It has been an eventful week, which more or less boils down to, “Teenagers are dumb.” Especially boys. Let me explain.
Jason’s host family consists of Mama Marie-Jospeh, Papa Ronald, Sisters Colette and Tari, and Brothers Kevin and Etienne. (Don’t ask me why Tari goes by her kastom name and no one else does. That is in the great mystery of naming around here.) The oldest is Colette who is in 11th grade, the next is Kevin who is about 14, then Tari who is 11 and Etienne who is 9. They are fairly well spaced and their parents made the choice for Ronald to have a vasectomy afterwards, which I think is awesome. Hurray, family planning!
Back in January, Kevin and I had a conversation about condoms. Due to the imprecise nature of Bislama – all of the pronouns are covered up in the word “lo” and all the possessives are covered in the word “blo” — we had a bit of a misunderstanding. Rather, I misunderstood how inappropriate he was being. What I heard as, “May I use your condoms?” and interpreted as a request to go get condoms from the Aid Post, was actually, “May I use condoms with you?” That is a very different question, to which the answer was a very firm “No” and a discussion of appropriate behavior.
Let me sidetrack for a moment. The word tawi means ___-in-law. Calling someone by their title is more respectful than using their name and, if you follow strict kastom, your direct tawi of the opposite sex should never use your name. So, Tari can call me Lala or Tawi but the boys can only call me Tawi. The same goes for me speaking to them. Furthermore, a man or boy is not allowed in the house of his sister-in-law without her express permission, they are not to look directly at each other and really shouldn’t speak to each other outside of a large group.
So, aside from the utter ridiculousness of being asked to have sex by a 14 or 15-year-old-boy, Jason’s brother was also breaking a huge cultural taboo. He and I agreed that if he didn’t say anything inappropriate again, I would let it go. I believe in second chances and he’s just a kid. Since then, he’s come by to get help fixing his bike tire and things have been fine, I just make a point not to be alone with him. I don’t need to invite the awkward, I have plenty of awkward as it is.
Last week, we had visitors. Nancy, another PCV from my intake group, and her friend came to visit and watch landdiving. The first night they came, she and I were sitting on my front porch chatting. Kevin went running up to the nakamal and five minutes later running back down to come story. No surprise there, visitors are a huge draw.
He hung around while we cooked and he and Jason had a conversation about Nancy. Kevin was “romantically interested.” Jason said that it wasn’t going to happen and that his approach was not appropriate. He asked point blank if he could have sex with Nancy. He continued to hang around as we ate, took turns bathing, brought in the laundry, did the dishes from dinner and were getting ready for bed. Finally, it got to the point where we couldn’t ignore him anymore. Jason and I agreed that I would go deal with him, this time.
He and I sit on the veranda and chat. The conversation started like this,
“Is Nancy married?”
“No, she has a boyfriend.”
“Can I have sex with her.”
“Because she has a boyfriend?”
“Yes and No. That is an inappropriate question and you can’t have sex with her.”
“So, can I have sex with her?”
“Because she has a boyfriend.”
“No, because I said no.”
“So, can I have sex with her?”
It kept on like that even after I asked him if he was deaf, I pointed out that his continuing to ask this was shaming me and him and Jason and finally I said that I was going to get mad if he asked one more time. We got onto the subject of how to ask appropriately. My mistake. I tried to explain that sex is not the first thing that happens in a relationship. First, you should story and get to know each other, then you start to fool around and finally when you are very serious about the person, you start having sex. (Personally, I’m all for pre-marital sex, but for a 15-year-old in a country with a 60-80% STI rate, I’ll tell him sex before commitment is bad.)
He then twisted my words around on me. He said we were storying now, to which I agreed. Then he asked if he could “hold my breast.” To which I said No. And lectured him about inappropriate questions. I went inside and told Jason, who quite rightly got mad at him. Looking back on it, if I were trying less hard to be a good teacher and educator, I would have told him off and probably should have. As it was, Jason yelled at him and kicked him out of the house with the injunction to not come back until he is invited.
Five minutes later, he was at the fence singing out to Jason. Teenagers are dumb. He asked Jason to not tell their papa because he would, “slit his throat.” Beating as a common form of discipline here, but I don’t think their papa would go as far as slitting his throat. Still, the point was made to Jason and I that he would probably get beaten, which puts us in a really uncomfortable position. Do we tell people and know that Kevin will get beaten for it, or do we let Kevin get away with completely inappropriate behavior?
When all else fails, ask someone you trust. Jason went to Lalbateis to get our friend Wata at 6 am the next morning. He explained the situation and asked for advice. Wata said they needed to go to the chief, who was one of their papas. They went. They explained the situation again. The chief said they would fix it in the nakamal that night.
We went about our day and in the afternoon found out that Jason’s papa’s boat had broken on a stone in the night. The seas were rough and the drive shaft snapped when the motor came off the boat. He got the motor working again but still has to buy a new drive shaft. He was not in a good mood. They decided he should drink a shell of kava before they told him.
Before we even got to the evening, three young men and two women had come to ask us what happened. We were stubbornly sticking to the line that we would fix it in the nakamal in the evening. They were disappointed that we wouldn’t gossip.
In the nakamal, everyone was waiting for things to happen. Jason’s papa was late but finally had a shell. Then he came over to tell Jason about the boat. Then he told me about the boat. Then he had a moment in which it was only he and I on the bench and he immediately asked me who did what at my house last night. He tried extremely hard to get me to tell him, going so far as to say that if I didn’t say who it was, then next time no one would listen. I think its like the “boy who cried wolf” thing. They wanted to know who to shame to keep it from happening again.
Finally, Wata and the chief took him to the side and explained the situation. By that point, I was done with kava and back at the house but Jason stayed in the nakamal. Once the whole thing was explained to him, he came and talked with Jason and Kevin for a long time. Jason talked him out of beating Kevin over it, but Kevin get yelled at for about an hour by his papa and yelled at for awhile by two of his other papas. He also has the tawi rules fulled invoked for me. He isn’t allowed even inside the fence without my express permission and he isn’t to speak to me. I’m ok with that.
Really, my community came down hard on him, given that all he did was talk. I think that is good and sends a very clear message. I wouldn’t want to see him beaten for being a stupid boy, I don’t think that’s fair, but he also can’t get away with things like asking over and over and over or being inappropriate to me. In my mind, the greater issue was not respecting the initial “no” about Nancy, not his asking to grope me.
Boys are dumb. I’m becoming only more convinced there is only enough blood to power one head at a time.