In 1992, I interviewed for an US government funded English Teaching Fellowship. When asked for my location preference, I selected three corners of the world: Ecuador, Iceland, and Mozambique. I landed the fellowship in Mozambique, mostly because I was willing to work in a country that was at war. Plus, I was fluent in Spanish, which is similar to Portuguese, so they hoped I’d be able to transfer my L2 skills to another romance language. Having worked abroad successfully as a Peace Corps Volunteer in my second language also added to their selection decision.
It was an amazing job to say the least. I worked at the University of Eduardo Mondlane, as an EFL instructor and teacher trainer. Additionally, the US Embassy’s English Language Office in the capital city of Maputo helped arranged my university housing, security, and network with other teachers in the area. They provided me with numerous resources for making presentation and planning conferences. For instance, they supported my idea to host a telephone conference call with my former University of Alabama professors in an open forum for Mozambican teachers-in-training. Of course, this was in the early 90s, so there wasn’t any video-conferencing or they would have agreed to that, too.
Teaching conditions at the university were challenging: no window panes or screens to keep the dust out, sometimes no running water to wash hands or flush toilets, frequent power outages, and large classes (100+). Most importantly, any form of transportation was limited. Given these hardships, one must wonder why anyone would want to work there. Well, I knew from my Peace Corps experience that no matter how much I put into a job like this, I’d gain more from it; I strongly believe I have. Besides learning the language, I was immersed as a minority for the first time which was a humbling experience. Not only was I one of the few Caucasian teachers, I was also the only American teaching at the university. Mozambique was a socialist/communist country undergoing political change. The university received visiting professors from Russia, Cuba, and the former Eastern bloc countries. Hence, I was also in a political minority coming from a democratic nation.
I witnessed an amazing time in Mozambican history. When I first arrived, the country was still involved in a civil war. Numerous war orphans and amputees were on the streets. During my stay, I witnessed the uneasy steps towards peace that eventually led to a peace accord and democratic elections. I saw the UN tanks replace those of their army. I experienced the rebel leader leaving the bush to reside in the city (my neighborhood). The teachers, who after 15 years of travel restrictions, were finally given the opportunity to visit their hometowns. Additionally, it was the first time that weddings and funerals were allowed to take place. Hence, it was a time of mixed emotion as many citizens of Maputo were finally able to hold these ceremonies in their villages.
The country was a tropical paradise in ruins that needed to be rebuilt. It’s rich in resources from the Indian Ocean (lobster, squid, and tiger prawns) and virgin soil ( marble, coal, natural gas, mineral sands, and oil). The major obstacle to rebuilding was the litter of land mines that remained from the 16-year civil war. Mozambique, at that time, had the largest land mine problem in the world. I was only able to visit the islands off the coast and one beach area during my stay due to this limitation. Actually, I wasn’t even able to leave the city due to the extreme political unrest at that time. I heard lots of horrifying war stories from the nationals and aid workers. Since then, the government has been able to rebuild their country and aid organizations like the US Peace Corps are actively involved.
Sandra Annette Rogers
P. S. I learned Portuguese, as well as some of the local dialect, Tsonga.