Week 2/42 days until travel

Dumela, everyone. This week I’m going to discuss two topics and then try to integrate the two of them. I know already that this will be a long post, so I apologize in advance, but there’s a lot to talk about! Firstly, as promised, I’m going to discuss the book we just finished reading, Saturday is for Funerals, by Unity Dow and Max Essex.

Saturday is For Funerals

The book is laid out into 16 chapters. Each chapter is co-authored by Unity Dow and Max Essex. Dow, I believe, writes the beginnings of each chapter, telling us a first-hand account of someone she knows who is or was affected by HIV/AIDS. Essex then takes over the second half of the chapters, providing readers with hard facts and medical information about the transmission, causes, and risk factors of the disease.

I’ll share with you now some of the most basic facts or points of interests that I learned about AIDS just from the book because these are things I never knew about the disease before, and my guess is, you didn’t either.

  1. Within the first few weeks of becoming infected with HIV, a victim may exhibit symptoms similar to that of the flu
  2. It takes around 5-7 years for the disease to manifest itself again, but this time in the form of diarrhea, blisters around the lips, weight loss, and/or coughing
  3. ARV stands for antiretroviral drug; HAART stands for highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy, a combination of three or four different ARVs
  4. CD4 cells, the type of white blood cell that helps fight off infection, are targeted and destroyed by HIV
  5. Those who are recommended to start on ARVs to treat AIDS usually have a CD4 count of around 200-300
  6. A tebelopele is a place in Botswana to receive counseling and testing for HIV/AIDS. Tests cost around $5, still, many are resistant to get tested
  7. Before being tested for HIV, a heavy screening and counseling session takes place with questions involving questions about your sex life, your family’s health history, what you might do if you test positive, who you will tell your result to, etc.

There are a couple of themes throughout the book that I thought were particularly interesting, and, if given more time and material, I’d like to learn more about them.  One theme was how the men acted around the women who were infected. Another issue of religion and HIV/AIDS. What role does religion play in this disease? What role do traditional belief systems (including traditional doctors) play? How do non-believers cope with or satisfy the emotional elements of the disease?

The testing process, as described in the book, was particularly interesting to me. After the screening, counseling, and actual test, a metal bowl with a lid is brought out by a nurse. The result is inside the bowl, but it is the patient’s job to open the lid and reveal his or her own result. Not only is there a lot of ceremony with this process, but it seems that the nurses really don’t want to interpret the result, as if they feel guilty. Could it be they feel they are responsible in some way or are giving you some sort of cruel, drawn-out death sentence? I wonder if this somehow relates back to a traditional practice or belief of some sort. Or perhaps I’m overthinking it and it really just has to do with some hospital code or government regulation.


When I think of unequal societies, I think of old India’s caste system or traditional Chinese society. It wasn’t until almost college that I realized our American society is one of the most unequal in the world (Botswana society is even more unequal).

Some of my childhood ideas of what “the upper crust” looked like were characterized by white carpeting, tall, arching doorways, and whether or not the home-owners handed out king-size candy bars at Halloween. Lake access and boat-owners who had property up north were just bonuses. As a child, I never knew what I wanted to be, but I knew I wanted white carpeting in my home, because that would be a sure sign of money, or in my head, success. The question that I’m concerned with here is how does economic inequality limit civic and political participation? Basically, it comes down to this: people who don’t know don’t vote. Yes, it’s a broad and generalized statement and I’ll probably get some flack for it, but at the core, it’s true. When public schools are not well-funded and don’t have good teachers, they’re not thinking about education. Also, if you’re struggling to survive, you won’t be concerned with political or governmental affairs. Now I’d like to clarify survive. While in some very poor areas it is true that the daily quest for food and shelter from the elements are indexical of survival, other “lower-middle class” survival needs include paying bills, finding a job, and putting children through school.

Participation, Inequality, and AIDS

In 1996, HAART first became available, but examples from the book show early on, ARVs weren’t free at first. Patients couldn’t afford them without insurance as a monthly dose is about $80.00. At the International Conference on AIDS in 1996, South African Health Minister Nkosazana Zuma noted,

“…most people infected with HIV live in Africa, where therapies involving combinations of expensive antiviral drugs are out of the question.”

In 2002, under the Mogae administration, ARVs were made available for free with support from the Gates Foundation and Merck. By 2007, 95% of all HIV-infected patients were on HAART. This could be considered just one of many reasons why Festus Mogae is hailed as such a great president, but it definitely stand out. Two different times and two different crises, but I could compare the move to FDR’s New Deal. He saved his country, and so did Mogae. No wonder they were both re-elected!

Tsamaya sentleGoodbye

This week I’ll leave you with an old interview with Botswana’s former president, Festus Mogae, speaking with Vickram Bahl on the diamond industry, the country’s relationship with India, and its economy. You can watch it here.

  1. Rainy says:

    Education standards vary widely around the world. And yet, we read of people who overcome nearly insurmountable problems to get an education. They had a thirst for knowledge, which overcame the obstacles. But when “education” is the hot topic, the local opinion pages criticize the teachers and the system. I have to ask whose responsibility is it to “put people in the know”? I believe American education is failing because parents (single or not) do not “teach” or reinforce basic skills at home. Instead they teach their children they have rights but no responsibilities; they teach them how to get attention (mostly negative), and that homework is a waste of time. If we rely only on the schools to teach curiosity, we fail the children, who grow up to be apathetic towards government. As you say, they won’t/can’t vote if they don’t know.

    Perhaps the test results in the bowl represent choices and decisions similar to the choices that bring people to get HIV tests. A decision to not open the bowl continues a person’s ignorance and therefore lack of responsibility towards their health and the health of others. I imagine that a nurse or doctor learns a lot about a patient based on whether they open the lid of the bowl.

  2. A Pinch of Thought says:

    Education is such a tricky business. I agree largely with the first post that a huge factor in the education of a child is the support structure (or lack of one) in the home. It is hard to legislate the home. It is easier to legislate teachers. Trying to institute a culture that respects education, on a comparable scale to that which exists in Japan, or South Korea, or China will undoubtedly take time. America was founded by a majority of people who were not making it in the old world. If a majority of the population has always been people who succeed because they worked hard, the social mores passed on will be more centered around hard work than on learning something. As far as your comment about people not voting or learning because they are too busy surviving, I think it is fairly accurate. While it is hard to come up with classical data supporting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (i.e. the correct order of needs, or even if there is a hierarchy at all) somehow it feels right. Some people never develop much self actualization, perhaps because they have no energy at the end of the day having struggled to make ends meat.

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