God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

17.10.2009 Silent into the grave

No, no, it’s fine. Everything’s okay. Whenever we ask Maggie how she is doing, she always gives the same answer. But we can see that she is getting thinner and weaker by the day. It’s obvious that she struggles to clean the rooms in our guesthouse, she visibly strains just shaking pillows or emptying the bins. And yet she insists: Don’t worry about me. Maggie has worked at the Mediterranean Villa for two years. She is 48 years old. Her husband died in 2004, and since then she has had to find her own way with three children. The two older daughters don’t work, the youngest smokes Tik – crystal methamphetamines – which is all the rage in Cape Town’s drug scene. It’s disastrous for the whole family. While the mother works, the daughter sells all the household’s possessions to buy more drugs. But the money is never enough to gratify her addiction. Maggie’s daughter enters a vicious cycle of crime: she steals, she is arrested, mother bails her out, she does not reform, is arrested again, etc. And Maggie works and earns the money needed to bail her out.
But soon Maggie won’t be able to do that any more, because there is a disorder about which she doesn’t want to talk. She also doesn’t want to see a doctor. All our efforts at persuading her are futile. She makes excuses: “Let it be, it’s fine, I have no time for doctors, it’s just the stress.” Both of us know that it isn’t stress, but the stigma. It’s the dread of being marked out and ostracised if her neighbours in the township should know what ails her. That disease: HIV/Aids. It’s always others who get infected – neighbours, strangers, outsiders. The stigma is remorseless. It draws on ignorance, rumours, credulity and moral failure. It leads to the exclusion of the affected. “Don’t touch me”. “Use another toilet.” One hears such phrases every day. And sometimes: “You’re not one of us any more.”
It’s like a social death penalty – and that happens in a culture which proclaims the principle of ubuntu. A keyword in Africa’s mutually supportive societies, it can be defined as one being human only through other people. Aids. Maggie won’t even say the word. Her husband’s death certificate also doesn’t say what exactly caused his death. He just was very ill. Nobody needs to know more. And that’s why so many people refuse to go to a doctor. “No problem; it’s not that bad.” Always the same excuses, the same pleading, the same silent complaints, and sometimes also tears – and it goes on like this for weeks. Finally, in November 2006, I prevail and take Maggie to the doctor for a blood test. She refuses to accept the result. No, she doesn’t have this sickness; she isn’t ill. The doctor puts her off work for six months. She gets weaker and weaker, her body is falling apart; it’s too late for the medications which could extend her life. Soon, on a sunny January morning, she dies. The fear of stigmatisation killed Maggie – a fate shared by many thousands of her fellow HIV-positive South Africans.

from the book: Gott,AIDS, Afrika – Kiepenheuer & Witch Verlag 2007

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, Society and living environment, , , , , ,

HIV, AIDS and HOPE – thoughts of a Catholic priest

Being a Roman - Catholic priest and working in the fields of HIV and AIDS in Africa is often a challenge. Living in Africa has also its challenges. On the other hand I feel very much blessed having all the three. So you will find stories and reflections about my work, about the church, South Africa and Africa and essential information and developments in the field of HIV and AIDS. And in between personal stories and thoughts. You are most welcome to leave a comment or to get in touch with me - blogs - "thinking loud" so to speak is a ways of communication and exchange of ideas.

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