As an American guy in my village, I was sometimes the target of some interesting propositions from local women (see https://blog.sheswanderful.com/?p=2272). It was not uncommon for male teachers, living far from their families, to have affairs with local women or even with students. As a result I was very cautious with my interactions with my female students. My male students would come over to my place to hang out, get advice, or get tutoring. I was able to build solid friendships with them. More rarely, a female student would come by for homework help and the tone would be very different. We’d either sit out on my front stoop or in my front room with the door open. We rarely discussed things outside of the homework. It frustrated me that I had to be so careful to not be seen as a predator that I couldn’t build a real mentorship with half of my students.
But with many things in the Peace Corps, things change after you’ve put in a year. The careful attention I’d paid to my reputation in my first year allowed gave me freedom to push back on social norms in my second year.
Fortunately this breathing space came for me in the second semester after I had taken over as the main math teacher for 12th grade in my village. I worked my students hard, demanding an extra two hours of class time after school twice a week because we had to make up for several years of poor education. As a reward, I would occasionally treat my class to cookies, donuts, or whatever I could come up with. At the end of one school day, four of the girls from my class approached me.
“Mr. KB, you must teach us how to bake!”
“We want to learn how to make cookies.”
“Ok, I’ll give you the recipe.”
“No, we will come to your place and you will teach us.”
I hesitated. Had this conversation happened even six months ago, I would have flat out refused. I knew these girls though and I felt comfortable enough in my village. My only doubt was whether they’d actually show up.
“Alright then, how about 1pm on Saturday at my place?”
“Ok, we’ll see you then.”
On Saturday morning, I did my washing and had some lunch before settling down on my stoop with a book in the sun. One o’clock came and passed. I’d been in SA long enough to know not to expect people on time. Half an hour later, I saw three girls hiding from the sun under an umbrella, making their way over the sandy roads towards my little house.
The girls were ambitious, we made one batch of oatmeal banana cookies and one batch of chocolate cookies. A few hours later, the girls were headed home with neatly written copies of the recipes and tins full of treats. It had taken a year, but I finally felt free to interact with my female students outside of class.
But it didn’t stop there; baking broke boundaries both ways. A few months later, some guys began approaching me asking for recipes too. Some wanted to impress the girls. Others just wanted to fill their stomachs.
Who knew baking could do so much? Here I thought I just satisfying my sweet tooth.