By Mwangala Simataa ‘18
Of all the advantages that come with living in the United States, not having to worry about getting infected with HIV enjoys a special place. Indeed, this point might seem trivial to many, but to me it deserves appreciation. That I did not hear anything on campus or on TV about the commemoration of last Tuesday’s World AIDS Day reinforces my point.
Though I have been on earth for what is a short time, I have had the unfortunate chance of being a witness to the devastating effects of HIV. These effects have not only been on people’s health but also on families and the fabric that holds people together. I am reminded of my friend back in Zambia who lost both parents to the murderous virus and of his wasted mother lying down on the bed she was condemned to die on. I am reminded of her face forever fixated on the void of death.These are the images that pop up in my head every time I think of the dreadful sickness. I think of the sense of loss and hopelessness that my friend deals with at the hands of a disease no person must be suffer from.
Not to paint a picture too grim, experts like to point out that today people that live with HIV/AIDS have just as much a chance of living a long and prosperous life as those that don’t. I too like to believe that this is case. The world has come a long way since the 80s when HIV was thought of a punishment for homosexuals, or the 90s when the frenzy to find a cure was at fever pitch and people were dying in the thousands while having to deal with the stigma associated with their condition. Things today are vastly different thanks to more effective treatments regimens and sensitization programs that have increased people’s awareness about the virus’s transmission and effects.
The message of hope that characterizes our time is however lost on my friend. Often times he spoke of his confusion. Sometimes he would wander places he was unfamiliar with to think. He was tired of life. He said there was no reason for him to keep on fighting, because all those worth fighting for weren’t there to fight for anymore. To his quarrel with life I had no response, as I was cognizantof the gravity of his suffering and dejection. Even if I had wanted to say something, how could I possibly utter words of hope given that he has lost so much already? How could I have dared to convince him that life is fair or that it is worth living when it was only an accident of birth that our roles were what they were. Sometimes I feel that those that say you can live a long and prosperous life forget about the havoc already wreaked, and that there are people out there whose life is a daily struggle and cannot feed on empty words of hope or some wishy-washy preaching. For all one knows these could just be the pusillanimous undertones of my own character sounding off.
According to AVERT, a non-profit that has being a pioneer in providing HIV/AIDS information, the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in my country, Zambia, stands at 12.5 percent while in the United States it’s at 0.4 percent-0.9 percent and thus further cementing the lofty security I have found here. I am lucky that I am not faced everyday with posters saying, “You can’t tell by looking;” “If you are not infected, you are affected” or with the news that a friend, relative, neighbor or church-mate has been infected or has succumbed to HIV’s horrific appetite for life. This pastWorld/AIDS day, I took pause to remember both family and friends who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS and extended what can only be a paltry hand of solidary to those living with it. And coming off the heels of Thanksgiving, I give thanks for the privilege of knowing all these brave people. In me, the magnitude of their strength and courage is not to be found.