18 September 2009


Follow-up on my last entry: The districts in my region are giving out food aid, a certain number of kilos of corn for each household. Someone in a village near me supposedly died of hunger...I don't really believe this is true though.

It's been awhile since I've posted about what I've been doing. So: in addition to my regular teaching around the schools and at baby weighings and distributing condoms, I went to a community theater workshop in July, did a HIV/AIDS and life skills training for 52 primary and secondary school teachers, and am planning a variety of activities, including: a teacher training in another PCV's village, a camp for secondary school boys, an HIV education week and testing day in November, a first aid training for the community health workers in my area, and a grant to fix the broken water pumps in my village. I also just went to the Mid-Service Conference for my training group, where I got to catch up with everyone I haven't seen in a long time, had a five-minute dentist appointment, and learned some more about HIV (and I thought I knew everything already...). So that's my life in a nutshell.

One of the things we talked about at our Mid-Service Conference was behavior change, specifically how to promote behavior change through our education programs. Despite some of my qualms with the behavior change framework, I thought this portion of the workshop was really interesting (and would have been a lot more useful had we learned it sooner, Peace Corps...). We divided into groups and picked an example "target audience" that we want to work with. My group decided to discuss ways to work with men that have multiple sexual partners in addition to their wives. After some discussion we decided that it would be imposible to expect that men would be faithful to their wives, and also impossible to expect them to use condoms with their wives, so we decided our goal would be for men with multiple partners to use condoms in their extramarital relationships. We already felt like our expectations were pretty low, but then the facilitator said maybe we should set our expectations a little lower and have our goal be for the men to simply discuss condom use with their partners. Because in behavior change programs, change takes a long time and you have to set realistic, small, attainable goals that gradually build on the past education efforts you have done.

This is fine and logical, but part of me wants to know: Is that really all I can expect from the work I am doing? I know you have to start somewhere, and changing attitudes about anything, but especially about sex, is extremely difficult. But good god if the only thing that comes out of my two years here is that people will have had discussions about condoms...Is this really all the millions of dollars being spent on HIV/AIDS prevention is accomplishing?

A lot of the volunteers at the MSC seemed tired and frustrated and discouraged. A major topic of discussion was: "What are the consequences if I decide to leave before completing my two years of service?"

And I'm tired too. I'm tired of feeling like I'm doing no good. I'm tired of being seen as a walking dollar sign. I'm tired of people telling me that they want me to teach them or help them do things, when what they really mean is, "We want money and/or presents." I'm tired of people saying they will help me do projects and then not showing up. I'm tired of people thinking that they need to be paid for listening to me teach. I'm tired of the fact that it seems impossible to motivate people to do anything if they aren't getting some material benefit. I'm tired of teachers and health workers that never do their jobs and then complaining to me about how their lives are hard. I'm tired of convincing myself that there really are good, motivated people in this village. I'm tired of people making me feel like I'm useless because I haven't lifted everyone out of poverty.

Sometimes I want to yell at everyone: "This is why there is no development in this country! No one wants to do anything to help themselves! You just want handouts!"

In my head though, I know I need to take a step back and stop putting all the blame on the villagers. I know Tanzania has been receiving foreign aid for a long time, and it's not wonder that people see a white person and automatically see a dollar sign. And I know that poverty creates a disempowered mentality among the poor and that is probably why people here feel like they can't do anything to change their situations. And I know it must be horrific to farm every year of your life, only to see your crops fail half the time because there's been no rain, or bugs or birds or rats ate them, or hippos walked on them, or someone stole them. Or the crops didn't fail, but the price of whatever you are selling did, so you still don't have any money. Or maybe you have a little money, but one of your kids is sick and the other four are in school and need new uniforms and shoes, and it's several months until harvest season, and last years' supply of corn has run out, and you don't know what your family is going to eat for the next few months. And then some white girl who speaks weird Swahili tells you that you should be worried about AIDS, because you can get really sick and die after ten years. Why should you worry about what your health status will be in ten years, when you don't have anything to eat today? So you ask this white girl for money, since she's from America and clearly has money. She gives you a disgusted look and tries to explain that she can't help every single person in the village, and you say, it's not every person, just help me.

I'm still here though. In the words of a popular bongo flava song, "Bado nipo nipo sana." (Roughly, I'm still very much here.)

Peace Corps' motto is: "The toughest job you'll ever love." I don't know if I love it, but it sure is challenging.

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