Memory books are collections of stories from HIV-positive parents who want to pass on their memory and experiences to the friends and children. The stories are usually cautionary tales, mostly by women, to teach those who are left behind not to make the same mistakes as those afflicted with the virus. However, the stories that make up memory books are often very touching and seek to leave behind something other than an obituary.
The first memory book project was produced in 1991 by dying immigrant African parents in London for their children. Since the onset of the AIDS epidemic, life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa has lowered dramatically and more than 15 million Africans have died from the virus. In 2005 alone, an estimated 2.4 million died from AIDS in countries in sub-Saharan Africa and the previous year, an estimated 25.4 million of the 39.4 million HIV-positive people in the world lived in sub-Saharan Africa. Below is a selection of stories compiled from avert.org, a British AIDS prevention organization that has multiple projects throughout Africa.
letter from RITA
I have read stories from other HIV-positive people and I think I should share mine with you too. I am a married woman aged 39 years with four children. I am a South African living in South Africa. I discovered that I am HIV-positive in November 2000 when I wanted to insure my house.
In April that year, my husband was hospitalized and discharged without my knowledge as he was working away from home. I came to know when I phoned him. When he was discharged he came home for two to three weeks. For the rest of his stay at home we did not have sex, which was strange, and he looked worried.
Towards the end of June the same year my one-year-old daughter who I was breastfeeding was admitted in hospital and it was pneumonia which I did not think much about its connection with her father’s illness.
In October when we had to undergo the HIV test I was confident but my husband was nervous although he pretended to be fine. One day when I got home I was got a message from the Doctor that we should both of us I myself and my husband) see him. It was Friday afternoon. What came right to my mind was that I was going to get the bad news.
I only started to think back, my husband got sick and my daughter too. As usual my husband ignored the importance of meeting the doctor and went back to his workplace. On Monday I called the doctor and confirmed an appointment. I had to go there alone and I was told that I was HIV positive.
I can’t explain the situation I went through, you know I nearly collapsed,
I went straight home to sleep. I only told my children that I was not feeling well. I did not have courage to tell them my status because I am only their last hope in life.
I took three days crying, without eating, until I felt that I was weak and could not do anything. That was when I remembered that I had someone special to talk to which was GOD. I prayed, I read the Bible from time to time crying accusing God of what has happened to me. You know from the readings I got courage, I told myself that at least for the remaining years I could work hard for my children.
On my own I think I am tough, I can handle the situation. But what eats me every day of my life is looking at my little girl who is also suffering. She will be four in July this year. I always blame myself for breast feeding. I thought I loved her, look at what has happened, she is also HIV-positive. I wish I could confess to her but she is too young to understand.
The reason I regret breastfeeding my daughter is that in February the same year, I had to be operated and I tested negative. The other thing I suspect is that my husband did this purposely, maybe he was told when he was in hospital, that is why when he got home we did not have any sex. But when next he came home we continued with unprotected sex.
The people who know about my status are my two sisters who are supportive indeed. I wish all the best for everyone.
letter from MAMELLO
I’m 20 years old and from South Africa. I remember when I was 14 and I wrote a poem called “silent killer,” which was about AIDS. The disease wasn’t a reality for me then … how things have changed.
I took my first test today. The results came back negative, and although I’m happy and all, it really made me think. I find myself in a country where it’s not a matter of default that someone my age is negative. So many of the people I grew up with are becoming sick and dying.
In South Africa, funerals used to be held on Saturdays only. These days, it’s a Monday to Monday affair. What really hits hard is the number of young people who seem to have the attitude that “it won’t happen to me.”
Girls as young as 14 are falling pregnant – which obviously means that they are exposing themselves to monumental risk. And its even sadder is that so much time and money is being spent on education and prevention, and its hard to see the positive effects. Africa is dying slowly.
To all those who are positive, please stay strong. Joshua 1:9 says “be strong and of good courage, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Even if all else fails, He will never, ever stop loving you.
To everyone who is negative, please stay that way. If Africa is to be re-awakened, then hope needs to be restored. Here’s to a re-awakening of hope.