The Field

January 22, 2007


After 3 blogs by Zambians I’m back! Please ask any questions you have for Henry, Yokonia, Linda and any other Zambians on HIV/AIDS.


On Monday I went to The Field. Here this means going to do some work in the rural areas. Typically rural areas are poorer and have greater adherence to tribal and traditional ways of life. But their isolation means that HIV and some of the other problems of urban life aren’t as pronounced.


I was trying to explain to my Zambian friends that in the UK rural villages do exist, but was struggling to explain that they can be both wealthy and backward….should have brought a copy of the Daily Mail.


I was in Temanda, an hour north of Chipata. We stayed at Temanda Basic School, on the floor of a disused classroom. In the evening the Zambians played drums and sang songs. We ate Nshima (ground maize porridge) and kapenta – smelly little fish. There were no rats or snakes, and my sleeping bag ensured the only mossie bite I received was a corker on my forehead.


The volunteers doing the field work were from my organisation, but it was with a sister organisation called the National Cultural Peaceworkers team. They’ve been to the same 10 rural areas in 1998 and 2002 asking the same questions on HIV/AIDS and child defilement. At the end of each research period they present drama and deliver peer education tailored to the needs of the cluster of villages round the school at which they’re staying.


As I was technically skiving, I only hung about for one night. Kampala the village we visited in the morning looked really nice. The rainy season has made the surrounding hills green, and there were a good number of goats, pigs, chickens and tortoises roaming around.


We chatted to a young man who said he knew about HIV/AIDS, but wasn’t aware of any child defilement cases in the village. Next we chatted to an old woman who said there had been a case of child defilement but it had not been reported to the authorities. Instead the father had left his daughter a dowry of a cow. We couldn’t talk to any other people, as they were several miles away tending the fields.


I was left thinking that while village life wasn’t as fast-paced as the swarming metropolitan hub that is Chipata, it was much nicer. You can’t really be unemployed in the village as you just tend the fields and livestock, while unemployment among young people in the town is above 50%.


If there’s one thing that’s clear here, its that gender inequality is a massive problem. Even the volunteers I was with, who are active on gender inequality, fell into the usual traps. They started well by insisting to the school headmistress that they could stay in the same building without having sex. But by the evening, the girls were cooking and washing up while the guys did the important work of meeting the headman, and carrying the water. The morning was worse with all the girls up at 5.30am busy cleaning then preparing breakfast. The boys lay in for an hour and a half until the rice was ready. When I insisted I could wash my bowl myself and they should make the other boys do the same, they laughed and said it’s just Zambian tradition. I don’t know where they got this respect for crap traditions, maybe they have been reading the Daily Mail.


Two boys were convinced to give me a bicycle taxi the 5 miles to the main road, which was really pleasant for about 10 minutes and then really painful. He didn’t understand English and my Chichewa didn’t stretch to “can I pedal now” so he just laughed when I kept pointing at the saddle.


After 10 minutes’ wait I hitched on a big truck going to Chipata. I was a little concerned overenthusiastic traffic police would pull over such a knackered truck, especially with the promise of a muzungu bribe. But it turned out it was a Roads Department vehicle. I had also been warned that they would try and charge me 25-30 pin, when I should be paying 15. As usual Zambians confounded the stereotype and only charged me 10. Not to mention that they let me sit in the cab for the second half of the journey with a chicken on my feet at no extra expense.


The biggest issues facing young people in Zambia are unemployment, boredom, and HIV/AIDS. As young people are the most productive group in society HIV has a big impact.


The solution is to promote condoms among youths rather than abstinence – they may be hearing the words but youths are not changing their behaviour as girls as young as 13 are having babies. Condoms are still stigmatised – people say ‘why would you eat a sweet with the wrapper on’.


I found out I was positive in 2002 after going for Voluntary Counselling and Testing. Before finding out I was positive I knew very little about HIV. When I found out my status I laughed…but soon became very depressed.


I felt like I was already dead. But I started taking action on HIV/AIDS in Chipata which helped. I am now a peer educator and an active member of the Network of Zambian People Living Positively.


I have had four children, the third was born HIV positive and died young, but my last born is now two and is HIV negative. I carefully followed all the precautions such as not breastfeeding so as not to pass on the virus.


A year ago Anti-Retro Viral drugs would have cost £60 for a course which barely anyone could afford, but the government has committed to provide them for free now. There are side-effects, but when people take them it improves their appetite. My CD4 count fell below 50 recently, I would be eligible for free ARVs with a count below 200 but haven’t taken them. I believe that a positive attitude and strong faith keeps me healthy.