This is a guide for my family and friends about my life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cape Verde, Africa. I teach English as foreign language to high school students in Boa Vista, Cape Verde. Also as a disclaimer, the comments expressed here are solely of the author and do not represent the United States Peace Corps, the American Government, or any other governing body.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sorry I don’t get much time to sit on the internet for hours on end anymore, so this was written at home a few days ago, I am little behind, but hopefully that makes it a little better edited…

12 February 2007

Thank God for the preservative….

The Portuguese word for condom is preservativo.

Today, I ran into a girl from one of my eighth grade classes who hasn’t been back to class this entire trimester. I had an idea why, as it is not an uncommon phenomenon, but my suspicions were confirmed when I saw her today. She called to me on the street and I went over to see her. I always liked her; she was more often than not interested in what I had to say in class. And since she was in the Spawn of Satan class, the fact that she occasionally paid attention made me like her all the more. Well the first thing I noticed when I saw her in the street was the protruding belly. We proceeded to make small talk and I asked her why she hadn’t been back to class this trimester (already knowing the answer but isn’t that what small talk is?). She patted her belly. Having been prepared for this response, I reacted as cheerfully as I could and congratulated her. I then asked her if she was happy and she responded that she was, even though it appeared as though she was going to burst into tears just at the sight of me: a symbol of what her life was and could have been had she not made one (or probably repeated) silly decision. She told me she didn’t know the gender of the child, as she was only two months along which I know to be a complete lie as I would not have been able to see the belly from across the street had that been true. She told me this lie because she’s known about the pregnancy for a while now. My guess would be about 5 months at least. In this country, if you are pregnant you are kicked out of school immediately. She had managed to hide it until she could no longer pretend that she was simply gaining weight and dropped out of school after the first trimester of her eighth grade year. She is 15 years old.

As I walked away, I thought to myself about what anyone could have done to prevent this. Obviously this was not planned, nor had she delighted in the fact that she found some sneaky way to get out of going to school. Abstinence is about as unheard of as being on time here, so the only thing anyone can really do for these children is preservation. In steps my preservativo.

Interestingly enough, I continued to think about my pregnant student all day, including at dinner. I had decided to try one of the items my grandparents sent (by the way, thank you so much I just love everything, really). It was a package of dried beef flavored stir-fry type noodles; a miracle dish that you just add water to and instantly becomes a meal. To this I added broccoli and made a lovely dinner for two that turned out to be quite tasty. My grandparents’ package took about two months to get here, and all that time every single item in that package stayed preserved. It all arrived just as “fresh” and ready to eat as when it was purchased off the shelf 8 weeks prior. And to that I say, thank God for the preservative.

But as I started to think about my food, and my pregnant student, I realized that nothing here in this country is preserved. When we go grocery shopping, there are no mixes, no dried beef flavored noodles; not even any white eggs (on that note, I think it would be slightly amusing to show a Cape Verdean a white egg. I don’t think they would believe that it was actually a chicken egg). Everything we buy is either fresh or frozen, but never preserved. The listed ingredient on the back of the can of tomatoes is just that: tomatoes. The canned tuna contains tuna and vegetable oil. Even the jar of Nusco (a Nutella-type delicious chocolate spread) has less than 8 ingredients in it, all of which I have heard of and can pronounce. Now I am not saying that I don’t enjoy preserved food, in fact the entire time I was eating my newly acquired Ramen Noodles for lunch (thank you Grandma and Grandpa) I was praising the sodium caseinate and the disodium guanylate that made it possible for me to be enjoying such a scrumptious lunch.

The idea of such a preservative is not in practice here the way it is in the States. We Americans preserve everything, including ourselves. I mean, granted of course, we definitely have our fair share of unplanned teenage pregnancies. But the educational backing for preservation is there and there are an abundant number of resources for anyone who is interested. That is hardly an option here. There is no CVS or Osco pharmacy down the street that I can pick up my choice of condoms, let alone a Planned Parenthood. Here, there is only the public hospital or the occasional day when they are given out at school. And NO ONE wants to be seen going into the hospital for just condoms. The waiting room is the steps outside of the too-small building so everyone sees you go in and out. Apparently the backwards philosophy is that they are too embarrassed to be seen going into the hospital to get condoms for fear everyone will know what they are up to, but when they show up three months later for the sonogram, that’s ok.

So there is some work to be done in this much-unpreserved country. The food can stay as is. And while it is a little blander and not nearly so tasty and interesting as the preservative-infused miracle foods, it is by far healthier, and in this sense they are preserving their bodies. But this society needs to continue the preservation of themselves; not allow their 15 year old daughters to get pregnant. Education is the only road I see, and I am currently trying my hardest to push for it. But I am one person, albeit accompanied by 40 other volunteers in this country who are hopefully trying as hard as I am. So I will continue to eat my Ramen noodles while perusing over more effective ways of educating the youth about self-preservation. And it is to this I say: thank God for the preservative :)


Blogger Melanie said...

wow...that's a VERY interesting concept of preservation. didn't realize a culture would be so embarrased to get condoms instead of getting pregnant. although even in the U.S. many try to "hide" buying condoms (or in the case of my college getting condoms from RAs) but people do because of the known consequences. im assuming they don't have the equivalent of "sex ed" there in schools which tell people of the possible consequences of rampant sex which is apparently quite popular there?

Love you nadia!!!

14 February, 2007 21:28

Anonymous Anonymous said...

well Nadia l am in a state of shock, you mean your Gran sent you a parcel and the contents were still in date, WOW thats a first hahaha

15 February, 2007 19:54


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