31 October 2004
On Monday afternoon a messenger came to our
house and said, “Mrs. Arcaro, the secretary is calling you.”
When I arrived at the office a few minutes later, the secretary
said that a teacher had called from Iipundi Combined School and wanted to
talk to me, something about the AIDS club.
After a few minutes, the phone rang, and it was Ceci, a teacher at
Iipundi. She said that since
the Ekulo AIDS club came to Iipundi a few weeks ago, she had started her
own AIDS club at the school. They
were doing a program on Wednesday, had invited an HIV positive speaker,
and wanted our club to come and perform a drama as part of the program.
I was a bit confused about why she needed us to come for the drama,
and why the short notice. She
said they had to do the program on Wednesday because the speaker, whom she
had met at a workshop over the weekend, was going back down to Windhoek on
Thursday. She said that she
wanted my club to do the drama because, “That way the message is coming
from outside. You see, at
this school, we have a very big problem of teacher-learner relationships.
I want you to do a drama about teachers dating schoolgirls.
But I can’t bring it up or I might get in trouble.
If it comes from outside, then we can discuss it.
I want learners to see it and realize that it shouldn’t be
happening.” I agreed to everything.
After I got off the phone, I went to the dining
hall where most of the grade 10s and 12s were studying.
I found one member of the club, and told her to gather everyone
else. I met everyone outside
under a tree and I said, “I have good news for you.
Since we went to Iipundi a few weeks ago, they’ve started their
own club!” The kids smiled
and nodded, but seemed a bit confused about why I interrupted their
studies to tell them this. So
I went on, “And they’re doing a program on Wednesday and want us to
come and do a drama.” Then
they understood. I explained
everything to them and then asked, “Is this OK?
Can you come up with a whole new drama in two days?”
They assured me they could, and that was all I had to do.
At 11:30 on Wednesday, I drove ten of the club
members to Iipundi for what was sure to be our last drama. The program finally started around 12:30 and began with some
of the Iipundi learners explaining “What is HIV?” and “How does it
affect people?” and other such topics.
Then my learners did their drama.
It was all about a math teacher from Cape Town named, “Mr.
Truelove, the love expert.” Mr.
Truelove liked to punish pretty girls to make them stay after class, and
then he would hit on them. Within
a few days of teaching, he had seduced three girls.
Unfortunately, Mr. Truelove had HIV, which he got from his
girlfriend who had slept with a truck driver.
At the end of the drama, the narrator informed the audience that
one girl got pregnant and had to drop out of school, another got HIV and
infected her boyfriend and they both died, and the third got an STD and
wasn’t able to bear children.
I was sitting in the teacher’s section of the
audience during this performance. In
the beginning, when the learners came out with their outfits, the teacher
behind me talked incessantly about the jacket Freddy, “Mr. Truelove”
was wearing. “Oh!
Look at that jacket! Is
it his own jacket? Maybe it
is the HIV club jacket. Now
where did he get it? Oh,
it’s ripped on the sides. Look
at that!” The Namibian drama style requires a plot summary before the
drama commences and when the topic of the drama was announced, the
teachers near me made a comment like, “O!
That is a dangerous topic. How
can they discuss that at schools?” Later,
as the drama continued and Mr. Truelove was praising one of his girls, a
female teacher near me said to her colleague, “Yes!
It is just like that. You
feel so proud when the teacher calls on you…”
By the end of the drama, most of the teachers were subdued.
(A few days after the trip to Iipundi, I talked
to Pat, the volunteer that works at the school. He told me that at the staff meeting after our drama, his
principal openly accused (“he pointed his finger right at three of the
men”) certain teachers of having relationships with learners, and told
them it must stop. I asked
Pat, “If he knows who is doing it, why can’t he just fire them?
It’s clearly against the rules.”
Pat replied, “The problem is that there’s no proof.
Both the teacher and the girl will deny it, because neither of them
think it is a bad thing, or that there is anything wrong with it.
To get fired, the girl basically has to get pregnant and accuse the
teacher of being the father.”)
After the drama, Nelao, a 22-year old woman who
was HIV positive, gave a talk. She
explained that she became infected in grade 10.
She was 8 months pregnant when she wrote her grade 10 exams.
Although she passed, she did not go on to senior secondary school
the next year, but stayed home with her baby.
Later, her mother said she should get her education, so Nelao went
back to school. During this
time, her baby became very sick. After many inconclusive tests, they finally decided to check
for HIV. The results for the
baby, as well as Nelao, came back HIV positive.
She told her mother, and her mother was very supportive. Later, she decided to disclose her status at her school,
because it concerned her so much she couldn’t focus on her studies.
She said that after going public, she did not feel any
discrimination; most people were supportive.
She went on to pass grade 12 and join an
organization of HIV positive people in Namibia.
She said she wanted to be a role model to young people—both to
warn them against becoming infected, as well as to demonstrate how one can
live positively with the disease. She
has not received any anti-retroviral drugs and has been HIV positive for 6
years without becoming seriously ill.
Her son is in kindergarten now, and has just started taking
anti-retroviral drugs and has been healthy so far.
She concluded her speech by answering questions
from the learners and having them do condom demonstrations. The kids at Iipundi kept doing the demos wrong, so she
finally called on one of my learners, Liiri.
She did it perfectly, explaining all the steps in a loud clear,
voice. I was so proud. The audience even applauded her.
After the program, Ceci had us and Nelao for a
little reception in her classroom with peanut butter bread and juice.
Nelao was very friendly and answered all of my learners questions
with ease. She seemed really
confident and very comfortable around people.
On the way home, my learners kept talking about how great it was to
meet Nelao. Apparently they
had seen her on TV before, as there had been a little movie made about her
story. She said during her
speech that through the HIV positive organization she’s in, she has had
the opportunity to travel to the United States as well as the U.K.
She even met Tony Blair personally.
For me, meeting Nelao highlighted a complex problem
in the fight against HIV/AIDS. On
the one hand, I think it’s wonderful what Nelao is doing, going around
talking to schools and standing before the learners saying, “I am HIV
positive.” I think it helps
to make the disease real, and yet provides hope for others who are
infected. They can see someone who is living a healthy life with the
disease. On the other hand,
by breaking down the stigma against HIV and by countering the stereotype
of a thin, dying person with HIV, she is also diminishing some of the fear
of the disease. I just wonder
if seeing her, with her nice clothes and healthy body, will cause some
learners to think, “Well, getting HIV isn’t a big deal.
I can just live a normal life.
So why worry about condoms?”
Of course this is not her message or her intentions, but I fear
that it is the message some imprudent learners may take away.
How can you make them fear the disease, without fearing the people
who have it? The HIV/AIDS
campaign slogan for 2003 was “Fight HIV & AIDS, not those with
it.” But I think that that
is a very difficult balance to achieve—one side or the other always
seems to get compromised.
We had our last AIDS Club meeting on Friday, October
30. Fransina and Kornelia
gave speeches and I handed out certificates after a little speech of my
own. The theme of all these
speeches was that our work does not stop or end here.
Fransina encouraged the grade 10s and 11s to continue the club next
year. Kornelia said that the
certificate should be seen as a beginning, that everyone should
demonstrate what they’ve learned in the club by
setting an example to others through a responsible lifestyle. I just added on to what they said, and thanked everyone for
their hard work. I actually
made it through the whole thing without crying.
After the formalities, the club descended on the food
that I had prepared for them: two chocolate cakes with icing and
sprinkles, enough peanut-butter and oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookies for
everyone to have five, and three giant bags of popcorn, all home-made (I
had cooked literally all day), plus 15 liters of American Kool-Aid.
Once their plates were heaped high, we played the two DVD’s that
were produced by the Elon University group that was led by Zac’s dad.
It was interesting to watch them watch
documentaries about AIDS in Namibia. I think it was a good way to
end—with them being reminded of the enormity of the problem, but at the
same time their ability to solve/prevent the disease, if not for the whole
country, at least for themselves.
There is a saying here in the north which
states that, “AIDS came to kill people, not dogs.”
They explained this to mean that AIDS is here to kill people, so it
will get you in one way or another. If
people really believe that they are powerless to fight the disease, to
prevent being infected with HIV, then this attitude is perhaps the biggest
contributor to the problem. A
Across the country, people are forming HIV/AIDS
Awareness groups to combat this attitude toward the disease, to encourage
people that they have power over their own futures.
I hope it’s true.