I met a young East African woman in her twenties, whom I’ll call J, while interpreting for her at a reproductive health appointment sometime last year. The appointment centred on her having been recently pregnant, yet when the nurse asked if she wanted to explore contraceptive options, J balked saying she “couldn’t talk about those things because [she was] not married”. I was baffled; she was clearly having sex, and unprotected too. The nurse then inquired whether she had a friend who could accompany her, to which J said her friends “would laugh at [her]” if she told them she was coming in to seek advice about birth control. At this point I was astounded and heartbroken. The healthcare facility we were at had baskets of male condoms in the waiting room, so I encouraged J to take some for the interim while she decided about other long-term options; she replied that she was shy, so I took a handful and gave them to her once we were outside the clinic. As she received them she asked, “Are these for men or for women?”
Her question didn’t click until I was driving home: these were standard male condoms, familiar to most people, but she clearly didn’t know what a packaged male condom looked like. And she was in her twenties! She happened to called me the next day, worried that the appointment would show on her medical records and that people would therefore find out where she had been and why. I reassured her of health information privacy laws, then took the opportunity to ask her about the condoms. I told her to bring one to the phone so that I could walk her through using it; she replied that she had “stashed them far away”. I felt completely helpless and sad for this young woman who, going by what she told me, seemed to neither have much agency when it came to her sexual relationships nor the knowledge about how to engage in these relationships safely. I wondered about the environment in which she had grown up, where she had gotten her reproductive health information from, and who she was surrounding herself with, given that her friends could actually tease her about empowering herself. She was clearly from a culture in which, like mine, sexuality is viewed as only being acceptable in the context of marriage. This unrealistic mindset was so ingrained in J — and many others, especially recent immigrants — that she was living riskily, even though she was now in a society where sexual health can be spoken about freely (for the most part).
I searched the internet for sexual health resources published in Swahili and came up empty-handed. (I couldn’t even find a good summary of the menstrual cycle for yesterday’s post!) My original idea was therefore to make a quick cellphone video demonstrating use of a condom using a cucumber as a model — then I thought, given the dearth of Swahili language resources, why not make the video of good enough quality to post on a platform where others could also benefit from it? I never ended up filming (maybe I eventually will), but this blog was born instead.
So, to J and others in a similar position: I hope you are well and taking care of yourself as best as you know how. Please don’t be shy to seek help as you need it, and ask as many questions about these things. And thank you for inspiring me to set out on this path, though you may not have been aware of it at the time.
Nilikutana na dada mmoja kutoka Afrika Mashariki, tumuite J, wakati nikiwa mkalimani wake kwenye kituo cha afya mwaka jana. Alikuwa amefika kwenye zahanati kwa sababu ya kuwa na mimba awali, lakini muuguzi alipomuuliza kama angependa kujifunza kuhusu uzazi wa mpango, alikataa akisema “[hawezi] kuzungumzia hayo mambo kwa kuwa [hajaolewa]”. Nilishangaa; ilikuwa wazi kwamba alikuwa akishiriki katika ngono, tena bila kinga. Basi muuguzi akamuuliza kama ana rafiki ambaye angeweza kumsindikiza, J akajibu kuwa marafiki wake “wangemcheka” wakisikia anakuja kuomba ushauri kuhusu afya ya uzazi. Kusikia hivyo nilishangaa zaidi na kuvunjika moyo. Kwenye hiyo zahanati, kulikuwa na vikapu vidogo vimejaa kondomu kwenye chumba cha kusubiria; nilimsihi achukue, ili ajilinde kipindi bado anaamua kuhusu uzazi wa mpango wa muda mrefu. Alinijibu kuwa anaona aibu, kwa hiyo nikamchukulia na kumpatia mara tu tulipotoka nje. Wakati anazipokea aliniuliza, “Hizi ni za kiume au za kike?”
Swali lake halikunishtua mpaka nilipokuwa njiani kuelekea nyumbani: zile zilikuwa kondomu za kawaida kabisa za kiume, ambazo watu wengine huweza kutambua, lakini ilikuwa dhahiri kuwa yeye alikuwa hafahamu. Na alikuwa na miaka ishirini na! Ilitokea kwamba alinipigia simu kesho yake, akihofu kuwa rekodi zake za afya zitaonyesha kuwa alikuwa kwenye zahanati jana na sababu ya kwenda huko. Nilimhakikishia kuhusu sheria za usiri kuhusua masuala binafsi ya kiafya, na pia nikachukua hiyo nafasi kumuuliza kuhusu zile kondomu. Nilimwambia achukue moja aje nayo kwenye simu nimuelekeze jinsi ya kuitumia; akaniambia kuwa alikuwa “[ameziweka] mbali huko”. Nilisikitika mno kwa ajili ya huyu dada ambaye, kuendana na aliyokuwa amenieleza, hakuwa na sauti katika mahusiano yake ya kimapenzi wala ufahamu wa mahusiano salama. Nilijiuliza kuhusu mazingira alimokulia, alikopata taarifa zake za afya ya uzazi, na kuhusu watu aliokuwa akijihusisha nao kama marafiki zake mwenyewe wangeweza kumcheka kwa kutaka kujiwezesha katika haya masuala. Ilikuwa dhahiri kwangu kuwa alitoka kwenye utamaduni unaofundisha kuwa ngono na mambo mengine kama hayo yanawahusu wanandoa pekee. J — na wengine, hasa wahamiaji wapya — alikuwa amekulia katika huu mtazamo kana kwamba alikuwa akiishi kihatari, licha ya kuishi katika jamii ambamo kwa kiwango kikubwa kuna uhuru wa kuongelea haya masuala wazi wazi.
Nilikwenda mtandaoni kutafuta nyenzo za Kiswahili za kufundishia afya ya uzazi, nikaibuka mikono mitupu. (Sikuweza hata kupata maelezo mazuri kuhusu mzunguko wa hedhi kwa ajili ya fungu la jana!) Basi wazo langu la awali lilikuwa kutengeneza video fupi kwa kutumia simu yangu, ambamo ningetumia tango kumuonyesha namna ya kutumia kondomu. Ndipo nikajiuliza, kwa kuwa kuna upungufu mkuu wa nyenzo za Kiswahili, kwa nini hiyo video nisiitengeneze vizuri zaidi ifae kuwekwa kwenye jukwaa ili na wengine wanufaike? Niliishia kutotengeneza hiyo video (labda nitafanya huko mbeleni), lakini badala yake hii blogu ilizaliwa.
Kwa hiyo, kwa J na wengine: ninatumaini kuwa hujambo na unajitunza vema kadiri unavyofahamu. Tafadhali usione aibu kuomba ushauri, na uulize maswali mengi upendavyo kuhusu haya mambo. Na asante kwa kunipa mwelekeo kwenye huu mradi, ingawa kipindi kile ulikuwa hujafahamu jinsi ulivyonihamasisha.