Monday, August 5, 2013

"I will literally drink your blood!"

Sometimes I find my work incredibly frustrating.  There are a lot of things that I could blame like poor/often non-existent educational system or the fact that most NGOs seem to just distribute free shit making that the assumed stereotype for foreigners in Africa.  However, like with most things, a bad day at work might just be the combination of a shitty night of sleep, French-fatigue, and REALLY loud children constantly underfoot (there is a reason Peace Corps Volunteers have a reputation for uncommonly locked doors… and excessive drinking whenever they make it to a big city).  And so, on this particular day these poor villagers were undeserving of my wrath.

I was tired and the whole presentation on HIV and AIDS just didn't go like I wanted.  I always give them in French and my counterpart translates them into Fulfulde or Biya or just possibly just random noises so that I'll think he's doing work.  As I've mentioned, I can usually at least follow the Fulfulde even if I make relatively little effort in trying to speak it myself.  That works well when my counterpart is on the same page as me, translating what I say, or at least following the general outline.  Le Gros recently went to get some special training on HIV/AIDS.  That's a good thing and his knowledge and skill at presenting is why I work with him.  But he was off on tangent after tangent and I was just lost at the presentation I was supposed to be giving.  It's hard to know what to say next when you don't know what was said last.  (In reality this isn't that big a deal; I can say whatever and he can decide whether it bears repeating.)  Not the end of the world, but I was feeling dead after an hour and a half of trying to keep up.

Then comes the questions.  These are always hit or miss.  Sometimes people just ask me to diagnose whatever random disease afflicts them and I'm left wondering if they were even listening to the topic.  That's a "go to the clinic/hospital; they need to do 'special' exams" which you'll of course realize means "fuck if I know".  Easy enough.  But that day…  A probably lovely old woman started to ask me where my medicine was and tell me how I need to bring it to her and give it out to everyone for free.  The fact that I understood this EXACTLY in Fulfulde goes a ways to show you that this is often a question.  I just snapped.  I told her that I didn't know her.  I asked her who she was that she though I should give her free things.  And then I asked why it wasn't enough that I left my country, my family, my friends, and my goddamn language to just try and educate her and her people.  (Note: I still can't actually use profanity in French, because they don't and I've missed out learning it.  It's super annoying.)  I'm guessing that my counterpart did not translate that exactly as her next demand was that I build a clinic in her village.  In a better mood I might try to kindly explain that not enough people even go to the clinic in Mbakaou to justify the salaries of the three people working there.  I ignored her.  Next question please.

Le Gros could tell I wasn't my best and clearly wanted to just get on the road.  Good of him.  But I wasn't done and was looking to see if anything I said had sunk in.  I did get to explain why having another Sexually Transmitted Infection makes it more likely to contract HIV, but then I was told that I was wrong and you couldn't get HIV if you weren't already infected with something else.  Now that's a myth that needs to be rectified (also, did you say that I'M WRONG?).  That got into another belief that condoms can give you HIV.  The argument went very much downhill from there with a man telling me I needed to buy condoms from the market and test them and me telling him I very much did not and would not.  Then there was me demanding to know where he heard this idea (I probably didn't need to ask where he read it or saw it in this tiny town with no electricity) and telling him that whatever whiteman that had told him this fact was a liar.  It ended with me stating, with conviction I don't actually have, that HIV could not live outside a human body and thus could never live inside a condom to infect anyone.  I told him that if he were to have HIV in his body right now and die, I could literally drink his blood after five minutes and be fine.  I would like to point out that this method of education and argument was not read from any Peace Corps provided book and thus a concoction of my own imagination.  And, finally, I left.

I would like to say that I have absolutely no idea how long HIV can live outside the human body.  Much less how long in a warm corpse.  I would never drink the blood of, well, anyone and definitely not someone I knew was infected.  And I'm pretty sure there is someone--someone who actually could reasonably answer questions like this--who could figure out a way to put HIV into a condom for people to contract.  I don't know why they would do this, but we humans are awfully smart.

That was the long.  The short of it is that sometimes being a Peace Corps Volunteer can be incredibly frustrating.  And also that thousands of miles away you can snap and come close to starting a headhunt for witches (seriously, don't tell people you'll drink their blood).  If told to another PCV, a story like this will invariably elicit a response like, "Yea, I have days where I want to do something like that too."  "Want" of course being the key word that differentiates my teaching style from those of my peers.