Friday, July 21, 2006

My work day varies. This week alot of meetings wit...

My work day varies. This week alot of meetings with INGOs (International Non-Governmental Aid Organizations). I represent my employer, ARC, at these meetings and present our programs/activities in south Sudan. These meetings are necessary, but not the part of my work I find the most fulfilling. I enjoy the field work. For example last Sunday, we did an HIV/AIDS awareness workshop at one of the construction camps in a rural area, Akot. There was a team of three which was myself, a VCT counselor from the community and an International Rescue Committee HIV/AIDS Field Officer, who is Kenyan. We arrived in the afternoon, did about a 3 hour workshop, discussing HIV, prevention, transmission, disease progression, AIDS, STIs etc. In the camps there are are a good number of Kenyans as well as Sudanese. Due to language barriers our counselor also doubled as a translator. Kenyans in general know English well, so the translation was for the Dinka local dialect. We will be back in Akot in a few days to offer the VCT (voluntary counseling and testing for HIV). As I mentioned right now HIV here is not at epidemic proportions here like Zambia where the life exptency has dropped to 33. However, the goal is to avert infection. Generally during war times in African countries HIV infection rates are low, but then dramatically increase when conflict ceases. Right now the country is at a critical point that will determine if the country is going to be another case like Zambia. For me it is rewarding to be a part of this effort.
Some of the cultural practices like facial scarring and wife inheritance pose the greatest risk. Maybe I should explain a little. Upon entering into manhood boys have multiple lines cut across their forehead, of course they are not to cry because this is a test of their manhood. In a ritual like this the blade used may not be clean and used on multiple people whose status of course is not known. Wife inheritance is the practice of a man taking the wife of his deceased brother as his wife. If the brother has children with the deacesed brother's wife, they are considered the children of the deceased brother. It is critical for everyone to have children, not to have children is like not existing as a human being. Wife inheritance is practiced in other places in Africa where it has contributed to HIV infection. I know that I cannot know, but I often find myself wondering what the situation will be here ten years from now.

Doing the work that I do and being Black is an anomoly in probably most of the African continent. Everywhere I go people place me into an ethnic group; in West Africa I am Fulani, South Africa I look like a Venda, here I've gotten Ethiopian, Zande (an ethnic group of south Sudan) and Kenyan. I find it amusing. When I tell people here that it is most likely that my ancestors came from West Africa they are a little disappointed. People need to place people into a category to make sense for them. So for the people around here it would be easier to understand me if I was Zande.
Unfortuantely because of world wide stereoptypes about Black people, I find that people doubt that I can do this work. Simply put they think that I am not qualified. I have noticed this especially when I meet white American women (who are a majority in the international aid/development field). Almost always the first questions they ask me is about my educational background or experience in this field, which are acceptable questions on a job interview, but not informally just meeting someone outside of a work context. They want to know what on earth I am doing here since it cannot be that I have something to offer. It is frustrating and I have to continually remind myself that it is not my problem to address but their's, I still have those moments where I want to go into the "angry black woman" stereotype, but I realize now that it comes with the territory. But if you do hear about somebody in the Sudan getting a ghetto style checking you'll know it was me.

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