Young eyes should not read this entry.
There is so much that can be said about the cultural differences here in Zambia, that I don’t even know where to begin. Within gender roles and acceptance, there are a lot of differences than what I’ve known in America, and that is/will be a struggle for me to get used to. Not that I have to accept their beliefs, but I do have to learn about them, respect them to some degree, and acknowledge that this is meant to be a cultural exchange.
Women are meant to do all of the house chores here. A woman is considered lazy if she stays in bed until 8am. A man, however, can stay in as long as he would like, and wouldn’t be considered lazy. Boys are meant to go to school and get an education, while a girl is to stay home, care for her siblings, and help her mother with house chores, while learning how to be a woman and take care of a man. Boys eat first when meals are served, and will usually get the better food, while the leftovers will go to the sisters or younger children after he is finished. A woman is responsible for getting up early in the morning, fetching water, cooking breakfast, and sweeping the house/outside grounds as well as mopping. She then does dishes, and serves her father or husband (whoever the male is) their breakfast. She is responsible for taking care of the children, collecting and washing the dishes, cooking all of the meals, cleaning the house, washing the clothes, fetching the water, fetching firewood, selling whatever it is that their family sells, and pleasing her husband to whatever extent it is that he asks. A woman is to kneel on the ground before her man, and in some cases, she is not to make eye-contact, as a sign of respect. She eats after he has eaten and been satisfied with his meal. And if we can get into sex practices, as we talk about very often here, it goes even further.
A woman must succumb to sex at her partners’ wishes, and if she denies having sex with him, it is grounds for a divorce. Before engaging in sexual activity, a woman must kneel on the ground, and clap 3 times. Every few days, she shaves her mans private parts, as a type a foreplay. After sex, she is to take a warm towel and clean his privates, and again, kneel before him, clap, and thank him. When I explained to my bamama what we consider ‘rape’ in America (for the sake of definition, I will simplify it as a man taking advantage of a woman through sex when she has said no and denied him to engage with her), my bamama told me that badada rapes her very often. Now, I think there is a lot here lost in translation, and I know that my badada is not a violent man (and is much smaller than my bamama, I don’t think he could force her to do anything!) and I see a lot of respect and love for each other in their relationship. I’m sure she just meant that sometimes, when she doesn’t feel like engaging in sexual activity, he still tells her she has to. Since I am on the topic of sex, I will explain some other cultural practices around it, and probably go into more tangents (this post was supposed to be about gender roles, and I’ve already switched!). Women here wear beads, which is a string of beads worn around their waist under their pants, never to be seen by anyone but their husband, and worn as a sort of decoration to please their man. There are three main colors of beads that women wear: white, red, and black. White is the color that is worn on a normal basis, so that he husband knows she is okay. Here, men and women, even in a relationship, do not discuss the female body or things that go on with it openly. That being said, the red beads are worn or placed on the bed when the woman is on her menstrual cycle, so that he knows she is not available for sex during that week. When she is finished, she will put the white beads back, so that, again through indirect communication, he knows she is okay. And the black beads are worn or placed on the bed when the woman wants to initiate shaving her husband, and initiate having sex.
Here, it is very uncommon to use condoms, and is pretty much unheard of in a married couples relationship. There are different taboos surrounding condom use, as well as a lot of religious objection to them. First off, if a woman goes to a health clinic and is educated about condoms, HIV/STI’s, birth control, whatever- and she is receives free condoms then presents them to her husband to use, he will think that she is a prostitute and that’s where she has gotten the condoms (sex workers have really low rates of HIV/STIs in Zambia because they use condoms!!). Secondly, the myths such as condoms taking away from the feeling of sex, condoms carrying HIV, condoms not being big enough, wearing 2 condoms=greater protection, etc. are still believed in a lot of the rural areas. Also, because this is a Christian nation, talking about condoms is discouraged, as “it will contribute to premarital sex.” When we go to give health presentations at the schools, we have to check with the headmasters about what we are allowed to present. They usually forbid the discussion of condoms, so our ABC (Abstinence, Being Faithful, Condoms) talk turns to an AB talk. However, the students will bring up the subject, in which we are able to invite them to the clinic for more information- because off school grounds we can educate them about everything, and even distribute free condoms.
There are many cultural things that Zambia is learning from the Western culture and is trying to incorporate into their culture. One of these is gearing away from girls and boys getting married at the age of 15. Now there is a law that they must be 18. There is a high number of very young mothers, I’ve seen a lot of 15, 16, 17 year olds in the clinics that are pregnant or already with child. In going to the clinics and from having health talks at schools, young girls are starting to learn about family planning, and are learning the safe ages to have children without putting themselves or their baby at risk for child/maternal mortality.
Polygamy is still practiced in a few tribes here in Zambia. The tribe that I am now a part of (since I am now a Zambian), Tumbukas, is an example of a tribe where polygamy is still practiced. I’ve even met many married Zambian men who have a woman on the side that they are not married to. When I ask if their wives know, they say yes, but the wife cannot do or say anything about it, the usually just quietly accept it. However, a woman is definitely not allowed to have more than one man. From what I learned, there are lower rates of HIV in Polygamist relationships here, because the man is faithful to his wives. In monogamous relationships, it seems to be the man that brings HIV into the relationship, by sleeping around and being unfaithful. Off topic, and because PC says we have to be very careful about what we say on our blogs, I will just quickly mention: Homosexuality is illegal in this country, and if it is found that someone is gay, they are sentenced to 25 years in prison. And according to The New Yorker, Zambian prisons are the worst prisons in the world.
On the topic of HIV (I’m sorry, this is one component of my job, so I’ve learned a lot about it!), I will talk about dry sex. So, before coming to Zambia, dry sex meant something completely different to me. Since coming to Zambia, I have learned that dry sex is the practice of a woman taking a certain powder or herb, usually received from a village traditional healer/witch doctor, and placing it within her vagina to dry her out, so that she feels “tight like a virgin” and it is more enjoyable for the man. Of course, this causes the woman a lot of pain, but again, it’s all about pleasing her husband. And as you can imagine, the friction causes the female to tear, which… hey! open wounds = portal for HIV transmission = another contributing factor to Zambia having the highest HIV rates in Africa.
Hokay, so, that’s enough of the sex talk. Back to gender roles.. ish.
Yesterday (Aug 30th, from the time I am writing this) we went to meet His Highness, the Village Chief. I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but in Zambia there are 9 Provinces, each province has a main Chief, who serves with the government (well, all the chiefs are a part of the government), and then in each province, it is divided into several districts. More Chiefs there. From the district, it is divided into Chiefdoms. Each Chief has his Superior Headmen that serve under him, and under them, each village within the Chiefdom has a village Headman as well. The experience of meeting someone who is considered royalty here was crazy, and it’s really hard for me to take serious (although I respect them and am sure I will learn to respect them more as time goes on) because in America we view people as equals and don’t really put people on pedestals. It was weird for me to have to bow down for someone, and we’re also not supposed to look them in the eyes. In fact, not only do women have to kneel (men do as well) but women have to lay down on the ground on their side and clap three times, then roll to their other side and clap three times. You also have to present a gift to the Chief, the best gift being a white chicken. His Highness was dressed in an elegant green robe with a matching green head cap, and walked with a staff/walking cane, as well as some fancy stick that seemed to have some animal tail fastened to one end of it. He entered from the opposite side of the courtyard as us, and was preceded by a group of women singing and dancing a song that announces his arrival and sings praise to him. We all had to stand until he entered, and he was also accompanied by his senior headmen, as well as his security guard. Once he was seated, we were invited to take our seats as well (on the ground) and present our case of why we had come to meet him. He told us how to properly greet a chief in the village, what the responsibilities are as a chief, how one is selected, and many other cultural lessons. He spoke very very highly of himself, was the complete opposite of humble. But eh, he’s royalty!
I recently got my site assignment, and this upcoming week, I will get to travel to my future village and spend 4 days there in my hut, alone! This is to give us a feel of what village life will be like when we are completely on our own, and see if anyone wants to ET (Early Terminate= go back to the US). I’m very excited about my site, but I also haven’t been there yet, so we shall see how these next 10 days go! My counterpart whom I will be working with came to a host workshop at our training center, and he gave me some information about where I will be. I have a little over 13 thousand people that I will serve in what is called my ‘catchment area’. I will live in a village called Komsokoto, on the property of the headman who is named Prince Charles. Prince, for short, has 2 wives that I have seen pictures of, but possibly more. They are building me my own house, which is a lot bigger than the typical house that people and volunteers live in here. It is square, instead of round, and rather than being just one room, it will have 4- two bedrooms, a seating area, and an indoor kitchen. Usually all the cooking is done outside, and as my asthma has gotten worse here from the smoke and dust, I don’t think I will be cooking over an open fire/brazier inside my house. I will most likely just use the kitchen to store my food, as a pantry. The bathroom and the shower are of course outside. They said I will be able to build a fence around so that I’m able to have privacy, which will be nice, and will also help keep my puppy inside! As well as my future chickens. Yes, I plan on building a chicken coop and raising chickens. No, I’ve never done this before nor do I know how. Yes, I will learn. And I will probably fail a few times. But it can’t be that hard, yea? If anything, I already know how to kill chickens and clean them to cook them!
My house is located about 3km from my health clinic in which I will work. I will bike to work every day. My clinic is severely understaffed, as it only has 2 trained staff members, rather than the required 5. My counterpart is a very educated man, and has gone to med school here in Lusaka, at the most respected Medical school in Zambia (one that I was possibly thinking about attending after my service with the Peace Corps, should I wish to stay in Zambia). He is an Environmental Health Technician, but also acts as the doctor and midwife at my clinic. Which is great for me, because I really want to learn midwifery and help deliver babies. He’s also working on a lot of the projects that I’m supposed to do in my community already. Another great thing, as I am a first generation volunteer. I was hoping to be a first gen vol, but I also wouldn’t have minded being a 2nd or 3rd, and coming onto projects that had already been established, in a community where they understand what a Peace Corps Volunteer does and what our jobs don’t entail (such as giving money, or doing everything for them). In my village, they have never seen a white person before. I know I will face many challenges in being a first generation volunteer here, but I’m also happy that I won’t have some huge shoes to fill of an amazing past volunteer, and not be able to live up to their expectations ;) I get to set the groundwork, and represent ‘Merica! And I will do my best. By golly gee wiz.
-Anya Ambrosia (how I am referred to in my village.. my Tumbuka name for the time being is: Taonga. That means 'Thanks'. I told them it was stupid and to choose a better one for me.) :D