Grace is HIV positive. She looks after her mother, who is completely disabled and is separated from her father – a traditional healer who earned very little money.
Her stepfather has been good to Grace’s mother and her children. Life has improved as Grace and her brothers have managed to get help with cultivation, buy some cattle and improve their farming production.
Grace has an open approach to her HIV status, believing that a positive attitude has many health benefits. She says the village has been supportive, and that she has been”encouraged” by her brothers’ reaction and that of her husband’s family. Grace talks about her hopes and ideas for assistance that would help her to help herself.
My name is Grace. I was born right here in the village of Hagwanama. My real father was not Tonga, but…a Luvale from Zambezi. My mother is from Hagwanama.
My father…was an African doctor… He started travelling and reached here, healing people – that’s the time he met up with mum. We lived with him from 1975…the kind of life we were leading was hard because he was poor. But he managed to look after us. We never had cattle, but we used our hands to dig the ground…
These roots nowadays called chipama…he taught us how these things are cooked. “When you have no food, dig this up and cook it.” We lived just like that, struggling.
Improvements to life
We started doing some piecework with my elder brother. There was this man who had some cattle and we used to go and do piecework for him… then he gave us cattle to use for cultivation, and we stopped using our hands to dig.
From then on we started developing, cultivating, until – as the years went on – my brother managed to have his own cattle. Then we started improving our standard of living because from the time dad and mum separated, that same man [pointing to stepfather] became the one who brought us up…looking after us…
I used to see life as bad because we had nothing in our family. We hadn’t even goats or chickens or anything. But nowadays we have goats, cattle, and all the things we need to use… People that are poor are those that don’t cultivate; just from their clothes you can tell that this person doesn’t have [any land to grow food]…
Fertiliser – we never used it. We used ant hills… you put [the soil from them] in the holes before the rains come… Those that had cattle, they used to put cattle manure in the same holes, then immediately the rain falls, we plant the maize where we dug the hole.
We managed [to cultivate] maybe one hectare with our hands. [But] last year, the maize harvest was not enough…what helped us was sweet potatoes, we cultivated enough of them…the maize we yielded saw us up to April the following year…
We sell maize just in the village…the soya beans we grow, we filled two 50 kg [containers], but we haven’t found yet where to sell it and the smaller beans we grow for samp (pounded maize and beans) are there as well. We mostly sell it in the rainy season because this when people like it…
Struggling against odds
Before my mother became ill, she used to plant a lot of foodstuff like groundnuts, peanuts, sweet potatoes, cassava and maize; she used to plant and we used to eat. But…for us to emulate the way she was planting has become difficult because of the drought of today. The rain no longer falls the way it used to.
[In addition] whenever the rainy season comes, I have problems of being sick. My hands are always painful…sometimes I feel some paralysis in them. Even if I am holding something in my hands, I can let it drop without feeling it. So even if I want to work, I have this problem.
You have seen my mother and seen that there is nothing she can do, not one thing. When I wake in the morning I start by cleaning or sweeping the kitchen, then I light a fire and warm some water for my mother to bathe. After that I go to the vegetable garden and when I come back I cook some food for lunch.
[Then] I do other jobs [such as] pound some maize meal, prepare chibwantu (sweet beer made from crushed maize or samp, and roots of a common tree) and draw some water. On Saturday we don’t cook anything – we cook all our food on Friday for Saturday [because] we are at church for the whole day.
[There is] the project at the dam… We plant vegetables and we are rearing chickens… they were telling us to contribute a chicken each and we don’t know [whether to], because they haven’t told us what is coming in the future…
There is good in the project because these vegetables we plant…they used to give us them to cook…
Then the chickens – when they started laying eggs each person was given two eggs from her chicken, and they told us that when these chickens hatch, whenever one has a problem the chickens will assist us because we shall be selling them… [And if] you need to go to the hospital, you can sell eggs to raise money to get to hospital…
The burden of illness
[When my mother’s] disease started, she began with swelling from the thighs, the feet and hands. As time went by she was taken to Chikankata Hospital [several times]… they gave her some preventative drugs, although the disease couldn’t be cured. They just gave her drugs so that the sores would not be painful…
But as life goes on and days go by, mum has started failing to hold anything…then both her eyes closed…the truth is that she doesn’t see anymore. I find it a big problem to stay with a person who can’t do a thing for herself. Even though my brothers are assisting me, the problem is there. There is no [other help]…she does not eat some of the foods we grow…Chinese cabbage is the only vegetable she eats…
We manage [to buy clothes for her] and…after doing my farming, I also do some piecework and clothe myself and the two children I have.
A father favours his son
I was married – or let me just say that I am married, although there are some problems… some confusions… My marriage was hard because the family I married into have no cattle and [I faced] the same problems I had at my village in the beginning… there is no proper farming because there are no tools.
The girl is eight years old and the boy is two years and nine months… Educating a child is good because you may not have a lot of problems in future if that child gets a job. The child can help you and return the money you strived for to educate him or her… the problem is that the father is irresponsible because since she started school, everything – uniforms, books, and shoes – I buy for her.
I tell him that we should help one another supporting the child. He agrees and says he will assist but…he is not around. He went to his relatives in Livingstone. But a few days ago he sent some money, 70,000 Kwacha, so I can buy some clothes for her and some school requirements… The boy he assists – because he buys him a lot of clothes – but for the girl who is in school, he is not concerned…
Education in a real sense I don’t have…I studied from grade 1 to 7…my mother was paying. But once she started…searching for how to pay for us, it was difficult. We children therefore just stopped school, when we were still interested in learning.
Being positive about being positive
Aah, this disease of HIV and AIDS for sure is here. It is common. Why I am saying that? Because this same husband of mine was a polygamist. His other wife died of this same disease. I also have this disease; I went for testing.
The way I look after myself is by following the instructions they gave us and hence my life seems to be a bit good… Another thing I can encourage my friends about is that having multiple partners is not good; it is dangerous… But some of our friends discourage you in the way they answer…saying,”If I stop [sleeping with men for money or gifts] there is no way I can find money to buy soap.”
I discovered that you lose weight if you always think: I have HIV and AIDS. You don’t need to start being negative and say I am suffering from this disease; just behave as if there is nothing wrong, and just start imagining it is not in your body… they told me that I came out in the open early enough to start getting drugs… They give me brown tablets and also they give us foodstuffs such as…beans, packets of biscuits and some…drinks… They also give us rice.
Most of [the village] know my status…we mix well, and we eat together. The family just welcomed me nicely. I was encouraged by my brothers telling me that even if this thing has come to you, just ignore it – and that you are not the first one to suffer from this disease…and do not quarrel with your husband because of the disease.
[He and I] just relate well… [His own family] encouraged me by saying, “Thank you for still being together and married to our child, even when he is the one who brought this disease.”
HIV and AIDS support groups
Those [HIV support] people go around teaching and encouraging people to know their status by way of testing. When they encourage people like that, most of them go… Here in Hagwanama, they are many who went for testing and were found positive.
The assistance the [Community Radio] Chikuni people give to those of us who go around teaching about HIV is that they give us bags to carry our materials… We meet every Thursday…and those who manage to come then teach each other. Those that want to learn the advantage of testing, we write down their names so that when we next go to Chikuni, we go with them.
[In] the past, when our mothers were still growing up, these diseases that have just come now did not exist… all the diseases were treatable because if a person looked for traditional African medicine, he or she will be healed… But these days we have discovered that this HIV and AIDS does not heal before death.
They have never given us those ARVs (antiretroviral; combination drug treatment)… the medicine they gave me I used to take morning, afternoon and evening. They also gave me some medicine to apply to my face because I had developed a rash. These medicines have assisted me…
Help for widows and orphans
[A] woman we are with in the group…goes to Choma and sometimes she brings us back food like soya, cooking oil, sugar and rice, so as to build up the body a little bit.
Trouble comes because when you fall sick you can no longer work to get your own food, so people help… the daughter of that old woman I was talking about earlier, because both of them are unable to work, people give them chibwantu, masembe, busu (maize meal) and even cooked food…
The orphans are assisted too…I’ll explain what the church does…we donate 3 gallon containers of maize from each village every year for the orphans. After selling the maize…those who look after them buy them whatever they need… In our church we have 12 orphans and eight widows… the widows are assisted, especially in terms of clothes and food… we also assisted them with six chickens.
People from the village come to assist the orphans…Some bring clothes, some food, and anything else that one can manage… in the rainy season, there is a field given to the orphans…the produce harvested from it is for them. [And] they buy school uniforms for them, shoes and anything that they [need]…. they bought them six goats…whenever they have a problem, they sell a goat and so they help themselves…
The right support
What I wish is to be assisted with is food – because food tablets are why I look like this. It is because I eat good food and follow my medication…
I could think of doing business too, if we could be assisted with domesticated animals. Because I know that if we were given these, once you sell them, you will be able to end your problems… so chickens, goats, and seeds for gardening [would all help] – because we are still able to garden and make profits, which can enable us help ourselves…
This interview has been specially edited for the web and cut down by more than half. Some re-ordering has taken place: square brackets indicate’inserted’ text for clarification; round brackets are translations / interpretations; and dots indicate cuts in the text. The primary aim has been to remain true to the spirit of the interview, while losing questions, repetition, and confusing or overlapping sections.