To commemorate the significance of World AIDS Day, this week Kampala Hash House Harriers baptised me … “Used Condom.”
SIGH … as the momentum to give me my ‘Hash Handle’ grew over the last few weeks, so I sought the shadows of the weekly Circle. There was no escape. I encouraged them to call me by my Ugandan name ‘Nagawa’ but they were hearing none of it.
The real highlight of the evening was a lady Ugandan doctor showing us how to put a condom on – to a stick of deodorant, which she was using “because I have no live penises here.”
With that, there were great roars from the crowd as men jostled to push their friends into the circle as volunteer models!
This time last year I was in South Africa visiting Holly, a flatmate from London student days. It was quite poignant to be with her in South Africa for World Aids Day. We both arrived in Africa via VSO. Holly traveled to Africa with VSO ten years ago to work for a tiny HIV/AIDS organisation that she has helped develop. The organisation has since grown significantly thanks to big name funders such as the Gates Foundation.
Last year the US Ambassador to South Africa said the country is beginning to wake up to the fact that ARVs (Anti Retro Viral drugs) save lives.
“If South Africa can defeat HIV, the whole of Africa can” he said. Quite a statement.
Here in Uganda, a march – a “match” in the local Uglish – was planned to commemorate World AIDS Day. Unfortunately I was too caught up with a funding application deadline to take part.
On a girls’ night out last week, I pointed out a handsome-looking guy to one of my friends. “He’s (HIV) positive,” my doctor friend said.
“How do you know?” I asked. “Well his mum is and his dad are – so he probably is.” A sobering reminder that you just can’t tell who has HIV.
I’d hoped to travel to Kigali in Rwanda this month. Not knowing a lot about the country I decided to read “A Sunday by the pool in Kigali” by Gil Courtemanche, a haunting yet amazing book that relives the horror of the 1994 genocide (in which 800,000 people were slaughtered in just 100 days). It’s the most shocking backdrop to a love affair.
In the book is a character that willfully infects women with HIV. The book reads:
“Compared to this country [Rwanda’s] violence, Justin’s vengeance was rather gentle ….He has AIDS. When worried ladies demanded that he put on a condom, he would brandish a forged HIV negative certificate.” This man’s carefully executed vengeance (and this is just a taste of it) is astounding.
It’s tempting to lull ourselves into a false sense of security, believing that AIDS is the scourge of Africa and that back in Europe, AIDS isn’t a problem. My doctor friend reminded me: 10% of the population in London is HIV positive.
Uganda won international acclaim for the country’s head-on tackling of the HIV crisis in the 1980s. Something’s gone wrong in the last few years – and the statistics are climbing up again, particularly in married couples.
Managing HIV and AIDS starts with knowing your HIV status.