Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Build a Man a Fire and He'll Be Warm For a Night...

...set a man on fire and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.

Kisumu is notorious for having the highest AIDS prevalence in the country - 48%. People attribute this to a lot of different factors, including polygamy, wife cleansing rituals and the fishing industry of Lake Victoria. It's common for Kisumu fishermen to ask poor customers, usually housewives and orphans, for sex in exchange for fish. Forty-eight percent makes for a morbid sense of humor, so I basically tipped over laughing when a Kenyan said, "Kisumu has the highest AIDS rate in the country because fish are the sexiest animals."

Mail call etc: The backlog is finally starting to trickle in. The P.O. box that we share with the hospital was apparently not paid for, so the posta was holding my mail hostage until the bill was cleared. So a huge thank you to Mom and Dad (seaweed heaven, plus I never knew I could appreciate tampons with applicators so much), Felix (what is a pecker in British English?), Dan (I don't know what you sent but it tasted good), Amy (I bet you didn't know that the strawberry-beetle foamboard would become a coaster), Anne and Cynthia (y'all are incredible - just goes to show guailos know how to shop for Asian food too...and expect a letter soon). I know there are still others on their way so I'll keep you posted as they arrive. And also, congratulations Mika and Guillaume! Elise Keiko will be very lucky once her new parents wake up from their deep sleep.

So I had two solid days of mobile outreach this past weekend. Friday we visited a women's group made up of old mamas who are launching a program where they go into the community to speak about AIDS...a popular thing to do here apparently. The problem is that none of them know the first thing about AIDS - what it is, how it's spread or how to prevent it. And they were too busy being stunned at the Swahili coming out of my mouth to acually concentrate on what I was saying. On Saturday we visited a group that links individual donors in Western countries to vulnerable Kenyan kids whom they support financially and send fan mail to, like in the movie About Schmidt. There was an orphan named Kitale in my village in Kitui, who belonged to a similar organization. She showed me the letters her American sponsor had sent her over the years. They are a blond, churchgoing couple from Tennessee with blond kids, and despite obviously having no clue how their adopted Kenyan orphan lived (through no fault of their own or course), it was really nice to see this end of a setup that I'd only read about or seen in movies. I remember Kitale's sponsors had sent her pages from a coloring book not realizing that not only does Kitale not own anything to color with, but that she didn't even know that the pages were meant to be colored in the first place.

Anyway, outreach is outreach, and I'm slowly incorporating more Swahili into my lessons, but for the most part we say the same things: What is AIDS? How is it transmitted? How do you prevent it? What services do we offer at the VCT? And then we show a rotating collection of videos, including the notorious "Silent Epidemic" which is basically a slide show of how your genitalia will look if you have gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, chlamydia, yeast infections or warts.

Well I had a different entry all drafted and ready to type up but then I arrived at work this morning to a four hour tutorial on corruption in my community. So I'm exhausted, and frustrated, and a bit discouraged right now. The thing is that corruption in Kenya is everywhere, at all levels of government and in the community. Otherwise honest people give and take bribes because it's more efficient than speaking out for change. And otherwise dishonest people run rampant in the community. We were briefed on this in pre-service training, but I never thought it would be this bad.

Anyway, I hope to post more later but right now I need to wrap this up so I can run down the street to print some letterhead before the rain comes. Argh! It has come...


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