well do you know your country? Iím not talking about the way the seasons
melt from parang to Panorama, or the delights of freshly-roasted corn
followed by coconut water. Iím not even talking about the way the
Northern Range flares with bush fires in the dry season, replenishes
itself with a blanket of emerald leaves in the wet.
not talking about the sound of a single pan, breaking up the stillness of
the night. Or the sudden shot of a snapping bamboo. Or a nice pot of
steaming fish broth. Or the drumming of rain outside while you curl up in
bed looking at the misty greenery.
no, Iím talking about other scenes. Want to come with me? Do you have
your camera? Good. Follow me. Here we are. Have you ever seen a fete this
size? Course you have. What? I canít hear you. Yes, must be 10,000
people. Mmm thanks, nothing like rum and Coke. Feel the music pounding in
your head and heart? This yearís calypsoes. Not bad eh? Yes, yes, so
many nice women, you donít know where to look. And so many handsome
young boys, rippling muscles, and if there is one thing they could do is
wine. Look at them: wailing and wining and shaking and breathing and
sweating. Watch out youíll break your camera. Want to take a picture?
Aim, focus, click click click. Sweet dance, hot breath, sweat drops on
firm flesh. Flesh on flesh. Greatest show on earth. Click click click. Got
your photographs? Ready? Next stop.
sorry to drag you away but you did promise to come on a tour with me. I
know itís a bad time to visit the hospital with so many fetes on. Itís
depressing - the rundown rooms, the stink of body odours, the sickly sweet
smells of deodorant and disinfectant, the broken limbs and lifeless faces.
Here we are. This is the maternity ward. So many cute babies wailing, at
their mothersí breasts, or sound asleep in their cots.
Alicia. Sheís pretty isnít she? With her soft young face and her clear
black eyes. Her belly is still rounded. Sheís had this baby boy only
yesterday. Isnít he lovely with his jet-black hair and tiny limbs?
Alicia, your baby is crying. Hold it. Donít turn away. Two years ago she
was in a fete like the one we were in. She was part of the thousands you
saw today. Donít cry Alicia. She met her husband in a fete just like
that one. And they moved sweetly together, high on rum, music and each
otherís body. Later when she whispered something about contraceptives,
he told her to trust him, that real men didnít use them. She believed
him. Nine months after that fete she had a baby for him. Six months later,
she buried her baby. Three months later she buried her husband. They both
died of AIDS. Even while she was weeping over her husbandís grave,
Alicia was already pregnant with the baby you see here. Alicia looks
healthy but she has the AIDS virus. Itís only a matter of time till she
gets full-blown Aids. Then her plump young skin will get filled with
lesions. Her immune system will collapse. Her face will wither, and she
will die. Donít cry Alicia. No, no, you mustnít give up the baby. Yes,
you have to live, to fight. We will help you with the baby. No, we donít
want to take your baby. Itís not so easy to give up an HIV positive baby
for adoption. You are crying too? Come on, we canít stay longer. Bye
Alicia. Donít know when or if weíll see you again.
not saying Carnival is responsible, simply that promiscuity increases when
the defences are down. And if teenagers have no parental guidance, or
security, or education, their defences are down anyway and they donít
stand a chance in a fete.
weíve forgotten something. Hereís the corridor baby. One of the
prettiest weíve seen. Both her parents are dead from AIDS. She has no
start in life, no money, no home, no love, no financial support. Sheís
four months old and living on a hospital corridor. She doesnít even have
a name and the nurses call her whatever they like. Even if she doesnít
test positive, she is doomed to the fate of the parents. There is no room
for her at the Cyril Ross Nursery which is overburdened. We learn that all
the funds to take care of these orphan children with AIDS dried up after
the glitz and glamour of being associated with Miss Universe. People
assumed they were taken care of, but after the publicity, they were
dropped. Last year they were booked out for Christmas parties. This year
they had two. They have six HIV positive babies alone to take care of;
they are understaffed and overworked. The children need expensive
medication to survive but theyíre not getting it so theyíre dying.
move on. Here we are, in a roomful of teenagers, mostly girls. Most of
them are HIV positive. I know each of them has death stamped on her
forehead but please donít recoil like that. Have some compassion. You
can only get the virus through blood and other bodily fluids such as spit
and semen, not through a mere handshake. And you donít get it from
smiling or talking to them either.
you can see some of them are pregnant. Still others are trying to get
pregnant. You canít believe that they might want to give birth to a
child who might be HIV positive? Itís true. Hear them. Two 16-year-old
girls are telling us that they had relationships with men from the time
they were 14, not because they were man-crazy, but because they wanted to
be loved. They were neglected children who went to the first male who paid
them any attention. And now they want to get pregnant because they want
something to leave behind for posterity. Itís all they have to offer the
have our wanderings shown us? One, that having unprotected sex kills. Two,
if you bring children into the world without being able to take care of
them, they will die for love. Three, that AIDS leaves far more women,
teenaged girls and children dead than any other group. Four, rather than
moralising to teenagers, it is far more important to love them, and give
them the confidence and the tools to empower themselves through education.
Five, that children donít belong to us. They have their own destiny
after we are gone. Six, there is nothing wrong with the focus on sex and
the body during Carnival except that there is if that is all young people
have to live for, and now die of. Seven, we need as a country to start a
massive education drive. Eight, if corporations paid even half their
attention to the spread of the killing fields of AIDS as they did to the
ridiculous Miss Universe contest, which I understand is costing us more
than we are spending, then perhaps we could begin to deal with the killing
fields of AIDS, which, in its own way, is as bad as a war zone, leaving
behind orphans, old and young mothers weeping beside graveyards, unwanted
HIV-infected ill babies, dying brothers and sisters. Nine, the Cyril Ross
Nursery needs your help now, more than ever.
from the flash of costumes and glamour of beauty shows, this is our real
country. One where more than 300 people out of every 100,000 are HIV
positive. One where the rate of infection is the fastest among the young
female population. One where 40 new cases of AIDS are being identified
each week. One where, at the very least, every day one person dies of
AIDS. Take a minute out from your Carnival fete and visit the killing
fields just around the corner.