Touring the killing fields


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Category: Trinidad Society Date: 28 Jan 99

How 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.


Iím 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, 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.


Really 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.


Meet 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.


Iím 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.


Stop, 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.


Letís 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.


As 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 world.


What 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.


Away 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.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur