I was a little nervous as the masses of teenage girls poured into the doors of the school gymnasium and squeezed into chairs facing all 5 women who work at the Angoche Secondary School. My pedagogical director gave a brief introduction to the girls siting the huge female drop out rate and 53 pregnancies as the motivation for the assembly. And then she turned the floor over to me. I was shakin at first feeling a little overwhelmed by the weighty and uncomfortable topic as well as the number of older students-many of whom are not that much younger than me. But finally settled into a normal rhythm of a biology lesson. They were so receptive. We went over male anatomy and female anatomy and physiology focusing on the menstruation cycle and how pregnancies occur. I was amazed at the lack of information they have about how their bodies work and how to take care of themselves. By the time I got through the technical info and responded to questions, we had already been there for 90 minutes. I was glad to have my colleagues there. In any given language there's practically a whole dialect of slang devoted to sex practices and reproductive organs. Add to that the confusion with terms in Koti and Macua, both local languages, stir in Islamic practices as well as initiation rites ceremonies I still don't understand, sprinkle the cultural differences between Western and African thinking on top and you've got a nice big dish of confusion. But as a team, we worked pretty well. It was fun and interesting to be a part of it with them, realizing that no matter how different our lives are, there is still so much that women have in common. duh. Sorry this is getting really corny. But seriously. It was good.
Anyway, after I fielded a lot of questions on technical topics, my loudest, sassiest colleague got up in front of the girls and threw out some extremely controversial statements inciting a uproarious debate. I definitely became a spectator. I'm usually not a fan of this type of teaching method. It gets a little too emotional and dramatic for me. But it worked. I learned a lot.
My colleague got her spicy sista attitude on and asked the girls why they go after old men who've lost their taste.
The first girl stood up and delivered a rather sermon-like seemingly practiced speech citing behaviors that girls commonly use to go after a male teacher. She ended with a dramatic "it's us who go after them!"
My jaw dropped.
Half the girls in the room clapped or hooted or nodded in agreement.
The other half of the girls were livid.
Another girl in tears stood up and disagreed. She shared that when she was 14, an older, disgusting teacher had approached her. "What would I ever want with a gross old man when I'm 14?" She yelled. They come after us and if you reject them, you might not pass. Who wants to flunk?
A couple other girls stood up and shared and then my colleague asked them what the motives are for those girls who approach teachers. There were a lot of motives mentioned, but from what I gather these were the main motives stated by the girls themselves:
1. Their parents push it in effort to get one more child out of the house and into the house of someone who has constant work.
2. The girls like the teachers. Many of them aren't really all that much younger than some of the younger teachers.
3. They want money or new clothes and a cell phone. One girl actually stood up and said she didn't think anyone in the room would reject a proposition for 1,000 mets (roughly $28). Most in the room agreed.
4. They want to pass. And if they have sex with a teacher, that teacher then makes sure that their colleagues pass the girl in every discipline.
At this point I was feeling pretty sick. It seems my colleagues were right on a number of points about the girls provoking the teachers. I couldn't believe what some of the girls were openly admitting to.
I still want to castrate some of my male colleagues. They are adults (many married) and a kid is a kid. The lines get so blurred here.
I was wondering how these points were all going to be addressed.
My colleague leading this debate finally responded and had a number of intense retorts about the girls' embarrassing behaviors--for those provoking situations. She talked to them about having a little big more dignity not in their sexuality but in their ability to study and do something better. She also said how disgusted she was with them because a lot of them were making women in general look bad when they are too lazy to study so just have sex to pass. Another colleague talked about how many more opportunities they have than she did just one generation ago, and if they just get through high school and maybe collage, life for them would be considerably better.
She also addressed how to avoid becoming a victim. The girls were told never to be flirty, to concentrate on studying, to be serious and determined, and to save everything for their records in case some situation would ever come up. "And if one ever does approach you--my colleague advised-- you look him straight in the face and tell him, I mean no disrespect, but I want the same opportunities to study that you had, teacher, without having to deal with the funny business!"
I was a bit naive, thinking the girls were always victims with no control.
I have such a refreshed respect for my female colleagues.
And I'm mad that there isn't much more that can be done about the situation.
I can't imagine what it must be like to be them. I grew up in such a different environment. Going to school and having to worry about that kind of stuff? Yikes.