Wednesday, March 7, 2007


Kwan Staff Dance Party!

So I am back from my week in Manila. I had good coffee, good food, good company, and did some good work. This quarter's issue of The Kwan is completed, and the AIDS conference was at least a little bit informative. It certainly gave me an idea that I want to pursue here.

One of the problems with the spread of AIDS in the country is the distinct lack of sexual education in schools. On paper, the students are supposed to be receiving it, but in reality the teachers are far to shy to teach it. This is pure conjecture, but I suspect many of them might not even be entirely sure on all the facts themselves. What I do know is that there are 30-year old college graduates who aren't entirely sure how babies come about.

Most everyone probably knows that it can happen through sex... but past that everything becomes extremely vague. I suspect that almost no one has a strong understanding of their own body, let alone of the opposite sex - and the term STD is known, but I don't think anyone knows exactly how these are transmitted. This is disturbing to me because I think people ought to understand basic human physiology. If women don't understand how babies come about, they probably don't understand their own bodily cycles either! People ought to be educated in how their own bodies function. But people looking to advance sexual education in school repeatedly hit the same walls - no one wants to talk about it.

My idea; what I'd very much like to convince the Department of Health or Education to do; concerns the fad of youth here: text messaging. Most people, even young people, have access to phones, and the Philippines is the Text Message capitol of the world. People here seem to text all the time, seemingly non-stop. What I want to see is a text-based Sex Ed hotline that anyone could contact with questions and expect a response.

It would be easy to set up, and extremely inexpensive to run. The texting should cost no more than 40 cents a day per active phone, and after that all you need is someone educated on the subject managing each phone. It's the sort of program that, while no replacement for actual sexual education in the schools, could do wonders to boost awareness. Filipino students are often quite shy, but they would almost certainly ask questions by text that they would never have the courage to stand up and ask in a classroom, and they could receive straighforward answers by text, without any frills, flowers, birds, or bees that the teacher might be tempted to add for the sake of delicacy.

So that's the vision I got from the AIDS conference. It doesn't really work into my primary job assignment, but other volunteers at the conference also really liked that idea and I think if I can somehow get the ball rolling it would begin picking up momentum very quickly.

In any case, I digress. I'm happy to be home now, Manila gets under my skin quickly. I love a good starbucks coffee, but I pay more for my Short Mocha Valencia than I do for 3 meals at site. That may be while money seems to pour out of my pockets while I'm there. And it just gets aggravating not being able to walk 3 blocks without encountering 2 different men trying to sell you Viagra - and those men will each follow you half the block trying to convince you! I even had one such man make me an offer - buy the viagra and get the woman free! Awesome, you see what the cost of labor is in this country?

I also had a GRO (which is an official name for prostitutes here) follow me half a block one night. I didn't know she was a GWO; she was dressed modestly and looked like she was waiting for a cab. She asked me for the time when I walked by. Now, I was raised in DC and it's common knowledge that if someone tries to talk to you on the street, no matter what they say, be it "Do you have the time?" "Got a light?" or "I'm having a baby!" you don't stop walking. In fact, speeding up doesn't hurt, and that's what I did after briskly saying "Sorry, I don't have the time" (and it was true).

She followed me, walking quickly to keep pace with me. At that point I guessed she was either a GRO or she wanted to rob me. She kept up conversation, told me she worked for some Bar-B-Que place down the street (some of the most unlikely places employ prostitutes!) and eventually told me her name and held out her hand. This was all amidst a power walk down the street, mind you. But we have certain instincts we've had trained into us all our lives, and refusing to shake someone's hand is incredibly rude, so I shook her hand even during my heart-pumping, I-really-have-to-outpace-this-woman stride.

She grabbed tightly onto my hand and shoved it onto her left breast.

Fortunately we were just about to my Pension house, and I was able to snatch my hand away and walk inside without having to worry that she would keep following me. But it gets under my skin.

You know I don't like prostitution, but I do think it ought to be legal (why should we put someone in prison because we're not keen on their choice or profession, especially with so many with no job at all?). But there are good business practices and bad business practices. I was walking swiftly down the street, barely sparing her a word or a glance as she followed me. Did she really think I looked like an ideal customer?! It's just aggravating not being able to walk down a street without fending people off. The pension is not in a bad area, that just seems to be Manila for you.

But... the point is I'm back at my bamboo house now, and not too upset to say goodbye to Manila.

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