WH Chronicle No. 1.35b

Note: The Chronicle staff has run into some problems with the blog delivery system due to an annoying internet content filter.  We apologize for any inconveniences.   

April 25, 2011

We are sloshing through a beautiful rainy season.  The temperatures have been dropping and the rain usually showers our early morning karate class.  I’m just sorry we can’t share this blessing with the flames currently ablaze around Texas.    

Karate class provides the kids and me with some Tanzanian camaraderie, challenging exercise, and a chance to learn Swahili (though Japanese terms in a Swahili accent are thrown in for good measure-- differentiating them is an issue).   The 5am class makes it difficult for those of us who like sleep, but exercising in pre-dawn darkness is preferable to doing a saggy-bottom-push-up in broad daylight.  When we endure the downpours, my mind overflows with movie rain scenes from Karate Kid, Crouching Tiger, Spiderman (upside down kiss), and Matrix--all the best fight scenes are in the rain.   The instructor frequently chooses Sam to be his sparring partner, which is especially charming since he is built like a baobab tree.  With a chuckle, he praises Sam for attacking his kneecaps.   I watch with admiration and pangs of sympathy knowing that he lost his only child, a young son, less than a year ago.

Excellent Easter packages arrived this week.  As requested, Laura sent us a book on ‘puberty’ because I had underestimated this educational need upon our departure.   The book offers a lovely cartoon-filled biological perspective that is age-appropriate, yet explicit in its explanations.  The kids have ordained a sacred place on the coffee table for it to reside when Daryl’s not hauling it around campus.    Her inquisitive nature has sparked some questions that few people, outside the sexual worker industry, are prepared to honestly answer.   But, perhaps in lieu of asking those with ‘professional experience’  Daryl might rather direct her inquiries to those with ample evidence of experience.  I'd like to suggest the missionary families with 8 kids in tow.    Sam doesn’t have any questions, he just regularly announces, “Mr. Twinkie is fertilizing Lil’ Debbie, again.”  (referencing our chickens, of course).

Tanzanians are a bit shy when discussing such activities.  They don’t even officially ‘date’ but rather only announce engagements.  Dating is synonymous with promiscuous behavior.   Tradition stems from arranged marriages or purchased wives, but even the most modern Tanzanians still offer an honorary ‘bride price’.   Despite the hiatus on ‘date talk’, the AIDS epidemic has mandated very open discussions on the practice of sexual relations.  Questions are asked by the Tanzanians that make me blush—but honest education has been a priority. 
The “ABC Strategy” is frequently found painted in very large print on the outside walls of secondary schools.  It's implementation has caused AIDS rates to drop as much as 10%  in many Sub-Saharan countries.
   In Swahili it reads:
AIDS Transmission
Sexual intercourse                  80%
Mother to Child                      19%
Direct Blood                            1%
In order to avoid AIDS one must (“ABC Strategy”):
 1) Abstain from sexual relations
2) Sexual fidelity to one partner
3) Use a condom. 

In my opinion, this technique is miles ahead of the sex education in Texas where we lead the nation in teen births (with 54,284 births in 2008)*.  This indicates that Texas’ “Abstinence Only” training, where 51% of teens* are sexually active, might not be the most sound approach. 

Recently, a Tanzanian student asked me for some ‘dating’ advice:

After he looks over his shoulder to make sure no one is in ear shot, he states shyly, “Every time I go home, my mother is pressuring me to get married.   My family’s desire is to buy me a bride, but I don’t want the bride they would purchase.  I want to marry a mzungu (white person).  How do I get one?”  Desperation is in his voice.

Noticing his demeanor and possible embarrassment, I work hard to hide my reaction. "Well, most white women are not for sale, nor are they easily chosen.  Remember they come from different traditions where they participate in the selection of their spouse.  European women are considered equals in civil unions and make many (if not most) of the marital decisions.“  I stop short of declaring that they are flat out difficult, and imagine Tom’s head nodding in vigorous agreement.

“Hmmmm…” he sighs, with a hint of disappointment.

“Yes, western marriages are unions between equal partners.  And, you know,  it is also common that couples live close to the bride’s parents.  It would be rare to find a European woman who would want to give birth to babies in Tanzania.”

He shakes his head and tells me, “It is the opposite here because my bride would be expected to become a part of my family.  She would live with my mother and my sisters.”

I sigh.  “You know, I think your dilemma is more about finding an 'equal' than it is about skin color.   You will have a college degree; you are well traveled and worldly.  So it’s normal that you desire a mate that is stimulating and intelligent—like you.  You and your mate will probably live a more modern life style than your family.  Just don’t be fooled by skin color.  And beware of potential cultural collisions before you make any permanent decisions.“   Then I rambled on about finishing his degree before starting a family, and how there would be no trouble finding a lady when it was time. Probably something many college professors have suggested to their students.

He wholly agreed, but I know it didn’t solve the immediate family pressures.  I think they were lining up their cows to buy him a bride.  

Carolyn departs Tanzania tonight to return to her familiar teen life in California.  I'm hoping to hear about how she might now see her homeland through the eyes of a visitor. 

One bit of sad news, right after I submitted last week’s Chronicle, we heard of a terrible head-on bus collision occurring 1 km from the University gate.  People were trapped for hours with no medical services help; many died.  It was disturbing to me how accurately the Tanzanians can describe death and the last few moments of life.   One of the students stood up during class and suggested that we thank God that we were all still here–knowing full well that anyone of us could have been on the bus.   It seemed like a good suggestion. 
 "Sex education in schools is a good idea, but I don't think kids should be given homework."  Bill Cosby

'Marriage is an alliance entered into by a man who can't sleep with the window shut, and a woman who can't sleep with the window open."  ~George Bernard Shaw

 "A man without a wife is like a vase without flowers."  ~African Proverb

"Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet."  ~Roger Miller

Wax on...wax off,

The monkeys really enjoyed Easter egg hunting.  The kids were armed with badminton racquets to lend them a fighting chance. 

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