Saturday, February 24, 2007

Looking Around Chamane

Oddly enough, the teachers-in-training built their basketball court next to the neighboring minefield. If the ball escapes out of bounds the games will explode with fun. The dangerous mines aren't left over from. This minefield will eventually move locations, for it is a military training field for rodents to detect mines without triggering them. How bizarre.

Only tough feet run bear on the spiked sand, and so strong arms are necessary to clear the sharp stalks of grass. Clearing the area proposes an infinite task. Armed with a blunt piece of metal resembling a dented machete and a few hoes, one group spends all day in the sun removing grass, rotating turns. When I tried to slash the grass, it took many sweeping swings to break the stubborn clumps of grass. Instead I preferred using the hoe, but apparently still needed a lesson in remove the roots powerfully. Blisters grew on my calluses. Swinging and chatting, but not at the same time, I answered many questions. One man thought I lived in a city called "Repeat," which amused the few people who managed to follow my childish Portuguese. I lauded their strong arms and endurance, especially since the other groups worked in the shade.

Walking around the school's circumference, where hundreds of eucalyptus trees will ward off mosquitoes, Laurent introduced us to the planted patches of pineapple, peanuts, guava and cassava. Our botany lesson continued to reveal the abundant cashew trees and freely dropping mango and grapes. Planted by the Portuguese, the palm trees in the neighborhood of Chamane surround the place with coconuts.

Of course I wanted to visit the neighbors, and so we walked for an hour down the road to Samuel-the-guard's reed house. It may sound like I'm hardly working with so much visiting, and I confess that it's true because I'm simply learning Portuguese. Here the locals speak Batonga as well as Portuguese, but a few miles north the tongue changes. We said hello to the many families we passed on the way to Samuel's place, although he wasn't home. Still, grandpa offered us some freshly roasted cashews, although I still hadn't finished munching greedily on the coconut given to me along the path. "Without a cell phone to call ahead," Laurent explained, "we are to just follow one of the kids." So we quickly we crossed the water-lily swamp, passed several other thatched houses, grabbed some grapes and arrived at an enormous cashew tree that shaded Samuel's other family who leisurely spat out crabs legs to the chickens.

It felt a little silly sitting on the wooden chairs outside, but that's the custom here for guests, for it happened each time we visited another of Samuel's neighbors, even briefly. We chatted over coconut water. I more or less understood when Petrus told us about his life, for he spoke slowly about working as an electrician in South Africa for the past two years before returning to briefly visit his family. Listing the many tasks involved in cultivating the land, he explained how their food and shelter relied upon his work, due to the many necessities that need purchasing. Perhaps now that the school introduced electricity to the area he will find a job closer to home.

I can hardly imagine how much time the average household spends fetching water and wood, for I stay with a wealthy family by the school who just hooked up to electricity. Besides sucking icecubes throughout the day, the kids enjoy letting the TV and the radio compete against each other until 4AM. Such novelty. It seems as if everybody owns a cellphone, although few can afford to make calls. Keeping my mouth shut, I enjoy the latrine, bucket showers and the unfettered night sky. Not that we're roughing it, for we teachers live next to a deep, potable well, and have a maid to cook and launder. These jobs and luxuries develop the rural community, and I wonder how long it will take before this sleepy place become a thriving city. Unlike the beach scene, this development serves the locals not the tourists.

The money milked from the tourists ought to buy chalkboards for the stark neighborhood schools that lie empty, without books or materials. These teachers must impart lessons about science, history and so on using imagination alone. At least the students learn eagerly. Witnessing the students sweep the dirt outside the empty classrooms gave me a new resolve to approach the tourists on the beaches for donations, but perhaps I'm avoiding the more arduous challenge of creating teachable moments out of thin air.

Catching me off guard during a pensive moment, the Mozambicans often ask me why I'm sad. They also tell me to stop thinking, a blunt request rumored to originate from the war. Do I really look miserable when I'm hot and tired, or is it that I'm surrounded by people who constantly smile and laugh?

1 comment:

Leona said...

Thanks for writing this.