Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Schoolgirls, Visitors, and Winding Down

Yes, I'm still alive. And yes, I still suck at updating my blog consistently. Here's a peek at what I've been up to.

Towards the end of May I spent about a week in the field and although it was pretty sad to know that it was my last trip into the field, I also got to do some pretty cool stuff. I dropped in on two secondary schools and interviewed some students about their views on one of our major interventions and issues affecting their education. This was really exciting but also pretty intimidating for a few reasons. For one, TZ uses a different school system from the U.S. so most of these secondary school students were my age or sometimes even older. And secondly, I knew I would have to conduct the interviews in Swahili. Although my Swahili is pretty good I can sometimes be shy. Add to that having to talk about sensitive and personal issues, with people you don't know, and to do it all in a foreign language....I was a bit intimidated. But I pulled it off and I'm glad I did it because it was such a rewarding experience. The students were warm and friendly and opened up without hesitation about the roadblocks they face in getting their basic education.

One girl told me how she walks a long distance to school every morning because her grandmother couldn't afford the 250/= Tshs (about 18 cents) for bus fare. Once she reached school, she studies on an empty stomach all day b/c she has no money for tea during break time and her house is too far to go home for break, like most students do. Besides even if she could go home there would nothing there for her to eat. Although the school day ends at 2, she stays after until 6 studying with her friends and making sure she understands the material. She leaves the school around dusk to walk home alone. On the way she gets hit on by men old enough to be her father but she keeps to herself and arrives home just in time for dinner, the only meal of the day. Listening to her story was tough, but what was even tougher was realizing that, unfortunately, her circumstances are not unique. I heard a lot of the same story over and over again.
In preparation for our visits to the schools we had gathered the field staff the previous day for a meeting. Some of the major concerns that came up in the meeting centered around the lack of sexual/reproductive health education in secondary schools, cross-generational sex, and teen pregnancy, and the unfair domestic burdens placed on girls. A lightbulb went off. (If you know me, then you know that women's/girls' rights are kind of my "thing". You also know that I'm a strong proponent for educating girls about sexual/reproductive health, birth control options, informed consent and decision making as a way to increase their educational opportunities and likelihood for financial stability and independence down the line.) So when these concerns came up in the meeting it was right up my alley. I got to combine all my interests/passions in one exercise. I couldn't wait to head out to the schools and ask African schoolgirls how sexual health issues were affecting their progress in school. And they were, surprisingly, not very hesitant about answering.
They were quick to tell me that older men often pressured them for cross-generational sex and that they knew girls who slept with these men for money or material goods, as a way to take the edge off the extreme poverty they faced at home. They told me about several girls who had become pregnant and had to drop out before completing secondary school and they were quick to point out that the school offered no sex ed besides the very nuts and bolts basic information they learned in biology class. They also talked about how the long list of household chores assigned to girls made it difficult for them to find time to study, while there brothers got off pretty much scott-free. My chats with them were definitely the highlight of my trip and they really got me thinking about future directions for my own education and career.
That trip was pretty much the highlight of May.

As for June, I imagine it will be one of the best parts of this year, but also one of the worst. The best because, I'm expecting some pretty awesome visitors! One of my closest friends, T, is coming to TZ to learn swahili at the University of Dar es Salaam and I can't wait to hang out with her, especially after having not seen her for an entire year! And as if that wasn't awesome enough, another friend, M, is coming to do some stuff for her PhD and will be staying with me!! I'm so excited to see to see these two people whom I love very much! T will be here in 3 days and M will be here in 5, so I would say June has gotten off to a pretty baller start.

What I'm not looking forward to, however, is the end of June which is going to suck for several reasons. There are the obvious sucky parts like leaving my friends and boyfriend behind and leaving Dar itself, but there's also logistics like-- how the hell am i supposed to put all the stuff I've accumulated over a year into two suitcases?

Ugh. I guess I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I'm just going to enjoy my company! <3

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