Beneath The Stigma

Beautiful Lake Malawi - Photo Credit: Kaitlin Houlditch-Fair
Beautiful Lake Malawi - Photo Credit: Kaitlin Houlditch-Fair
Six weeks into the project, I’ve never been so busy. It’s the perfect kind of busy. This week alone we will have done six narratives and there are still many more on the calendar in the coming weeks.

Much of this project’s success has been achieved under the auspices of the UNC Malawi Project. They have a fantastic peer educator support group brought together to educate, counsel, and encourage HIV positive and pregnant women undergoing PMTCT (Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission). Last week I arrived at Bwaila Hospital in downtown Lilongwe for a prescheduled meeting with some of these peer educators. Bwaila can be overwhelming. Walking through the gates, I saw a scattering of dusty buildings punctuated by those brightly colored chitenjes (Malawian print cloth) so many of the women wrap around their babies and themselves. There were so many women…and babies. These women patiently sit and wait and wait. Seeing a doctor in Malawi seems to involve a LOT of patience.

Doing a narrative about HIV with our amazing translator, Blessings. Photo Credit: Kaitlin Houlditch-Fair
Doing a narrative about HIV with our amazing translator, Blessings. Photo Credit: Kaitlin Houlditch-Fair
I met with the woman organizing the meeting and we found a room to chat. Before I knew it couple after couple began streaming through the door, many of them with their children in arm. A translator graciously translated my explanation of the project and invitation to anyone wishing to give us a narrative about their experience with HIV. After I finished my little ten minute brief, one by one people started volunteering. Before we knew it all eleven people in the room had volunteered to give a narrative about how this disease has personally affected their lives. Yet again…Malawi floored me.

Walking with Blessings and one of the most inspirational Malawians I have ever met. - Photo Credit: Kaitlin Houlditch-Fair
Walking with Blessings and one of the most inspirational Malawians I have ever met. - Photo Credit: Kaitlin Houlditch-Fair
It can’t be that easy can it? As stigmatizing and difficult a disease as HIV is? The truth online casino is the deeper I dig into this project, the more I’m learning that beneath the stigma a culture of openness exists, it just isn’t always apparent. Don’t get me wrong, there are some very difficult social obstacles to overcome in becoming open about one’s status, but many Malawians I’ve talked to are ready to force this issue into public discourse. When I do find this culture of openness I sometimes wonder if I’ve just come across it by luck or if this is indicative of a more widespread Malawian social conscience regarding HIV. Well, I don’t really believe in luck and it would be naive to say that the social climate of HIV is all hunky-dory in Malawi. Still, coming across such open people is a great self-esteem boost for the project.

On a more musical note, Peter and I have been having a blast rehearsing for our upcoming gig, an embassy-sponsored event celebrating Black History Month. “Who should we cover Peter?” I asked. “Why not Michael Jackson?!”

“Great idea!”
“Maybe some P.Y.T.? Thriller? Billie Jean? Smooth Criminal?” I asked excitedly.
“Hmm…ya know Andrew, I listen to more of his slower stuff. You know… ‘We are the World,’ that kind of thing.”

Oh how I laughed at this. Of course-Peter Mawanga, a musician whose songs are always themed around orphan issues, bringing Malawi together, promoting Malawian traditions, prefers the more kum-baya stuff. At first I was disappointed that we couldn’t do “Thriller” but then I thought: who better to be making this concept album with?

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