I remember one Sunday at church when we had a southern baptist minister as a guest speaker. He shared that the first time he spoke in a church like ours (more subdued), he was totally demoralized after his sermon because everyone was so quiet. The most emotional response was a baby crying in the back. Other than that, blank stares. Where were all those re-affirming Alleluias, Amens, and preach-its? After talking to people later and receiving excellent reviews, he realized that his preaching was in fact, very well received. How's a brother to know? Congregations are just different.
I'm really white and most of the time anywhere from pretty mellow to modestly enthusiastic. But if there's anything that makes me feel like a black southern baptist preacher (sorry if that's offensive to you), its a Mozambican classroom. My self-esteem, as far as lesson delivery goes, has definitely sky rocketed out of control here. The inflation is going to be a real problem when I go back to the states and encounter the types of conservative middle class white kids with a slightly to extremely unimpressed attitude that I was a part of as a high schooler and that I taught during student teaching.
When I first arrived, I was a little bit intimidated and shocked by their seemingly over enthusiastic responses, mostly because I never quite knew what would elicit eruptions of enthusiasm. I got a standing ovation for the first poster I drew of the skeletal system on a rice sack. Anyway, as great as enthusiasm is, it gets dangerous when 8th grade class sizes are over 100.
Little by little a person picks up on patterns. I learned to harness their energy because sometimes it drives me absolutely nuts. For example, I can't ask yes or no questions in my classrooms. The first time I innocently asked "Are you all finished copying these definitions?", I was horrified by the ridiculously prolonged high-pitched nasaly "SIM!" (yes) "NAO" (no) war that ensued between the slow and fast copiers. I at first thought they were just being ornery to me but have since then noticed that they do the same thing to my colleagues and it's totally normal. It drove me so nuts that no one is allowed to respond with a verbal yes or no anymore. We learned how to give thumbs up or down. It kills them. Sometimes when they get too emphatic, they jump up and down with their hand motion. Even in silence, they're loud.
Also, every time I do something a little out of the ordinary, the participation is incredible. It's just normal here. I love it, it annoys me, and I'm still surprised sometimes.
At a recent school assembly on sex, pregnancy, and women's health, I was responding to a student's question about feminine hygiene and trying to use delicate vocabulary. One of my fellow teachers also helping with the assembly interrupted me because I was either not being as graphic as she would have liked or the girls weren't showing clearly enough whether or not they understood what I was saying. She held up her hand giving me a sort of girl-I-got-this signal and then proceeded to prompt the crowd with her big sassy oh-no-she-didn't finger.
"Sometimes...dramatic pause... it stinks!"
"Does it stink?"
"DOES IT STINK?"
It stinks teacher!!!
"I said DOES IT STIIIIIINNNNNKKKKK???"
It STINKS teacher!!!!!!
cue standing ovation, girls cheering and jumping up and down uncontrollably for nearly a minute
What? I almost peed my pants laughing. Only in Mozambique does a room full of high school girls get so excited about vaginal stinkage.