28 August 2013

Nyumba Ntobu - explain that one more time?

I've been helping Fred with the introductory aspects of the Gender Based Violence (GBV) program for our community.  They've done a ten page survey related to public awareness and acceptance of GBV, and I have been entering the surveys into a database.  It's really glamorous work. *cough*

The survey was conducted in Swahili, so I've been expanding my vocabulary while entering these surveys.  One of the phrases I was at a loss to translate, though, was "Nyumba ntobu."  It was sometimes paired with a mentioned of women marrying women, which confused me even more, because homosexuality is beyond taboo in Tanzania.  So I asked Fred, and this is what he explained.

In the villages of a certain tribal community in northwestern Tanzania, marriage is still a very transactional thing.  Early marriage is common, pulling girls as young as 13-years-old out of middle school to be married, usually to a much older man who has sufficient resources to pay a dowry.  The dowry is traditionally paid in cattle, and this transaction arranged between the girl's father and future husband is arranged without any input from the bride-to-be.

Sometimes, however, this transaction is arranged between the father of the adolescent woman and another, older woman.  This older woman is often a widow, and usually barren.  Similar to other ancient tribal cultures, a woman's retirement plan, social security, pension and retirement home is her children, but even beyond the considerations of financial security, there is a social consideration.  Barren women are not well respected in this society, so some women who have sufficient resources pay the dowry price for a young woman.  This young "wife" becomes a kind of surrogate, who is required to sleep with any men chosen by the older woman until the young girl becomes pregnant.  The younger woman may be forced to repeat this process of non-consensual sex with any number of men to produce more children who serve as grandchildren for the older woman.  There is no security, as the young woman may be sent away at any time without her children.

It's really difficult to explain all the implications of this tradition, but it definitely victimizes the young "wife" and even her children.  There are no men in the household, and it may become difficult for the two women to provide financially for the family.  One could even describe it as a kind of legalized sexual slavery, but the cultural traditions and values contributing to this practice are so deeply interwoven in the tribe that fighting against the practice seems almost hopeless.  We are discussing ways of empowering and protecting young women through the GBV program so that practices like Nyumba Ntobu may finally be stopped.

13 August 2013

So BUSY!!!

July was the beginning of an extremely busy season for our household, and that season looks to be stretching on through August, September, October and into November!  Most of the busy-ness has come from Fred’s work, which has just roughly doubled with the addition of a new program.  If you received (and read) our latest partnership letter, you already know about the Gender Based Violence program that we wrote a grant for a few months ago.  That program, which aims to reduce the attitudes of acceptance of domestic physical and sexual violence in our area, is funded (in part) by the American government.  So if you’ve ever complained about your tax dollars disappearing into some fat cats’ pockets overseas, know that we’re personally responsible for $95,000 of that money, and it’s not lining anyone’s pockets…fat or otherwise.  

Here’s a little update on each of our family members:
Fred - I was just reviewing our family calendar and realized that literally every single day for the past six weeks Fred has been working or traveling.  He is currently the lead person for this new Gender Based Violence program, as well as an extensive program which equips village leaders to assist families with vulnerable children, and a somewhat unconventional and successful palliative care program.  He is frequently called for trainings, planning meetings and seminars for these programs, which takes him away from his other responsibilities around the office.  All this work is invigorating, as he feels a lot of satisfaction in helping the vulnerable people in our community, but he needs ongoing strength, both physical and emotional, to continue leading and planning well.

Leisha – Last week Fred was called to Shinyanga for training, so I went along and spent a few days working with Lahash’s partner Path of Hope.  One afternoon was spent visiting several families in their program with the Director, Asst. Director and Social Worker of Path of Hope.  Altogether we visited five families, and, as always, the visits reemphasized to me the importance of the Lahash sponsorship program.  It was encouraging to see our partners’ staff members at work, a great boost for me to reapply myself to the paperwork-heavy work load I have these days.  (It’s not always so glamorous working overseas…the next time you find yourself groaning over a spreadsheet or budget, I’m right there with you!)  In other news, a friend cut my hair for me, and it’s shorter than it’s been in years, but I’m enjoying the difference.

Innocent – After his unexpected vacation due to teachers striking in Kenya, Innocent reapplied himself to school.  When Fred took him back to school a few weeks back, he made sure his backpack had the essential items in it: his toothbrush and a packet of lemon bars.  He almost left without his soccer cleats in his concern over the lemon bars!  It’s not clear if we’ll have him again this month; the traditional August holiday has been disrupted as schools scramble to make up lost time.  He’s at the top of his class!  He was really missing his new American friend, Finlay, who was here for a while.  Inno taught Finlay the best trees to climb, and Finlay taught Innocent about playing with Legos and hunting orcs.

Our gardener, Masanja, gives Wesley a ride on the back of his bike.
Wesley – At 17 months old (already!), Wesley has officially entered into the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde of toddlerhood.  He’s physically precocious, climbing on everything, and solving problems such as “I want Mama’s attention, and she’s working on the computer, but if I pull the dining room chair away from the table and climb onto it, I can climb from there onto the table and close her computer.  If I’m fast and quiet enough, she’ll barely know I’m there until the lid comes down on her fingers!”  He’s also learning language at a fast clip.  His currently vocabulary includes the following words and phrases:  power, water, bath time, milk, banana, door, cup, down, up, no, nose, Inno (context is important for those last three), Mama, and Dad.  Of course, he also understands so much more than he can say, and it’s almost a party trick to tell Wesley to bring his shoes or to dance and he does it!  (Unfortunately, his main model for dancing is his mother, which may explain the arm movements….*grimace*)  He only has his front two teeth, top and bottom, and now also four molars, which, considering the gap between his front teeth, reminds one vaguely of a hippopotamus.  Overall, he’s our delightful distraction—right now he’s standing behind me on my chair, dancing to some 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll and demonstrating some of the key pre-nap “put me to sleep or I’ll throw a fit” behaviors, so I’ll wrap up.

Missing you all, and eager for news from home!