The epidemic is clearly something all are aware of, though very few narrators talk of being close to someone affected. Elias is the only one who speaks of losing a member of his family – in this case his daughter. It “touched me a lot,” he says, and he has become an active educator for AIDS awareness and prevention.
Narrators offer different reasons for the spread of HIV and AIDS. Some in Oloitokitok single out polygamy, a continuing but declining tradition among the Maasai. Martha says: “AIDS is the major threat here. This is because of men marrying several wives and still being unfaithful.” Another narrator, Mary, blames the wives for straying.
Promiscuity is particularly complained about in Kibagare. George says “This disease catches my friends a lot, especially the young men,” but admits that “we have a mentality which is: if I am seeing a certain girl and she is good and beautiful and she is of a rival neighbourhood, even if she has [HIV and AIDS], every young man will try to go with her.”
There are different views about how open people are about HIV and AIDS. Martha says that people are reluctant to disclose their status: “people fear stigmatisation.” She also mentions that she has been tested but her husband “refused, saying he was busy”. Nyiva says: “…let’s just say that those who are infected cannot or will not reveal themselves.”
Others say that people’s attitudes have improved. Mary says there is less stigma today because of the sensitisation work done by churches and agencies. There seem to be quite a few voluntary counselling and testing centres. But Helen says apart from pregnant women, who have no choice, getting tested is not common, because “there are no people to emphasise its importance”.
Poverty clearly compounds the impact of the disease: Nyiva tells the story of a mother in Kibagare who is dying, leaving her young children alone, and with no means of support other than the local community: “If we had permanent homes, she would leave it for them to rent and they would at least get something.”
Elias, a Maasai, says whole families have been struck by the disease but the “clan or the immediate relatives take care of the orphans. It is not often that you see orphans roaming around… They are hidden and taken care of…”. Mary says some slip through the safety net, especially if the grandparents die as well: “Those children are left alone – they do not have anyone to help them…”
Only one person links the epidemic with loss of productivity. Mary says the “chief visible reason” behind the high levels of poverty in Oloitokitok is HIV and AIDS, which has affected “the people who had the strength to work”.