Every Saturday at 2 p.m., a group of people — some HIV positive, some not — gather in a small third-floor room next to the Shoprite on Cairo Road. They’re the Post Test Club, a group of people who’ve volunteered to be tested for HIV and are interested in the disease.

I’d heard about the club from the guys at New Start — you may remember them as the ones who led me to a non-existent anti-AIDS rally. (I learned today that the rally had, in fact, been pushed back a month at the last minute — I was at the right gas station.)

So rather than spend my Saturday roaming the local market, I thought I’d drop in on the PTC meeting. I arrived at 2 and found…no one there. (Sensing a pattern with these New Start guys?) But within a few minutes, people started arriving. Emmanuel, the guy running the show, brought in some beach chairs so there were enough seats in the cramped little space. I introduced myself to a few people, including one guy who said he was in charge of today’s two-hour meeting.

That guy (I never got his name, so let’s call him Tim) stood up and called the meeting to order.

“Thank you all for coming,” Tim said. “We are fighting a battle against stigma, and I am happy to see all of you are fighting with us.” This is good stuff, I thought, scribbling down notes.

“We had planned to have a presentation on HIV prevention today, but the man who was going to be here had a change of plans. So today, we have a visitor who will be giving today’s presentation. This” — he points to me — “is Josh, a reporter from the United States. He is an American expert on the disease, and he will talk to us about the differences in how our two countries view HIV and AIDS.”

Huh?

It took a moment for his words to register. “An American expert on the disease”? I was making a presentation?

I was seated in a corner of the room (the better to blend into the surroundings, I thought). Slowly, the people between me and the front of the room started getting up, moving their chairs, and clearing a path. I walked to the front, thinking on the way what wisdom I could offer in the field of comparative disease analysis.

I don’t even remember how I started out — probably something about the huge gap between the U.S.’ infection rate (less than 1/2 of one percent) and Zambia’s (20 percent, give or take). I rambled on for a bit more, then started taking questions.

For the record, I am far from an “American expert on the disease.” I know precious little about AIDS in America. AIDS in Zambia, sure, but in America, I’m just a guy who reads newspapers and tries to stay informed.

The questions started rolling in. Do they teach children how to use a condom in America? (Well, in some schools, depending what the school board says.) Is it true that blacks in America get infected more than whites? (Yes, the majority of new infections are now African Americans.) Is it true that the condoms you use in America are more pleasurable than the ones we get in Africa? (Hell if I know.) When Africans visit the United States, do Americans fear them because they think they are infected? (No, not really.) Why don’t the rich countries spend more on curing AIDS? (A question for politicians, not for me.) Is there polygamy in America? (I gave a brief history of the Mormon church.)

It ended up being a nice conversation, even if there was perhaps a bit too much giggling at the condom talk. Next thing I know, Tim’s saying, “Could we wrap up the questions, please? Josh has been standing there for two hours.” I looked at my watch: It was almost 4:30.

The finale of my debut as an AIDS lecturer: Tim asking, “Josh, would you please lead us in a closing prayer?” Those of you who know me will no doubt find that amusing, but I didn’t feel it was the time or place to start a theological discussion. For an instant, I considered claiming I was Jewish, but feared the potential followup questions. (“Oh! Reform, conservative, or orthodox?”) So I summoned up a few our-heavenly-fathers and our-lord-and-saviors and was done.

01 November 2003



Comments

02 November | 18:13  |  Meadow

The question and answer session always saves the impromptu speaker! Hurrah!

10 November | 21:44  |  JK

Man, the some of the stories you are not writing sound great so I can't wait to see what you are working on. Love the blog.

Jeremy



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    Remember Me?




Welcome to zambiastories.com, the online journal I kept during the six weeks I spent in Zambia in 2003 as part of a Pew Fellowship in International Journalism. The entries below are in reverse chronological order — most recent on top, oldest on bottom.

To learn more about my trip and this site, check the About page. If you have any comments or questions, email me.

Stories

11 Jul 2004: Where the only growth industry is death; AIDS destroys scarce resources as well as family members

12 Sep 2004: A lesson in dying; Once a refuge from AIDS, Zambia’s schools are now its latest victims

Photos

Links

About this site | Contact | Photos

Calendar

10 Oct 2003: Leave for London
11 Oct 2003: Leave for Zambia
12 Oct 2003: Arrive in Lusaka
22 Nov 2003: Leave for London
22 Nov 2003: Back to Washington

Disclaimer

Any opinions expressed here are solely mine, and not those of my employer.

 
© 2003 Joshua Benton