Picture Zambia 1980's. Hushed voices of our parents floated about with word of a "new disease" a.k.a "ubulwele bwishile" (direct translation: the disease that has just arrived). That is how they described what aunt Mwansa* had. I remember being cautioned not to touch her, nor to share any of her utensils. She had her own cup, own cutlery, own plate and unlike the rest of us, her own room. Her ematiated body floated around the room, starring lifelessly at the rest of us. No one explained what the "new disease" was or how one got it. All I knew is, I didn't want to get it!
A couple of years later. She died. She looked like a ten year old in her coffin and nothing like the thirty something year old that she was. Little did i know there were many that would follow suit. Little did I know the damage it would do to a whole nation, a whole continent and the whole world!
My class mates mother around the same time had the disease. I knew because she looked like a ten year old too, and wore dark glasses and a head scarf to hide the effects of the disease. I was afraid to sit near her son thinking he had it too. Finally, one of my peers found out about the disease from someone, and told us one got it through sex. No wonder our parents couldn't talk about it with us! Sex was taboo!!
Five years later, I was in high school and more people were dropping like flies hit by insecticide. The school teachers, local bakers, friends parents, uncles, aunts, neighbors. We had a funeral to attend every week. We were so dissensitized by the symbolizm and sacredness of funerals...we we're too tired and worn out to cry any more. To ease the pain and fear of being the next victims--we laughed. I know so many HIV/AIDS jokes....which are funny in their own warped way.
We were so good at knowing who "looked like" they had AIDS just by looking at the texture of their hair--like a perm gone wrong, or from their skin hanging off their bodies, or from the healing scars of a bout of herpe zoster, or from the wounds that didn't heal. Paranoia was afloat. who slept with so and so before they died? did you see the sores on mary's hands? what about johns lips turning all pink? bashi Nkole's skin is becoming darker...the color of AIDS!
Several years later, I am in the health care field in a developed nation and even here, the devastation of the disease are clear. The only difference is, many of the patients here have more resources and medication available to them. They are not just sent home to die without medication and they are diagnosed appropriately.
There are many people close to my heart that I wish had the opportunity to take ARV's so they could live a little longer.... If wishes were horses!
We are getting closer to international AIDS day, december 1st...and we really need to talk about the disease! I was prompted to this when I realized many people don't know a lot about the devastation of AIDS. My class mates had some really strange questions and misconceptions in one of my classes today...I just feel I will address them in my next few posts.
(*not real name).
(picture taken from a German Ad that says sex can make you lose your head)