Yesterday, December 1, 2008, marked the 20th anniversary of World Aids Day. I was honored to be invited to a celebration at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Chicago marking the 20th anniversary of Vida/Sida Bartolo Hernandez de Jesus HIV/Aids Initiative. I find that the Puerto Rican culture is a mirror of my own culture in Kenya in that we still have a long way to go in addressing the HIV/Aids epidemic. I must admit there has been a lot on my mind lately having recently watched the film MILK starring Sean Penn and being entrenched in the debate regarding proposition 8. I am humbled by how far we have come and enraged at how much work we still have to do.
I believe there are many reasons for the HIV/Aids epidemic in Kenya, but there is also a culture of silence and hypocrisy when it comes to addressing the issue on a massive level. For example in my tribe (the Luo tribe) there is an acceptance of polygamy that many refuse to acknowledge is high risk behavior. I think it is hypocritical to stand up against HIV/Aids and yet continue to marry and sleep around with multiple people. I also realize that often times the women in Kenya do not speak up and take a stand against such behavior.
I know that having lived in the United States gives me an opportunity to examine the societal flaws of Kenyans and I realize that most of these flaws are due to our continual acceptance of idiotic cultural beliefs. I can not force Kenyan women to change their stance on polygamy or to stop returning to abusive relationships, but I believe that at some point these women have to make a choice regarding how they want to live their lives- as victims or as leaders. In America most psychologists say that a woman has to want to leave a situation to be saved just like a junkie must want to be clean to go to rehab. That is exactly how I see a lot of Kenyan women.
Because of this I spend countless hours questioning the concept of freedom. Do we have the right to enforce our belief in freedom on others? Should I stand by and watch others freedoms being taken away? Perhaps it’s a sense of self gratification to die fighting for peoples freedom, to question others cultures as immoral or to enforce a democratic system in ones state. However, what do you do for those that have never seen freedom?
I know that if I died from HIV/Aids it would not be because of my sexuality; it would be because I was tricked perhaps into being trustworthy or because I decided to live on the edge, a life filled with promiscuity and loneliness. Yet the concept of being gay is more frightening to Africa then the idea of living with Aids. I know it is not only in Kenya let alone Africa where this fear runs rapid like the Nile, it’s also here in America- primarily in black and Hispanic communities where we see women who are trapped in unhealthy and risky relationships.
Unfortunately often times it is usually to late for them to leave, when they are battered beyond recognition or turn crazy from being beaten in the head to many times. Other times they have been to emotionally abused to even recognize their own self worth that they can not look at a future of independence. Often they are to focused on maintaining a marriage so that they will not be the laughing stock of the community.
The bottom line is if women banded together and said we will not stand for this it would not happen. If we opened our doors and walked in groups we would not be one victim in a house but a room of women willing to fight the men that turn us into those victims. We would not give our daughters away to marriage to eat for only a few months or work our bodies to death to hand money to the men that abuse us. If we banded together there would not be a World Aids Day.
For me it is a reminder of my family members, especially the ones that have died of HIV/Aids complications in Kenya. It is also a reminder of the effects, the traces of their being in the world. The orphans they produced. The first words they missed, the birthdays candles they didn’t help blow out. The family reunions that seemed empty. We may be human, but we are also animals. We are reckless, unthankful, and irrational when we work alone so why not reexamine our culture and lifestyle. Why not walk up to your neighbors door when you hear a fight or stop blaming the gay community when they pay your taxes? Why not accept your communities unwillingness to talk about HIV/Aids and start the dialogue?
So what?! Lets talk about sex baby! Lets talk about gender roles, sexual complexities, and sexual satisfaction. Lets talk about lost ones and loved ones and forgotten ones! Lets talk about HIV/Aids!
Lets talk about HIV/Aids… Talk about Hiv/Aids… About Hiv/Aids… Hiv/Aids… Aids.