Attitude of gratitude from a Nigerian HIV/AIDS patient

I recently came across a video clip of young group of street performers promoting HIV/AIDS awareness among youths. It was an entertaining dance group at the same time doing very important job of passing on the message of HIV/AIDS to the people around them and using their music and dance as tools to getting the message to the most vulnerable group in the society – youths.

Watching the clip, I thought, what a great way to entertain and to educate? This video took me down the memory lane of when I was about their age, when talking about sex was a taboo, still a taboo in many parts of Nigeria. Tradition and religion are right on course on this one. Youths that are extroverts are usually seeing as the ‘sinners’ or ‘uncultured’ whatever that means and sometimes that could be a good thing as they would not shy away from asking questions where needed. However, the introverts are more likely to bottle it all up and preferred not to ask questions because of the fear of being pigeon-holed.

My further lurking around the web took me to a recent survey of how attitudes toward HIV/AIDS have changed in the last 30years and also how there have been huge improvements in the way that we relate to HIV/AIDS patients as well as how those affected were been offered help with both emotional and antiretroviral drugs. This is a big commendable global collective efforts. Here is the report by ONE AIDS

Growing up in rural Nigeria, I know first hand that you could not raise awareness of HIV/AIDS in isolation. For a successful campaign against HIV/AIDS, it has to go hand in hand with sex education. When I was growing up, there were little talks around about the reality of  HIV/AIDS and often I was made to believe that it is something that happened to ‘sinners,’ so people like me need not worry as abstinence from sex is the motto. My mother’s work was perfected as she never really wanted to have any sex-related conversation. She is a great mother and I still admire all that she did, still do for my sisters and I, however, sex related subject safe or otherwise is never something she is comfortable talking about, ironically all her surviving children were girls.

In my secondary school, my classmates and I were eagerly expecting our biology teacher to help us understand the changes in our bodies and especially how our reproductive system functions and all the hows and whats. My teacher Mr Rode was even more shy than us the students and avoided teaching the topic in class, he giggled endlessly like a tickled 5 year old whenever we asked him if we were going to receive lectures on the last topic on the syllabus. We were referred to study the textbook on the area. I and my mates were not stupid and have heard lots of different stories about sex and we could already see changes in our bodies over the years. However, the understanding of the subject would have been better if taught by a secure and knowledgeable adults.

My church did what they did best by saying, sex is a sin and even the slightest mentioning of sex is seen as promiscuity, so better we remain in darkness on the subject until our wedding nights when by miracle, we will become experts, and of course lots of youngsters don’t listen to this and will do it anyways, however, astonishing number of youths actually do listen.

Today’s youths are getting a lot older before settling down to have family of their own. It is very common nowadays to see couples settling down only when in late twenties and thirties. This is very different from what the generation of our parents were. However, as a society we still expected these young men and women to abstain from sex throughout their youths. I am not saying this is impossible, however, it will be a lot better to be a bit more open and educate the citizens and let individual adults make their own decisions without feeling they have broken any law or it is the end of their decent lives.

In my mid twenties, my boyfriend and I were perfect ‘torturers’ for each other, we wanted to spend time together and each time we did, we were barely able to talk about anything meaningful and the reason being that we were both mentally and physically consumed with love we had for each other but in my mind, I knew that hugging him tightly the way I imagined in my head will have to wait otherwise it could mean that I was suggesting he committed ‘sins.’ Amy and Sheldon relationship the in the Big Bang Theory could not be more relative. So whether or not we talked about it some folks have all it takes to be self-disciplined and open talk would help them to further relax in the company of their loved ones.

Not long ago, it will take a lot of imagination and of course the biological clock ticking as a reminder of what the body desires,  however, today, lots of explicit sex ads are all around us and  government regulations has not placed any importance on monitoring TV advertisement to be age appropriate. From very early age young children get exposure to this and not the education that could help them make informed decision.

Kile was my cousin, I knew his father to be a police officer based somewhere in the north, my father talked about Kile’s father favourably. In 1996 when AIDS was thought to be South Africans and western countries problem, it was the time that we prayed and fast in churches so we do not contact AIDS as if it was another diarrhoea (not that praying would prevent either of these but we prayed anyways and forget about proper sanitation), however we still ignored to educate the youths about the one very common way in which AIDS is contacted – sex.

I arrived in the village around 5pm one Friday, in front of my parents’ house was Kile lying down on a mat, almost lifeless. His ribs were visible through his thin layer of flesh. I bearly recognised him. It has been several years back that we last saw, when him and siblings came to the village after a terrible auto accident that killed his police officer dad. Since the death of his dad, things were not going very well with the family as they were 9 children. Kile’s mother decided to stay in the village, got her hands on all kinds of odd jobs to keep the family afloat. She did her best but keeping the children in school was not one thing she could afford given the fees. So Kile and one of his sisters decided to go back to the north to work and settle down as they were familiar with that area than the village.

Kile was around 25 years old at the time and a christian who was brought up with the strong belief of christian values. Reportedly, he was the good one, and being the ‘good one’ in Yorubaland means, he had a job, din’t smoke nor drink, and definitely didn’t have multiple girlfriends at a time. After exchanging greetings with him, I left and went inside the house. Luckily my mother was away in the farm so I was in a good mood to chat so went back outside to sit by Kile. I noticed he was clutching a notepad in his hand, a little bit too tightly as if his life depended on it. I asked what the notepad was for, he explained that the notepad was for him to jot down some Yoruba proverbs that he was learning from my father. Really?, I said. He went on telling me all that I already knew about my father but truthfully didn’t have the time nor the patience to explore. He told me how his day to day living had been slightly improved since he was brought to the village two weeks prior because he has been able to sit with my father twice a day just chatting about life. I could see how my father and Kile connected emotionally as my father at the time still from time to time would slip in to mourning the death of his sons and in Kile’s case he was like a son to my father and dying bit by bit daily.  They somehow found an unusual connection they both could relate to and made good use of the time Kile had left. Kile died a few months afterwards from AIDS complication. Antiretroviral drugs were not available at the time and the thought of coming out and take any tests is unheard of, the stigma associated with AIDS at the time is far higher than any crime in Nigeria.

I was really very grateful for the few times I was able to sit down with Kile before his death. His grandma’s house was next door to us and the only place he visited throughout his last few months was my parents.’ Even though at the time HIV/AIDS is unspoken of, he made me realised, it could happen to anyone, we didn’t talk about it at all as I could see that the only reason he came to my parents’ was for comfort, he needed no ones pity but understanding. I was very proud of my father for making Kile’s life a little bit more bearable during the last few weeks of his life.

It was my mother who later told me that Kile died of eedi (a type of Yoruba curse). After a few minutes of my mother explaining I realised she meant AIDS, she only knew this because Kile confided in his grandmother. And as expected it went like Chinese whispers around my village so by the time of Kile’s death, everyone thinks he died of eedi. 

What can we do?

Talking openly about sex is healthy and would further help us understand the reality of HIV/AIDS. I know from experience that parents and community need to work together to drive successful campaign awareness of the disease. Events that focus on raising AIDS awareness is as rare as it was twenty years ago,  see here: Nigeria HIV/AIDS website

According to ONE, Nigeria is one of the few African nations where new infections are recorded daily, the awareness of the disease remain low due to cultural and religious beliefs of no-sex talk in public. Others factors influencing AIDS awareness in the country has reportedly been mismanagement of government funding and corruption, that’s no surprise.

Parents proactively initiating ‘the talk’ from home will go a long way.

Categories: Education, Family, Myths I grow up with, Nigeria

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