Thursday, September 8, 2011


At a revival in Mozambique.  Picture by Robin Malherbe. 
When I'm sick I start to question where it came from. I do a lot of work in the township and sometimes with a lot of kids... maybe that was it. I work out at the gym...maybe that was it.  If I actually remember who was apologizing for being contagious around me, I make an assumption that they “gave it to me”.  Where does that saying come from??  Giving is supposed to be GOOD; viruses are BAD.

Because of  my lifestyle, or maybe my expectations, I can think of myself as invincible; unstoppable; made for the job before me!  In reality, a common virus can knock me down and render me five years old in my mind, crying for my mommy.

The CDC says that most invading viruses are usually gone in ten days. Cold, flu, and other viral invaders are attacked by our incredible Immune system; we are created by God to fight off invading viruses. Even so, some viruses have had a hey-day with us. The most recent one that hit the States was H1N1, (Swine flu) that had people being quarantined as if they had smallpox.

 The Spanish Influenza pandemic (1918-19) is the one that  is the standard of all pandemics.  It is estimated that approximately 20 to 40 percent of the people all over the world caught this virus;  and that over 50 million people died. Approximately 675,000 deaths from the flu occurred in the U.S. alone, most very quickly.

Today flu can be deadly, but for babies, toddlers or senior citizens, those whose immune systems are not as effective; a “flu vaccine” has been made available. Vaccines (as we all know) are a promise that cannot be kept: usually making a shield against deadly viral components.   In the case of most flu vaccines, the effectiveness rate is at 50 per cent, depending on the year and the virus.

  It is our first reaction to cure ourselves, simply put: “shield ourselves” against our invading viral attackers.  Vitamin C, hand sanitizers, even masks make us feel more protected, but it is literally impossible to live germ-free!

 When we made the move here, to South Africa, we realized the difference between a virus and a VIRUS. Some superviruses can wipe out a village - tuberculosis (the TB bacteria) is airborne and multiplies faster than cancer. Malaria, a mosquito-transmitted bacterium, can kill someone in 24 hours.  Cholera can kill a healthy person in six hours... transmitted by drinking contaminated water or food.   All of these are not viral, but since they are are transmitted like viruses (easily and upon contact) there are not much to protect the people who are poor in comparatively underdeveloped countries.

HIV, a level 3 virus, is not as easily contracted.  It reproduces rampantly, by the transfer of blood, semen, vaginal fluid, pre-ejaculate, or breast milk.  The place where we live,  South Africa, has the highest rate: our nation-wide infection rate of HIV was in 2007 at 28%.

The statistic is a joke.  

It's hard to describe here, to people living without an endemic virus, how bad this feels.  It's ominous.  One in four people in South Africa have HIV. Most of those people are black and live in townships. If you look at things this way, you can say every other person in the township has a deadly virus.

  One in one hundred will admit having it.

  While we have contact daily with those who are infected, we’re rarely truthfully told if they have been tested or if they are positive. Predominant teaching among the the cultural leaders here is that HIV can be remedied by muti, or ancient medicine.  This is taught by trusted chiefs or leaders.  Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa, once had sex with an HIV positive woman, and then later explained he was probably not infected because he took a shower afterward.  This is the example we are working against.

 Since it is a relatively "new" virus it is nearly impossible diagnose from one testing.  To encourage someone to be tested is a feat of gargantuan proportions.  To convince them to be regularly tested is the hardest thing I have ever done (or feel compelled to do).  The crippling effect of the virus here is ignorance and poverty.
 It is also the crippling cause of contraction.

In A Christmas Carol, Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas present, when saying goodbye to Ebenezer Scrooge, shows him too shivering orphans underneath his cloak. They frighten Scrooge so much, and seem so foreign an attachment to such a happy spirit that Scrooge asks, "Are these yours?" The Spirit answers, "THEY ARE MANKIND's!! The boy is ignorance and the girl is want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased." How prophetic for Dickens, seeing into a worldwide handicap that will doom us all -- not knowing, maybe not caring.

It is sad for us to be exposed to both worlds.  We come from the USA, a fast-paced first world, where most people see themselves as having enough problems of their own to worry about others half-way around the world.  We live in South Africa, a land where truth is relative, and people still have a class-system. As a "white" woman (no one here understands that I am Hispanic) I am an imported snob who thinks she knows everything.  At best, I am loved by my friends, many of whom are infected by the virus.  Even they want me not to know their status.  It is none of my business.    

This life-threatening thing kills off many of our friends here.  Since we have been here we have lost dear, close friends.  Only one admitted to having the virus. 

While we do the day-to-day relationship building, a few English doctors and American celebrities chisel off a percentage of their time and resources to dedicate a portion of themselves towards a remedy or a cure.  The rest of the first world can seem (to me) lost in i-pads and big screens and liposuction and implants.

 I see the sub-human orphans cling to all of our ankles and look up at us for an answer. Will we ever be removed from you?

Or is this a secondary infection that won't go away?