In Peace Corps, a secondary project is a self-run and -planned community project that stresses and somehow guilts you for only having agreed to over two years away from family and friends and Sheetz MTO sandwiches to teach huge unventilated classrooms of teenagers. The secondary project I chose back in January with my homologue was a marche presentation on HIV/AIDS that, in the four months I took to plan it, slowly also expanded into STI prevention, family planning, and general sex ed. Fun stuff, but my vast lack of knowledge on the subject left me feeling highly unqualified and under prepared–turns out if I can’t explain something in English I can’t explain it even more in French. Those feelings stayed with me through the months of preparation until last Friday morning, when I threw my kitchen table and sex supplies on the back of my bike and headed out to the marche for the day.
I guess after I had all my supplies together and my ten minute presentation on the subject ready, my biggest fear was not being able to pull a crowd–that the big white guy sitting at a table with wooden sex organs and a bowl of condoms wouldn’t attract my fellow Founzanites, but repel them. This fear of mine was abandoned when the bike mechanics from the booth next to me curiously approached as I was setting up my table. They were my first audience and, although I knew them and that they hardly spoke French, I went through my lesson: HIV/AIDS affects the whole world, here’s how it is transmitted, here’s how it can be prevented. They did a pretty good job keeping straight faces through the anatomy and sexual transmission parts, but they kind of lost it when I broke out the giant wooden penis and demonstrated how to use a condom. I couldn’t get them to take any of the freebies I was handing out either, but an older man (probably in his sixties) came over and gladly accepted three, and the secondary project was underway.
Here’s my set-up in the marche. The kid sleeping in my chair arrived just after the first group and stayed with me for most of the morning, interrupting from time to time when one of his friends was in the audience and sending children to go on cigarette runs for him. Next time I’ll just bring one chair for me. Early on, Tanti Buvette (who I wrote about in a previous blog) stopped by on her moto and asked what I was doing. I began to explain that it was a small presentation on HIV/AIDS prevention but before I could finish she started up and sped off on her moto into the marche. Later on, I called a young woman over who, upon seeing what was on the table, also chose to flee as fast as possible, running in the opposite direction she was originally walking. I asked a guy if he wanted to listen to my presentation and he said he would if he could have a cookie after, pointing to the bowl of condoms on the table. I let him have some.
My students got a kick out of seeing me teach some new non-math material, and weren’t shy at all to demonstrate proper condom usage or pose with certain wooden replicas. On the far left is a 5eB student named Gilles showcasing a well wrapped package (sorry). The kid writing on the table in the middle photo is my neighbor Abdoulaye, who comes over every night for tea, whether I invite him or not. He’s adding a question to the anonymous question jar I had out for kids too nervous to ask their questions aloud. The best (worst) question I received in that jar was from a kid in my 5e class whose handwriting I recognized: « Women are the fields of God, and you tell them to take contraceptive pills. Is that good? » This is a serious question and I intend to answer it seriously, but the reason it made me laugh is that I was expecting questions more for the sake of the questioner. This kid’s question was a question just for me to ask myself, for me to reflect on what I was teaching and maybe change my viewpoint on it. I won’t put his name here, but the guy who I’m 100% sure asked this is on the right of the third photo sitting on his bike. He also comes over for tea from time to time and hung out by my hangar for most of the morning that day. The smaller kid looking at the camera in that last photo is Adama, a top-of-the-class-in-math 6eA student who likes hanging out with me a lot but was really uncomfortable with everything going on around him that day. It was fun to imagine his internal conflict as he had to choose between spending the morning with me versus getting as far away as he could from the wooden vagina resting on my table.
In the afternoon a doctor from the local hospital came to help and translate in Djoula. Her presence brought more women into the crowds and I was really happy for her support. The next time I do this I’ll make sure to have a woman (either a volunteer or Burkinabe) with me for the entire day because of this. By these final hours I was getting really tired of explaining the same things over and over again and was slowly losing my sense of humor about it. I knew every point of the presentation that would make people laugh–I now paused after taking out the female condom, like a comedian who knew which jokes were going to go over best. The same student who coined the phrase « the fields of God » wanted to know if you could drink water from the female condom, I guess because he thought it was shaped like the water sachets everyone drinks here. If you fill it with water yes, I replied. He is pictured above in the green looking right into the camera. The guy demonstrating above is my friend Zuma, who studies German at Koudougou University and was as excited as my students to see how I was spending my afternoon. By the end of the day I was exhausted; I had been in the marche for a total of five and a half hours and had given out 115 condoms to the men and women of Founzan.
The most exciting part about this for me is that all the preparation work is done: I have the marche spot, all the materials together, and can comfortably pronounce clitoris with a french accent, so I can go out and do this again any marche day I want. The hope is to keep it going, maybe do it once a month, answering the anonymous questions and allowing the lesson to change and grow to suit the needs of the different demographics. I’m looking forward to doing it again, which I would never have guessed I’d say last Friday morning.
Thanks for reading, everyone.