"It's Condom Day!"
18 June 2004
WARNING! THIS E-MAIL CONTAINS ADULT CONTENT AND SHOULD NOT BE READ BY THOSE
WHO LIKE TO MAINTAIN THAT THE STORK BROUGHT THE BABY.
You joined The Peace Corps because you wanted to change the world in some small
way. This idea roughly translated into teaching English in Namibia, so that the
students (that was before you started calling them "learners") could
have a better chance of qualifying for University and improving their standard
of living. It seemed to make sense at the time.
A year and a half later, your naivety is gone and you have realized that the
world changes regardless. All you can do is nudge a few people in the right
direction, presuming you know which way that is. Given the high rate of HIV
infection (20%-30% of the population has the virus), you have come to terms with
the sobering realization that all the English in the world won't help if your
learners, containing the knowledge you've given them, die prematurely from AIDS.
You want to nudge them towards life.
This is why you find yourself, one day, standing in front of a class of 36
twelfth graders who are giggling nervously because you, their beloved English
teacher and newly-minted "Life Skills teacher", have just announced,
rather gleefully, that, "It's condom day!" You triumphantly produce
two wooden penises and a box full of condoms, just to emphasize your point.
"Now, I know that of course none of you are having sex now-" A brief
spasm of confusion halts their laughter. They look guilty. Does she really think
we're not having sex? "-but you probably will sometime in the future. Now,
how many of you plan to have 14 children?" The girls all shake their heads
adamantly, clucking at the very idea; several boys raise their hands-obviously
imagining all they fun they could have producing the 14 offspring. You continue,
"How many of you plan on dying from AIDS?" They are duly sobered; no
one raises a hand. "Ok then. That's why you must use a condom every time
you have sex."
You start with a game. The learners form four groups and each group is given
nine sheets of paper, each with one of the steps to using a condom correctly.
Their task is to put them in the correct order. The first group to finish
correctly will win sweets. You've never seen learners so engaged in an activity,
bent over the papers, "-this one is second to lastů" "-no, you
must check the expiration date firstů" "-which one comes
next?". A group says they're finished. You check the order. It's a bit
disconcerting to see that they've put 'tie the condom' before 'have sex and
ejaculate.' After a few more false victories, one group finally manages to put
the steps in the correct order. Knowing that the kids will listen more to each
other than to you, you have one of the more articulate learners then explain the
steps to the class. It turns out that the condom should be tied after having sex
and removing the condom. Go figure.
Next, you ask for a volunteer to demonstrate how to put on and remove a
condom, using one of the wooden penises. Sakeus jumps up. He may have failed
four out of his six subjects last term, but this is his area of expertise, he is
now the authority on the subject, he will teach and the others will learn from
him. Without any self-consciousness, he selects a green-colored condom and
proceeds to accurately demonstrate how the prophylactic should be used. The
class is attentive, only chiding him when he comes to the "have sex"
part. "How? Tell us how!" They feign ignorance. You feign sudden
interest in something outside the window, so they won't see you laughing and you
won't see whatever Sakeus might be doing with the wooden penis to answer their
After the successful completion of Sakeus' condom demonstration, it's time
for a femidom (female condom) demonstration. You hold up an empty, two-liter
plastic Fanta bottle and announce, just for the fun of it, "This is my
vagina." (English class and Fanta will never be quite the same for anyone
again.) Luckily for you, Kristina volunteers to demonstrate how to use the
femidom on the Fanta container. The class "oohs" and "ahs"
over the femidom's larger size and it's two rings, and is especially enthralled
by the "fthoink" sound when the femidom is removed from the bottle.
You encourage them to ask questions. You manage to answer them with only
minor tinges of embarrassment. Finally, the learners ask the ultimate question,
"Can we have condoms?" Of course. Although you don't want to admit to
yourself that they are really having sex, the fašade is shattered when the
learners maul the box of free condoms and ask if you have any Cool Ryder or
Sense brand condoms, because they "like those ones better."
Ndapewa is upset with you. "Miss! What are you doing with those
You are confused. "What?"
"Why don't you throw them away? You are encouraging people to have sex!
They should abstain and wait until they are married!"
"Yes, I know," you say, pausing to think of where to begin? This is
always the debate. "But they are having sex anyway. I am just encouraging
them to do it safely." It is no use citing research that there is no
correlation between condom distribution and increased sexual activity, but that
there is a correlation between condom use and decreased STDs. Instead, you
demonstrate reality on a nearby learner. "Gabriel, don't have sex. Wait
until you're married."
"Yes, miss," he says, while reaching for more condoms.
"See? I can say what I want, but in the end, he will do what he wants.
He's going to have sex anyway, so it's better that he protects himself."
Ndapewa sighs in resignation. You feel the same way. You get to do this with
eight more classes.
Most of the classes proceed about the same as the first, except one time the
English teacher next door, Mr. Nuushona, enters the class to make an announcement.
He is oblivious to the situation he's walking into, and doesn't seem to notice
anything unusual, such as your desk being covered in condoms instead of your
usual books and papers. A learner, in some twist of cruelty, invites him to
"stay and hear the lesson, because it's very interesting." Mr. Nuushona
a compliant guy, so he says, yeah, sure.
You find yourself suddenly utterly embarrassed. You, who had a minute ago
been brazenly swinging wooden penises around while discussing the pros and cons
of femidoms and condoms, have been brought to a complete standstill in the
presence of another teacher. Then, slowly, you begin to laugh, because it's the
only way to unfreeze, and the class also begins to laugh, but everybody is
trying to hide it. Finally, Mr. Nuushona gets his bearings and realizes that
something is amiss. He glances at your condom-covered desk, at the femidom
packet in your hand, at the Fanta-vagina, and suddenly it all clicks. He does
not want to be here! This is not the safe confines of an English class! It has
morphed into a perilous Life Skills class. He was tricked! He darts out the door
before you can give any explanation.
But you must stay, and somehow you continue.
Happy "HIV/AIDS AWARENESS WEEK"!