I sometimes struggle with what to write and not to write on my blog. I love so many things about Mozambique and Angoche in particular. I don't like writing negatively; especially since you all can’t see the whole for yourselves. But corruption in the school is such a huge issue in my life here.
Last Friday I was informed of a meeting only for the female teachers at our high school. Oh boy, what is this about? Except for the remote possibility of my female colleagues wanting to go on a girls’ night out shopping for capulanas, I was dreading the reasons for calling together the 5 total women who work in the secondary school system here in Angoche. It’s going to be something about our girls. I wondered what had happened and what they expected us to do about it. Many of the problems women experience here are because of men, so why don’t they get called into a meeting?
A few days before the meeting, I was talking to one of my male colleagues who I respect and trust the most. I told him about the meeting and asked him what it was going to be about. He said it would be about pregnancy. I asked him why alllll the teachers weren’t invited since many of them like to chase after the girls. “Mana” (or sister), he said, the girls are the ones who provoke teachers!” After sitting through a tearful meeting just a week ago with our cream-of-the-crop students in our girls’ group listening to them tell their stories of male teachers in our school who have taken “special interest” in them and all the trouble that ensues when girls are noticed by a teacher. Hearing their stories about this particular hardship frustrates me more than anything here. I was not happy with his response and let him know it. He told me I thought that way because the girls I spend most of my time with are the good girls. He started to share what it’s like to be a male teacher in Angoche, who is one of the few teachers who reportedly does not “conquistar” (literally conquer, but it this case means seduce) female students. He said one day he had a discussion with a female student about why she didn’t have a notebook. The student said she had no money. He asked her why she had a beautiful, expensive looking weave if she had no money for notebooks. She responded with a rather spicy “so teacher will notice me.” He also told me about the dramatic letters he intercepts sometimes as a director of turma, the US equivalent of a homeroom teacher. He said that so many girls pursue teachers so aggressively that they even fight each other over certain teachers. He offered to show me the letters if I wanted proof. Not a native to Angoche, he also enlightened me about what he was told when he was transferred here. He was repeatedly informed that he would certainly forget the fiancé he was leaving behind in his home city if he came to work in Angoche because women from Nampula (our province) are so beautiful. I’ve certainly heard that before about women in this province, but always thought of it on a much more innocent level. He asked me if I thought women here were remarkably more beautiful than in the south.
Then why do you think the women here are legendarily beautiful to the point that people all the way down in Southern Mozambique talk about it?
I don’t know.
Do you know what they do at initiation rites ceremonies, Mana? At the first sign of menstruation for the girls, they hold the ceremony, explain to the kid she’s an adult now, instruct her on the mechanics of sex, and often fail to also impart guidelines about when and with who these activities should be done. In fact, most parents, he shared, are the ones who push the girls into relationships in order to get one more mouth to feed out of the house. And that, he concluded, is why women from Nampula are more “beautiful.”
Great, I live in the middle of a culture which breeds easy targets and labels them beautiful for it. Does my little girls’ empowerment group stand a chance? My colleague certainly made a number of good points, but I’m not completely convinced.
Our suspicions about the meeting were confirmed. My pedagogical director, one of the 5 women in the school, sat us down in her office and announced that female enrolment was down by 200 students since 2006 and that 53 girls are pregnant in our school and those are just the ones who were big enough to start showing and they hadn’t done a sweep of the 8th grade classes yet. I’ve gotten to watch this process before and every time it horrifies me. A girl walks past a teacher. The teacher suspects they might be pregnant and calls the girl over. The teacher asks “what is this?” “do you have a belly?” or “is there a package in here?” while rubbing the girls’ stomach to see for themselves. This usually happens wherever and in front of whoever happens to be around. If the student is not pregnant, she giggles, and tells the teacher she’s just getting fatter. The girl usually starts crying if she is pregnant and is told to report to the office to transfer to night school. Night school is not taken seriously here. It’s full of last-chance older kids who couldn’t behave during day school and adults who are trying to get their high school degree because during their youth, the civil war was raging, making studying impossible. They don’t care much about learning, they are just there to get the piece of paper that says they passed 12th grade. Usually when these young pregnant girls go to night school, they quit studying.
My pedagogical director asked us what we were going to do about all the pregnancies.
I decided to be a little more bold than I usually am with my colleagues and asked them what why all of our male colleagues were excluded from the meeting when they are certainly responsible for at least a portion of the 53 pregnancies. Eyes widened. “Really?” they asked, apparently unaware of the possibility.
Seriously??? I thought. Come on. Are you blind? Don’t try to tell me you don’t see this. Our colleagues ride around with the girls on the backs of their motorcycles and disappear into houses together. These girls who don’t have any money mysteriously start wearing beautiful clothes. Some colleagues have even openly admitted to me that they have sex with students. How do the girls have a chance if they reject a teacher? Teachers have power and money and connections. My director interrupted me and with a tired face, told me that in all reality, there’s more to they story than I know. The girls provoke them.
Here we go again, blaming the girls.
And besides that, she went on, there’s not much they can do to stop the male teachers’ behavior in this area. So she posed the question again. What are we going to do about it?
I was fantasizing about castration in my head but together we decided the best option would be an assembly of sorts with just the girls to go over some information they are no doubt lacking, to hear their perspective on all of the inappropriate relationships, and try to encourage them to continue studying. As the resident anatomy teacher, I have the pleasure of teaching reproductive anatomy and birth control methods during this assembly for half of the female students in the public school system. How’s that for pressure? It’s ridiculous that I could be the most qualified person to do this. Poor girls. Anyway, I am pretty impressed right now with my female colleagues…we met, didn’t waste time, decided what we wanted to do, wrote a plan, and dismissed. I almost felt American. It’s amazing how different women are when men aren’t around. Anyway…stay tuned to hear about the sex assembly.