There was this woman I would go to. She made ice cream. In Ghana! In Jirapa! It’s safe to say I loved her for this. Ghana ice cream by the way melts really fast. A side note, I’m also involved in helping a People Living With HIV group. I’ve missed the last couple months meetings due to Peace Corps conferences and Girls Camp etc etc…anyway so I finally came to a meeting and she was there. My ice cream lady! She had just joined a few months before when she found out she was HIV positive. She was weaker and a little sadder since the last time I saw her. I could see this imaginary horrible, heavy, weight on her that I couldn’t begin to imagine. She has 4 kids and works hard to put them through school. So I stopped by her store again today and she didn’t have any ice cream. A sad day in my world. She is my moment of fake Dairy Queen happiness in Africa. She said since she was sick she didn’t have the energy to make the ice cream anymore.
Later that evening she stopped by my house. To make her feel less bad about not having ice cream I told her it’s good that she relaxes and rests to feel better. Then she told me it’s not because she feels too sick to make the ice cream but it’s a fear she has. This woman is a business woman and very proactive. But now she won’t make the soy milk or soap she used to make. She won’t make anything. She won’t even cook for her family anymore. I asked her why, only to hear the answer I didn’t want to hear. She said she didn’t want to take the risk. What if she cut herself? What if one of her children got it? My heart sank slowly to my stomach.
There are a lot of myths about HIV. For instance some people in America thought I would get HIV from simply coming to Africa. So you can imagine what the people in Africa (coming from no educational background) think about HIV. A women’s group I did an HIV/AIDS lesson with thought a lot of interesting things about it (Note the picture). They thought it was air born, spread through urine, and that there is a cure in America (America is perfect in the eyes of most Ghanaians; fascinating and disturbing fact). Experiencing all this has made me realize how difficult it is to teach people about something they fear, they can’t see, or really understand. With no scientific or health background HIV is not that tiny retrovirus programmed to make thousands of copies of itself by high jacking your cells machinery to do it. No, it is scary and probably there because you did something wrong. I would like to remind the doctors and nurses that work with these patients that treating a patient is not just treating a disease. There is more you have to do to help someone then cut them open or give them drugs. You have to tell them, to make ice cream, damn it.
No matter what I said, she felt scared of herself. I told her that I know that she is always careful and she never spilled blood in the ice cream before so why worry now? Plus, I’m convinced it’s impossible to even cut a Ghanaian woman’s hands, they’re so rough and thick from all the hard work, farming, and grabbing of really hot items . Note: There are no pot holders in Ghana. Or need for them. Even if blood was in the ice cream the virus wouldn’t survive to infect someone else. Anti-Retro-viral therapy, CD4 counts, neutralizing antibodies, tcells, bcells, viral load…blah blah blah she still has HIV and her entire family is afraid they’re going to get it from her. And worst of all, she is afraid that she will give it to them. My friend Emmanuel (the regional representative of People Living with HIV) called this self-stigma. He said that sometimes it is worse than being stigmatized by other people. We really can be our own worst enemies.
I don’t know how she got HIV. Most of the women get it from their husbands who are sleeping around or are allowed to take multiple wives. At least her family hasn’t kicked her out. Some people I’ve met have been left to die by their families. Why keep someone alive who is just going to die sooner and may infect others? That’s the logic. But, if that’s the case, everyone in Ghana who takes public transportation has a higher chance of dying than if they have HIV so we should all just stop eating and wasting food. Save time and resources for all those safe people that don’t leave their homes.
If I can give her and all the people like her one message before I go this is it. I know I can’t speak from experience but, don’t be afraid. We all have something. We all have secrets. And we are far from perfect but you have to keep doing the things you do. Your life has not stopped or ended. It has simply taken a new path. Go with it. But, most importantly, don’t stop making ice cream. Never stop making ice cream.
One more thing! I COS (Close of Service) on August 5th and will be taking off on a Europe adventure with the amazing Casimir. Here we are at Paragliding (picture below) which took place during Easter. The football(soccer) field in the background is where we landed. Its crazy to think I only have a few months left....so much to do...but I'm ready and excited for the next step in my life.