Woes of Testing

The first weeks are testing are complete! The past couple of weeks have been filled with catching cheaters, proctoring tests, and finding humor, excitement, and disappointment in grading. Sometimes you just need to take a load off with a nice cup of tea, look at the exams, and pathetically chuckle, as you know these tests are not going to go well.

My first big test was held this past week. After test review, in class study sessions, and homework to prepare, my students were ready; well, they should have been ready. Fast-forward to day one of testing. Since cheating is such a prominent part of testing in Mozambique, I know I had to come prepared.

Perfect Recipe For Test Day

Perfect Recipe For Test Day

As I walk into the classroom, many eyes stare back at me – some confident and some unsure. Some of these eyes belonged to students that had, up until that point, not stepped foot into the classroom. So, word had got around; there was a test today. However, the question still remained if the students had studied.

As I was getting everything ready in the front, the class was getting ready too: sitting on notebooks, putting backpacks into a place with perfect access to notes, or sitting next to the smarter kids. They weren’t ready for what was about to hit them. I spread out a tarp across the front of the class and told the students to discard all of their belongings on the tarp. Students looked up, mouths open, and whispered to their neighbors, “What did he say”. They knew what was said but couldn’t believe their ears. Gasps and laughter were blurted from the students. Slowly students collected their belongings and carried them to the front. As the pile grew larger, things trickled in more slowly; the students turned on their neighbors. “João has his notebook under his chair.” “Maria has her phone in her pocket.” They had joined the other side and were turning on their fellow students. The singled out students were reluctant to giving up their things but still managed to. After all was arranged, I passed out their tests and let the games begin.

Keeping a close eye for cheaters

Keeping a close eye for cheaters

There was an immediate indication if someone studied; they would burry their heads in the test and get going or look around the room as if someone had been playing a cruel joke on them. The joke was only beginning. With people sitting at least 3 a desk, it is hard to keep eyes from wondering; therefore, it is only logical to make three different tests to ensure that they were the one supplying the answers and not copying their neighbor’s answers. However, not everyone learned.

When grading the tests, I discovered a major learning discrepancy. Some received perfect scores, others got 2/15, and everyone else was somewhere in between. The grades didn’t bother me as much as the writing did; the short answer was decoding “words” that were supposed to form a sentence. However, what I had not realized was a first test without zeros, no (obvious) cheating, and a test taken correctly was a blessing.

For the Grassroots Soccer Conference for the North this week (future post about this), I am traveling up to Nampula and staying with friends along the way; we swapped teaching war stories, and stories of testing came up. My buddy’s, Colin’s, story blew mine away.

After telling him my story, he pulled out the tests with a sad laugh. “That’s nothing. Apparently they don’t know how to do multiple choice.” Between the depressed laughter he told of his thorough explanation of the directions. As he handed over the tests, I couldn’t believe what was before my eyes: a word search without a word bank. At least the word bank wasn’t clear to us. If you can figure it out, feel free to let us know.

So as I wait for a ride to the conference, Colin is going to have one last lesson with his class about how to take a multiple choice test. Next time should be better; maybe they won’t circle parts of the questions.

6 Lessons After 6 Months

Today makes six moths since I arrived in my beautiful new country of Mozambique. Getting on the plane to Africa, seeing my family for the last time, and eating my last Chipotle burrito feel like memories deep in the back of my mind. Unlocking these memories is like remembering someone you have lost; you can remember the joy mixed with sadness as if they are just too far for you to reach out and touch; they are close enough to remember but far enough to not be able to feel again. However, fortunately for me, those memories won’t always feel like a lifetime away. As I sit down to write, I reflect on how naïve I was and what I have learned.

These months have been some of the most challenging and rewarding times. My growth has expanded past my beard and hair, but Mozambique has opened my eyes to many things. Here are just a few of the many lessons I have learned during my stay so far.

First Group Picture in Mozambique

First Group Picture in Mozambique

1. Being on time doesn’t matter as much as being there

Nothing starts on time here. Nothing. Commonly referred to as Mozambican time by Peace Corps Volunteers, meetings that start an hour or two late are often deemed as occurring on time. During my first couple months at site it frustrated me. However, I was prepared for it; we had gone over it in training, but it doesn’t sink in till you’ve been sitting underneath a mango tree sweating for the past two hours, and after two hours they arrive without excuse.

During training, the staff shared a little bit about this thought process by explaining the difference between a to be culture and a to do culture. What it boils down to is the priority someone puts on individual things. To be culture puts more value of relationships, and to do culture puts more value on productivity: Mozambique tips the scale on the to be side. People will not trust you, do business with you, or listen to your thoughts for progress without meeting their family, spending time with them, and winning them over. The days of walking into a meeting and collaborating on a mutually beneficial project with people you have never me before are nonexistent here.

This integration takes time here, but the price of getting to know the people around you and going through life with them is invaluable.

My Host Family Mom and Me

My Host Family Mom and Me

2. Development takes time, especially more than two years

Development has to start with a grassroots approach, and this approach begins through relationships. I’ve becomes friends with people here in unique ways: music video shoots, hitchhiking, and karate clubs. In order to understand the needs of the entire community you have to get a holistic approach; that includes the farmers to the mayors. Instead of the grassroots approach, traditional development is run through a top down structure; this top down structure runs through the government and allows the government to control the funding. This approach is a catalyst to increased corruption.

When development workers work in the field for a smaller time and ask the people in the community their needs, it usually turns up to be a shallow request. Not until you spend time with these people do the things that plague them begin to be exposed. In Mozambique and many developing countries these problems aren’t heard in a meeting; they are heard during morning tea, washing clothes together, or just hanging out in the closest shaded area talking about the day.

These relationships take time, and I am fortunate enough to have built some lasting relationships here. However when I tell someone that I am only here for two years, his head sinks because he knows that I will not be able to make a radical change myself.

It boils down to the fact that development takes many years, and I will not be here for it. However, my role is to establish and access the true needs of the community, inspire people to take action, and support the development until they can sustain it on their own. That is how proper development is run over an extended period of time.

After I helped shoot a music video

After I Helped Shoot A Music Video

3. Life is short

Life is short. Adventure. Travel. See new sites. While I recommend these catchy lines and inspirational phrases, it is not where I’m going with this topic.

Just in my short six months here, I have know more people die and been to more funerals than all of my time in the States. Death is something that is so much more prevalent in developing countries, and the value of life doesn’t really hit you until you look at death head on. It doesn’t hit you until you come home, and your friend comes to tell you that he won’t be there tonight because his teenage child died today. Moments like these make you take a step back, analyze life, and appreciate the value of life.

First diseased person seen in Mozambique. On the cart on the far right

First diseased person I saw in Mozambique. On the cart on the far right. Didn’t know it when I took the picture

4. You can’t find yourself unless you’re truly by yourself

During the first couple of months at site, my only job was to integrate into the community. I worked hard on this, but I did not realize how much free time and alone time I would have. When you are truly alone you put aside all the nonsense, you stop lying to yourself, and you finally become the person you are or want to be. It’s hard to realize other’s effect on you when are still around people.

Unfortunately for some people they do not like themselves when they strip everything away. One fellow volunteer and I had many conversations about how she did not know what to do and was going crazy. She had always been someone that thrived off of people around her. She wasn’t ready to be alone, but she jumped in headfirst. She, like many other people when they are alone, had one of the largest growing and self-reflective periods of her life. On the other had, some people just find out or are reassured how weird they are. I was one of those people; the number of strange photos and goofy selfies I took was obscene.

Sister told me I was old on my birthday, so I sent her this back to prove it

Sister told me I was old on my birthday, so I sent her this back to prove it. One of the many strange selfies

5. Friends come and go

Many people logically know this to be true. However, it becomes so much clearer when someone moves away. Moving across the globe opens up your eyes to the value your friends and the amount that is put into the relationship by each party. Some people just fall off the map.

I know. I know. Some of you are defending yourself as you read this: “I’m not good at keeping in touch”, “I didn’t know I could get in contact with you”, or “oh, I’ve been really busy”. Through all of the noise, we get to the truth of the matter. There are those people that are important enough to keep in touch with even when it’s not convenient, and there are people where it is not important enough. Friendships are two-sided and not always easy; so if you want to keep a friend, work for it.

Before I finish this lament, I want to reiterate something that I have heard from other volunteers, missionaries, and people living abroad: just because we are no longer a drive away doesn’t mean that we’re dead. The simplest thing can make our day.

So if you’re thinking about someone whom you’ve been meaning to contact or someone you haven’t talked to for a while, shoot him or her a text, Facebook message, call, or write an old fashion letter. If nothing else, just let them know that you’re thinking about them. Believe me, it will make their day.

Packages are always a welcome surprise too.

Packages are always a welcome surprise too. Warning: Different address now if you’re doing the Postcard Project

6. Language defines culture

Although Mozambique’s official language is Portuguese, it is not the defining language. Mozambique, like many African countries, has many local languages that truly outline the culture and heritage of the people living in the area. People often refer to people by their cultural heritage in country; Changana person or Makua person are just a couple of examples in Mozambique.

Learning the local language is key to unlocking societal norms. The emphasis of certain words can show the importance of the word in the culture. In addition, understanding the language can make for fuller experience in church services, weddings, and funerals – all performed in the local languages.

Besides, nothing feels better than seeing the excitement that comes across a person’s face when you speak to them in their mother tongue.

Getting a cultural lesson

Getting a cultural lesson

All of these are just a little lessons that I have learned since being here. I have so much to learn to. Also, other things have changed too.

Off the plane in Philadelphia to right outside as I finished writing the post

Off the plane in Philadelphia to right outside as I finished writing the post



It Works!

It Works!

On one of my recent trips, as I was riding on the back of a ‘My Love’ chapa, I happened to spot something. It wasn’t a monkey, an elephant, or a lion; it was a pair of TOMS. Seeing these shoes was an equally “I’m in Africa” moment. After snapping a picture, I whipped my head around to see my friend and let out a loud, “This lady is wearing TOMS!”. Everyone in the bed of the truck turned and starred, but fortunately Mozambicans don’t speak English – usually. My friend brushed off my comment as if it had no effect on him; honestly it should not have had any effect on either of us. Nonetheless I stood up in the bed of the tuck with a grin from ear to ear for the rest of the ride.

It’s not that I did not believe the one-for-one (give one item for every one item sold) program worked, but it was different seeing the results in person. It was one of those eye opening moments, but while I was admiring the shoes, I noticed something.

Donated TOMS are different than TOMS sold at the local mall; they have a thicker sole and are overall more durable. Although not a TOMS aficionado, I didn’t think I had been away for long enough for TOMS to change its product and already have it shipped over to Africa, so I poked around to see what I could find.

Turns out my eyes did not deceive me. TOMS at first donated the same shoes currently sold in America to children in South America, but the owner realized the shoes were wearing away fast. A change was sparked, and TOMS began to donate a new shoe throughout the world. Today, TOMS has expanded its one-for-one program to glasses as well; the company operates in over 70 countries throughout the world today.

The idea of giving has continued to spread as Warby Parkey, One World Futbol Project, BoGoLight, and many others have begun to adopt their own one-for-one program.

As I reflect on these programs, I remember not being much of a TOMS guy when I was in the States, but with this experience comes new perspective. These new perspectives shine a light on a whole new world. After all this is Africa.

Feel like checking out a little more about TOMS? Check it out here.

Let’s Do the Numbers: Mozambique and the Human Development Index

Check out the post my fellow Peace Corps Volunteer wrote about Mozambique. The numbers put things into prospective.

Moz, Definitely

If you asked me about the infrastructure, health, or organization of Mozambique, I would most likely reply by somehow labeling Moz as a “developing country.”* By contrast, I would refer to the United States as a “developed country.” But this begs the question: what does it mean to use the words “developed” and “developing”?

To address this, the United Nations created the Human Development Index (HDI) in 1990. The driving idea was that labeling a country as “developed” or “developing” should not be solely decided by economic growth (where the terms originated). Instead, other factors regarding human well-being should be taken into account. Thus, the HDI was born, as a composite statistic of life expectancy, access to education (calculated using the mean years of school received by adults and the expected years of school for children), and an income index using the gross national income per capita.

After the calculations…

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Where We Live: Montepuez, Cabo Delgado

Life in Mantepuez…

1013873_10152506695996835_6463245370708236786_nThe busy district city of Montepuez is located in the Northern Province of Cabo Delgado in Mozambique. It is the second largest city in the province – Pemba being the first. It is currently well known for its large ruby deposits; these deposits are are believed to be one of the most significant in the world. The number of tourists and city nature continues to grow as mining opportunities increase. It is an urban site with around 75,000-90,000 people and is about three hours from the coastal city of Pemba.

As volunteers in Montepuez, we have it pretty well. When first arriving to Mozambique, you naïvely imagine that you will be living in mud huts with no electricity or running water. However, Mozambique is developing rapidly, and this site in particular has proven completely different than expected. Driving into Montepuez, you see sandy roads surrounded by trees and jutting, rocky mountain formations. The city center is busy and vibrant with electronics, breaded pastries, fruits, vegetables, goats, chickens, restaurants, clothes, shoes, and pretty much anything else your heart desires. We even have ice cream! If I may say, the ice cream is phenomenal – especially when they have chocolate in stock. Locals get around by motorbike, or they walk everywhere. The market has pretty much anything you could want but for a higher price than other sites. On the bright side, it is only a quick 5-minute walk from the house. Common items that we purchase include bananas, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, potatoes, bread, yogurt, pasta, tuna, rice, beans and juice. We have our usual stores and market locations that we go to where the owners know us and are kind to us. We even have a Chinese store where you can find dancing Santas, makeup, disco balls and karaoke sets!

Motorbike Taxis

Motorbike Taxi

Walking away from the hectic market, you pass by the Secondary School where my roommate and I teach 9th Grade English and Biology. The School is large, and our class sizes can be over 100 students. There are common frustrations at the school such as scheduling mishaps and punctuality. However, we are very fortunate because our director is one of a kind. He is a very dedicated and progressive boss who truly wants the best for the kids. The school is currently working on building a gym; they also have school dances, talent shows, a large garden, a library, workshops for gender equality and health and so forth. Our school is led by a local, modern thinker, and it shows in the progress it has made.

The School

The School

Alongside the school is a plot of land dedicated to teachers. This is where our house is located. We are surrounded by other teachers and their families which is very comforting and helpful for integration. Our house is made of cement and painted white with a green trim. All of the windows and doors are barred. Let’s just say, we feel pretty secure – especially being that we live in a large city and safety is our primary concern. We have a good size enclosed yard that during the rainy season gets very green and our new garden has been plentiful with peanuts, pumpkin, watermelon, tomatoes, onions, peppers, squash and carrots. We have a 1-year-old dog named Stella. She is very energetic and likes to wake me up at the crack of dawn, as well as chew my feet when playing, but overall she is a sweet and smart dog. Plus, she provides great protection; locals are terrified of dogs.

The House

The House

Inside the house we have a dining room/kitchen with a dining room table, cooking area, fridge, and a gas and electric stove. Within this same area, we have two extra beds for guests when they stay. Our home tends to be a hub for other volunteers when traveling or doing banking so we have a lot of guests coming through. We have two separate bedrooms that are great in size with a double bed, a bookshelf and dresser each. We also have a bathroom with a toilet that you have to manually flush with water. We are fortunate because most of the time we have electricity and we get running water for a couple hours in the morning. That means we have an indoor and outdoor spigot where we collect water for those few hours and then keep it contained in buckets inside the house. We still bucket bathe, but we heat our water prior and continue to have hot baths. Our house is very homey, and honestly doesn’t need much work. You have everything a person could ever want.

Lastly, I feel confident in saying that Montepuez has by far the most amazing missionary families in all of Mozambique. There are three families from the U.S. that have lived here for over 13 years. We also have two teachers that just joined them four months ago. And finally, we have a couple from Zimbabwe and South Africa that work at the cotton factory here. These wonderful families have been the most helpful, kind and generous people I have ever met. They invite us over for dinner once a week, which usually includes some type of American food where you feel like you are back home. Time spent together includes playing games, eating amazing food, doing exercise, collaborating on projects and just enjoying one another’s company. They truly do inspiring work in the community such as teaching proper agricultural methods, facilitating a women’s group that makes hand-made jewelry and bags to sell, building churches, bridges, houses and even delivering pregnant women to the hospital. They take such good care of us and I consider them family. They have made the transition to living in Africa all the easier and anyone would be lucky to have them in their lives.

Overall, Montepuez is a wonderful site and I’ve felt very lucky to be placed here. As Warsan Shire said, “At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from. Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and never have been before”. For those first arriving here, it’s your first time living in Mozambique. It’s quite the transition coming from America. It’s new and it’s far away from friends, family and all the luxuries we are accustomed to. It can be scary. It can be lonely. It can be hard. However, it is now home and all I can say is that is pretty exciting.


10417800_10152473181661835_8706841926300415287_nLilia is an English teacher from Montepuez, Cabo Delgado. With all of the other volunteers around her, she stays busy through hanging out with the locals and creating plenty of secondary projects.



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