24 Oct 2002
Recently, someone known to me succumbed to the ravages of AIDS leaving behind his expectant wife, a three-year-old child and a huge pile of debts and other social liabilities. When the expectant wife put to birth two weeks after the death of her husband, both the newborn and the mother tested HIV positive. The three-year-old child has not yet been tested but I will not be surprised if her status is the same with that of the rest of her family. I can attest that she has been ailing for quite some time.
I did pay a visit to the mother and child. As I held the baby in my hands and looked at the innocent eyes, it seemed to me that, I was reading the inscription ‘marked for death’ on them. The more I looked at the face, the more I seemed to see it enveloped in lifelessness. The type of eerie feeling that submerges you in situations like this is difficult describe. You end up fighting a battle with your own self. Your eyes are looking at people in the present and your brain is thinking of them in the past. It is a contradiction that is difficult to reconcile.
The woman and her two children now depend on the benevolence of a distant relation for shelter and food. I doubt whether she and her host have been told of her HIV status. Even though I am a health worker, I could not muster the courage to make inquiries to that effect. My brain could not however stop asking questions. What will happen if she dies before her babies? Where will they go if the host decides not to support them anymore? If her AIDS complications become protracted, how will they manage it without resources? These and many other questions had no readily available answers.
When you read statistics on the AIDS epidemic in Sub Saharan Africa from far away New York, Rome or Tokyo, you hardly know how weighty these figures translate into practical reality on the ground. You are dealing with figures attached to ‘faceless’ and perhaps ‘irrelevant’ people in the jungle somewhere in Africa. For those of us living the practical realities, it is a Herculean burden and a disaster of unimaginable proportion. We are dealing with figures attached to the faces of people very important and dear to us. AIDS related deaths are frighteningly frequent all over Sub Saharan Africa. The figure of those on the death roll awaiting execution by the disease is even more overwhelming.
When I look around, I do marvel at how our generation is managing to cope with the devastating effect of this modern plague. People put on a brave face and move about without betraying the torments within them. You do not see them lining up to consult a doctor for depression. Maybe, as a people, we are so used to suffering and misfortune that we have unknowingly developed traits that help us to cope with adversity. That we can still have hope in life even after we have been ‘marked for death’ is a feat indeed.
Copyright @ 2002 by Njei Moses Timah
Njei Moses Timah