6:45 am, the national anthem has been sung, the flag is waving and the students are lined up ready to go to class. “One last announcement for the girls,” says the Pedagogical Director, “We have already had to move 16 girls to night class this year because they got pregnant. If you are pregnant, or your stomach is getting bigger, you’ve missed your period, or you’ve been having sex, you have until Friday to get the secretary to move you to night class or you will be kicked out of school the second we realize that you are with child.” My eyes probably visibly rolled because I am getting more than a little bit annoyed by the announcements directed towards girls and only girls— last time I checked, it takes two to make a baby.
I walked into my first class and brought up the announcement. “Just a reminder that that there are free condoms at the health center. And as always, qualquer duvida, any doubts, you can come to me as an anonymous resource.”
The class clown fished a bright red condom packet out of his wallet, “Senhora Professora, I always carry one on me,” he said, making everyone giggle again.
The condom discussion lead to a know-it-all tell me that “we all already know what condoms are, tea-chah,” only to have the class shush him. “Ah, é? Oh yeah? Who can come up to the front and show the class what the best way to open a condom is, does anyone know if condoms have an expiration date?”
“Nãooo, Professora, we don’t really know, he’s just being a troublemaker, do you think you could bring some condoms to class tomorrow?” I sent a quick text to my health site mate in order to set up a mini-presentation about condom usage for next week. Mozambique’s secondary school curriculum does not have any specific sexual education classes, sex ed is recommended to be included in 8th grade biology, but my students confirmed that all they know about sex is from talking to friends, and the rare presentation.
Because I am a foreigner (isn’t it obvious?), I try to use my foreign-ness as an asset when talking about taboo-ish topics such as sex. My students know that I don’t know their parents, that I won’t gossip with the school secretaries, they also know I have zero shame walking into the health center to pick up condoms for them.
Mozambique has an estimated 11.5% rate of HIV prevalence, the 8th highest in the world. Teenage pregnancy is a lot higher, with over 40 percent of girls having given birth before turning 18. Other Peace Corps Volunteers who have gone to Science Club trainings with their Mozambican counterparts have told me that the HIV/condom demonstrations were the first time most of those counterparts had seen a condom.
After class ended, a student came up to me, and in a half whisper asked if maybe we could do HIV testing at school on the day of the presentation. “I’ll see what I can do,” I said, realizing silently that there still needs to be a lot more talk about sex, baby.