Friday, March 21, 2008

My cell phone and new postal address + cell phones in Africa

My new cell phone number is +258 84 239 5736 .  
Of that number 258 is the country code and 84 is the prefix for my cell provider.   I hear skype is a cheap way to call me…
Please SEND ME MAIL or carepackages at my local mailbox, but nothing to fancy and under contents please write "school supplies".
My postal address is as follows:
Greg Harris
C.P. 16

On the subject of cell phones, I’d just like to say that the use of cellphones here is more widespread than you could possibly believe. It’s exceedingly rare that I make a friend who doesn’t have one. That doesn’t mean everyone has one, but it seems like most people have one.
The December 8th 2007 issue of the Economist gave out the annual “Innovation Awards” and gave one to Mo Ibrahim, founder of CelTel, for the promotion of mobile phones in Africa, showing that it’s possible to build a multi-billion dollar industry in Africa other than mining or oil.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Ee-see-quensoo-o-cha (it means White Devil)

Whoever wrote the 2nd Ace Ventura movie definitely spent some time in Africa. This is one of the funniest cultural adjustment things for me. As an American I find it hilarious when children and occasionally youths up to adults who see me passing by say “moo-zoon-goo” at normal conversation audible level, if not a bit louder. Muzongo is the word for white people here, and since there are few of us it definitely has connotations. In other words, just picture if in a rich white suburb I saw a black person walk by and said audibly, “a black person! What’s he doing here?” In America we think these things and we do double takes but racial sensitivity prohibits most people from blurting out “honkey” or “darkey”.
Better still is when I’m in a crammed taxi and someone speaking the local language will say something about “muzungo” and of course I’m the only one around, so if I demonstrate my displeasure or say something to indicate I’m aware they act surprised and think that perhaps I speak the local language (again, Ace Ventura). Then I think they realize that they’re not the first person to call me muzongo. People have been quick to assure me that the origins of the word go back to “mu-lu-wanga” or something like that as spoken in Zulu of South Africa. When the first whites arrived there, as in America, they were friendly and so the origins of the word mean, “a good person”. I doubt if that’s what people are thinking when they call me muzongo, though I’m not sure exactly what they are thinking. I think its just standard labeling and distrust of foreigners being expressed with a word.

Ninja-ing lychee fruits

In Mozambique, it’s not stealing if you see fruit on the ground under a tree in your neighbors yard and take that fruit. If you take it off the tree, that’s stealing. Also, the word ‘ninja’ is synonomous with ‘thief’ so if someone steals and you shout ‘ninja’ in the street people will know what you mean.During training my classmates and I were perpetually teased by the prospect of the impending fruit season. Most of all was the lychee fruit, perhaps the most delicious of fruits and also, as it turns out, elusive for us. As training was drawing toward a close, the lychee were ALMOST ready and my 4 classmates and I all knew and loved lychee and were driven into a lychee fever. Walking to our group sessions we would pass private yards with big trees with ripe red lychees hanging, but in the market no lychees were to be found. We were jones-ing so bad and, well, we did what we had to do, once in broad daylight and at other times in the cover of the night. Once we got back to someone’s room to gorge ourselves on our stash we’d always reach the bottom too quickly no matter how many lychees we ninja-ed, and we’d be left wanting more, which is how it should be for a fiend. During the last week we could finally buy them in the market and that I did, I ate a ton of them. It was a happy time for me.

Your Grandpa is growing up here

I think it’s about time I wrote something about school, seeing as I’m now about 2 months in. Get this: some of these kids walk 7 km or more to get to school, and where grandpa did it in piles of snow these kids do it in sweltering mid-day tropical heat.
And before Grandpa can matriculate, he has to work in the schoolyard and clean the school grounds of the high grass that has accumulated over the summer break. They show up with a hoe and then have to turn the grass over with a hoe in order to kill because the school doesn’t have a lawnmower. Once the grass is dry it is gathered in put into heaps, again by students, and burned at night by the night-watchman, Sr. Joao. I have some photos to explain the process and will try to post.
The results is a surprisingly beautiful landscape where lush green grass grows up in the place where tall weeds used to be, as though Dr. Greenthumb had been used. Since I had to get used to giving orders to these kids, I was one of the overseers of this task during matricula. I did alright as a boss, but one day I was giving particularly large portions of grass per student and I swear there were about 15 kids all leaning on their hoes eyeing me and thinking of mutiny, I just barely managed to keep control and get them to go back to work.

Africanized Horse-flies

You saw those images from save the children and Sally Struthers and the kid with the flies on his face and you thought to yourself, “that poor child, so starved he hasn’t got the energy to swat away the fly”. What you failed to realize is that the fly you saw was no ordinary fly, but an extremely aggressive and agile Africanized horse fly. When I step out my door in the mornings, I have between 5 and 10 seconds to enjoy the morning before a horse fly or two or three arrive to begin the indy 500, again, around my head. After years of living here people grow thick skin or at least they tame the nerves in the skin that cause one to flinch at horseflies. In church I see flies alight and hang out on first one person’s head, then another, then another, trying to distract people from the light and the way, and they miraculously do not swat at the fly, not unless it’s really being a jerk and all up in their face as Africanized horseflies sometimes do. Nevermind about that time when I was scaling some fish for lunch, so many horseflies I felt like a beekeeper. Heebie jeebies just thinking of it.

Administering a test

So I was advised that cheating tends to be a problem here. I took lots of precautionary measures but from what I can tell hardly anyone was cheating. The funniest precaution was clipping on sunglass lenses over my normal glasses to control the room. I was trying to keep my tough guy persona, so crucial during the first few weeks, and not smile but you try and keep a straight face after you clip on your terminator glasses and the kids all bust out laughing.

Language classes with a Charlatan

I started taking local language classes with a guy who turned out to be a charlatan. I thought he was the same guy who taught the local priests (several people had recommended I find “that guy who taught the priests” but when I thought I’d found him I was wrong. I did not make much headway during our lessons, and neither did he when he tried to hussle me for a table in his house at which he could plan lessons, or food, etc. He’s a really nice guy, but seems to be too accustomed to depending on the kindness of strangers, which gets annoying, so luckily school starting was a good excuse to discontinue our lessons indefinitely.The priest in the local church gave me an old manual for Portuguese to Ndau study, and the book is really helpful. The Bantu languages are very interesting. I have a will to learn the local language within the year so that I can really reach out into the community during year two.