Let’s Talk About Sex

Men's Group

Two projects I quickly got up and running were my women’s Life Skills group and my men’s Men as Partners group. Since men and women aren’t very open with each other, I decided it was best to separate the sexes and have more target curriculum for each group. Each group meets every other Friday between prayer times. Recently, the subjects I’ve chosen have been HIV-realated and I’ll continue the theme until February, when it will all culminate into my HIV testing campaign.

In the women’s group, which usually has about 20 consitant members, we’ve so far discussed making healthy, positive life choices and are just now delving into our HIV/AIDS curriculum. The women’s group is mostly Gbaya women who don’t shy away from talking about sex, and many women ask really amazing questions. In our week where we talked about myths and facts about HIV, they asked really great questions and had a great discussion. One week, two of the women from the group visited me at my house. They admitted they have been HIV positive for over a decade, and one of the woman’s husbands has already died from HIV, but both women are in a good health and each have 10 children. They thanked me for talking about HIV so much and working to combat the stigmatization of HIV. They told me that they know of many women in Ngatt who are HIV+ but who refuse to take the medication and who burn the results of the tests and deny they are HIV+. The two women who visited me encouraged me to start a group for people who are HIV+, which was already in my plans for February. They said they don’t shy away from being outspoken about HIV and offered to help me in all my HIV-related projects. I was overjoyed to find such amazing positive HIV+ women to assist me in my projects!

My men’s group is huge and normally has around 100 old Muslim Fulbe men in attendance. Even the chief of Ngatt comes! I was a bit more sensitive about talking about HIV and sex with this group, since being a woman and talking openly about sex with Muslim men isn’t totally kosher. But all the men are extremely receptive and excited.

The group is really open about having discussions and discussing different points of view. The men definitely know less than the women on various topics, which was somewhat surprising for me.  At one point in the meeting, at least one person mentions something that surprises me, shocks me, or enlightens me more on local perceptions. For example, in our meeting about myths and realities about HIV, they all were extremely confident that using two condoms at once was better than one, which I quickly clarified is not true. In another meeting, when I asked the men if men or women were smarter, the men agreed that either women were smarter or everyone was equal. After they said this though, my Chief raised his hand and said “Men are smarter because they can have 10 wives, but women can’t have 10 husbands, so therefore men are smarter“. The room roared in applause and I awkwardly tried to argue that both sexes are equal without offending the chief.

Last week, I talked more about HIV with the group. The group asked really great questions, but I knew the group still had lingering questions they didn’t want to ask in public. Towards the end of the meeting, I explained using condoms and mentioned in passing that female condoms existed. A few days  after that meeting, I’ve had a man randomly show up to my house and ask to see condoms in the vagina. I was completely confused on what this man wanted, and then I realized he wanted to see a female condom demonstration, much like the male condom demonstration I did with a wooden penis model. I laughed and explained I didn’t have female condoms with me but I would bring them to my next meeting. After the first request to see female condoms, I had a steady stream of men coming to my house asking to see female condoms. Apparently the word has gotten around Ngatt that female condoms exist, and ALL the men are curious.

Quite often I feel discouraged that my work is doing nothing and that nothing is sticking in their brains. But the other day I had a really encouraging encounter with a man who showed up to my house at about 9pm at night. I groggily got out of bed and went to my door. A man was there and he explained that he attends my men’s group and said that he was impacted by my talk about HIV and that because of the last meeting, he wants him and his wife to get tested for HIV before they get married in December. He asked how he is able to get tested and how long it takes. I explained the process and did some pre-counseling with him to explain safe sex practices and I told him how to stay safe if his tests are negative and explained what he will have to do if they are positive. He thanked me and said he would head to the health center tomorrow to get tested. As I went to bed, I felt thankful that while I often don’t see first-hand the impact of what I do in Ngatt, I know at least I impacted one man and his fiancee to get tested before they get married. Not only that, I am extremely happy that people in Ngatt are so open to talk to me about such sensitive subjects, and I hope that over the next year, this openness will translate into reduced stigmatization for HIV/AIDS and Ngatt can set an example for nearby villages. Petit a petite.


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