Saturday, February 24, 2007

Patience, patience!

During one of my day-dreamy moments that Mozambicans try to snap me out of, I was interrupted. "I see that you have much experience," says Gente, "which is why I think it would be good for you to teach art." After a flash of surprise, it officially became so. I am now the art teacher as well as the English teacher. Technically, I'm assisting the current teachers, but in reality I'm planning and executing the classes. Perhaps I could follow their plans, but I want to make my classes more interactive than the typical lectures.

All my previous correspondence with the school discussed English and computer classes, leading evening activities, community activities, and finding fundraising partnerships. Serious topics. As a special preparation, I gathered my plans for classes that lead political discussions or presented basic health information. Art stayed my hobby on the side. Luckily I'd hoped to squeeze in art as an evening activity, and so now I'm glad for the larger slot.

"You're hair's all crazy," jeers my talking mirror, Joao, "you're a teacher now, don't forget." This casual teaching position is made weightier by the label "professora," the special seat at the teacher's table, and the dress-to-impress code. As stifling as it is to wear clothes and shoes in the heat, I'm almost convinced that I'm a genuine teacher. Still each day without doubt a student kindly points out the sand on my hat or a spot on my skin, much to my annoyance.

Everybody wants to learn English, some also want to learn Spanish, French and even German. The landlord asks me for private lessons. The stranger downtown also. I can't stretch myself so thinly, and am relieved to work specifically with teachers. A foreign language here is a ticket to freedom. One English student called Pedro explained to me that nobody here speaks the language of mathematics and science. Perhaps his motivation will power him though advanced English so that he may later study his favourite subjects in English. Since we native English speakers do not understand this hurdle, we should all switch to the easiest language, Spanish. All in favor?

The many different African languages here still mystify me, even though little old ladies tell me it's easy. To start with, I cannot remember the geographical locations that use the different languages. So then I try to focus on Batonga, but there are some clicking sounds that, when I try to copy them, make the next-door girls roll on the ground in hysterics. People laugh easily here, so it's not embarassing.

Try as I may, I find it difficult to maintain calm during moments of miscommunication. How annoying that I can annoy myself so much by knowing so little. Even at the best of times there are barriers to communication with those who speak the same language, such as when when somebody asks your name without following up with another question. Oddly enough, it ought to make life easier when people repeat themselves in Portuguese, but sometimes it's not.

For instance yesterday I chatted with a the grandma of the family I live with. It was Sunday and she obviously felt it important to encourage me to go to church. At first she phrased it along the lines of remembering my family and showing gratitude for the creation my life. This I indentified with. She continued to tell me to tidy my room, do the dishes, and wash my clothes well to understand life. Did I understand? I reiterated what I thought I heard: for me to understand the Mozambican way of life I needed to work hard and show thanks by going to church.

The conversation didn't end there. My small vocabulary only allowed me to hear the general jist of what this woman said. I could only guess at the full meaning behind her other words, no matter how much emphasis she placed on them. She fascinated me by the way she could give me a warm grin one moment and a stern look the next. She baffled me. She repeated herself but still the words sounded the same and I became frustrated that she continued to ask me if I understood. Rather to my surprise she invited me to her house to meet her family and gave me a double-hug when I left. I made a friend where I least expected it, much like the cat situation. The ceaseless mewing of the cats used to annoy me until I noticed the large quantity of mice and bugs they removed from my room. It just goes to show that I need to take deeper breaths.

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