Sunday, April 24, 2011

So I realize I’m quite behind on my blog posts so instead of posting a novel all at once I’m going to do it in sections. Here are my thoughts on my life for the third week in March. Stay tuned for stories about Camp GLOW.

3/14: Today I was at the NGO working on a grant proposal when I heard someone crying. This is something that is so rarely done in public that I didn’t know how to react. One of my co-workers asked Tshengie to talk to MaMabanga. She came back less than a minute later. I asked if MaMabanga was alright and if there was anything I could do, still flustered at this sudden breach of emotional armor. She said that she just got a phone call that her sister had died of AIDS. She hid in the storage closet, crying for perhaps thirty seconds, then came out and continued mopping the floor as if nothing ever happened. I was stunned. I asked Tshengie why she didn’t go home to mourn with her family and she said she’s fine now. I asked MaMabanga and she just shook her head.

When someone dies in the Zulu culture they do this beautiful thing of singing the dying loved one into the next life. I will frequently hear drums and song through the night and I’ll know that someone is passing. The next morning the women and young girls will go to the hut reserved for ceremonies and mourn. I was invited into the mourning hut when my neighbor died of TB. There you will find the tears, the questions, the anger, the grief. But nowhere else. The days between the death and the next Saturday are the ones allotted for the mourning hut. You have only a handful of days to grieve so that finite amount of time is full of an anguish like that of which I’ve never experienced. The haunting songs of grief are muffled by the constant, unabashed wailing of the community of women. A wailing that is so raw that their voices would often break from overuse.

I think there’s something very powerful about mourning in a community of women. Grief in the American culture is something that is private and personal but here nothing is private. Nobody is ever alone. I take comfort in knowing that MaMabanga will have that time when she gets home.

3/15: Today I was painting the world map with the kids when one of them asked me where Japan was. He said that he heard that the ground was moving there and that many people died. Many of the kids hadn’t heard that yet and we stopped and talked about what happened and I assured them that it wouldn’t happen here.

3/16: As I was walking down the street a guy about my age jogged up to catch up with me. I groaned as I braced myself for half a mile of sexual harassment. I was shocked when he seemed genuinely interested in my field of work. He said that it’s so difficult to not get AIDS because everyone has it. He went on to say that if one person in your family has it then you’re pretty much doomed. “Why is that,” I asked. He said that he shares a bed with several of his siblings along with kitchen utensils and clothes. I told him that you cannot contract HIV from sharing those things. He told me that his teachers told him otherwise. I responded by saying that there’s a lot of misinformation and it’s easy to get confused but that he could trust me. He said that he wasn’t worried about getting HIV anyway because he was circumcised. I told him that that does reduce your risk but it doesn’t eliminate it. He went on to say that he was sure I was trying to mix him up. The nurse who performed the circumcision told him he has nothing to worry about now. I insisted that I wasn’t trying to play games with him. That what I was saying was true. I talked to him along the path for maybe twenty minutes and I feel certain I planted a seed of doubt in the myths he held as fact before.

3/20: We finally got our PEPFAR grant with only six days to spare, hooray! One of the PCVs found a store that we could purchase many of our supplies at, it can only be described as CostCo on crack. It is owned by Chinese immigrants one of which stands on top of a mound of junk at the head of every aisle, oftentimes with his shirt off and always with one arm balancing himself on the ceiling. It’s stiflingly hot and has such a negative air about it I wanted to leave as soon as I entered.
The bins of Chinese imports are of such a low caliber that you can see through the plastic. Half the items are already broken. There are stacks of things that scream illegal, repressive child labor. It was a perfect first stop for us ladies on a budget.


  1. I can't believe the man's misconception! I'm sure it's more and more apparent that AIDS isn't spreading from just "sexual irresponsibility" but from lack of information.

    What's the best way to give information on HIV? Videos?

  2. I think the best way to debunk myths is one-on-one conversations but the bigger threat to the epidemic is gender inequality and the fact that women don't believe they can demand condom use. Working towards behavior change concerning gender roles is a slow process to say the least but can be very rewarding. HIV infection is much more complex than teaching someone how to put on a condom.