For many years September has been set aside as the month of prayer for HIV/AIDS.
There is an indication that God has heard our cry since there is evidence of infection rates dropping and there are a number of intervention programmes to mitigate the impact of this cruel enemy. The assumption now is that adults can use the available information and education that has been so extensively given on HIV/AIDS to fight for their lives.
This week I would like to show how multi layered family connection can disempower individuals in their fight for an HIV free life.
It is not easy to describe the despair of this broken middle-aged woman who introduced herself as Esther.
She had just learnt about her HIV positive status – the first ten minutes were spent in the, ‘Why me – why
Now’ chorus, but finally she settled into telling her painful story.
Ten years into her marriage to Sekei, Esther discovered that her husband was going out with the widow of his cousin and even had a son with her.
Parents at family reconciliation meetings implied that Esther’s complaints about the poor widow were just a storm in a teacup. But deep in her heart she knew the issue went beyond infidelity, which is culturally waived into oblivion as ‘go ikutswa’ to ‘steal.’
The real issue that was slowly killing Esther was the open secret that her husband’s cousin had died of AIDS and therefore the possibility that his widow was also infected was very high. Sekei’s ‘stealing’ of his widows cousin was putting Esther at risk.
At family meetings she dared not voice her fears, so she simply grumbled about Sekei’s infidelity. She had however mustered the courage to confront her husband with the raw fact that if their cousin died of an HIV related sicknesses, it would soon creep into their lives as well. To which Sekei simply said “Fa ontibile ke ka tsenwa ke malwetsenyana
ao nna” (Do you really think I could be a candidate for that kind of sickness?)
Now what she feared most was at her doorstep. In between sobs she said “Bona fela ke tsenwe ke mogare” (meaning, “Now look, I am HIV positive.”)
At the end of her story my courage and enthusiasm to stand up as a champion for others had disappeared mainly because HIV/AIDS issues have been labelled in red as “PRIVATE, CONFIDENTIAL, PERSONAL, SENSITIVE
Just as I was about to tell Esther that this was no issue for the kgotla and that she should go home and agonise quietly about her pain – a thought ran through my mind and I gently asked her what she wanted me to do.
In response she looked me in the eye and boldly said “Kgosi mmitse” (Call him). Apprehensively I asked for Sekei’s mobile number and phoned, half wishing that the call would go into voice mail and set me free from the difficulty.
Surprisingly Sekei agreed to stop what he was doing and respond to the matter. When he arrived at the kgotla he had evidently not prepared himself for the sight of his broken and traumatized wife whose wailing could be heard from a distance.
There was very little time for greetings and as Sekei moved about to adjust and settle on the chair, Esther confronted him with the words, “Bona ditiro tsa gago, fela ako o bone seosentirileng” (meaning, can you see the consequences of your actions?)
As she said this she threw the test result slip at him putting the confused man into an awkward and embarrassing situation.
In response Sekei gently put his hand on her shoulder and said almost in a whisper – “Lets go home Mmaagwe Tsaone. You see we don’t want this to be a headline in the papers.”
That seemed to do the trick as Esther composed herself and cooperated with her husband.
What would you do if you were the Judge?
HIV/Aids is not only highly confidential it is extremely difficult to handle especially in a relationship already burdened by infidelity and poor parental support.
It is a subject that must be discussed behind closed doors, but in this case Esther’s shock pushed her to break all protocol.
Sekei’s position in society was quite intimidating and ordinarily I would have liked to avoid the likes of him at the kgotla.
This very complex issue came to a close as Sekei apologized to me that his wife had to drag their not so clean linen to the kgotla and convinced her that they go home to talk.
Quite often as a society we would like to depend on the family to solve their children’s marital conflicts and one wonders whether “go ikutswa” to steal” has ever been perceived as a health threatening issue in this tough era of HIV/Aids.
May our communities open their eyes to the reality that while we may want “go ikutswa” to be excused and understood as something that is here to stay, we should link it to the breaking of the chain to achieve a healthy Botswana.
Esther would have probably escaped infection were it not for elders who pressurized her to tolerate “go ikutswa.”