For well over half a decade I have volunteered and worked at a number of non-profit organisations in both Gauteng and the North West. In my early days, I was based mostly with organisations in the healthcare sector and got a first-hand view of the devastation caused by HIV/Aids. Grieving parents and children were a part of my daily life and it is something forever engraved in my mind. Very often at testing centres, no one wants to be the first to go, so many times I volunteered to be the first, hoping to encourage others to do the same. I have had public HIV tests done and speak frequently about the need to know your status.
In spite of this, here I am, watching an episode of the series of Intersexions. Because of my neutrality, which is a result of my days as a counsellor, many in the communities I work in are comfortable with me. They tell me about their sex lives and I am constantly shocked by the attitudes these chats reveal. It is almost as if people have resigned to the fact that HIV infection is inevitable, so why bother. But it bothers me a lot. It bothers me because I know their children; their parents and because I would want to see them all in the future of the community. But as I have come to discover, HIV/Aids is much easier to deal with when it is happening to someone else and to people you don’t know.
You see, when it happens to others, it is easy to do an HIV/Aids education workshop, because you do not hear anyone talking about how it is too late for them. You hand out condoms and do not really get to hear the many reasons they aren’t used. In one’s personal space it is different; you get the full story and although this by no means justifies reckless behaviour, a part of you understands why.
On Saturday morning I was told of the passing of a young man, who I knew well. He was a young man of great potential, who was always keen to get involved and who always had a smile on his face. This young man died of an Aids-related illness. It greatly saddened me, but as always I moved on to the next thing that had to be done. I didn’t give it much thought till now. Then a realisation hit me: the community had lost an integral cog in the wheel of positive change. You see, this man played a huge role in a lot of the positive things that have happened here.
So here I am typing this post. My heart is heavy and tears freely roll down my cheeks. I am not only weeping for the young man who has lost his life. I am weeping for every young person recently lost in this community to this virus. I am weeping for the children they have left behind. I am weeping for the young girl who will not ask her boyfriend to use a condom, because she doesn’t want to lose him. I weep for the young man who will not use a condom to “prove his manliness”.
Running through my mind are thoughts of those who we will lose because they won’t get treatment, as going to the nearest clinic costs more than they can spare. Others we will lose because they won’t go to the clinic because we all know that antiretroviral collections happen on only Wednesdays and they don’t want us to know they’re going to the clinic for that. I am crying because, despite the many lives we have lost in this community due to this virus, we are yet to hear that someone has died from an Aids-related disease. We know, but we don’t say it. It is much easier to say so-and-so was sick, rather than tell it like it is, sharing the reality of this killer lurking among us. It is almost as if we do not want to know, which allows this killer to get an even firmer grip on us.
I may seem to be an ordinary young woman who goes about her days scribbling away occasionally, but I am much more than that. I am a young woman deeply affected by HIV/Aids, a young woman who is literally watching my peers die at a startling rate. With each passing day, my hope for an HIV/Aids-free generation dims a bit more, something that I hope to change with this admission of how I am affected.