When Philly Bongole Lutaya sang Alone about his plight after getting HIV, the lines that kept on playing in my head were ‘today it’s me, tomorrow it’s someone else, it’s me and you we got to stand up and fight…’ and these have set a precedent that has guided my life in one way or another.
AIDS -HIV in Africa, Uganda in particular has affected every family in one way or another. We have relatives, close family friends who have caught the virus and we have seen what it does to them and us. For a very long time I have hated to celebrate this day let alone consider it as important because every day, a child is orphaned by this crippling disease.
The thing about HIV for me is that it is greatly transmitted through man’s greatest canal desire, sex. I once remember an old doctor who came to our school, he was in charge of the ‘AIDS’ ward at Mulago and he was frustrated at how the disease cut across the age demographic. Old or young, anyone was susceptible and could easily get it. Seeing as we were in our final year of High School, he warned us and pleaded with us to be as careful as possible.
HIV in this day and age is now less evident physically with ARVs playing a big role. You can no longer tell the black spots and the thin bodied man who we thought had AIDS to the fat chubby good looking lad.
Do you know what you status is? And we are not talking about Museveni’s fabled Middle Income Status? I know mine and eventually I will go check again. The first time I did – Doctor’s recommendations, was when I was jobless and highly stressed. I had a fever, general body weakness and no signs of malaria or flu. When I did the full blood work, the lymphocyte count was slightly elevated than the usual and I was advised to check for HIV and Hepatitis.
WHAT? Check for HIV? How? I started reviewing my sexual history which was evidently not cause for concern, neither did I do drugs or had been in contact with anything suspicious. None the less, I did go and get tested and waited on the results.
When the doctor walked into, nervous and all, shaking and praying, I asked what the results were. He then proceeded to counsel me before eventually telling me what the results were.
We live in a generation that would rather be HIV positive than pregnant and that scares me. We live in a generation that is now hyper sexual, evident in the language and ease with which it is to have sex. A generation that has forgotten the countless parents, uncles and aunties, brothers and sisters, friends and extended family who have been affected by AIDS.
I spent most of my vacation nursing an uncle to health. I remember at one point thinking, will he make it? The pain and the struggle. I’ve lost countless relatives and I’ve lost a close friend to the virus. So yes, as we celebrate World AIDS Day, let’s not forget what it does to families. Let’s not forget how it would affect you. How it affects me!
Also, let’s not stigmatize victims of the virus. Let’s not hate them for having it because we are afraid they will give it to us. I love my uncle and I’d hate to see anyone’s hatred for him. To understand stigma better – especially for those who seem to be aloof about it, would you hate your father, mother, brother, sister, daughter, or son if they had the virus? No! So why hate someone else?
But, on this auspicious day, I write this to celebrate the man, the legend and great musician, Philly Bongole Lutaaya. I wish the country would feel the same way I do. I mean, it’s December, and if I am not mistaken, all our early childhood Christmases had him crooning all over our radios. He made my childhood, his music made my childhood memories, memorable. I wish we had a memoriam of this great man in our museum, or at the National theatre, a street named after him perhaps or even a monument somewhere! We need to celebrate this man.
Long Live Philly Bongole Lutaaya!
Stay safe. Protect yourself. Abstain. Get checked.
And if you have it, don’t despair, get counseling, surround yourself with a support system. And keep healthy.