This morning Michelle and I were asked to do a Q&A with the students. At first it was pretty banal, but the discussion quickly moved into dangerous territory. Strangely, the first dozen or so questions were about computers. What is a computer? What is an input device? What is the time function in MS-DOS? The students weren’t seeking information. They knew the answers to these questions. They were quizzing us. They were looking through their computer class notes and finding questions to ask us. And we were failing. We were not giving the “correct” answers. Learning here is by rote and we were not giving the rote definitions that they had learned. I wonder what they think of the competence of the visiting, American teachers.
After explaining to them that they could ask us about anything—the US, traveling, humanism, ourselves—we got a few more computer questions. But after that we started getting some real, seeking information, questions. When you travel from the US does your time change? What is different in the US? What is the weather like in the US? Is it true that there are trains that travel underground? Who is the president of Mexico? I had to explain that I am from NEW Mexico, one of the 50 states of the United States, not Mexico. This is not uncommon. I think many people do not hear the “New” when I tell them where I am from and are understandably unaware of New Mexico’s existence. (This happens in the US too. There I am not so forgiving.)
Having tested the water, they started asking some real, serious questions. Is there AIDS in the US? Are there “street children” in the US? Is there corruption in the US? Can Americans marry non-Americans? Is marriage in the US like marriage in Uganda? Here Michelle explained about dates, dating, engagements, and marriage. She made sure to mention that bride prices are very rare. Neither of us talked about the pre-marriage cohabitation rate.
Then came the real, controversial questions. Is it true that men can marry men in America? The answer is easy. Yes. In some, but not all, states men can marry men. But answering the question is difficult. Uganda is extremely homophobic. Some legislators have been trying to pass a bill for several years that would make homosexual activity a capital offense. The bill has a lot of popular support. We simply affirmed that men can marry men in the US hoping to leave it at that. The students were not ready to move on yet, however. How many homosexuals are there? What causes homosexuality? How can they be allowed when it is wrong? Another tricky answer. I said, referring to an earlier discussion about race and immigration in the US, that the US is founded on a principle of equality. This means that all people whether they are male, female, Christian, Islamic, black, white, or yes, homosexual have equal rights. I put on my rose-colored glasses to answer that one. Then the question that all these questions had been leading to: Do you like doing those things? Um. How do I answer? If I say “yes” will I be lynched? If I say “no” will I be believed? The answer is “none of your business,” which is what I would have said if the Ugandan teacher in the room hadn’t shut down the line of questioning first.
So we moved on to a less controversial topic—religion.
How would you answer these questions?