Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sugar Daddies / South Africans Hate Republicans

Thursday afternoon, after a long day of work and errands, I boarded a kombi (mini-bus) at the Nhlangano bus rank for the 45 minute ride home. After waiting 40 minutes for the kombi to fill up, an older man climbed into the last remaining seat—the one next to me—so the kombi could leave. This man, who was relatively well-dressed but stank of beer, was busy mumbling to himself, so I did my best to ignore him. After about 15 minutes of fantasizing about the chicken curry and Bar One (Milky Way) I’d bought for dinner, the drunk man turned to me and said, in very good English, “you are very beautiful.” I ignored him, so he persisted. “I want to marry you. What must I give you so you will marry me?” I showed him the fake wedding ring I wear and told him I was married, but he wasn’t deterred. “Then I will just have sex with you.” WHAT? I responded, politely, with “angifuni,” which means “I don’t want you” in siSwati, so he considered his other options. “Then you must give me one of your sisters to have sex with.” WHAT?? I was in no mood to deal with this, so I just said “no” and continued to ignore him. Meanwhile, all the other men and women in the kombi thought this whole situation was very funny, even though I was obviously getting upset by it. Then the man started rubbing my thigh with his grubby little hands and rubbing his legs up against mine. Irritated, I pulled away (as far as I could in a 15-passenger van with 22 passengers in it). Then he grabbed my stomach and said I was “fatty boom-boom” (this is a good thing in Swaziland) and that I would give him many sons. And the whole time everyone else in the kombi was watching and laughing because it wasn’t them. Thanks, everyone.

Can you imagine a situation like that in the US? Can you imagine that you’re sitting on a MetroBus in DC and a man old enough to be your grandfather sits down next to you and starts telling you he wants to have sex with you (or your sisters) and that you’re so fat that you’re obviously very fertile? Can you imagine all the other passengers laughing out loud as he groped you inappropriately despite your obvious irritation and shoving him away? Can you imagine a man—even one who isn’t a stranger—trying to bribe you to marry him? No, that would never happen in America. Because women have rights, people have personal boundaries and sexual harassment is strongly discouraged. In Swaziland, it happens all the time. (As in just about every time I’m alone on public transport.)

Sadly, it’s a lot more than just irritating; it’s indicative of one of the ways HIV is spread in Swaziland. If I was a 14-year-old girl whose family couldn’t afford to pay my school fees, that man probably would have offered to pay my school fees in exchange for sex. Or if I was an unemployed 19-year-old girl, he probably would have offered to buy me a cell phone or a new pair of shoes. And because this man was older (meaning he deserves respect) and because he was well-dressed (a sign of wealth), the girls probably wouldn’t say no. And it’s not jus old men and young women, either, even though that’s most common. The phenomenon of “sugar daddies” and “sugar mamas” in Swaziland is a huge problem and one that I find myself extremely frustrated by. In the US, we teach our kids not to talk to strangers. As an HIV/AIDS educator in Swaziland, I’m teaching kids not to have sex with strangers in exchange for money or other goods. But how do I convince a girl, who rightly believes that education is the ticket out of poverty but can’t afford to go to school, that it’s a better life choice for her to be poor and uneducated but still have her dignity (and immune system) intact?

In other news, I love South African radio’s analysis of US Politics. They were taking about Obama’s economic stimulus package and made some comment like “Obama is having difficulty rallying support with Republicans who, rather than spend money on useful things like rebuilding roads and improving schools, would like the package to focus on tax relief for the upper class and giving money to the executives of businesses hardest hit by the financial crisis.” Haha. Even I think that’s unfair. No wonder South Africans think Republicans are fascists.

I think that’s all. I’m looking into MPH (Masters of Public Health) programs in the US, preferably with an international focus (more like International Health with a Public Health or Humanitarian Assistance focus). I’ve looked into all the usual suspects—Emory, NYU, Berkeley, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Tulane—and I’m in love with the program at Tufts, but if you’ve got any other suggestions, let me know! My research abilities are severely limited here because of the slowness of the internet.

Oh, and I’m still working on the Young Heroes thing. I promise. Things just take forever here. Except, I suppose, the natural progression from meeting someone to proposing marriage.

Salani Kahle (Stay Well),


Erin said...

That's insane! Thanks for not offering me to him! You're such a good sister. :)

Mindy said...


How did I not know that your blog existed until I saw it on Erin's "25 Things" on Facebook? Or, did I know and forget? How could I? It's so fascinating! Wow. Your life is so intriguing ~ and it's a wonderful thing to see you devoting your life to serving others in need. We should all have a such a willing, compassionate spirit. I just added you to my feed list and can't wait to read more. :) Good luck with the creepy old men. ((shiver))

Take care,

Vanessa said...

This is going to sound random, and I have no idea how frequently you're able to read or respond to comments... but I was just looking through Peace Corps blogs because I've been nominated (I think for Swazi leaving in June) waiting to hear about an invitation, and came across your blog. The interesting part is that I'm relatively sure we studied at UKZN in Spring of 2007 together - I think you were in my Zulu class. My name's Vanessa Pelletier, you may or may not remember me... but I had to drop a line because it would be a huge coincidence (in the best way possible!) if I did end up serving in Swazi with a year's overlap with you :)

Anyway, it sounds like your experience thus far has been challenging but incredibly rewarding as well. I look forward to following your story!

Sahle kahle (Zulu because I don't know SiSwati!)