8/7/15 – 10/7/15
“Ah you know, for us Ugandans we don’t believe that. It is different over here.”
I have come to realize that even when armed with logic and sound reasoning presented in a straightforward manner, my target audience still has the choice to either believe what I am saying or disagree. Most of the time, the arguments are backed by opinions rather than by reason. Belief can easily be misconstrued for fact.
On Wednesday, Health and Care Foundation Uganda and Uganda Cares in partnership with Kasana Luweero Diocese came to Luteete PTC to perform HIV testing for my students and teachers. Health and Care Foundation Uganda also led several sessions regarding the biology of HIV/AIDS, HIV prevention, sexual gender roles, living positively, and condom demonstrations. I have come to realize that my Ugandan students and audience listen better when other Ugandans are presenting the information rather than when I present it. If I were to say something that provoked disbelief, my students could attribute it to differences in culture. The funny thing was that while Uganda Cares tested for HIV and promoted abstinence only since it was in partnership with a Catholic Diocese, Health and Care Foundation was explaining the use of both male and female condoms with the addition of water based lubricants. I specifically chose the Health and Care Foundation because its members were younger Ugandans who could easily relate to my students.
Male and Female Condoms, Wooden Penises, Lube
On Thursday, PCV Lindsay came from Iganga to present female sexual health, the biology of the menstrual period, and
how to make Re-Usable Menstrual Pads (RUMPs). Disposable pads cost around 1,500/= and if two pads are used each month then in one year that amounts to 60,000/=. RUMPs would only cost around 1,000/= to create and would last as long as the fabric stays together. Lindsay explained the biological process of the menstrual period and debunked the myth that there are safe days. While we explained the way to sew the pads, the students submitted their personal questions:
“Why does it hurt when I play sex?”
“If I have pain during my period, will playing sex get rid of the pain?”
“Will taking Panadal (pain relieving pills) cause me to become barren?”
“Can I get HIV if I plax sex with my girlfriend during her period?”
“How many holes does a vagina have?”
“Why does my skin itch after bathing?”
These questions were addressed as the students stitched together their fabric pieces around a towel in that would then be placed at the bottom of their underwear during their period. Afterwards, the students could remove the pad, wash it with soap, and then hang it on a clothesline where the sunlight would dry and disinfect it.
At the end of the day, one of my students continually asked Lindsay question after question. He seemed to believe that the blood of the female period was a disgusting and unsanitary thing.
My student: “Ah madam, I don’t want my wife cooking for me when she is on here period.”
Lindsay: “First of all, female blood is not unsanitary. Also we need to reduce the stigma behind the beauty of the female menstrual period and if it bothers you so much, you should reverse the traditional gender roles and cook for yourself and your wife while she is on her period.”
Making a Pad
With these two full-day sessions I hoped to impart some knowledge to my students. I want to give them as many opportunities as possible to make the most well-informed decisions when the time comes to make them.
As I walked back home, my neighbors asked to borrow my wrench. One of my neighbor’s boda boda’s broke. They called a mechanic, who turned out to be a younger male student in his teens. The local reverend of the parish was walking by as the mechanic repaired the boda boda. During the initial discussions, it became known that this young mechanic could not read and had not finished primary school. My teacher neighbors attempted to convince him to go back to school and the reverend even offered a scholarship to him, but the boy refused. I guess that he thought that being a mechanic for the rest of his life and making some fast money was much better than investing in the long-term.
Then today a random policeman in camo gear attempted to arrest me as I was writing this post on top of the hill where I can get internet. I had been working on sending updates on PCV site development and sending photos from the HIV and RUMPs day events. I looked up from my computer and greeted him, and he asked me what I was doing:
*Exchange translated from Luganda
Policeman: “What are you doing here?”
Me: “I’m doing work on my computer.”
Policeman: “I need to take you in to the police station.”
Me: “No you don’t need to. I am a volunteer teacher here and have been living here for 20 months and always come on this hill. I am friends with the community members and the caretakers of the Kabaka’s Palace.”
Policeman: “I am taking you to the police station.”
Me: “I don’t want to go with you. You shouldn’t bring me to the police station, there’s nothing wrong. Stop touching my bike.”
Policeman: “Release your bicycle!”
Me: “No! I don’t want you to steal it. If I let go will you leave it on the ground?”
Policeman: “Fine, but come to the police station or I will hit you with this stick.”
Me: “Okay I’ll come, but let me first finish sending this email.”
*I send an email and take my time shutting down my computer. I then pick up my phone and call the Peace Corps Office Duty Phone number:
Me on the Phone: “Hey Nikki, no worries but I think that this random policeman is trying to arrest me for some reason. I’m not worried but I guess I’ll just walk down to the police station with him. If there’s a problem they arrest me, I just want to know that the safety and security manager will help me. Cool thanks.”
Policeman: “Hurry up or I’ll hit you with this stick.”
Me: “Don’t worry. Hit me with the stick. I have to wait. Don’t worry.”
Policeman: “Hurry up!”
*We walk down the hill to town as I whistle “Four Five Seconds” by Rihanna/Kanye West/Paul McCartney. As we pass through town, the village members greet me and laugh because I am being accompanied to the Bamunanika police station
Villagers: “Marvin, who is that with you?”
Me: “Oh this one? He’s my friend.”
Policeman: “I’m not your friend.”
*Meeting the Bamunanika chief of police
Me: “Hello, how have you been?”
Chief: “I have been well. Ah it’s so nice to see you again.”
Policeman: “I have brought this one in because he is suspicious on the hill.”
Chief: “This one has been living here for 20 months. He works as a volunteer teacher at Luteete PTC and sometimes goes to the hill to access the internet. Why did you bring him in?”
Policeman: “I thought that he was associated with the suspects who stole the fence last week.”
Chief: “No, let him go! There’s no problem with him.”
The chief scolded the policeman who then told me to leave. Honestly, I know that he was just trying to do his job, but I think that some common sense would have told him that a conspicuous suspect with much lighter skin who decided to return back to the scene of the crime with a laptop would not make sense. In the end, he too had a choice and he screwed up. There’s always a choice over here, whether to wear a condom, to purchase or create your menstrual pad, to arrest a “suspicious” character, to breakup with a loved one, to teach classes, or to continue trying when apathy abounds.