October 31, 2008
This week I travelled with Jacques to Budongo to perform gopher duties for her as she facilitated Peer Educator workshops targeting 10-11 year old girls selected from 11 schools in the Masindi and Bulisa district.
The Nike Foundation (in addition to the Jane Goodall Institute Canada and USA) funded the three day intensive taught by the Uganda Youth Anti-AIDS Association (no free Nike swag bags though, damn, just $10,000 bucks). The girls arrived in their day-glo uniforms, a Nike swoosh meaning nothing to them. They sat as quiet as church mice as Jacques introduced them to the Budongo Ecotourism Centre, a startling contrast from their mud hut village life.
“Girls, we sit on the toilets here, we do not squat. If you squat on the toilet seat, you will break it. If you sit on it, I promise you, you will not fall in. There are showers in your cabins, only use as much water as you need, not as much as there is. If Mary-lou or Jules says something to you, and their accent is too strong, say, “I beg your pardon, please rewind.”
Jacques, a Ugandan who speaks 5 languages, is as effervescent as a bottle of Coca-Cola. She encouraged the girls to talk openly, this was their opportunity to discuss reproductive health issues and AIDS with just girls. “However, girls, will we be calling a penis a big spoon or a big stick? No. We will call a spade a spade. A vagina is a vagina.” The teachers suddenly started squirming, and I’m certain I could see their black skin blushing. I was still stuck on the penis being referred to as a big spoon.
As an icebreaker, the girls were asked to stand up with a friend, and announce why they were friends. “We are the same sex!” (Oh, hurray, a future lesbian!). “She has good manners.” Two more girls cautiously stood up, “we’re age-mates, and my friend is gentle.” “She is disciplined.” Disciplined? I thought of a group of Canadians doing this same activity–.“I am friends with Dakota because she has wii.” “Madison is my friend because her mom lets us eat Oreo cookies for breakfast.” “I like Dawson because she wears Lululemon and has two turtles.” “I like Olivia because her Dad has a Hummer, and he takes us to the movies and buys us popcorn and M&M’s. And, we have sleepovers and stay up late downloading music on our iPods.” Are we that superficial in Canada? I certainly never picked friends for their manners and discipline! I was totally friends with Kim Valade because her family had a swimming pool AND her mom made homemade ice cream sandwiches! Plus, they had a pinball machine, best friend material for sure!
Jacques pulled the group back together, explaining the importance of peers with one blunt statement, emphasizing the importance of choosing friends with similar goals and interests: “Girls, if your friend is a drunkard, then you will be a drunkard.”
A pre-evaluation “test” was circulated for the girls to complete to assess their knowledge level. The questions were about STDs, menstruation, ways to prevent pregnancy and “during the menstrual cycle, which day is a girl likely to get pregnant?” (My favourite answer was “Sunday”).
I tried to think back to my 10-year-old life at Mt. Pleasant School. Weren’t we still eating glue and wearing pom-pom socks with parachute pants? Had we even heard of AIDS? Had I even kissed Robert LeBovic on the cheek yet? We were told about head lice and not to share hats, but that was the worst of our worries.
When I was 10 I was listening to Boy George and the Mini-Pops. I had GI Joe and bug collections and thought peanut butter on graham crackers was fine dining. Maybe we learned about reproductive health in grade 6 or 7, but wasn’t it just a film with two cats humping each other until the film spun off the reel and the lights were turned back on? Maybe I was too busy reading a Choose Your Own Adventure book under my desk because I thought Sunday was the day a girl would likely get pregnant too. My sex ed can be credited to the movie Porky’s and Dr. Ruth’s phone-in radio show.
These kids were answering questions about how HIV could be transmitted and tackling big, meaty issues like how to avoid rape and defilement (older men offering gifts to girls if they undress or squat in front of them). Jacques told me that it is not uncommon for kids in grade 3 to have sex—they like to imitate “mommy and daddy” in every way!
The Ugandan Anti-AIDS facilitator, also named Jacques, asked if any of the girls were married (for Muslim girls, they are ready for marriage after their second menstrual cycle). She asked if anyone was pregnant, because these were very real possibilities. “If you are having five men, have one. Teachers, you are old, show example and have one man.” To avoid contracting AIDS, Jacques advised to “avoid loving boy sex and gangs of boys. Avoid walking at night. Girls, we should not be playing sex before marriage! And for STD prevention, don’t share knickers!”
In the afternoon I read over some of the evaluations and wondered if the girls understood that simply walking at night didn’t make you pregnant, because that seemed to be the number one answer (like those glossy teeny-bopper magazine adverts: “Will using a tampon make me pregnant?). For AIDS prevention, many listed to not “share sharp objects,” when Jacques had said to avoid needles and piercing equipment. For adolescent changes many understood that public hair would grow on the vagina, but it could also grow under the hand (?) or under the handpit! A more honest answer came from one girl who listed adolescent changes as: “you begin abusing people and you don’t do anything at home, and, your voice becomes sharp and your breasts come out!” Also, did you know the menstrual cycle can be described as “eggs, larva and pupa stage” (someone was sleeping during that section of the workshop), and sexuality is: “where a male organ meets a female organ.” Oh no, not the big spoon!
Goat stew and rice was served for lunch, and I couldn’t help but compare how my Canadian counterparts would react. Imagine serving goat to 10-year-old kids—or, for dinner, tilapia with the fins still intact.
By afternoon my attention was drifting, and this is when I started prowling through Jacques’ Teacher Resource Guide. I had no idea that the Presidential Initiative on AIDS Strategy for Communication to Youth (PIASCY) would be such an engaging read.
Of course, I immediately scanned the index for homosexuality.
Homosexuality: This is a sexual deviation in both the African and religious context. “From the Christian perspective, these deviations are considered a strong offence to God (ref. Genesis 2:24). That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife and the two become one. It defies the moral stance of God as the creator of marriage, love and sex. As a practice it demonstrates man’s disobedience of God’s order for husband and wife. Single sex marriage is illegal, and it is unsafe for one to engage in a relationship which may end in illegal implications.” Luckily, for a sexual deviant like myself, there were immediate solutions available. All I had to do was develop Godly principles and values—which would protect me from being swayed into these deviant actions. If I was assertive and “stuck to my stand” I could just say “no,” even when everyone else says it’s cool. But, it is cool, isn’t it? For gay (or pregnant) Ugandans, they are expelled, thanks to Genesis.
I couldn’t wait to delve into the listings for oral and anal sex and masturbation. Oh, and bestiality too! I almost choked on my sweet African tea—Bestiality: “sex between human beings and animals, as for instance, a man having sex with a goat. What can one do to avoid being dragged into sex? Uplift your self-esteem, believe in yourself. Even if you are poor, resist such a relationship to avoid risks. Be assertive regarding your position (okay, I had to laugh out loud at this one—since when are goats so dominant and bossy about having sex, and dragging humans into sex?) Teachers, reward those who are making the decision to abstain.” Geez, instead of a gold star for knowing your time tables and how to spell surreptitiously, Ugandan teachers are giving praise for resisting the bedroom eyes of goats!
Oral sex: (another sexual deviation that can be avoided by developing those cure-all Godly principles. Looks like I’ll have to spend more time with my Godly Mennonite co-worker Brittany!). Another alternative is to seek help from a trusted adult or friends when I “feel unable to manage my stand well.” I should also avoid literature which may influence my feelings and thoughts negatively. So, I guess that means an end to my burgeoning erotica writing career. Sigh.
Anal sex: “The anus is not biologically designed for sex. Medical doctors have observed that anal sex can affect the sphincter muscle with the long-run result that one is unable to control feces.” Beware gay boys!!
I refilled my tea because now it was getting good. Could masturbation protect one from HIV/AIDS? “It may not be safe. Since African orientation is penetrative sex, many people who practice masturbation as a safer sex practice end up being emotionally triggered into penetrative sex which increases HIV risk.” Hmmm. I think someone is trying to instil the fear of God here! But, then I was shocked to learn about masturbation side effects which can lead to indirect psychological and social issues. There can be feelings of shame, guilt and low self-worth, even when those around you aren’t aware. Worse, “it can disrupt stable marital relations in the future once one of the partners discovers that it is happening and doesn’t believe in it. Self-sexual gratification may diminish the value of one’s spouse and could strain the relationship.” I think I need to set up a booth at gay Pride next year and hand out flyers! Do people know about these side effects and aggressive goat issues?
Luckily, there was advice in the resource guide on how I could overcome pressures to masturbate. I have to avoid hanging out with people who say and do things which may arouse my feelings in that direction (you know who you are!). Again, the Godly principles which I really need to start developing, starting… tomorrow. Oh, and I shouldn’t let my mind dwell on thoughts, pictures and literature that might influence sexual feelings. Instead, it is as easy as finding active ways of “occupying your redundancy periods, such as sports, music, drama and reading positive literature (like my weekly updates I suppose!).
There’s a reason why I was almost expelled from massage college for sarcasm. But, some humour is needed to grapple with the profound sadness that I see here. At this same workshop, girls were taught how to make their own maxi pads using cotton t-shirts and plastic bags. Most of them were accustomed to using old sheets of newspaper as pads but Jacques warned them that pieces could break off and block their fallopian tubes (really? I call bluff).
Dr. Musazi, a local university professor and engineer recently developed sustainable maxi pads (or sanitary towels as Jacques calls them) from a tall plant called the papyrus. The papyrus grows as fast as bamboo, and looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book with its poofy-hair top. Ten pads by his company, Technology for Tomorrow, cost 650 shillings (40 cents). Local NGO’s are distributing them to northern refugee camps. However, the technology has me sceptical as the pad is three times longer than it is wide…and, most of the girls don’t have underwear. So, where does one affix a pad when you are wearing a skirt? This is when Anna (a Californian photographer documenting AIDS orphans in Sub-Sahara Africa) and I hatched the idea of Project One Million Panties. If every girl at 60 Ugandan schools in the 30 districts that the Jane Goodall Institute works with were given one pair of underwear, one million pairs would be needed. Does anyone have Oprah’s number? The pads are innovative, but, without underwear…plus, only 10 packages of pads (10 pads/package) were provided to each teacher who accepted them on behalf of their school. I am suspicious that the teachers might pinch the pads for themselves, despite being instructed to hand them out in emergency situations.
It’s a daily see-saw of despair and hope for change. I feel guilty sitting in my designer Ginch underwear with access to 50 brands of tampons (some smaller than a hearing aid) and pads with wings and floral scents if wanted. I can’t imagine using newspaper for anything but reading, or worrying about getting pregnant at age 10. Scarier is growing hair in my handpit!
Now that I feel a redundancy period coming on, I know that I should engage myself in some sports, music or drama. And, when I run tomorrow morning down Berkeley road, I am telling the goats to back off, they are not dragging me in for sex!