Sunday, 30 November 2008

The Mathematics and Mechanics of HIV Infection

Mood: Actvist mood
[Toot!] Index: 5.2
Communism Bit: Off
Location: Entebbe

It’s HIV/AIDS day this Monday. You’re reading my post on the pertinent topic du jour.

There was this teacher of mine, in Primary School, who used to drive through the school field when he left his home. The point, I still believe, was so everybody would see him and his car go by. He was one of only a few people in that school who actually owned a car. And then, one day, he walked by. Compelled by his broken car to walk, and incapable of inventing a new route from home, lest everybody know he is hiding the fact that his car is broken. We chuckled, when he pased my P2 class for the like-tenth time. O, how the mighty have fallen! Then he hit the fortieth time of walking, and it ceased to be funny.
I had seen a band of mechanics bent into the car for a number of days, before they finally gave up on it and left it there. I called them a band of mechanics, because they were also thieves (you know, band of thieves). You know that thing mechanics do, of pulling out the one expensive spare part they need for the lucrative contract, and then telling you your car is mostly fucked beyond repair, and that, in any case, your that spare part is totally messed, and a new one costs lots, so goodbye, it was a nice car, but all things end some time.

This has a connection to HIV/AIDS, by the way. I’m getting there. The car, first. The car stayed under the tree, and the tyres went to hell. And a squirrel moved in and annexed the boot. A window broke, grâce à some boy trying to shoot mangoes down. And a bird raised a flag over the driver’s seat. Time, meanwhile, sang that lonely song of hers, about her lover who went out to war and never came back, and she was doomed to wait for his return forever. Rain, sun, and fungi, working in tandem like a fishing boat’s crew, ate away the seats. Time sang of the long, interminable wait, a tearful song of loneliness that never ends, because it is infinitely recursive. (“I’m waiting for Time to stop waiting to bring me my long-lost lover,” sang Time, as she waited.) Mangoes weighed down the tree in December, and the branches scraped the car’s top. The dry season went with the mangoes, and the branches rose with colour on their fingers, leaving the car with less paint than before. Next December, they’d descend yet again, to rob paint. Termites moved in with a catchy war song and extended their Glorious Communist Worker’s Termite Empire to most of the area under the bonnet. And time kept on singing and waiting. (Woah! I realise it’s December, people! Mangoes! Woo-hoo! —ED) The worms and snakes and dogs and birds and cats brought the dirt, and the rain washed it out. And time sang on.
And now, I’m in P5. I’m no longer a small kid—I’m all of eleven years old. God, I may even get a beard while I sleep! And I went out to check on the mangoes.

I noticed the car, for the first time in three years. It had changed, you see. That teacher of ours, he was dead now. The early nineties, as I said, were HIV/AIDS galore here. There are Americans who say Uganda has not really made progress in fighting HIV. That it’s just because the infected people died that we have much less prevalence rates today. That’s stupid, because our population is growing, and every infection can, in theory, be assumed to have caused at least one other infection. The infection rate, therefore, doesn’t go down short of deliberate effort to combat the spread of HIV. That’s why Southern Africa, even with many dying of HIV/AIDS every day, has rising rates. My plan for how to deal with it in Southern Africa has a Leninist smell to it, so I won’t put it here (for fear of having the post descend into a rant). In short, intense propaganda and a severe (even painful) restriction of some fundamental freedoms. For the Good of The People and The Revolution™. :o) So, what them Americans say is just a continuation of their very typical belief that Africans just couldn’t possibly have done something good. They are stupid, of course, but I think I already implicitly said that by noting who they were.
Anyway, back to the teacher. He had died. Because we saw him descend into a dead man while he walked by our classes, almost in real time (I swear—he lost weight as he walked by us), we knew he had what we were being told to compose poems about in English class: HIV/AIDS. We could have been wrong, but we weren’t.
In this weird respect for the dead that Uganda generally has, his car was not touched. Until I was in P5, that is.

First, two people who were in P5 with me. Isaac was this poor sod who topped the class. A geek of the first water, he didn’t even know how to insult. Once I walked up to him in class, and he had scratched lots of fractions on the blackboard. We didn’t do mathematics of our own accord, when I was in P5. It had to be an assignment. But not for Isaac. I asked him what was wrong with him. He grinned and said, “Those fractions result in a set of infinite decimal points!” I told you he was a freak. This mathematics stuff made him happy. I asked him what the point of this nonsense was, and he said he could see them rushing to infinity in his head. It was how he had his fun, poor thing. Christ, Isaac, you can’t see numbers! And he looked at me, grinning, slightly entranced by the furious numerical flowers in his head, blooming infinitely, and said “I see them. Colours. Bright colours. Many bright, shiny colours.” And he said Oh!, and he wrote another fraction on the blackboard. I just walked out. Disgusting for an eleven year old to know why prime numbers are interesting—I’ll die before I know.
Isaac once, in a fit of rage, spat his most-loaded insult at someone: your head is like a conical decahedron!!! Poor sod. At that age I could say Tumbaavu! with no problems at all. Not Isaac; it had to be about mathematical shapes for him. Brings a tear to my eye.
The other classmate was a girl (I think she was called Flora, if I remember well). Her reticent manner afforded her only one good friend: Isaac. She was quiet, and it wasn’t clear what she exceled at. But while I was at the old car, it became clear.

So, here’s me at the car and noticing it has moved for the first time in like three years. Lots of rubbish has been pulled out of and around the car, and placed to the side. And some P7 boy crawls out from under it. Glad to have an audience, he explains what he is doing. (Obsessive freaks do that a lot: explain before you want to know.) “I just had to replace the axle, and a few other rusted things. It’s actually in good shape, this car. See? I moved it from over there to here.” It was all of four metres, but it made him happy, so cool, I guess. I’ve known of cars moving to town and back, but whatever. “It proves,” he was continuing, “that the systems are all in order, more-or-less. I steered it all the way. I can’t get it to fire up, though.” And he slips back down. Well, I was standing over another genius, now. Cool. In the time between when I saw the rubbish (including the shed skin of a snake!) and when he went down, a girl had joined us behind our backs: Flora. Now I notice her, because she asks “Have you cut the battery circuit?” The P7 boy comes out, and looks at Flora. Flora explains something about removing the battery and how it can help pinpoint where the power is stopping. A lot of car-mechanic jargon I couldn’t remember for a new computer. After swapping words in that language, Flora slinks down under the car. The minutes pass as she calls for spanners and pliers and so on. They speak in their language, and cut and twist things. And then, some long time later, Flora comes out and sits in the car while the two of us pushed it. Their language is slightly-related to mine, so I can make out times when Flora tells him that her father was a car mechanic before he died, and that she had been working with him since she was five. The P7 boy talks of his mechanic father, too, and that he literally owned the garage after his father died, until his mother also died and he had to move to his uncle’s place. “It’s a nice place, and my uncle is good,” he explains, “but it’s too boring. There are no broken cars to repair.” You people thought I was crazy? We pushed the car harder now, and Flora would have finished explaining that her mother was also worryingly-sick, if the engine had not coughed too suddenly.

Now the school is gathered around us, and the headmaster is getting ready to give an impromptu assembly extolling the virtues of being able to work with your hands. The P7 boy is beside himself. You made it work, Flora! You’re a genius! And the teachers who can drive are taking turns making the car run about backwards and forwards under the tree. You can think it is even new this car, I swear!, one teacher says, his gaping smile letting some excited saliva onto his collar. These two, the P7 boy and Flora, are among the rest of us getting envious looks (because, officially, a school kid wasn’t allowed to drive a car in school). The two were called up, and we were told to clap for them. Clap again! And we clapped ’til our hands hurt, and our envy became almost murderous. Clap again! The damn headmaster! Clapping is not as easy as it looks! And we clapped. CLAP AGAIN! And we clapped. This is why you should all learn to use your hands! These ones are good examples to you all! Blah-di-blah. Headmaster speeches are for forgetting.

Girls got into some otherwise boys-only fields, after that Flora incident. In particular, they took to nursing cars back to life with that faddish zeal of primary school girls. She had quietly led her revolution with simple, good ol’ pure genius. And it never got to her head. She always just gave her advice to other girls as they pulled at the wires in the school compound. Her clique became the first referral when a car repair had to be made in that school. But only until the end of the term, because she never came back the next term. Neither did Isaac. The P7 boy had reached the end of Primary School, but I hope he (unlike the other two) didn’t die during the long holidays.
Me, I think the real damage HIV/AIDS has done and is doing will only be felt in the number of young people who died before their capacity could be realised. And not just the kids who are born HIV+, but also the fact that HIV affects young people the most. 50% of Swaziland’s youth are HIV+. If this was fifteen years ago, that would be like saying 50% of the young Swazis will be dead in two years.
This other guy who wanted me to make him a website to warn people going to Makerere University against the serious danger of HIV infection they are in, he got HIV while at Makerere. He said some grim shit, “Almost like they come with HIV infection as a primary goal. You won’t believe how many there are who share my story. It’s almost like HIV laid a trap here, to get the young people getting an education, to decimate those and leave the rest alone.” He is on top of his class, but quite depressed at the moment. (I didn’t make his website, but let’s not digress. See, I need money. Charity is for Westerners, the atheist missionaries—now they preach “democracy” not “Christianity”, we being the poor fuckers who have to swallow whatever the West is pissing this time—so he should get money from an NGO and pay me; then, I’ll do it. Fuck you too. You’re the ones keeping Capitalism here, not me. Fuc ... what did you call me? Fuck you, your head is like a conical decahedron. Fuck you, tumbaavu.)

Anyway, I’ll go away now. You’ve pissed me. I dedicate this to Isaac and Flora: too young, way too young. I never even got anyone to act out Sherlock Holmes books with, once Isaac went on to Where There Is No Disease. :o(
As for you, just decide to let the defeat of HIV/AIDS start with you. See, if you don’t contract it, that is one trail closed. Forever, ’tis closed. That stuff the Westerners are saying about how our infection rates came down, ignore it. Let’s do the one thing we know works. ABC, contrary to what I may have said, doesn’t mean Abortion, Barack, Chomsky. Ignore, also, the people, who, eager to sound like they are the very embodiment of Free, tell you that abstinence is pushed only by ultra-religious extremists and therefore has no room among the free people. Stupid cultism, because religion seems to be for the free as well (and they conveniently ignore that this near-hedonist cultic freedom fanaticism is a religion more insidious than Dark Ages Catholic theocracy and even more oppresive of those who may not agree, but with full Orwellian covers—Freedom is Slavery). Only fools reject something because of who supports it. You’ll be amazed who can turn into a fool on such things. But I guess the temptation of intellectual acceptance and the peer pressure thereof must be too hard to resist, in a world where being called “free” or “smart” is better praise than being called, say, “forgiving”. If you’re going to avoid a sexually-transmitted disease, logic tells you that abstinence works. Irrespective of whether Martin Ssempa and Mrs. Janet Museveni and Pat Robertson support it or not. Fuck you—abstain! (Paradox—oxymoron!) Tell your kids to abstain, tell everybody. It’s only until we’ve cut off the supply of infection, then we can collapse upon each other in an orgy of celebration for having vanquished our second-biggest enemy (Western Imperialists and American spies being the biggest.) See, I have to shock you into realising I’m not saying this stuff for reasons of religion. Abstain already! And then, if you want to fuck, use a condom. And, if you don’t use a condom, be faithful to your partner. It bears repeating, this Abstinence, Being faithful, Condoms. ABC. I think I’m staying, even though this has become too long. (I’ll be training for brevity. I know this length to be a bad thing, but I seem hopeless at brevity.)

You see, when infection happens, it’s not necessarily the third party to worry about, leave alone the second party with whom you’ve locked face. It’s an exponential, recursive relationship. As in, you are exposed, through one partner, to all the partners your partner had. But because this applies to your partner too (in relation to his/her other partners), you are exposed to their partners too, which exposes you to the partners of the partners of the partners’ partners. Which exposes you to the partners of the partners of the partners of the partners’ partners. Recursively, like that, rising exponentially. That’s why this bullshit of “low chance of infection” doesn’t work. It’s not your partner we are deeming “high risk”; hell no! Instead, we mean the fact that there is a connection between you two and the teeming, exponentially-rising number of partners that you only get exposed to secondarily. If there is any high-risk person in the explained web—and there is, you can be sure—the risk level is 100% transitive, which comes fully to the two people we are currently perving on in our collective mind, who are otherwise “low-risk” in isolation. What’s the chance that you’re not making contact with HIV? Basically zero. If you make it a pessimistic assumption, then it is certainly a zero chance. That’s why ABC is an important discovery for the human race (and, like all such things, it was discovered in Africa—Uganda, in this case) and those who knock it down should be tortured then shot in public. Sorry, got carried away.
Now, the next thing you do, after ABC, is to teach people and fight stigma against those who have HIV. There is a reason it has been on my activism side bar since 2006. See, stigma feeds HIV. Currently, only knowledge can defeat HIV, you see, and stigmatised people don’t access knowledge (because it may cause them suspicion and then discovery and then stigmatisation when they, for example, pay attention to HIV/AIDS literature). They may be barred from accessing it by a society that deems this stigmatised subject too taboo to teach people about, too worried about its exposing effect. The result is that they live in 2008 as though it is 1992. No ARVs or knowledge to use them well, no good feeding, no good health care. Subsequently, no life. So go and teach! Go ye into all the world and teach about HIV/AIDS to every creature! And fight stigma, or nobody will come to hear you teach, and you’ll be a voice in the desert, and, in spite of accumulated knowledge, we’ll be as though it is still 1992 for those who need the information the most (both to take good care of themselves and to avoid infection). You see, therefore, that if we fight stigma, we fight HIV/AIDS directly. Stigma is at the root of the problem and of the solution. Fight stigma!
With that, I shall close and get some food. Such fine food, it reminds me of the Easter of ‘96. :o)


Ashy said...

Not to use the 'L' word again, you write so well, very well!

...'conical decahedron' ... 'orgy of celebration' Surely?!?! :D

Princess said...

The passion! You're good, Rev! :-)
Flora and Isaac.

The Emrys said...

well preached man, well preached. now off to kick some knowledge into that ignorant friend of mine

Erique said...

Never dreamed of saying this EVER but Bravo dude. Bravo! ...

... Get over yourself. It's the last time I say it.

leos child said...

conical deca............ is officially on use, i must say i waited a while never thought you would get to the point HIV i mean but it was interesting i hope flora is okay i like the fact that she had mechanic tendencies

yz said...

Good one. Its the kids born HIV+ that have me worried. There's alot of them out there, stigma has them cornered and with all the other kid drama they also have to deal with the stigma of having HIV/AIDS. What's happening for them

mphoebe said...

the guy whose website you wont make (./.) "God is watching..""

About ABC: Use a Condom. use a condom. use a condom..always.

Robyn said...


lulu said...

as usual... 27th... you take the cake, cream chocolate caramel and all! lol! that was reallly affecting, how you wrote about flora and isaac...

Zack (ألاسمحاجّ) said...

I'm glad you wore your red ribbon proudly in this blog! Way to go!