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05_07

05_07

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06/27/2012

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LGB RPCV NewsLetter - May 2007 
1
 NewsLetter 
May 2007In This Issue
News from DIG inSenegal
 
Transgender in Niger 
 
Hanging on in theCaribbean
 
Pride in South Africa
 
Local LGBT RPCVGroups
News from Development in Gardening and Senegal
 
Since most of the patients don’t have theability to build a gardenlike this we have createdan area of the garden thatis made out of recycledmaterials (tires, ricesacks, water bottles, juice boxes, old buckets).
W
e begin with Steve Bollinger bringing us up-to-date with DIG activities inSenegal.
Laura Bacon describes gender roles and her friend Amadou in Niger.
A current volunteer writes about the ups and downs of life in theEastern Caribbean.
Recent volunteer Jeffrey Blagg recounts his recent trip fromBotswana to Cape Town for Pride.
News about three local LGBT RPCV Groups.
 – Steve Bollinger, RPCV 
Editors note:
 Late last year LGB RPCVs donated $600 to DIG (Development in Gar-dening). DIG’s Steve Bollinger bringsus up to date on their activities. Youcan check out his earlier article for usat 
http://www.lgbrpcv.org/articles/11_ 06_dig.htm.
Back to Senegal
After spending five comfortablemonths in America working on theset-up process for DIG, the reality of coming back to the bustling city of Dakar left me a bit dazed and con-fused. It took me a couple of weeksto start again in the African city I hadleft behind, and without the soft handof Peace Corps looking out for me.There were a few details, like findinga home; I had to take care of myself.Luckily, I had been living in the cityfor over a year and knew my wayaround. DIG was officially under-way and establishing roots in its firstcountry.The first few weeks were filledwith the typical African delays, butwe managed to start our first officialgarden at the Centre Traitment Am- bilitoire (CTA) in February. We spentthe first week both in the classroom aswell as building the necessary gardentables for the project. It didn’t take uslong to construct 25 concrete brick  beds, which set the shape for our garden. We have found this style of garden bed to be the best solution for our sites, they are economical, easy to build, and last for years.The garden has been finished for afew weeks now and we have gradual-ly been harvesting lettuce, cucumbers,green beans, and tomatoes, amongother things. These vegetables are go-ing directly to the CTA kitchen wherethey are prepared to compliment theregular diet of the outpatients. Nutri-tion is DIG’s priority, but incomegeneration has become important toour program objectives as well. Theoutpatients who are working in thegarden have been selling produceto the hospital staff, fellow patients,and a few restaurants. They are reallyexcited about the chance be able tohave an income generation opportu-nity that is so simple and valuable.At the moment lettuce is our biggestseller; today some of the outpatientgardeners were telling me how “let-tuce = money, we need to grow morelettuce!”Since most of the patients don’thave the ability to build a garden likethis in their homes we have created anarea of the garden that is made out of recycled materials (tires, rice sacks,water bottles, juice boxes, old buck-ets) that we have pulled out of thetrash. We are showing them how tocreate a garden that costs very little,will provide nutritious vegetables,and give them a little income on theside if they so choose. Since the CTAgarden is right beside the HIV treat-ment center we are constantly havingcurious patients coming in to take alook at what we are doing. It really isa great feeling to see their eyes lightup and to hear them say “I can do thiscontinued on page 5
 
LGB RPCV NewsLetter - May 2007 
2
Sexuality and Gender Roles in Niger 
- Laura M. Bacon, RPCV Niger, 2002-2005
Our Peace CorpsDirector, when askedto describe Niger, oftencompared the culture of rural Nigerien life to thatof biblical times. I’m notsure if his analogy wasentirely apt, but he had a point.
When I first met Amadou four months into my service in Niger, I feltunimaginable relief. Amadou was anenthusiastic, warm, generous Niger-ien living in the rural village next tomine. He had a man’s name, a lowvoice, huge hands, facial hair, andwas tall and built. Amadou also had painted nails, long braided hair, andwore high heels, make-up, and lots of  jewelry. It was like a revelation meet-ing him. I had yet to find anyone in Niger, PCV or Nigerien, who fit intothe L, G, or B category. But now I haddiscovered a T.Amadou was the only NigerienI ever met who did not fit firmlyand solidly into an obvious gender category, and this came as a beautifulrelief for me. I met him through myhost mother, his distant relative. I of-ten accompanied my mother on tripsto Amadou’s place to purchase vari-ous herbs and spices. Amadou’s socialcircle consisted of a series of loosely-related, ostracized adults, rangingfrom childless women and effeminatemen, to those with various disabilitiesand diseases. I never experiencedanything from Amadou’s mini-com-munity but welcoming, friendly, andselfless engagement. Consistent withthe hospitality and generosity ubiq-uitous in Niger, I was showered withgifts every time I visited Amadou andhis housemates. Although we devel-oped a friendship throughout my peri-odic visits to his household, Amadouwarned me when he happened to bein my village that he should never beseen near my home or talking to me.He didn’t want to tarnish my reputa-tion within my village by “outing” our friendship. Apparently his was alreadytarnished.Having spent most of my collegecareer in a very queer and queer-friendly community at Harvard, andhailing from the liberal state of Mas-sachusetts (which legislated same-sexmarriage while I served in Africa), joining the Peace Corps was a bit of a shock for me. Of our training groupof 45, not one person was out. In fact,there were fellow trainees who utteredhetero-normative statements, occa-sionally made homophobic remarks,and expressed the view that (says theBible) homosexuality is sinful. Inthose first months, I began longingfor my community from home. I evendreamt during training of a magicaltraining session led by queer-friendlyrainbow-flag-waving PCVs!Little by little things improved. Imet PCVs with more seniority whowere out or very queer-friendly. Ieven met one volunteer who was planning on beginning his post-service life in the States with his Nigerien boyfriend. And, when newtraining groups arrived, they includeda more vocal and prominent queer contingency than my group.Although my faith in the sexualdiversity of the Peace Corps wasrestored, there were other aspects of my experience in Niger that left mefeeling empty, lonely, and closeted inother, more substantial ways. What Imissed most, while serving in Niger,was not so much being around gay,lesbian, bisexual, transgender, andstraight-supportive individuals. Imissed witnessing love as I’d alwaysknown it, sharing my own romanticexperiences from the past, expressingmy sexual desires of the present, and being in the company of those whofelt free to do the same. I especiallymissed a societal ability to blur gen-der lines and avoid assumptions androle expectations.When we received our PeaceCorps welcome packets, there was anentire section on “special types” of volunteers for whom Niger may posedifficulties. This included those withdisabilities, vegetarians, women, andLGBT volunteers. We were all in-structed that, as PCVs in Niger, therewere many things we may have to getused to, suppress, or even hide be-cause of cultural norms. This was finewith me. I had certainly gotten used tothe idea of covering my head, shoul-ders and legs. And I knew I should notdrink alcohol in this Muslim country.However, I was unprepared to be bar-raged daily with:* the belief that I, as a 25-year-oldunmarried childless woman, was a pathos-inducing anomaly or, at theleast, a curiosity;* the practice of rigorously enforcedgender roles, with women alwaysseeming to emerge with less power and freedom; and* the absence of the following withinmy rural village: dating, mo-nogamy, fidelity, expressions of attraction, gestures of romance andflirtation, and even displays of love between spouses.It is hard for me to describe theculture of Niger and how much itdiffers from that of the States. Our Peace Corps Director, when asked todescribe Niger, often compared theculture of rural Nigerien life to thatof biblical times. I’m not sure if hisanalogy was entirely apt, but he hada point. The food is similar: starches,sauces, and occasional meat. Life tra- jectory is short, generally non-mobile,and filled with family and neighbors.Religion is devout; prayer almostconstant. Work is hard, intensive andlong. Marriages are usually arranged,and often viewed more as financialcontinued on page 6
 
LGB RPCV NewsLetter - May 2007 
3
Part of My Life on Hold in the Eastern Caribbean
- a current Peace Corps Volunteer 
“Gay people shouldand do join the PeaceCorps for the same rea-sons straight peopleshould and do,” and“You’ll come back withcoping skills you never dreamed you had, andwith renewed commit-ment to the cause of hu-man rights.”
In 2004, I led a comfortable lifein a beautiful town near the foothillsof the Rocky Mountains. The factthat it was home to the religious rightmade it easier to pursue my interestsin GLBT activism. I had the privilegeof proudly waving the colors of thequeer nation on the grounds of Focuson the Family and New Life Church.I stood in silent solidarity with thestudents of local high schools whilethe Fred Phelps clan displayed their venomous bigotry in protest of GayStraight Alliances. I witnessed themass same-sex wedding performed by the Rev. Troy Perry, founder of theMetropolitan Community Churchesduring Pride.Why would I give all that up tomove into the most oppressive closetI have ever known and call it homefor two years? Because some Re-turned Peace Corps Volunteer felt theneed to write an article. His name isDick Lipez. The article was publishedin a local GLBT newspaper and sum-marized reasons why gays and lesbi-ans should serve in the Peace Corps.The article originated in the LGBRPCV newsletter, and can be foundon the LGB RPCV website, www.lgbrpcv.org/articles/08_99_lipez.htm.Lipez made several compellingarguments for serving in the PeaceCorps. The ones that particularlystruck me were, “Gay people shouldand do join the Peace Corps for thesame reasons straight people shouldand do,” and “You’ll come back withcoping skills you never dreamed youhad, and with renewed commitmentto the cause of human rights.” Ihad dreamt of going to Africa withthe Peace Corps when I was in highschool. By 2004, the main reasons Ihad not considered Peace Corps ser-vice were due to my commitments toGLBT activism. In short, I wouldn’tlet myself join Peace Corps because Iwas gay and there were other things Ifelt I should be doing. Lipez took thelogic out of that argument. Secondly,if I did join Peace Corps and Lipezwas correct about developing skills,then I should return as a more effec-tive activist for those deeply-cared-about activities that were stopping mein the first place. I started the applica-tion process Now, I’m four months from myClose of Service. Has it been worthit? Absolutely! Would I do it again? Not on your life! At least, not imme-diately. Why, you ask? Because someof it has been hell and I’m tired of roasting. It has been worthwhile, butthe experience has challenged me to painfully grow in ways I didn’t know possible. Guess Lipez was right inthat regard. If I were to give a detailedaccount of all I have experiencedhere, all I have learned, all the peopleI have met and how they have shapedmy understanding of myself and myworld, you would have to cuddle upin front of a blazing fire over a longsnowy weekend to truly appreciate it.Instead, for now, here’s the abridgedversion you can read on your coffee break.I was sent to a small island in theEastern Caribbean where an inter-faith service is one in which there areProtestants and Catholics. You do notnecessarily have to be a Christian, but you should at least acknowledgethat Jesus is God. Is homosexuality asin? Come on! I mean, is the worldflat? Wait, no, I mean, is the worldround? Either way, the answer is yes.Homosexuality? Definitely a sin.Within the first week of arriving atmy home stay, my host mother sharedwith me her perceptions of those sin-ful, shameless homosexuals that camethrough on a cruise ship. Amazingly,Brokeback Mountain played for awhole two nights before it was pulleddue to religious and governmentintervention.While gay bashings are notfrequent, they do happen, but mostusually by acquaintances or familymembers. A local friend told me thatwhen his brother found out, they gotinto a fight. Naively thinking thismeant a verbal argument, I askedwhat happened. His response? “Hekicked my ass.” A few men have toldme they have received beatings fromfamily members in the attempt tocorrect them. From the larger societal perspective, the existence of gay menand lesbians is mostly denied. “Those people don’t exist here!”In fact, the concept of gay or lesbian does not exist here. It is mucheasier to experience this fact thanexplain it. Since I have been here, theway I understand myself has changed.In my previous life, I lived andinteracted with a degree of integrityand authenticity; whereas here, I havelearned to be misleading, concealing,and vague in personal and profes-sional relationships. This has led toa slight decrease in my self-respect.Fortunately I had a lot to begin with,and I plan to regain what I have lost.The experience of being a non-enti-ty is even reflected in the local termi-nology for homosexuality. While theterm “gay” is recognized here, it doesnot have the same connotation. In theStates, at least in my experience, theidentification as gay was liberating,emboldening, and empowering. Whencontinued on page 7

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