Today, I initially didn’t feel like teaching at all. Which resulted in feeling extremely guilty for neglecting my duties as a Peace Corps Volunteer, but I guess we all have these spells. And regardless, that’s only one of three goals for my service here in Kenya. The other two involve cross cultural exchange, which I’m pretty sure I succeed at with every single breath, being the only mzungu within over 30 kilometers.
Anyways, funny how things flip on you. So, fortunately for me, being lazy and all, we only had half a day of school. True, I was supposed to be teaching nonstop for the entire first half and only actually ended up teaching 3 out of 6 classes, but who’s counting. The second half of the day was occupied by a team of “health professionals” educating our kids about HIV/AIDS. They were all really nice and had good intentions. Let me get that out before I tell you how I really felt about it.
To begin with, the lady doing the signing knew only every other word or three. Which, I do feel for her, because I totally understand how that feels and know that it is challenging. It’s hard. But, with a topic as important as HIV/AIDS, I feel like over half of the words should be communicated effectively to the audience, whether it be English, Spanish, sign or braille, it should be accurate information.
So it started by explaining what HIV stood for, which was written on the board as “human immune virus,” by the “doctor.” Close enough. Then, she started asking the kids how you get HIV, and just wrote every silly thing they said up on the board under “causes,” a word they all understood. Things like: smoking, coughing, sharing, food and sleep were on this list along with sex. I know that the intent was to encourage the kids to participate, but with an audience that is extremely visual, writing incorrect information on the board causes quite a bit of confusion. These kids have a limited vocabulary, to tell you the truth, and they only recognize basic words – sentences are a bit more complicated when written in plain English, using “then, the, is, were, it” etc etc. So, to write words that they do understand, such as sleep and smoking, as causes (another word they fully grasp) of HIV was a big mistake in my opinion. The list went on and on – once the kids realized that their word was going to be publicized, they decided to dump their entire vocabulary on the medical professionals. Then, to complicate things further, the professionals didn’t really grasp the concepts the kids were trying to explain using their sign language. Honestly, there are still times when I don’t even catch what they’re getting at and I’ve been here for months – exposed to their sign and understand their styles. Misunderstandings happen, I get that, it’s only the weight of this subject – and the necessity that they fully understand the factors involved.
So, after hearing (and seeing, actually) that “lesbianism” (or just homosexuality in general, but lesbianism got it’s own space on the board) is a surefire way to get the death sentence of HIV, I decided I should probably elaborate just a little on this topic afterwards.
This was a bit challenging, since I have never really discussed anything beyond schoolwork or family with the older kids. The younger ones are generally my audience – so just breaking out with the big S-E-X talk was a little daunting, but extremely necessary.
I spent the rest of the day gearing up for the big show. I decided that the best time to talk openly with the kids about it would be during our new “reading hour” which I host after dinner every night until 9. No other teachers are on the compound at that time, and only the older kids attend. After a cup of wine, I headed over to begin the enlightenment.
Blah blah blah, my first sex-talk ever, and the kids were actually really interested. Everyone usually comes in and has a seat, scattered all over the room in little clusters with their friends so they can pass notes, but not tonight. They all crowded around one table just like when I show a movie, but instead of a movie this time, there was a white girl talking about sex. Even better. I wrote a few things up on the chalkboard (only the correct responses, and spelled correctly). I gave lots of examples and drew a few rather graphic pictures, clearing up some of the miscommunications earlier in the day. Then, I spent 20 minutes answering questions. It was pretty awesome. It was so nice to receive feedback. I was so glad they felt comfortable enough to ask questions – and I was actually able to answer them. Plus, the fact that they even asked any questions at all means that they understood me, which was another bonus. I feel like I really did make a difference today. It was actually pretty awesome – success. I like to think that it made up for not wanting to teach today. Or yesterday. Or this week. But the way I see it, I can get through to them with life skills, I’m doing my job. That’s more important than most of the other bologna the government thinks they need to know.