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AIDS Awareness Program
15 September 2004

We’re two weeks into our last trimester at Ekulo, and we’re already hovering on the brink of exams. My grade 12s are writing their first English exam on Monday and I will start their oral exams soon thereafter.

Zac and I are spending much of our free time and even some class time in the computer lab, helping learners navigate the intricacies of the world wide web. In a matter of days they were all fully addicted to the internet and now insist they can’t live without it. The knock on our door from morning until night demanding the keys to the computer lab (which we don’t give them) or that we come open it up for them because they “need” to use the internet. We indulge them as much as possible since we have the sneaking suspicion that after we leave, the lab is going to primarily remain locked, given the example of the relentlessly locked library.

Over the holiday, Zac and I decorated the lab with colorful posters about different websites and ways of using the internet. I made a hand-out for the teachers about how to use the internet as a teaching resource and included many helpful websites. Several of them are now also using the internet and one teacher even took her class there in the afternoon. Everybody seems to learn pretty quickly how to click on things, but sometimes they get a bit carried away and you will find them with about thirteen different advertisement windows open at once. And you know how pop up ads like to flash on your screen announcing that you’ve just won $1,000 for being the 354,778th visitor to that website? Well, these kids get all excited about that every single time and are probably eagerly awaiting the check in the mail.  I often have to explain to them it would cost them N$6,000 to fly to America to redeem their $50 Wal*Mart Gift Certificate that they’ve won.

My AIDS club activities are also winding down. We took our final trip to Iipundi Combined School, a mere 5km away where another volunteer teaches. The day before we went, my house was invaded by the club as they came to wrap the prizes and practice their dance moves using our radio. Then on Wednesday afternoon I again loaded a bakkie (small pickup truck) full of learners and drove up the road to the school, arriving more or less on time. The first group set up the sound system and warmed up the audience, while I went back to fetch the second group. Once all were assembled, the program started. I personally think the program is a bit weak and disorganized, but that seems to be par for the course, and the learners at the school seemed impressed nevertheless. (I have little to do with forming the program, the learners do it all themselves).

First, some girls did a dance to a Backstreet Boys song. What does this have to do with HIV/AIDS awareness you ask? Nothing. Next, they performed a drama. Fransina has written 3 different dramas for the club in the course of my tenure, and they all basically have the same plot: A girl has several boyfriends. This takes up most of the drama as they do several comic activities highlighting the nuances of the culture. For example, the “Sugar Daddy” of the girl drives his car out to the girls homestead and the parents don’t know what the car is. At the end of the drama, either the girl or her current boyfriend starts coughing incessantly. The audience always finds this hilarious. They go to the doctor for the cough, only to find out they have HIV (and presumably TB). The drama ends with lots of humorous coughing and everyone dead. After the drama, all the actors sing a song with lyrics that state “AIDS is a Killer” over and over again.

Then, the “Sweet Valley Girls” lip sync to a song about HIV and kind of move their hips and arms around in a weak rendition of the dance they practiced at my house the night before. After that, Christine gives a little speech about getting tested and the importance of knowing your HIV status. She uses the information she learned on our previous trip to the New Start Testing center. This is actually my favorite part of the program, as she speaks with conviction and is sincere in her persuasion. Next, the “Poetry Girls” read various poems they wrote warning of the dangers of accepting Sugar Daddies and having unprotected sex.

Finally, Freddy does a poster demonstration explaining about how the virus gets in the body and destroys the immune system. The white blood cells are represented by a tough looking character that strongly resembles Shrek. The HIV virus is portrayed by a villain. Freddy gives an animated rendition of the battle between the White Blood Cells and the HIV virus, with the virus inevitably winning. The body, which Freddy dubbed Paulus Petrus, doesn’t stand a chance of survival once the HIV virus has destroyed its white blood cell bodyguard. Now the body is susceptible to diseases such as TB, pneumonia and diarrhea and poor Paulus Petrus gets thin and dies.

Freddy’s demo is followed by another song with a few hand motions, and then the reward for the learners: A quiz! They are asked 20 questions of varying difficulties and whoever finally gets the answer right receives a colorfully wrapped prize. These “prizes” are really our method of getting rid of stuff we don’t want anymore. Most kids received crayons or markers, stencils, stickers, pads of paper, pencils and the occasional dominos or deck of cards. After they receive their prize, they don’t open it for a while but then curiosity gets to them, and they covertly rip off a little paper to see what they’ve won, while shielding it from others lest they should be asked to share.

The program draws to a close with yet another song and dance, just as the wind picks up and we all get sand blasted. I pack up the first group of learners along with the stereo equipment. As I drive down the road, sheets of sand whip across the road. When we arrive back at the school, the learners look a bit gritty, but insist there’s no sand in their teeth. On the way back to Omuthiya to collect the second group, I pick up a hitchhiker who seemed quite surprised that I stopped for him. When I arrive in Omuthiya, I have to drive all over the village picking up learners here and there. The second group fares better on the ride home, as the wind has calmed down again.

Love, Sera

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