27 July 2008

safaris, spaghetti and sex ed

Recent news in my life:
We went on a mini-safari this past weekend and saw elephants, giraffes, and zebras. Slash the highlight of the trip was being able to take a hot shower, use a western toilet, and eat cheese. I have been enjoying bucket baths, but I have never enjoyed a shower so much in my life.

Being here is basically like being a child in that someone cooks for me and gets my bathwater for me, I have to be home before dark, and I don't get dirty jokes. It has been my quest to prove to my host family that I am not in fact incompetent, despite a lot of evidence to the contrary. So today I decided to cook American food for them. I decided to cook spaghetti, which seemed like a fantastic idea being that I have never made spaghetti sauce from scrath before. I didn't feel like making garlic bread as a side dish so I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead. (Yes, there is peanut butter here. But my family still didn't know what it was).

This week we had a very interesting visit to a primary school and learned about their sex education and HIV/AIDS curriculum. I haven't been nearly long enough to understand Tanzanian cultural attitudes about sex, but the little bit I learned this week was super-interesting and contradictory. For example, the government-directed standardized curriculum has kids starting to learn about HIV/AIDS the first year they're in primary school. Kids in Standard 6 (i think around 12-13 yrs old) have to learn how to use condoms correctly. I asked the teacher if there was any resistance to kids learning about sex in school and he said no; that in this town a few people may be unhappy but they haven't complained to the school (but there may be resistance to it in other parts of TZ). We talked to our LCF (language/cross-cultural facilitator) later and she said that parents here rarely talk to their kids about sex; they will get an aunt or uncle to give their kids a sex talk. Our LCF said that she has been struggling with how to talk to her kids about sex, because she wants them to be informed, but if she talks to them about sex, her kids will tell their friends, their friends will tell their parents, and their parents will think that she is trying to ruin their community's morals/culture. She said she has been thinking about hiring someone from an organization that specializes in sex education to talk to her kids, like one of her friends did with her kids. Our LCF is an educated woman living in the capital city, and her friend that hired someone to talk to her kids is getting her PhD.

My question is: where as a PCV do I fit into all of this? I didn't come here to change Tanzanians' cultural values, but doing HIV/AIDS and health education necessitates confronting cultural attitudes about gender and sex.

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