Peek into the HIV-Scarred Lives of Young Africans

MASERU, Lesotho – The email arrived on the eve of a journalism workshop I’d lead at Kick4Life, an NGO that promotes sport and HIV awareness in a country with the world’s third-highest rate of HIV infection.

The three-session workshop would be for the newly formed Writing Club, where young Basotho explore their first-hand HIV experiences with pen and paper.

No one here, it seems, is unaffected by HIV. My task would be to teach them a bit about third-person feature writing – to give voice to the voiceless.

The email, then, was a collection of their vignettes, names withheld, for me to get a sense of what I'd be working with. The first few pieces start slowly, but they begin to bite harder and harder. Themes emerge: beer, sexual aggression, low self-esteem, risky behavior, HIV.

One teen apparently admit to rape. Another tells of a friend impregnated by her father. A third describes an HIV-induced suicide.

Taken together, they paint a striking portrait of life today for young Basotho. That’s why I’ve posted them below, unedited ...

"PROBLEMATIC PREGNANCY"

Though I always visited my girlfriend time and again, that her mother was pregnant I was not aware.

After giving birth, she openly told me she was HIV positive. Hospital officials told her after giving birth. She was so disappointed, lonely and felt alone.

She had played tricks for her not to be tested while pregnant. Along happier times long before her pregnancy, she once said never ever can she go for voluntary [counselling] and testing.

She reasoned that because when HIV positive death time is just around the corner, she fears she will suffer a lot [psychologically]. She could not help struggling to figure out how her four children could survive without her as a single parent.

"TEENAGE PARENTING"

Shortly after giving birth she died; shortly after her burial the [new-born] was no more and also buried.

In a very short space of time more than a lot happened to her eldest child, that’s her daughter. This is the girl who was my girlfriend.

She was 17 years old in late 2007, the period I am [referring] to. After the day her mother died, she was not buried for about a month. There was no money for the funeral and her family elders were busy fighting.

My girlfriend got herself a new boyfriend. I fought the new guy in her life and wanted to win her confidence back. She was the eldest of the five children and had to support them financially and emotionally. Her mother used to run a pre-school and she had to take over and for six or five months she was no more at school because she had to attend her [sickly] mother.

Within two months from her mother’s burial, she got married to her new boyfriend. For once I knew he had beat her before they got married. He was suspicious that she was cheating with yet another guy. My girlfriend’s aunt said at times she would not sleep home.

"BITTER MARRIAGE"

Late 2011 they were forced to separate through the intervention of the police. She could endure the beatings and threats of her husband but no more.

She opted for police intervention because the family was aware and the chief could not help effectively.

Their son is old enough to go for pre-school. She is a shopkeeper and her husband a [gardener].

"LESSON LEARNT"

In between her mother becoming sick and dying, she became desperate, vulnerable and [maybe] confused.

The family was fighting over the burial arrangement, not how the children will progress then afterwards or how they are surviving as of now.

Supportive structures like Kick4Life, LPPA, Youth [Centres], or/and community youth groupings, would be of great help in one way or another.

Worst of all, that she was no more attending school was even much more disastrous. [Maybe] one teacher or a friend at school would notice that there is something strange upon her life, thereby be a supportive good fellow.

"HARSH TIME OF OUR LIVES"

My name is []. I had the friend whose name was Marakalla. We were at the same age, when we had chaos inside our heads. The confusion was that we [couldn’t] detect [the] importance of going to school while we [were] still young. Rather, we decided to steal and sell [drugs] in order to get money for beer.

Firstly, we started by stealing chickens, peaches, carrots, maize as well as potatoes. Immediately after we survived to steal, as [speedy] as rockets we went to town and sell them to some hawkers and some people who need cheap goods. That harsh business grown up, where we [ended] up [reaching] rich places.

Secondly, after we got huge money, we went to clubs to drink beer. Going to the club several times and attending some special [occasions] in [the] club [made] us to be known. We [gravitated] to most of [the] richest women at [the] clubs, [and] we [ended] up having some sugar mummies (mechaufa). That was [the] time [when] I realised that having sex with [an] older person, without [a] condom [is] most enjoyable.

Apart from that we used to buy some prostitute[s] [especially] while our sugarmummies are not there. Even though, we end up attending some counselling course at Kick4Life when we opened after big mistake. (Hee chacha e ncha) youth wake up on time, avoid some [temptation].

"MY DAYS BECOME RUDE TO ME"

I am the boy aged 19 years old. I started drinking beer while I was living with my aunty. We used [to] rumble because she [was] always insulting me. Furthermore, she didn’t want me to [touch] anything: television, radio, telephone, computer as well as her car.

Fortunately, I was [a] well [behaved] child because I’ve been [brought] up by my grandmother. Even though things become worse to me, because she started treating me like a slave, looking [at] me like she saw an ugly monkey [in the] forest. The fact that I’m [an] orphan, I decided to go to my friend to get some advice. Unfortunately, I [got] out from [the] frying pan into the fire.

They said to me, “Boy it’s time to be [a] man, [the] solution [is] beer”. Without any doubts, I started drinking beer. Immediately after I [got] drunk…. [*section of text isn’t clear here*]

I became more addicted to drinking beer. Unfortunately, this leads me to temptation. I remember one day when my problem [overcame] me! On my way home, I met with my old girlfriend who was away from because of her status. The fact that my brain was off, I started asking her to [have] sex but she refused. As angry as the lion I forced her to do it.

Ao shame! She didn’t cry [or] do anything, [even] to go to [the] police or tell her parents, but she said “you will suffer some consequences soon.” After some months I told my friends [and] they [advised] me to go to the clinic to check my status. Badly I found that I’m HIV positive, that where my problems [became] worse than before, because everybody gallop away from me, so guys and girls support all people who suffer from HIV positive.

"UNTITLED"

I used to have a friend who had multiple sex partners. She had a partner [of] her [own] age, while the others were ministers of finance. She was involved in risky behaviour since she did not always use a condom and finally fell pregnant. Lucky enough she was HIV negative.

When she realised that she [was] pregnant she stopped all the relationships she had. The consequences were not good at all because the father [of the baby] denied her. He stated that he was not the only man in her life, so [it was] possible that he [was] not the father.

I have realised that having multiple sexual partners has got bad results even if one can have the material things he/she was seeking. The worst part of it is when you become infected with HIV/AIDS. Fortunately, my friend came out positive and decided to change her life.

"UNTITLED"

Coming to Kick4Life became a life changing experience. I only knew that Kick4Life changes life through sport. Then [came] the how question. I just saw it on TV and knew nothing more about it. I decided to take a step forward and filled a volunteering form. After some time I was told to come to an [intervention]. What was the [intervention] all about?

Not knowing what is so called [intervention], I came. There were games that we played that are related to HIV/AIDS. This was the most, or should I say awesome, games that I have ever played. The reason behind [this] is that we were all taking part while on the other hand we were learning.

Kick4Life has made a great impact in my life, so much that I wish all young people can make time for it and reap good fruits. I have learned a lot about HIV/AIDS since I thought I knew. Most importantly, since the message is portrayed through games, it is not easy to forget what was taught.

I wish all the parents should be supportive enough and let their children come to have this life changing experience. It also helps keep young people [off] the streets where they can easily get into mischief. Come and ride this rocket with me and your life shall never be the same again. Cheers!!

"RISKY BEHAVIOUR CAN LEAD TO DEATH"

Liteboho, a 20 year old female friend of mine who stayed at Ha Pita used to date older guys with their own cars. And they would buy her everything she wanted. One day one of her sugardaddies, Ntate Lereko who is as old as her father, invited her to his house. She wouldn’t turn that one off for she’d bring lots of money from there so she went. As they were having a good time and enjoying each other’s company, there was a knock at the door and before they could know it the door was opened and there a respectable lady was standing: turned out it was Lereko’s wife.

As shocked as my friend was, she tried escaping but couldn’t. She was badly beaten by the furious wife who was, after some minutes, stopped by her husband and there Liteboho was rescued. Because of the bad bruises she had, she had to visit a doctor, and while she was at it she tested HIV positive.

Things got worse when her mother read a note left on the floor by her only daughter apologising for all the wrongs she did, including having to leave the ‘unfair life’. What a miserable day for a single parent [whose] daughter just committed suicide!!

My friend’s story taught me I’m good as I am dating guys my age or rather being single. I believe if she didn’t get involved with older guys she’d still be here because surely she wouldn’t be having HIV. It taught me I need to accept myself the way I am. I mean what my parents [give] me is enough thanks to my friend’s death, because before when I saw her being bought expensive clothes by her sugar-daddies I was really tempted and even considering it so now I know better.

Again I learnt that I need and have to accept and face whatever comes my way whether good or bad and hopefully all youths out there will learn that, because frankly speaking, committing suicide isn’t a solution but only could make things worse for those we’d be leaving behind.

"UNTITLED"

Hi, my name is [], a Mosotho girl aged 19. I used to have fun with my friends not forgetting more alcohol behind because we believed that ‘no fun without alcohol’. One day when we were walking along the [road] with my friends, [a] black Navara stopped by our side. There were two men in it. They asked us to take a journey to Metolong with them. Without no [waste] of time we jumped into the car. At this time [we] did not ask who these guys are, where they [live] or what they were up to.

On our way to Metolong they stopped the car at the lodge called ‘Meleso. They asked us what we would like to have for drinking and we shouted “Savannah!”. Surprisingly when they came back they brought Tasemburg. On our way back from Metolong, they stopped the car near a river at Khorong and we all stepped out of [the] car to take pictures.

Immediately when we were taking pictures we were surprised by bad things they said that involved [us] having sex with them. One of these two men made it clear to us that they are going to share us, each is going to have his two girls for sex. We denied it, but they strengthened their points by telling us that they can’t [waste] their petrol and money to buy us beer for nothing. After this conversation they kindly asked us to jump in to the car so that they can take us home. When it arrived at Thaba-bosiu junction they took a wrong direction, opposite to that will take us home, and started to drive a car with its highest speed.

At this time we were afraid about what was going to happen to us, also we were not patient to go to where they were going because it was late.

While we were thinking about resolutions to our problem, one of our friends jumped off the car, she rolled down like a ball. We cried out for help and the car stopped. We jumped off to help our friend and we discovered that she was badly injured such that her clothes were torn up. The worst thing of this incident is that the two men we were with could not help us but they passed us claiming that we are useless we can’t give them what they want.

At this time it was late, also we were so drunk that we were unable to carry the injured girl. Luckily one taxi that passes near our village arrived on our way, we stopped it and asked for help, they patiently helped us and we arrived home.

About this story I would like to give awareness to girls: Girls be aware of men, they are hungry lions outside ready to swallow one. Also never trust strangers because some can bring [a] sour ending to the rest of your life or piece of fun you have. Be aware of HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy and human trafficking.

"THE DANGERS OF ALCOHOL ABUSE"

In 2009 I had a friend, his name was Masuta. He was 25 years old and he lives in Thabong, Maseru. In his spare time Masuta enjoys dancing and listening to music.

Masuta was working at one of the clothing shop[s] in town. As they were not working on weekends, he would spend his time at the taverns drinking beer. After drinking he used to buy sex workers (Likuena) before going home. But that happened only when drunk.

One day he told me that while having sex with a sex worker other time, in the middle he decided not using a condom as that girl was giving him the best. He told me that that happened years ago before knowing me. I asked him if he tested for HIV after that, he said no. I [advised] him to go for testing. He promised to go there and give me feedback. Unluckily he never came back to me. I tried to phone him but his phone was not available for a long time.

So, by not giving me feedback, I thought that maybe he found that he was HIV positive. I learned that drinking too much alcohol is not good and can lead us to HIV/AIDS. It is better to avoid risky behaviours that may lead to HIV/AIDS. And I think we must take part in sports or reading books to get more knowledge about our daily lives.

"UNTITLED"

My name is [] and most people call me []. I was with my friends planning to go partying at a hotel for the whole night in town. One of them called [her] boyfriend because he had a car, so she told him she had friends who wanted to go out. Without wasting any time he arrived with his friends too, and we moved on. I didn’t tell my boyfriend that I was going out with friends that day. When we arrived at the hotel one of my boyfriend’s [friends] called him and told him I was with the guys he didn’t know and I am also drinking alcohol.

Immediately he arrived and [held] my hand and took me out of the hotel. He asked me about those people I am with and I [lied] to him that they were my friend’s friends. Then he didn’t allow me to go anywhere, my friends left me there hopeless. I remember clearly that I was still a virgin at that time. He told me that I was going to sleep with him, as we didn’t sleep [together] ever since we dated because I was already having a partner there that I was going to sleep with. He then forced me to have sex with him, I cried a lot but he didn’t buy anything. I asked him to use a condom but he denied and told me they don’t fit him.

I thought maybe my friends are having a good time. Suddenly things turned out badly. They also slept with those guys they didn’t know because they were under the influence of alcohol. Two of them [fell] pregnant, oh! What a time I also fell pregnant. So to young people out there, I would like to tell you that if you don’t have self-confidence you might [] well find yourselves in the same situation. Think and make a good decision on what you want to have and achieve in life. Think twice before you make a wrong decision that would ruin your life forever.

"UNTITLED"

My name is []. I am a Mosotho girl aged 21. I went to school at St. Stephen’s High School. I had a friend from a nearby school, her name is Lerato. Lerato was an intelligent student, caring and always attending our after school discussions. To [paraphrase] some of the wise men’s words, it is said, “All that [glitters] is not gold.” Likewise, Lerato was intransigent and she never took anyone’s advice if she felt that she did not need it.

We were in Form E when Lerato began acting weird. She came late for discussions and she was the first to leave the group. I marvelled at her behaviour and secretly, I decided to approach her. As usual, Lerato ignored my disapproval regarding her recent behaviour. She became more and more scarce each and every day. Sometimes, she was dropped by our place by different fancy cars. She would lie to us and say, “That was my uncle.” Her excuses became more frequent.

My cognitive skill became real one day when Lerato came to our group with two ladies who were rumoured to be top class prostitutes. They were as drunk as a swimming fish. That had always been my fear, new expensive jewelleries, clothes and food. Lerato was literally a prostitute. She was involved in both transactional and transgenerational relationships. Lerato had [reached a point of no return] with her behaviour and we concluded that it was time to confront her, whether she would listen or not.

The next day was Saturday, a good day for a meeting and a very crucial one for that matter. When the meeting initiated, Lerato was down to earth. We told her [the] dangers of having multiple sexual partners, older partners that normally chauffeured her in fancy cars to her place, alcohol abuse and negative peer pressure from the recent friends she had lately.

We told her that, with these risks surrounding her, she was much more likely to [contract] HIV/AIDS. After talking to her, she told us that she suspected that she was pregnant. We [advised] her to go to a clinic and test for HIV since she was engaged in sexual activity with different people.

She took our advice but the news [was] bad. She tested positive. We told her to take ARVs as the nurse had recommended. Lerato did as she was told and she went to the clinic frequently for treatment (PMTCT). Her baby boy was born later the following year without HIV. Lerato went back to school again and she became more engaged than ever. She was healthy and we gave her all the support that she needed. She passed with first division and right now she is a nurse and youth counsellor.

"UNTITLED"

Me and my friends [used] to party a lot at teen stage, by that time we were still at school and had no money for parties but since we liked going out then we had to find the means of income. One of my friends by the name of Lineo started dating older men and they always [gave] her money.

One day Ntate Thabiso, a rich man who has many fancy cars, proposed [to] Lineo and without a doubt she [admitted / accepted?] the proposal. Everybody or every lady wanted to date Sthabi (that is how they used to call him), he also go around with several girls.

Sthabi could take us to the hotel for drinks and book a room for him and Lineo. We never card what was happening or could happen to our friend because she was spoiling us with whatever we wanted. When time goes by my friend told us that Sthabi never want to use a condom anymore reason being he is always with Lineo, love her very much and gives her whatever she wants. We warned her and she also insisted that Sthabi loves her.

Lineo fell pregnant and was also HIV positive. [She] told Sthabi and Sthabi admitted that he was [the] father and he wanted to marry Lineo. Lineo was in shock because Sthabi was old and she thought he could have had a wife by then, but she told him to go to [her] place and talk to her mother since her mother was a single parent.

Before Sthabi can go to Lineo’s place, she told her mother that she was pregnant and the father of her baby will come soon. Like every mother who always [strives] for the success of her child, tears run down her face but nothing she could do. After a period of a month, Sthaby went to Lineo’s place and he find Lineo’s mum, aunt and brother. Lineo’s smile was dancing at the corner of her lips when she saw the father of [her] child entering the door, but immediately her mother fainted. What could have been the reason for Lineo’s mother to faint when [she] saw Sthabi, that was a question to Lineo, while she was open-mouthed she saw Sthabi running away and never come back.

Her mother was taken to the hospital and while still recovering she told Lineo that Sthabi will never marry her, there was no way she will allow that. Lineo wondered why and her mother told her that Ntate Thabiso was Lineo’s father.

I have realised that having an older partner can lead to serious consequences such as HIV, unplanned pregnancy and more importantly: an older partner can be your father especially when being raised by a single mother.

As for me and my friends [we vowed] never to go partying because there is where peer pressure is.

Follow Michael on Twitter @mjjordanink

Michael J. Jordan, who arrived in Lesotho in 2011, is the lone Western foreign correspondent living in the country – and covering its crisis.