To never have to start a sentence with "I wish I would have..."


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Monday, January 16, 2012

The Power of "Glee"

Since being back at site I haven't really had much work to do. The term doesn't begin for another few weeks and most of the tutors are away at a workshop. I've been spending a lot of time with Fina, the college secretary. I nominated her for a counselor position at camp GLOW and since then her and I have gotten really close. She's educated, progressive, and has a sense of humor. I really enjoy spending time with her.

The past week we started watching Glee together. Some of you know homosexuality is illegal in Uganda and has even been punished by death. It's a very sensitive topic and one I try to avoid discussing with Ugandans. I'm pretty close to Fina and gave her a disclaimer before we started watching it. She assured me it was fine and that she'd have no problem.

I have to be honest, I wish I would have watched it with her a long time ago. I never would have thought watching an American TV program, much less Glee, with a Ugandan would be such a cross-cultural educational tool. I wouldn't recommend doing it with someone you don't trust or don't know very well but it's really opened doors to a plethora of topics we've never discussed.

Since watching Glee we've talked about homosexuality, body image and crash diets, parents talking to kids about dating, adoption, dating someone without having sex, marriage and fidelity, cheerleaders, divorce, learning disorders, down syndrome, wheelchairs, bullying, crying in public, and explaining artists like Lady Gaga and Kiss.

Fina's old perception of what it means to be gay was taken from the style channel. You should know that not many Ugandans, hardly any, have access to the style channel and this fact alone says a lot about Fina and her level of education. Even though I consider her to be a very educated Ugandan, she is also very ignorant. She thought that all gay men wear makeup and style hair. Can you blame her? If I lived in a country that refused to acknowledge the existence of homosexuality and the only exposure I got was the style channel, I might have similar beliefs. We had a really open and honest discussion about relationships and physical/emotional attraction. She asked if a man can be gay even though he doesn't have a boyfriend and she couldn't really grasp the concept. I asked her if she broke up with her boyfriend would she still be straight. She started to understand a bit more then.

I was surprised at the amount of genuine curiosity she had. She's 25 years old and is pursuing an advanced secretarial degree which requires her to spend a lot of time in the capital. I guess I've really taken for granted the importance of asking questions in America. We're taught from elementary school and before that if you don't understand something you ask questions.

Homosexuality wasn't the only topic we discussed. Another one I really enjoyed was explaining how Americans tend to be a bit more free with their emotions. I've had some pretty rough days over my past 2 years spent here and I've learned that Ugandans hate seeing me cry. It makes them so uncomfortable! I found out that they hide their emotions because they don't want their enemies to see them cry because then they will get joy out of it...or something to that degree. I explained that in America it's common for me to talk about how you feel, with friends and family especially.

Be it explaining why the men of Kiss wear makeup on their faces and have long hair, even though they're men, or how if you get pregnant in America you can still continue your studies, Glee has been an invaluable tool in opening the lines of communication on tricky and culturally sensitive topics. Who would have thought?

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