Thursday, August 26, 2010

Portuguese Lessons

As I mentioned I have a friend asking me pertinent questions, and this leads me to write so much that I can't imagine rewriting or writing anything in addition for this blog. His next question “set” had to do with my Portuguese lessons. They are extremely intense. I finished day two today and feel like it has been many more days than that. Classes are like going through 10th grade Spanish on 8xfast forward on a DVD player.

The teacher's name is Ernesto. He is a very large presence. He is a very good humored man who seems like any moment he will burst into song and dance. His cadence when he reads out loud to help our pronunciation, or when he even reads off lists of numbers to us is something you could add drums to. Today when we were talking about phone numbers - this makes me chuckle when I write it - he had the notion to ask us our phone numbers. After figuring out how to find my phone number (I had to call Mohammed, my sole classmate, and get the number off his phone), and getting Mohammed's number on the board he started working on our horrible pronunciation of numerals. Ernesto rapidly started figuring out this song kind of chant for Mohammed's number and he was so delighted with himself he kept saying it over and over again to get us to see how clever it was and how easy it made memorizing the number to be, all the while shifting to and fro on the balls of his feet straining not to start dancing there and then. And honestly he was right - it was very clever and made it very easy to say the number and I was jealous because my number is very choppy and boring and not easy. He and Mohammed figured out a charity version of a chant to make me feel better but honestly I still cant remember my number.

So I mentioned Mohammed - he is the only other student. He is from Kenya. (Ele é Kenya) and he is 28 years old (e ele tem 28 anos… I am learning something!). His VSO placement is going to be working with farmers somewhere in the north part of Maputo province (look it up on a map) to assist with modifications to farming techniques for greater yields, etc. He has already driven up to where he will be living. He says the house is too big and he is concerned that it will be too lonely with all of that space and no one to talk to. He will have a motorcycle but says the roads are so sandy that he doubts he can actually ride on them. He is eager to go but wants to be more prepared with his Portuguese. Since Ernesto said that he will get 50 hours of language lessons before he leaves we are both a little nervous that we are going to be cramming in a lot of hours here shortly. Mohammed said he may ask to stay another week. Mohammed is currently living in the VSO Guest House and this is where we are meeting for class. Even though he is a “guest” there he is determined to be a good and gracious host. As he is Muslim and since it is Ramadan he fasts all day long, but insists that Ernesto and I take "tea" (which is really coffee). He brought out cups on saucers and hot water and Nestea coffee and so on. Very nice.

After class, to help pass the time during the two hour lunch break everyone seems to take at the office Mohammed and I went on a walk to a book store he discovered on a prior expedition so I could find a dictionary - "Not far! Not far at all" - it was rather far. Easily close to a mile. But a good bit of exercise. There wasn't anything for Ingles/Portugues so that was a bust. When we talked to the clerk to ask if he knew where another book store was he called another branch of their store and "reserved a copy." He explained everything to us - that means to Mohammed - he wouldn't speak directly to me even though I was asking all the questions. He kept giving directional landmarks to Mohammed who had no idea where anything is as he is not from here and has only been in Maputo for 2 weeks, but this clerk kept on saying "Yes, you know! You know!" When we left I asked Mohammed if he noticed and he said "Yes, and he thinks I am from Mozambique just because I am black." We got a laugh out of that.

After two days of Portuguese I think we are both learning something. I have the television on right now in the background on a news/telenova station Rica, my roommate, likes so that by air-mosis (my version of air-wave osmosis) I will become a fluent Portuguese speaker by morning.

The guest house that we go to for lessons is not too far from the VSO office. To get there I walk along Av 24 de Julho for a couple of blocks and then turn down a smaller street for just two blocks. All the same it is one of the most dangerous walks I take with cars careening all over the place, many many students milling about before and after school, a major shapa-stop (bus), and an insane narrow 2 way road that curves precariously. Today there was an accident just off the corner from the flat and I imagine there are many at that very spot.

When I get to the apartment building, I go on a walkway that leads under the building, and it is so pretty, it is a pleasure to walk on - large pink stone diamond patterned granite tiles. Then up a staircase and there is the flat. It is long and narrow. You enter the door into the living room/dining room, maybe 20 x 15 ft, and then you look down a somewhat narrow hallway and see doors spaced all the way down. These lead to 2 bedrooms, a large bath, and a half bath, and a medium sized kitchen at the back. There is a third bedroom off the living room. It is really very spacious. As with all the flats I have been in, it is rather old. I imagine at least 30 years or more.

Have I mentioned that the floors of every flat and every office I have been in are wood parquet, each in its own interesting patterns. Always pieces no larger than 1.5" x 5" or so and often smaller - as is the case in my flat. In the guest house the pattern is a pleasing fish-bone. Another interesting consistent feature in every flat I have seen so far is chandeliers in at least the living room and dining room, often in the kitchen, and sometimes bedrooms as well. There is one in the bathroom in my flat, though not, sadly, my room where there is an exposed energy efficient bulb that likes to buzz. Some of the chandeliers are rather odd, but still they are pretty fancy and delightful to have to look at. In one of the VSO volunteers’ flats, there are ten foot ceilings with really magnificent chandeliers all about, and in one of the bedrooms, immense mauve colored drapes over the windows, rather theatrical in appearance. It is really bizarre. Like something out of "Gone With The Wind" without the cool staircase and banister.

For the last week or so a group of four youth volunteers have been staying at the guest house with Mohammed and you can certainly tell that they are teenagers. They are not the most tidy of people. At the beginning of the week Mohammed had told the person who cleans the place that she didn't need to bother but I suggested that he rethink that decision.

Sorry I am a bit long winded. I will finish with another anecdote. So it is a jolly ending. It is a pleasingly nice story. Or as I hear the Brits and Rica say - "It’s rather lovely, isn't it?"

I was proud of myself as I ventured out on my own for lunch today after the failed search for a dictionary. I knew of an internet café which was appealing as the internet at the office wasn't working and I had some work to check on (25 Mt = ~ $.70 USD for 30 min) and while I was there I also had ordered a grilled cheese and ham and some mango drink. I ordered a small drink - they come in those boxes with the little straws - but they were out so the waitress asked if I wanted a large. Thinking it would be just a little larger I said ok and she brought this huge - 1 liter - box of juice. So I carried around an open liter of juice for the rest of the day feeling quite self-conscious. Very goofy. Now I have mango for the rest of the week and the weekend. That is my lovely story.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

An update.. Walking to Work

Someone wrote and asked me some specific questions about what I saw and smelled and felt like on my way to work so, in the interest of not typing all night long, I am going to use my reply to keep my blog somewhat up to date. I am, for the next few weeks, going to be going to both the VSO office and their "guest house." I have In Country Training at the office and will start Portuguese training at the guest house tomorrow at 8 AM - 12 PM. It is about a 15 minute walk to the VSO office and I am not sure where the guest house is so I am not sure how long it will take to get there. It will be a lengthy walk to the CNJ office which is where I will eventually be going. I think about a good 25 to 30 minutes. I haven’t taken any other means of transport besides getting rides from someone from the VSO office. I walk by myself to work. Today I started out and got very sick so I turned around and came home and stayed home in bed all day. I am feeling better - ate some rice - kept that down - so will go in tomorrow if this holds up. The other day that I walked - I start out going down a stairwell of my apartment house. They just call it flats. It smells like people use it a lot. Not like a bad New York stairwell but maybe like a close alleyway.

Once I get out of doors there is a very large courtyard area surrounded by buildings like mine all connected. There are balconies filled with clothes drying and some plants and stuff. All very lived in. The paint is peeling and the buildings look well used. The courtyard surface is quite rough asphalt and dirt. There are many cars parked every which way. Mostly 4x4s of some sort. People prefer the larger vehicles because many roads are rough, even impassable, without them. They are not big trucks but small SUV type cars. There is dirt and gravely rocks and so if I have my sandals on I need to be sure to pick up my feet. I walk through this area and down a very very short road just like it out onto a street called Avenida de Maguiguana (don’t know what that looks like on Google Earth but you can try). If I look to the left there is a stand that sells telephone minutes. Across the street is a fruit vegetable stand and there is another just down the road but opposite the way I walk to work.

Ave de Maguiguana is a pretty well kept road with trees and nice buildings. There are cars parked on the sides of the road and on the sidewalks. That is the case in a lot of places. Cars park where ever they want. There are a lot of house guards by a lot of the houses. There is a mosque just off this street too and so you can hear the muezzin apparently but I have not yet heard his calling and they do it 5 times a day so maybe there is just too much other noise. A lot of the guards have uniforms but some of them are just regular looking people so you can't really tell the difference. There are police that stand around too, but you can tell who they are because they have guns.

So then I walk along a series of small roads and come to a major street, Eduardo Mondlan, which has a lot of shops and restaurants and cafes and also the Ministry of Health and the major hospital in the country. There is not so much traffic on the weekends but during the week it is crazy busy and I have to be careful because I tend to look the wrong direction for traffic as it is opposite from the US. I turn again - my road mark, as Rica, my flat-mate says, is a KFC, the only fastfood chain in the country, and I travel about two more blocks down a very nice street to another major road in the city, 24 de Julho, and the VSO office is right there. There are two or three guards there by a large gate. There are some pretty tiles on the front of the building too, blue and white, very middle eastern looking.

The air doesn't really smell like something specific. There has been a breeze every day. Maybe when it is more hot and humid, which is in October or November, it will feel more close and have more smells. I am not so comfortable walking yet. When I go out of my flat, I am not sure whether it is proper to look at people I don’t know and smile or engage in any way so I try not to so much right now. When I see the kids, and there are some that play out in that courtyard, I will say hello and they will say hello. On my longer walk I try to remember to be on the left side of the sidewalk and for some reason that takes concentration but makes passing by people LOTS easier. The sidewalks tend to be narrow, and not in good shape so I have to watch that also or I trip. I haven't been out much by myself. Also walking to work is early and there is not so much traffic and people yet. I do pass by groups of people hanging out and talking. Street vendors. Guys trying to sell everything from electrical plug adapters to necklaces to cloths.

So there you go. A lengthy walk in Maputo with me on my way to work.