The dinner conversation in a house where people work on issues like rape, commercial sex work and child-trafficking can sometimes be heavy. We used to have a rule based on the occupations of those around the table at the time: no rape, torture or hostage crises after 9pm. We've since moved but still have similarly macabre vocations and now we have a clever 2-year-old at the dining room table with us, so we tend to reserve the rated R topics for after bedtime.
So the last couple of weeks a topic has come up later in the evening that we've had limited information about and then in a moment of genius (read: libation induced inhibition) we decide to randomly poll our friends. This is where "D" dialing meets research. (D stands for dinner dialing, obviously--why? what were you thinking?)
Research topic #1
At a little dinner party, someone was commenting on how depressed I must get hearing so many tragic stories of sexual violence. I brought up something that gives me hope--how much things have changed between what some of my Ugandan male friends grew up with and the way they treat women now. On particularly bad days I try to have lunch with friends that remind me that there are good Acholi men. I told the table about a conversation I'd had with one of them who recounted how his uncles began their marriages, basically, by getting together with their brothers and abducting the girl they fancied when she was on her way to the market or to the well. I asked what he thinks contributed to him having such a drastically different approach to wooing women. "Education," he said. But as we got into it, we realized he meant social education, not actually what he learned in a classroom. "That's not how you get girls at Makerere University," he said. At this point in the conversation, someone, I can't remember who, asked, "how do you get girls at Makerere?" and thus started the poll. Our Ugandan friends all answered with perhaps a brief laugh, and then a tone that was extremely matter-of-fact-- like they had a list of answers that were read- to-hand.
What we discovered:
"There are 2 ways to get girls at Makerere:"
1) Help her with her homework, papers or exams. (if you do poorly, that's too bad for her, but "you will have already gotten what you wanted")
2) Buy her a pizza. ("You'll need a little bit of money. Taker her out for a meal and buy her something she might not normally get for herself like a drink and a pizza. Then she's all yours.")
Then we thought, how different is this from "our" context? (the table included Americans, and an Irishman) So we called our brothers.
What we discovered:
1) Get her drunk. (put more or less delicately depending on the brother)
2) Buy her a nice meal.
3) Impress her with your dance moves. (this may work better if you're a professional dancer)
Actually, wooing University girls doesn't seem all that different, the world over. Impress her. Buy her a meal. Alcohol helps. (I know, sweeping generalizations, but don't forget it's based off of hard evidence and research) We did comment that none of the women at the table were "gotten" in quite this manner, but that might be beside the point. And the point is: pizza is a better way to get a girl than abduction. It's a sign of social progress.
Research topic #2
Ben recently did a consulting gig where he was developing a curriculum that will be used with commercial sex workers. Sometimes it was a challenge to marry the realities of life in Uganda and the philosophies of some of his Dutch advisory group (the Netherlands is known for a very particular view on commercial sex work--think Amsterdam). One example that we discussed over dinner: they (the dutch people) thought the section on sexual and reproductive health needed to include a demonstration of how to put a condom on a man with one's mouth. Hmm. OK, that could be true. Maybe, if that skill leads to more regular use of protection it could be justified. But is that true? Research with commercial sex workers suggests that sexual intercourse is most common, and they rarely perform other sexual acts. So, how relevant is this in this context? Was there any evidence to suggest that a client that is refusing to wear protection would acquiesce if offered an alternative way of putting it on? Thus started the poll.
What we discovered:
1) Yes, Ugandan women do sometimes put condoms on their partners with their mouths.
2) No, if a man is decided he doesn't want to wear one, an offer to spice up how it gets on wouldn't change his mind.
This over speaker phone at the Chinese food restaurant in Gulu. (We don't know how universal this is, because we already used up too much phone credit on international calls in the last poll.) It was actually kind of a depressing topic, but the absurdity of our inquiry brought some light-heartedness to it. Sometimes you have to allow yourself to be entertained by what is actually evidence of our broken state as humanity. Sometimes you just have to laugh, or else you might cry.