A few weeks ago, I went into Kampala and Entebbe for a Gender and Development meeting with other PCVs. I got to see a lot of great friends, celebrate two birthdays, stay overnight at the Entebbe Zoo, have sundowners on the beach on Lake Victoria, eat pizza, go to a night club, get some new books from the Peace Corps library, and eat Mexican food (chimichangas, queso dip, and frozen lime margaritas!!! Completely worth the splurge of 30,000 UGX – about $13.50. That’s a lot of money in Uganda, even when I’m making a very respectable Ugandan stipend of about $250 a month). Definitely a much-needed vacation!
Another volunteer came to my site last week to present Afripads to my life skills class. Girls here are sometimes unable to spend money on disposable menstrual pads, such as Always, and end up using towels, clothes, rags, etc. These are uncomfortable, bulky, and sometimes even fall out, making the girls too embarrassed to attend school when on their period. Afripads is a company based in Masaka, Uganda that makes a washable, re-usable menstrual pad that costs only 3,500/- (about $1.30) and lasts for a year. This way, girls are able to continue attending school without the fear of embarrassment.
I also helped at another volunteer’s site in Ibanda (a beautiful place surrounded by mountains not very far from me) for her health and sports workshop. There were a bunch of us teaching about reproductive health and sex education (with another Afripads talk) to female students at a Primary Teachers’ College (and the male PCVs taught the boys), which was really fun – they had SO many questions! It was good to dispel some scary myths, too. In the afternoon, I had a booth about malaria where people could come and take a True or False quiz. The next day was devoted to sports, and after forced into taking part in the America vs. Uganda volleyball game, I actually enjoyed it! I’m usually so terrible at volleyball (and most sports, for that matter) that I get embarrassed, frustrated, and just don’t want to play, but I found myself doing okay and didn’t want to sit out when another volunteer asked to take my place.
A company called Barefoot Power manufactures solar lamps which come with a small solar panel. Peace Corps provided each of us one of these during training, and the company recently came out with a new product so wanted to test it in the villages. They gave all the interested PCVs 9 solar lamps to distribute, and the people I gave them to were SO appreciative – it saves them money they would have to spend on kerosene. They get to keep the lamps for free if they fill out and return a 15-day survey. I’ve had at least 10 other people asking me for a lamp, and it’s good advertising for another PCV up the road who is trying to start a program to sell the lamps at her SACCO (Savings and Credit Co-operative) and also provide loans with which to pay for them. She also wants to start a goat program, for which I would give goat husbandry lectures to the recipients, and another PCV wants help with a rabbit project.
I’ve started my own garden – the first time I’m ever attempting to grow my own food. I bought some strawberry and green pepper seedlings, and plan to also plant eggplant, carrots, and green beans. I’m also trying to grow cilantro in my kitchen – fresh, homemade salsa, here we come! I even planted sunflowers along the front of my house and they’re just starting to sprout – I know when they grow they’ll remind me of my friend Andrea, who’s in Peace Corps Paraguay, because she loves sunflowers. :)
Yesterday I helped facilitate our first HIV/AIDS and Gender Inequality Workshop. We (The Hunger Project) are supposed to host these on a quarterly basis, but as far as I can tell, this is the first time our Epicenter has hosted one of these workshops. I first covered facts about HIV/AIDS (most people don’t even know exactly what HIV and AIDS are, or that they are even different from one another, they just know AIDS makes you sick and eventually kills you), transmission, prevention, etc. We then had a condom demonstration, during which a lot of giggling ensued when I pulled out the wooden…ummm… models. Some things are funny the world over. Some of the questions I got were so frustrating, like how it seems so many women have tried to go for HIV testing but their husbands refuse to go with them, making testing worthless, and I can’t really get a definite reason why men won’t go with their wives for testing. My theory is that since a lot of men have extramarital affairs (it’s almost expected in this culture), they are afraid of going for testing because of what they might find out. That guess is not based in any facts, just my theory.
Women learn how to properly use a condom (men are in another group)
At the same workshop, we also did an activity from my Life Skills manual that highlighted the differences between gender roles and biological sex in which the participants were given cards with words on them (like “Cooking”, “Love”, “Strong”, “Family Decisions”, “Doctor”, “Nurse”) and asked to put them under either Male or Female, whichever came to their mind when they read the word. It led to a good debate, and I think it’s probably one of the first times many of these people have openly discussed gender roles. Then, we went through each one to show that most of these roles are social, not based on physical capabilities of men or women. For example, men and women both can be a nurse or a doctor, pursue an education, cook, care for children, make decisions, etc. One of the only words left that couldn’t be either was “Pregnancy”, and everyone agreed that “Violence” was purely a masculine term (although I wanted to beg to differ, this was their activity and I tried not to guide it too much). We were doing well until we got to “Sweeping”, which both men and women agreed that men “can’t do.” It’s probably largely a language barrier, but I was trying to explain between “can’t” and “won’t”. Also, people kept insisting that “Authority” belongs on the male side, even though my counterpart, Janephur, was there helping us conduct the meeting and she is a local councilor (government representative). We explained the difference between gender roles (a social construct) and sex (a biological fact) then related this back to the spread of HIV, showing that women lack the power to say ‘no’ to sex or insist on using a condom, while men lack the sense of responsibility to do what their wives ask them to since they are the ones with the authority in this culture. People seemed to really enjoy the workshop and wanted more similar trainings, also requesting other workshops on topics such as sanitation and making water safe to drink. Even my supervisor said (for whatever reason) that he didn’t think they could pull off this workshop in the past, but now he sees it is possible and he was really happy.
Men and women do an activity to learn about gender roles
I had a vet come and spay Kibo at my house a few days ago. I have rarely been that stressed-out in Uganda, despite all I’ve gone through. He knew what he was doing, and Kibo now seems fine, but watching him set up a moderately-sanitized surgical table using my desk in my yard, no masks, no gloves, sanitizing his instruments in a basin of water and some disinfectant, the anesthesia wearing off too early, watching him come close to ligating a part of the intestine with the ovary, watching her intestines lay on her unsterilized fur on her belly… I was not calm, to say the least. When I got sterile gloves from the clinic and put them on to assist, the vet said something along the lines of, “Oh yes, you can use gloves, I know the ladies are sensitive to these kinds of things.” Bringing up a sexist argument about how women fear blood did nothing to calm me down. We drew a small crowd of curious people (many of whom came back later in the day to check on Kibo), and I actually assisted on my dog’s own procedure (does this violate those medical rules against operating on family members?). The injectable anesthesia took forever to wear off, which worried me – 9 hours later she still couldn’t walk in a straight line – but by the next morning she was doing well, eating, wagging her tail, etc. My neighbors were so excited to see her up and walking around, they dropped what they were doing and came over to fawn over her. My friend Amon, who helps me with yard work, gave me 5 eggs with the specific instructions “for Kibo only.” I don’t think anyone has ever given me more than 2 eggs for free. Ever since the surgery, people in the village have all been asking about Kibo even more than they normally do. I have to re-emphasize how unusual it is for Ugandans to care about a dog this much, to treat it as well as they do – it continues to surprise me, and I feel so blessed that my community really loves my dog.
Avert your eyes for the next picture if you have a weak stomach: