It is rare to find accounts and personal stories of Africa and HIV/AIDS that are not told through the filter of northern white liberals; I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning first hand about African women´s experiences with AIDS and the way in which people react to this illness.
The authors are Ugandan women writers who know the women they write about. They also understand the obstacles, the hardships, the cultural attitudes and family problems that surround HIV. Although HIV/AIDS was publicly identified very early in Uganda and a national campaign to understand its dangers was successful in lowering infection rates initially, women with the condition are still ashamed and often rejected by their family and community. It takes a very strong person to stand up to these attitudes and to claim to be ´living positively with HIV/AIDS´. These are powerful & moving personal testimonies.
In ´Key to New Life´, the story of Juliet, Betty Kituyi writes about a strong woman and the support system that has helped her. She and 10,000 others have been treated at the Mildmay Centre, a clinic and refuge operated by a UK charity. She received compassionate care, good medical treatment and dignified work, operating a craft store at the centre. She credits the centre with helping her overcome the despair of her illness and now, “she acts as a role model at the centre, encouraging patients to take their ARVs (Anti-viral drugs.)”
Sophie in ´Dance with Wolf´ by Lillian Tindyebwa survived a tragic childhood, orphaned at seven years, to end up with a criminal and abusive husband who did terrible things to her and her children as well as infecting them with HIV/AIDS although he denied it.
But Sophie is strong, she got a university degree, cares for her children and works for an NGO that records the personal lives of HIV positive women and helps them have a meaningful and healthy life. She takes her drugs, eats properly and is happy.
For some of the women, religion is a strong support in their difficult lives; for all of them there has been some organization, medical person, friend or family (even if most rejected them) who helped them gain self—respect, independence and health.
Kyosha, in ´In God´s Palm´ was helped by TASO (A Ugandan NGO for people with HIV/AIDS). This group provides many services for infected Ugandans but what I remember about it when I visited their centre was its beautiful and moving choir of HIV/AIDS singers there that tours the country singing about ´Living Positively With AIDS´ (I have a recording of their singing about their lives — it is wonderful) entertaining and talking at schools, churches and other community groups about their illness and their strength in confronting it.
Kyosha says, ´I have strong faith in God´s mercy and believe that the treatment I am getting from TASO will help me stay alive for many years to come. I also believe that in order to check the spread of AIDS, we must be open about it.´
This book is an open door to that knowing and understanding.