Day 18 – Last day of May

Today is the last day in May and I have now been in the country for two and a half weeks! I finished the first (smaller) bottle of anti-malarials, which is progress…

 I spoke to P as soon as he got into work about the lecture I’ve been asked to give and he gave me his ppt that he recently presented to youth. Then he invited me to the big cluster meeting at 10am – this meeting is everyone in health promotion. I went at 10am and since the chairs to my right were still empty, I was asked by the T, the Director, to scoot down and sit next to her. She gave me a warm welcome in front of the group and then 4 or 5 more times she or P talked about my important work, how grateful they were to have me, etc. It really made me feel included and feel that maybe my being here isn’t a waste. The meeting was long and ended up going for two and a half hours. It was very interesting though. To the right you can see what the smaller conference room looks like. The Director sat on that chair facing the screen directly and I sat on the first chair to the left. The other picture is the very large conference room that ours looked down on. They were both very nice, especially compared to the offices.

After the meeting, I rushed back to my office to put the powerpoint together for tonight’s presentation. I know that enjoy knowing about people when they lecture, so I decided to make a slide with my family and a slide of Minnesota. Thank heavens for facebook and google! I also noticed that a small piece of my cliff bar had been left on the desk (completely forgot about it) and it was now nothing but a pile of ants! I’m telling you – I HATE those things!!! I’m already trying to think how I’m supposed to get rid of all of the ones that I’m sure are in my suitcases before I infest the hotel in France, or worse yet, the apt when I get back. It will not be fun to spend the next several months or so killing ants in Jason and my free time…

Santi picked me up and we went to where the presentation would be. It’s called Villa Washington and is basically the United States’ community center. As I was checking in, the power went out, so one of the guards (all are Congolese) went running out to turn the generator on. Since I know how frequently the power goes out in Brazzaville, I was surprised to see them take it so seriously. 

While I was waiting for the presentation the man who was running the event had me sit in the little house next to where I’d be speaking. I walked in and was surprised! There were tile floors, a rug on the ground, and even furniture that was clearly imported from the United States. It was even cool inside, which felt amazing! The bookshelf next to me was covered in old magazines, bookes, and American games. When I looked at the games, I realized Hillary Clinton’s picture was there – I’m guessing they’ll hang it if she ever comes to visit haha

I went out awhile later to begin the presentation only to find out that the projector was not working… after about 30 minutes we had to give up and just deal with it. It would project, but the light was purple and distorting everything, making it difficult to see. During this time however, while the guy in charge was trying to get it to work, in walked my boss! I was floored! There is a huge grant due tomorrow for USAID and he had asked where it was in case he had time to sneak away.

I immediately walked over to greet him and asked if he’d like to say a few words, but he said no, that he just wanted to watch me… suddenly I was a bit nervous. I lecture very frequently in the states, so I never actually get nervous anymore, but my new boss watching me made me nervous. It’s a different culture, what if they lecture in a different way, what if he’s not happy with it, I really need his letter of recommendation for doctorate programs, I had planned to talk about my family and where I’m from…maybe that’s not appropriate now, etc, etc. You get the picture.

I started my lecture and was amazed at how enthusiastic everyone was! When I showed a picture of Ryan, they were surprised he was so big compared to me and when I told them that he picks me up all the time, they thought that was great. When I showed a picture of Jason and explained that I was getting married in October, they let out a shoot of woo-hoo. Then when I explained that he was a dentist, but that I would be passing out candy suckers to anyone who participated, they all started laughing and thought that was great. They are a very easy group to lecture too!

I lectured on three topics – HIV, Child Marriage, and Adolescent Pregnancy. (My goal this weekend is to write brief summaries of each of the issues I’ve been assigned to work on, with some of the statistics I’ve collected, and I’ll post them to the blog.) At the end of each topic, I asked them questions.

Topic 1: What can be done about HIV? & What is the number one way to protect yourself?

Topic 2: What can be done about child marriages? & How do you change something like this when it is so culturally engrained? & What can be done to support the girls who do end up in child marriages?

Topic 3: What can be done about adolescent pregnancy? & How can this be decreased? & What can be done to support the girls who do end up pregnant or who have a baby?

I was hoping more girls would be there, but out of the crowd of about 75 people, only 3 females were present and only one spoke. I was very disappointed, but wasn’t surprised. Here there is very little education for females and you almost never see them out unless they are running errands. It’s frustrating because when it comes to health they are the ones facing the worst statistics…

I had so much participation and discussion happening that I only got to about half of the comments people wanted to make. I figured that was a good sign! At the end, I asked if anyone else felt they had anything pressing they needed to say and my boss’ hand went up… I took the microphone to him and thought maybe I had said something wrong, etc., but no. He just wanted to compliment the group on their excellent English, on their willingness to participate, and wanted to encourage all the men to get circumcised since it leads to a drastic decrease in HIV rates both for males and females. After he finished that, he turned to me, and still with the microphone complimented my excellent presentation and the thoughtful discussion my questions provoked. Yay – he approved!

After his comments, I closed with two quotes and asked them to take their great ideas and do something – help that young girl who has a child, be friends with those who have HIV (there is still a very bad stigma here), etc.

1st quote: “You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world.” – Woodrow Wilson

2nd quote (a quote I remind myself of often): “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

After the presentation I had several of the men come up to me. One (picture on the right in the yellow speaking)  immediately asked when it was his turn, “Are you a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?” I was very surprised! I knew I hadn’t mentioned that detail. I said that I was and asked “Are you?” I had remember this young man, since he had made a couple of comments during the presentation and is quite tall (unusual here). He said yes, “I am …. (can’t remember) and I am President of the Mungali Branch.” I said, “You’re my Branch President!” I attended a different ward the first day in order to meet the other woman from America. Then last week, I was so sick that I didn’t go. He was very friendly and I was surprised he had figured out I was a member. He told me he was aware of a sister from the United States, who was here temporarily while she worked at WHO, and had just recently arrived. He then gestured to my clothes, which confirmed to him that I must be her. (I’ll explain – I was still wearing my suit coat from work to cover my shoulders despite it being 95 F outside and sweating to death. When I did not take it off, despite it being very warm tonight, he assumed I must be the woman he had heard about.) I continue to be amazed at how many members I hear about or meet here in Brazzaville!

A few minutes later, he got back in group waiting to talk with me, with another man that had also sat in the lecture. He was his first counselor. The first counselor was definitely older than the President, but I continue to amazed at how young the Church leaders are here. The Bishop I met last week just turned 24!

I am not sure why they are all so young, but I think do to Church policy and then the war that went on for so long, most of the members are relatively new. Also, very very few of them have been to the temple. I have only met a handful of men and none of the women I have met are endowed. These men in leadership are almost all returned missionaries and therefore have been through the temple – perhaps that is why the leadership is all so young?

Alright, moving on. As the crowd got smaller, I noticed my boss was still there and visiting with people. He turned to me and asked how I would be getting home. I explained I had a driver that I normally used and would give him a call. Instead, he insisted on driving me. He has the nicest car I’ve seen here! It’s clean, taken care of, and comfortable!

 He dropped me off at the house and then I worked on this until Jenny came home with Ousmon?! Remember him from a couple of weeks ago? I was shocked! Just a couple of minutes later, Jason text messaged me to let me know he was out of school early, so I snuck away to talk with him.

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