intended), so I told him to come to the front of the room and feigning like I was going to do something else, I turned around with mock surprise and told the boy standing in front of me to "stand up".

The room literally erupted in laughter and it was all I could do to not join them. The kid walked back to his seat, almost completely unfazed. He continued being a pest the rest of the lesson, but toned down.

This may sound extraordinarily mean and silly, but to some extent it worked. I don't like myself very much for doing it, but I've got to raise the bar.

Today there was a boy and girl talking in the front of the room, across an aisle. They had already been causing trouble, so I basically had it in my mind that I was kicking them out, but I wanted to have some fun with them first. So I told the girl that she could sit with her "boyfriend". Then I got more specific and told her she had to sit on his lap. As I expected, she was reluctant to do so, so I told them they had the choice of leaving the classroom or doing it. Well, she sat on his lap to a fair amount of laughter. They were having a good time, too, pretty amazed that "teacher" was doing this. I then posed one stipulation that if they laughed, I'd tell them to leave. So I faked a couple times like I was going to start writing, then turned around, laughing hysterically at them for about two seconds to which they responded by, of course, laughing. So in the next breath, I told them to leave, completely straight-faced. The class laughed, but then shut up very nicely after about 10 seconds. The rest of the lesson went very smoothly, though I could still hear laughter from outside where the couple was telling their story.

Now THAT I'm proud of. Any time I can introduce fun discipline that does the trick ( the students returned for the next lesson and were very quiet throughout). I'm a happy camper. Especially when the kids need a good laugh.


3/27/2003 04:31:13 PM

As this journal has become a part of my experience here in Mozambique, I often see during the day a moment that I'd like to capture in this journal for others and for myself.

This time, I think it's as much for me as it is for everyone else, to come to terms with what happened today - an event on the fringes of the nicely packaged "Peace Corps Experience" that so many people see my experiences as.

I was, more or less, a far too close witness of a murder today. I feel less safe tonight than I did this morning, but I don't feel in danger. If that were the case, I would not be writing from my house. Melodramatics aside, I don't know exactly how to write about this, but I'm going to give it a shot.

I was in the middle of my 5th period class this afternoon, my next-to-last class of the day, teaching about the endoplasmic reticulum, which is a part of the eukaryotic cell.

In midsentence, we all heard a loud crash of glass breaking followed by gasps - a familiar noise for me, as it seemed like someone had dropped a cup, a beaker, or some other object. What I didn't notice then was the lack of immediate laughter, which at school, is omnipresent. Regardless, I went into "take control of the situation even though you have no idea what's going on" mode.

I told the students to stay inside the room, and until I opened the door to see what was going on, they obeyed. Standing outside the door to the room next to mine, no more than 10 feet from where I had just been standing, was a teenaged boy with a broken bicycle chain, standing intensely by his work, a broken window of a door.

I thought that it was pretty strange, but was just a kid being a nuisance and vandalizing the school. My first instincts were to let other people take care of matters and try to calm him down - in Changana - but before I could figure out what to do, my students ran and grabbed him, pulling him away from the door and the professor who had been showered with broken glass but was unhurt. They seemed to have control of the situation, and other professors helped out.

I considered - very briefly - helping subdue the kid, but wisely thought better of it. No sense in being a "hero" where there's no such thing.

At that point, I figured it was best that I try and corral my kids - at the very least to reduce commotion and the prospect of a fight breaking out. I went back into the room, which is a fairly universal sign that the professor is ready, so you should be, too.

A couple students joined me, and I sat inside shooting the breeze with them. One came in and asked if I was afraid and I confidently said no - although I wasn't quite sure. Every so often, there were some screams and people running in one direction or another. It was obvious that the kid had freed himself and was threatening people with the chain.

I stepped outside to see what I could do to get my kids back inside and out of harm's way, but I saw that another group of people had formed around a downed bicycle and presumably the owner of the bicycle.

The kid was still free, and drawing an ever-growing crowd. I realized at this point that it was hopeless, but with my students being fairly jovial with each other and demonstrating curiosity more than anything else, that it wasn't anything to worry about. I did start to worry, though, when one student came over and asked me if I saw what happened.

Thinking I had, I said yes. He seemed to plead with me, in English, that someone was dying.

I started to ask questions of those around me and it seems that the kid who was on the bike was stabbed by the kid who broke the window. He was stabbed in the abdomen, from what I remember from anatomy in the general area of the liver or large intestine. I don't know what happened first, but juding by the screams, my best guess is that he brandished the knife while being held and stabbed someone to free himself.

I heard later that he, in fact, had too knives, generally known to be mentally unstable, and lives in my neighborhood.

A couple minutes later, students from my class were carrying the injured kid to a car to get him to the hospital. There was no obvious bleeding, but he wasn't in good shape.

A few minutes after this, the police got hold of the stabber and took him away.

Rumors immediately began to fly as to who this kid was and why he did what he did. The most accurate and believable one is that he was simply insane and decided to go on a rampage. Other rumors have to do with revenge for violence in the classroom by the professor whose door he shattered.

The fact that the rumors were there makes me wonder about students' true perceptions of violence in the classroom and its acceptance.

On the way to my Changana lesson tonight, no more than 2 1/2 hours after all of this, we learned that the victim had died. We weren't shocked, but that's when it hit me.

Some other students of mine cursed their race - saying that Africans are always killing each other. They asked if this ever happens in America, to which I could only respond, "All the time". They didn't believe me at first, but it was easy to see that what they at first thought was a reaction of "Those Africans..." on my part was actually, "Not here, too..." and seemed to understand.

The truth is, I don't understand.



When this story was posted in November 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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RPCV Carl Pope says the key to winning this election is not swaying undecided voters, but persuading those already willing to vote for your candidate to actually go to the polls.

Take our poll and tell us what you are doing to support your candidate.

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