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Mpongwe and the Mumba Mosaic project; days 6 and 7 – Girls can be strong, marriages can be happy

Last night there was a small, dark blue, dragonfly in my room. As I moved to capture her, I could feel the draft her tiny wings produced. Such an appreciable effect from such a tiny, fragile creature…

Three days skipped by. Day five was mostly uneventful, so I’ll recap six and seven. Backwards.

Day seven…

I learned today that the project is called Mumba as this was the name of Hildah’s son, taken far too young in a cycling accident. Wonderful things have happened and continue to happen in his memory; including a shipment of bicycles – life-changers in rural Africa. As well as the Mumba Day Centre, there’s the Mumba Stars football team and, soon, hopefully, the Mumba Netball Team.

I learned this whilst we were speaking with the Director at the Department for Education – as Hildah explained the background to the day centre. Mr Mulenga (no relative to our Hildah) surprisingly hadn’t heard about the project. Despite the officious setting of his office (and our needing to wait in line behind several besuited gentlemen before being escorted into what felt like an audience with the Headmaster) Mr Mulenga was a kindly and enthusiastic chap. Very teacherly – easy to talk with and obviously wanting the best for the children and young people of Mpongwe, and for his teachers.

I didn’t have much to say, I felt. I shared with him some resources supplied by my public health colleague Lisa, who leads Southend’s Healthy Schools programme – a brochure about the Healthy Schools scheme (I figured the teachers might be curious about what happens in the UK) and some lesson plans and resources from Women’s Aid about discussing relationships and abuse with teens. I explained how I’d used the latter for inspiration for the conversation I had with the Mumba footballers yesterday and for planning the work I’ll be doing with schools tomorrow. With the men’s group I started out by talking about HIV/STIs and sexual health generally, then moved onto healthy/unhealthy relationships, abuse and ended with a plea for people to get tested for HIV. With the school children I planned to talk about confidence and self-esteem (what do you think self-esteem really means? What does confidence look like?) get them thinking about gender roles (women aren’t property – more on that later) and then move onto relationships, abuse and sexual health. (All of that time permitting.)

Mr Mulenga seemed delighted. He’s well up for oodles more of the whole PHSE shebang – believing such discussions are vital for young people. He pointed to some of the statements in the Women’s Aid resource pack – Boys are stronger than girls: “it’s good for them to talk about these things. To think about it. To challenge what they believe. They have these ideas in their heads and it effects how they go through life. No, boys are not always stronger than girls. Girls can be strong too. Boys and girls are not so different.” Music to my ears.

He invited me to please come back to do more – with teachers and students. Plenty of opportunities here for education support and community development.

Day six and the condom football…

Day six began with a trip to market. Not the usual array of colourful sellers, it being a Sunday. Still managed to bag a new pair of flip flops for around £2. At the day care centre we tentatively peeled the protective covering from the mosaic which we’d begun to install on day five. To Mara’s dismay, the tiles hadn’t stuck. It looked like we could be replacing Every. Tile. One. At. A. Time. A dismal prospect.

Meanwhile, Rosemary held a session with the local women – about 30 turned up from the local environs to learn about massage – specifically Story Massage – and reflexology. Story Massage involves creating a narrative and drawing it out on the masagee’s back. Clouds are stroked down the back, chicken fingers dart about, there was even a soothing snake. A few children joined in too. A dignitary from the Chief’s office arrived in time for the reflexology demonstration. All of the women were very impressed with Doctor Rosemary and were fair queuing up for her magic touch.

Meanwhile…the Mosaic Disaster turned out merely to be a Mosaic Embuggerance. Only one corner of the artwork didn’t take. The rest, mercifully, was mostly ok. Which meant the remainder of the mosaic could be cemented to the wall. The sun, however, was heading towards her bed…

…when the Mumba Stars footballers arrived for their session with Madam Sherry.

Great bunch of lads. Aged from early 20s through to 40. They were keen to show their skills in making footballs out of condoms. It’s a beautiful thing and bounces a treat. Whilst they were making it, I took the opportunity to ask why it’s so important to use condoms for the use for which they were intended. This led into a conversation about HIV, STIs and family planning. Moving onwards, I asked What makes for a happy marriage? (Most of the chaps were married). Can you tell us? (half joked one man) We’d like to know! We all agreed: love, respect, trust and good communication are important ingredients of a happy relationship. I wrote these up on the board for later reference.

So what about an unhappy relationship? Stress, financial problems – could make for tension. And when there’s tension…

Is it ever ok to hit your wife..?

No. Well, no, usually, but sometimes… if she won’t listen and won’t listen, you need to beat her just a bit to get her to listen.

Would it be ok if she beat you?

No. It would hurt my pride and I would divorce her.

The guys explained to me that women are trained and prepared for marriage – by the womenfolk in their families. If they don’t behave well, they can be returned to their families for retraining. (I was to hear this story a few more times from other sources – wives ought to understand how to behave. I wasn’t clear whether husband training also happens.) I’ll tell you what that sounds like to me I said. It’s like me discovering that my camera doesn’t work and sending it away to be fixed. People are not things. How would you feel if someone told you you weren’t good enough and that you needed to go away to be fixed? Imagine how that would hurt your feelings. And your pride.

We talked about empathy. About kindness. I pointed to the words they’d come up with earlier – the ingredients of a happy marriage. If you beat your wife, she won’t trust you. She’ll fear you. She won’t respect you. She won’t love you and you’ll not enjoy a happy marriage. I pointed to ‘Good Communication’ on the board. Try to resolve things by listening or talking. Try to understand what it might be like for her. And perhaps she’ll come to understand you better too.

Before the end of the session we returned to HIV testing and how it’s possible to live a normal life these days when on treatment. One man asked if we have HIV in the UK. Yes, I explained, although not as many cases as in Zambia. I added that people in the UK are still frightened by HIV. They’re frightened to be tested and they worry that people will treat them differently if it’s known they have it. However, we encourage people to get tested because getting timely treatment not only means they can then live a normal life, it means they can be prevented from infecting others. If we want to halt the spread of HIV in Africa, it starts with people taking action. Use condoms. Get tested.

And be kind to your wives.

We finished as the sun, that uniquely African red, sunk below the Horizon. I emerged from the darkened classroom (there’s no electricity here, so no lights) to find the whole mosaic now adorned the wall.

African sunset, with tree

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