Friday, October 20, 2006

Surrounded by Petty Criminals

Pickpocket Receives the Gift of Life. This morning I noticed a big slash at the bottom of one of my daypacks. I thought maybe I’d caught it on something somewhere, but upon further inspection I realized it was a pretty clean slash. Someone apparently had tried to cut open the bottom of my bag so that they could steal whatever dropped out. I don’t know where or when it happened, but I’m thinking it was someone sitting next to me on a matatu. The cut only penetrated an outside pocket, where I don’t usually store anything valuable, but I did notice that a condom was missing.

Why am I carrying condoms in my daypack, you ask? To hand out to people who ask me for money, of course. It’s a trick I learned from Eric, a PCV who finished his service in July.

“Chinese, you give me 50 bob.”

“Oh, I’m SOOOO sorry. I don’t have 50 bob today. But how about a condom?”

“You give me 50 bob.”

“With this condom I’m offering you the gift of life—a life free of AIDS, STIs and unwanted pregnancy. Surely that’s worth more than any amount of shillingies I could give you.”

Somewhere out there, there is a pickpocket who has inadvertently received the gift of life from me as well, probably along with some used Kleenex and old bus receipts. I wonder if he realizes how fortunate he is.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Prison Workshop, Day 2. I went back to the prison a few days later for the second part of the workshop, with Godi as my sidekick again. We opened by asking everyone whether they had talked to anyone about AIDS since our first meeting.

The prison welfare officer said he had spoken to some of the inmates and found that a lot of people had heard of AIDS but didn’t know much about it.

One woman talked to her kids and found out that they knew a few facts about AIDS, but not much about the sexual aspect of it. (At this point I thought, “Like the part about unprotected sex being the leading cause of HIV transmission?”)

Another woman talked to her husband, who was “impressed” with the conversation and who decided he wanted to visit a VCT for an HIV test. (At this point I thought, “It’s none of my business why a married man who should theoretically have had only one partner for years now thinks he might have been exposed to HIV.”)

She also talked to her fourth grade son, who she found out had been taught about AIDS in school. This actually surprised me, that a parent doesn’t know that most primary and secondary schools in Kenya incorporate HIV/AIDS topics into the curriculum. In even the most remote bush schools that I’ve visited, there is at least one teacher who is trained to be the school’s designated HIV/AIDS educator. The exact quality of this instruction is another issue (many teachers are trained through organizations like Education for Life, a Catholic-sponsored, “abstinence-only-because-condoms-have-holes” program), but it’s safe to say that students in every grade, in nearly every school, have been taught the basics.

The other participants said they hadn’t run into anyone they felt they needed to talk to about AIDS. I was thinking, “You haven’t run into your kids, your spouse or your neighbors? You been under a rock or something?”

I didn’t have to say a word. Another participant replied, “I disagree with my colleagues who say they didn’t meet anyone to talk to. You all have husbands, wives and children. You all know other staff who have families. These are the people we should be talking to about AIDS.”

Good on ya, sister.

The day’s agenda was pretty heavy: identifying the roots of the AIDS problem in Kenya, breaking silence and cultural stigma, understanding the importance of communication. I passed out a graph showing AIDS prevalence among men and women of various age groups, then asked people to talk about why young girls between 15-29 and men between 25-40 tended to be the age groups most vulnerable to getting HIV.

It wasn’t an easy discussion to facilitate. I kept wanting to launch into an angry rant about what a deeply misogynistic society I thought Kenya was. I never did, which is a testament to how far I’ve come in a year and a half here. As Westerners we need to listen to what Kenyans have to say about their own culture.

This is what they had to say:

“Well obviously I will not marry a 60-year-old lady. That is why young girls get HIV more than older women.”

“Women tend to marry around 15-29 while men will wait until they are 30.”

“Women are often forced to have sex.”

“Women will be beaten if they refuse sex, especially if the man is drunk.”

“Women will not say no to their husbands because they fear divorce.”

“It’s time for women to stand up for themselves. Men want women to speak out, too.”

“If a woman is too busy with the kids and the home to have sex with her husband, the man will go find someone else.”

“If you want to show your wife you love her, why not offer to help her with her work, then she can give you sex after.”

“If my wife denies me my rights as a husband, don’t I have every right to look for someone else? If she’s not satisfying me, she is denying me my rights.”

“There is a saying in Swahili, that no cock can have only one hen.”

Godi came through again, saying things I wanted to say, but in a Kenyan voice. I’m hoping to make him a permanent addition to my workshops. I can learn a lot from him about how to talk to Kenyans about things that are probably none of my business as a foreigner, like how men and women relate to each other in this country. In the end, even if I say everything he says exactly the way he says them, as a Kenyan he will always be a more effective advocate for the ideas I’m trying to teach.

“We must begin to weigh human rights versus our own culture. As women, you must say no to men when you mean no, as an example to our girls. If our girls grow up seeing that Mami never says no to Dadi, she will not learn to say no.”

“Communication is the most important thing. If your partner is not satisfying you, talk to her. She will not know unless you tell her.”

“Let us expect the same things from both partners in a relationship. Don’t let one partner’s expectations be sidelined.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I keep coming back to this blog. I grew up in Kenya, well in Nairobi and so as much as I have seen some of the things you talk about in rural kenya when I tag along with my father on his field trips, I cannot imagine life on a permanent basis there. I admire your courage. And that is why I keep coming much as I don't like to hear some things, I know they are true and they are things my country needs to change and hopefully more people like me will go back and do something about it.

3:21 AM  
Anonymous The pope of Lamu said...

As a PCV in Kenya in '87 or '88, can't remember when exactly, I boarded a crowded bus in Nairobi one afternoon and had to stand in the aisle. The humans were packed in there pretty tightly, and after a few miles, I felt someone's hand slip into my left front pocket. I was carrying only a few shillings there (my wallet and passport were in a leather pouch I carried around my neck and inside my shirt. I quickly reached down and managed to catch the last two fingers of the mystery hand and squeezed them tight. I yanked the person belonging to the hand through the crowd and came face to face with a young Kenyan man with a look of absolute terror on his face. I was pretty pissed off, but I also realized that if I made a big deal out of this little aborted one-way transaction, the guy could get beat to death in a vigilante mob scene. I pulled him close enough to me to whisper in his face, "Mwizi," and he shook his head at me and said, "Hapana, bwana, siku mimi." I stared at him for a few seconds and, seeing that the bus was about to make its stop, I let him go. He bolted off that thing fast and disappeared into the crowd. While I hadn't lost any money, the incident still shook me up for the rest of the day. Had to throw back a few Tuskers at the bar next to the Hotel Pigale (which I don't believe is still there in the MM district anymore). Anyway, a little Kenya PC story your blog inspired me to tell. So, kiboko yake na bahati nzuri.

11:27 AM  

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