Saturday, June 24, 2006

Cultural Mishaps Happen

So last week the to-do's of Dondo-Beira district came to visit my school. During 1st period I received a very official looking letter stamped and sealed declaring everyones presence was requested during the interval maior. So my lessons carried on, and in typical fashion my 4th period class ran a little late. So i rushed out of the classroom to see the majority of the students and the entirety of the staff organized. I slipped through the lines of student as about discretly as a Pagan at a Morman mass. I made it to the line of teachers and ofcourse im one of four people not wearing my Bata, the mandatory uniform of teachers, that out of principal I refuse to wear. Forgot to mention the other three not in uniform were decked out in 3 piece suits.... ooopppss. There was only room at the front of the line which meant I was closests to the Big bosses, and consequently blocking half of the doorway to the teachers room, which has been claeaned adn the red table cloth laid out for their arrival. So I sand in polite attention while each person in introduced and the Hohays for FRELIMO and Education are done. Normally political talk, nice words strung together but not really saying anything.

I wonder if they even looked into the salas- took note of the condition in which the school is in. Here its all about show and presentation, the Chefes roll up in nice cars, suits, and body guards (i mean really who would try to kill the dondo minister of education?) Gleaming smiles they ask Tudo bem? I wanted to say.. Nao! Em realidade nos salas sao horivel. O chao tem couvas muinto fundo, tudos os dias eu quasi torco meu tornozelo, esta perigoso... But of course i kept my mouth shut and smiled. But i was quite pleased when a girl in 12th grade spoke up- to complain about the conditions of the salas. She received the robotoic response of next year we will start improving the school. I found out afterward this cerimony and dialouge has been going on the same way for years, with no changes!

So after they all said their unmoving words they turned towards the line of teachers, and dumb old me standign at the front of the line thought they were going to enter the sal do preofessors again. So I turned to allow them more space, as they were not men who only subsisted on xima, but in acutlaity they were coming to compliment all the teachers. It apperaed as if I was turning my back to one of the most respected members in my community, hencing thouroughly embarrassing myself and disgracing the school... . My director snapped at me, and when I turned back I only had to shake the big mans hand, so my actions went without explanation. My bad... I'm just an American trying to teach in Mozambique don't equate my ignorance with disrespect.

Because in this society demonstration of respect and presentation are weighted above everything here... it doesnt matter that I show up everyday, on time, with a well prepared lesson. I will continue to be referred to, atleast in a light joking manner by my collegues, as the white girl who snubbed her chefe.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Where does change come from?

The promlem of AIDS... how do we change the behavior. Soulutions are not found in rope memorization, abstinence, fidelity, condoms, these words are regergitated on demand in Portuguese, English, or dialect, your choice. The wear the button, get tested, society chalk full of propaganda, red ribbons painted on every tree and building. But the behavior isnt changing, WHY? Where are the change makeers- the leaders that claim "I am Positive." Babies suckign on poision milk becasue formula is too expensive, women forced to submit to unfaithful husbans- polygomy is a breading ground- Who are the change makers? Who will step up, because AIDS has one and four here, and soon it will be taking your first born

So how do we get through?

Well bribery has worked for me. After a turma bombed there first test I offered 2 recooperation points for everyone who got HIV tested and showed me there cards. (The GATV, free voluntaring testing site, give cards that keep a record of the date your tested, not the result) Granted this is walking a very thin line on the voluntary aspect of the clinque, but I thought it was a risk worth talking, no pun intended. The offer was greated with moans and "but teacher." But sure enough the following class 8 people appeared with new GATV cards in hand.... 5 of them got tested for the first time.

Pouco e Pouco, right?

Organized Chaos

The story of two Americans who tried to organize "A Language Festival"

A few weeks back Erin, myslef, and a French teacher organized a language event. An opportunity for students to practice, demonstrate their ability by giving, speeches, poems, theater, dance in Portuguese, English, and French. The day of the event Erin and I arrived early with hand written schedules, post it notes, seating charts, and eager smiles. But as we should have known, Type A personalities are in direct opposition ot the Mozambiquan way of life. So we sat with your color coated supplies for 2 hours, and with 5 minutes until show time, Niguem, Nada, Nobody, was there- were talking neither participants or audience. All we could do was sit, wait, and make passing jokes about the huge cultural elephant. But in typical Mozambiquan fashion 1 hour late for us, or on time for them, everyone arived and we began. The auditorium was bem cheia (packed), and although the purpose of the event was lost due to the lack of a micropohone and an amazing sound system that insisted on blasting 50 cent during the intervals of the acts, ther was a positive energy and a feeling of pride that radiated from our students. I felt like a god damn parent, moving about, congradualting my students with high fives and hugs, I was even moved to tears as one of my favorited students belted out, in almost perfect English, Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech. The event lasted for 3 hours, and following the last act we had a huge dance party that lasted well into the evening... so i give myself a pat on the bag, and will gear up for Language festival #2 next trimerster.

Value of color

They come from far and wide to see the Americans, flashing neon lights advertising the Main Attraction, namely our presence. It is unescapable, life defined by something you lack the ability to choose. The age old cry "I am not just the color of my skin." I forget what it is to blend into a sea of people, even at the highest level of integration I will always be the other. But my coming to Africa, to Mozambique was a choice. A choice to willingly put myself in the minority, a choice the only a social class and a degree from a private University could provide. A Privelaged Choice. A choice that escapes those native born to racists societies, ok lets stop the abstract. A choice that non-white Americans will never have. My journey here was in part an attempt to further my understanding of racism in the USA, by experiencing it for myself.

But can I ever fully understand discrimination in the USA, if all the assumptions made about me are positive? (also, the singling out I feel is a result of both racial and cultural differences, but putting that aside.) I experience positive discrimantion, maybe liken to how white americans view asian americans. People assume I am rich, educated, and can provide for them the opportunity their society fails to give. But I think there are some similarties between my experience here and the experience of minorties in the States.

Discrimaination is the resulting veiw of the other, people are categorized and defined in to social hiearchy not by their personal opinions, but by the opinions of the other/outsider. This outside view is eventually internalized to depict the individuals self worth in terms of their group status. In turn each individual of a group is stripped of individuality and thus able to speak on behalf of the totality of the group. I am no longer Chelsea Larkin Keyser, born and raised in VT, with individual experiences and thoughts, I am the white female American. My opinion has become the American opion, which frankly at this point in time, I rather have my beliefs values, founded in Liberalism, stable family and a Unitarian Universalists church, repersent American, than the violent many times ignorant words of our dear President Bush.

In Mozambique the issue of race is not tip toed around or cloaked in delicate phrases like 'celebrating diversity' The difference here, is people have no shame in calling white white (or rather Mulungo) and black black. And my attempts to describe the race relations especially cultural sensitivity in calling non-white Americans by the politically correct name are lost in confusion and blank stares. Mozambiquans come form a colonial history of oppression, were rules were imposed to hold the native, black mozabiquans down, while the Portuguese exploited the country. Yet, the present seems to carry no scars of the divided past. Although Americans golor blind goals are noble our continual failure to combat the institution or racisms in our society- to live by our catchy motos- is like a continual cold slap in the face. Maybe its better to call the Kettle balck, and then appreciate the cup to steaming tea it provides?