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Odds and Ends

February 10, 2013

Girls Club

I restarted my girls’ club last week, expanding to include the 4eme girls from last year as well as a new batch of 5eme students (which roughly translates to 8th and 7th grades respectively – in the French system, schooling counts down until you reach your premier and then terminal (i.e. BAC) year). After last week’s introduction (rules, expectations, review, etc.), we continued this week with a focus on gender roles and a game to tease out their ideas and definitions of such: each girl received a word or phrase that they had to immediately categorize as masculine, feminine, or both. I’m impressed with them for classifying things like going to school or playing sports or writing a novel or being a TV spokesperson as the purview of both sexes. However, it’s interesting to see them place tasks like cleaning the house, getting water, sweeping, taking care of children, etc. as exclusively things women do. Meanwhile, the single masculine prerogative: decision making for the entire family.

That same attitude bled a little into my health club lesson for the week. With the help of Christine, the directrice at the clinic, we (key here to remember the audience is a mixed gender group of high school students) learned about the importance and variety of family planning methods. (My contribution remained with introductory games and writing everything on the board leaving the much harder task of actual explanations to Mama Christine). At the very end, Mama Christine had brought condoms to distribute to the kids. A few of the boys piped up, “Wait – those are just for the guys right? The girls cannot have them.” I’m proud of myself for the quick comeback, “Of course they can! They are the ones who would actually have the baby and do all the work!”

As always, it seems I’m leaning towards a gender rant – to balance it out, here’s a cultural observation from the other end of life’s spectrum. The father of one of the clinic apprentices passed away sometime this past month and today was the burial. Hence, I spent my morning semi awkwardly standing in a field with the clinic staff and people from the village as Beninese men heaped dirt into a burial hut. I never got an explanation for why he was buried on a plot of the family’s land instead of a ceremony, but apparently it isn’t that uncommon. Sometimes, I’m informed, the relative even gets buried beneath the floor of the family’s home.

The rest of the process was likewise a bit foreign as the family is expected to host a party (i.e. like all parties here – a meal to feed everyone) following the funeral for all of the friends and neighbors. Those guests will give money to offset the cost, but the brunt of the work still falls on the grieving family. I tried to explain that that was the opposite of the states: people would look at you strangely for trying to pass off money, but everyone would show up with a casserole dish of some sort. Furthermore, the older the deceased, the larger the party – I guess to reflect a celebration of their life as opposed to the unfortunate harsh realities of infant mortalities (children would not receive the same treatment or ceremony).

The differences, good or bad as they may be, still left me a bit perplexed as I had no idea of what was expected of me. Regardless, I survived (as the writing attests) and now only have to worry about preparing dinner.

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