I wanted to write something about HIV/AIDS, I’m far from an expert and more of a hack but circumstances dictate that I take a few swings at it. It’s intense and it’s emotional.  It didn’t really come into my day-to-day life very much in the states, but I tried to bone up on some literature and brace myself for the despair I might witness here in Zambia.  The thing is it still doesn’t really come up in day-to-day life, but it’s there always under cutting all aspects of society.  I don’t really know anyone who is HIV positive other than some folks that we crossed paths with through trainings because they are open and working in advocacy for people living with HIV/AIDS. One person in a nearby village approached me privately and asked me what she should be feeding someone she is caring for who is HIV positive.  It was genuine and sincere and it made me almost happy to finally have a target for all of the info I’ve been filled with.  It’s now months later and nothing has happened with these people, but I imagine it will at some point when the time is right. 

 HIV/AIDS is a part of mainstream Zambian culture always accompanied by statistics and slogans but rarely openly encountered on a personal level.  The infection rate is around 14%, it’s higher in urban areas and among women, also high along major transportation routes.  Where I am the rate is about 7% supposedly, but this might be rising due to the close proximity to the mines which are growing, bringing people away from their homes and a market for prostitution.  The large majority of infections come from sexual transmission but a smaller amount comes from mother to child.  To my surprise though there are people capable of having a child without HIV even if both parents are positive, in large part thanks to antiretroviral drugs and careful breast-feeding.  Some people knowingly conceive even if one or both is positive for HIV.

Let me give another statistic, this one is less precise but originates from a group of Zambian men I was in a workshop with and a session where the genders split to talk more freely about myths and misconceptions.  These men said that about 35% of Zambian men are faithful to their wife(s) or girlfriend.  This is a reflection of the widespread promiscuity that coexists with a “Christian Nation” mentality.  To me this is one of the most depressing aspects because it highlights how the HIV/AIDS epidemic is largely a product of behavior, just like so many things that get counted as afflictions here and all over the world.  There is a lot of talk here about doing this or that but it rarely translates into any action.  Words mean very little here and their abundance in the absence of action can make me nauseous.  I wish people just wouldn’t say things they didn’t mean, it’s really hard to do anything when there is no trust among people.

Access to antiretroviral things is changing the dynamics because contracting HIV doesn’t mean you can’t go on living for many years as a productive member of society.  Still it’s a horrifying disease because it does change your life and it is so closely related to sensitive issues like sexual behavior, trust, and impurities.  The main avenues we approach it is through education aimed at prevention, encouraging people to go for counseling and testing, and promoting life skills in people especially youths.  Gender and behavior in relationships maybe one of the easiest ways we can help just by being who we are it gives a different perspective to Zambians.

Here is a story I’ll paraphrase from a Zambian living with HIV/AIDS because it might shed some light on the issue in the context of Zambian culture.

There is this man who is a pastor, and I don’t really remember what church and I don’t really think it matters.  He was taken to Hong Kong to read through some bible translations so that the message could be spread in one of the 70+ Zambian languages.  While he was away his two children were very sick and his wife took them to see a witchdoctor.  The witchdoctor said the children were sick because the pastor was incurring bad juju for preaching for the Christian god.  When he returned from Hong Kong the wife’s family chased him away and forced them to separate.  He continued preaching for a few years, while living alone.  During this time he twice tested negative for HIV.  After a few years of living alone, the church mostly in cahoots with the Council of Elders (an all male group of elders that decides issues concerning the church along with the pastors) decided he should remarry.  After praying on it for some time a woman manifested from the congregation and they had a big happy Zambian wedding. A year or two later the pastor decided to test himself and his wife for HIV.  He was working at a clinic and brought a test home, they both tested positive.  This brought a number of problems into their marriage mostly concerning trust, as it’s impossible to know exactly who infected who even though he claims it was her.  They also haven’t come out to their families as being HIV positive even though they have both begun taking ARV drugs.  Their families live far away as is usual with educated Zambians to be sent away from your own tribe to work in a differetn area to create a greater sense of national unity.  This policy was instituted under the first president the socialist Kenneth Kaunda, and I’d say it’s been effective at diminishing tribal conflicts which are very rare in Zambia.  Still people in their localcommunity have found out and while he continues to be a pastor there have been many who stopped coming to church or are unwilling to receive sacraments from the pastor.  The marriage continues out of Christian duty but there isn’t much to it.  The pastor is kind of new to the being openly HIV thing so I don’t think he’s very comfortable with it because it’s not only giving him some health problems but the stigma is isolating him.  I think over time though he will get more used to his new life and be a source of inspiration for others living with HIV and find new friends among them.  I’ve met others who have done so and are heroic and courageous responding admirably to misfortune.

_That is it but I wanted to say that if you want to see more of our photos you should friend Carly on facebook_