I’m crying over the teacher that has made me cry numerous times before. The teacher that argued that women should be beaten, that students should be to blame for student-teacher sexual relationships, that AIDS was made as a warfare weapon constructed in an American laboratory to kill Africans, that HIV testers’ jobs and ARVs were created to make amends for America’s “mistake of creating AIDS.” The teacher that told me condoms are useless, that extramarital sex is for men only, that women should always be subservient, is now in no state to argue with me. The teacher that pushed my patience, that forced me to tears arguing for what I believe in, is dying of AIDS.
Because of the extreme stigma associated with “God’s curse” no one says the words. People may whisper the word under their breath or pass the unspoken word through a knowing appraisal of the patient. But it’s never spoken. Especially on someone’s deathbed. So that’s why I have to blurt it all out here, on the non judgemental, stigma unknowing pages of my blog.
Today, at this teacher’s house, part of me wanted to scream “I told you so! I told you condoms are necessary in fighting the AIDS pandemic! I told you that AIDS is a serious issue that cannot be swept under the rug!” But looking at this frail teacher, who just 2 weeks ago was fervently telling me that he does not believe in the education of girls, my self righteousness and bitterness toward him disappeared. Looking at his sniffling eldest child nervously picking at twigs to assuage his fear of his father’s imminent death, I couldn’t have any other emotion besides sorrow. Sorrow for the teacher’s family. Sorrow for his young children’s future. Sorrow for his pitiful state. Sorrow for his suffering.
There is no trace of the teacher I knew. His face is unrecognizable; hollow cheekbones protruding from taut skin, lifeless eyes gazing from sunken sockets, and a wheezing breath that still haunts my ears. His strong, tall body has failed him. He cannot walk, nor sit up right. Lying meekly on his bed, mosquito net thrown haphazardly over him, bones, not flesh, define his figure. I cannot recognize him.
As he is pushed away on the back of a bicycle, supported by three men, to the nearest hospital, I have to wonder: Will his decrepit state be a wake up call? Will he swallow his pride and start ARVs? Will he change his lifestyle? Will he change his beliefs? While I ask those questions of my dying colleague, I ask similar questions of myself: Will this be a wake up call to the need of HIV/AIDS education in the community? Can I assist in healthy behaviour change? Can education reduce HIV related stigma? Can I do really do any of this in the short time I have here? Can I???