Kwaheri Africa!

Arusha 020, originally uploaded by linseyis.

Namaste, from Bombay, India! Humidity hangs here like a theater curtain, even when I arrived yesterday at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m. I’ll be on the west coast of India for only 2 ½ weeks; tonight I’m headed to Pune, where my style of yoga began and then onto Goa, to relax on the beaches.

The city is in full festival swing, celebrating the feast of Ganesh, the elephant god. People purchase little statues or shrines of the deity and have a local Brahmin come to their house to infuse it with the spirit of the god. The statue is worshipped for several days, at which point, the Brahmin comes again to take the spirit out. The effigies are then taken to the sea and set out in the waves. Street corners are lined with the funny elephant guy, and red, yellow and orange flowers hang on doorways, taxi dashes and market stalls.

Rewind, to my last week in Arusha and Africa. I had the chance to work with a new HIV/AIDs organization that teaches rural kids about the disease. I was asked to help implement new, more interactive ways of engaging the students, and since they were secondary kids, it was right up my alley! With the help of a local translator, I made my way back to the very village I left and held class in a church which taught local orphan teens.

The kids were hysterical, and on day one, after they blushed when I asked them to perform skits for their peers, I tried out a ‘high-five.’ They had no idea what it was, but by the time our hour was over, they were all in the know, shouting “High Five!” every time they thrust their hand up in the air.

The next day I taught a bit more sensitive topic: transmission of HIV. I had been given a great Peace Corps manual that was rife with activities and suggestions. Since I was teaching in a church, my translator warned me to be careful about using words such as “vaginal fluid” and “semen.” Now, those aren’t words I use in my daily language, but in an HIV course, it’s necessary. Daniford, my translator, used the more culturally appropriate terms. But the kids didn’t.

When it came time for questions, I was bombarded. “If a condom is see-through, how can it stop HIV?” The tall boy with a shaved head had a good question. Then his friend said, “I heard there was a whole box of condoms that were infected with AIDs. I heard it on the radio.” The pastor confirmed the news. I explained how and why that was not possible.

Each of the boys asked another two questions, one of which was, “How do you know they won’t rip or break? Don’t 2% of them fail?”

I recalled a game in the Peace Corps manual called “Condom Time Bomb,” where condoms were blown into balloons with questions written inside of them. A version of musical chairs was played with the balloons, and then students tried to pop the balloons, finding out the strength of the condoms. I was desperate to play the game with the kids, as we were in the midst of a teachable moment.

Yet, because of the association with the church, that would not happen. I felt horrible that these kids really wanted to know more, but seemingly, were not allowed to. I resisted the urge to come back when they were out of school and dole out condoms—enough people in the village already had my number. Still, though, it was frustrating to not be able to demonstrate to the kids a valid way they could protect themselves from the very disease many of their parents had died from.

Back at the house, Jenaya, Tiffany, Jennifer, Tom and I played hours of Boa (local Tanzanian game), Gin (while drinking beer) and prepared for a party. Our eskari, (guard), Frank, stood watch outside with his homemade bow and arrows. After our party on Saturday night, welcoming Tom to Africa, wishing a happy birthday to Jennifer and bidding me farewell, and after an all nighter at Masai Camp, I hopped on the plane to India. Little rest for the weary, hence my cold…

(Picture–The happy family: Jenaya, Tiffany, Tom, me and Jennifer


1 Response to “Kwaheri Africa!”

  1. September 5, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    That’s amazing that the church allowed you to teach on such a topic at all. I know that you wanted to tell them more, but imagine what they would have known had you not come to their town.

    Still inspired by your journey, Romy

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