I have had several conversations in the past in which someone has introduced a new idea or way of thinking to me and I was resistant because it was new or different. I thought they were wrong, and maybe even told them so. But the idea settled and became comfortable, and years later I have come to see the wisdom or value of the ideas I was originally opposed to. I rarely have the chance to go back and tell them they were right; maybe they wouldn’t even remember the conversation, as they were gentle talks and not argumentative or tense.
I hope that some of my conversations here are like that. I hope that if I can gently say “Things can be different.” some people will think about options and make up their own minds. Even if right now they are saying “No, they can’t be different”. Subjects I find myself hoping will have this kind of belated response are often about democracy, beating children, or male teachers sleeping with their girl students.
It is very common here, even in the best schools like the ones I work with, for girls to sleep with their teachers. Note who is active in the previous sentence – the girls – while the teachers are passive participants. This is the Togolese way of thinking about it. The girls do it to get good grades, or to get their school fees paid for. The girls who choose to sleep with their professors get something out of it, they imply.
I brought the subject up with a school director and someone I consider a friend. What would he do if he discovered a teacher was sleeping with a student? Well, back in 2001, he said, one (married) professor was sleeping with too many girls and the girls started to fight in school. Since the problem was brought into the school, he had to let the professor go. But in other cases, he said, as long as the girls don’t fight in school, it is between the professor and the student.
But, I said, one girl told me that when she knows a professor sleeps with students that she is uncomfortable asking him questions, because she thinks he is picturing her naked. And, I continued, if the teacher is an authority figure, how do we know it is really the girl’s choice? He replied that sometimes when a girl says no the teacher will wonder what boy she is sleeping with and will start giving that boy bad grades or being harsh on him. In cases like this, the students should come talk to him, and he tells them that. He also said that often parents are aware of the situation before he is, and they don’t have a problem with it.
So here I am, the day after this conversation, thinking of all the things I should have said, how I should have argued more and harder and all the things I didn’t point out (Things that you are probably thinking as you read this.) But at the time it felt like I had pushed the point enough for a comfortable conversation. How do I know if I’ve said enough to make him think about it a little more? How do I know if I haven’t said enough or made my point well enough? At what point am I being a change agent for good and when am I being a cultural imperialist? … it is impossible to know. This is the challenge of a Peace Corps Volunteer.