Nkandla Day 18 - AIDS Testing and Counseling

Reluctantly I got up, introduced myself etc. The students went ABSOLUTELY BAZIRCK, when I told them I was from America. It was unbelievable; cheering and everything. After a few moments of stalling with an introduction, I finally decided to briefly advise the kids to concentrate on school, prepare to go to university, and not to get mixed up in relationships as they would have PLENTY of time for that when they're older. It wasn't the best speech in the entire world, but it's all I could think of to say at such last minute. I know that the principal at the high school forbids dating and has taught the kids to focus on their studies. The kids at that school are so darn bright... just thought I might pass the same advice along.

Immediately after the panel I was literally MOBBED with hundreds of kids pushing their way towards me for hugs, even kisses, haha. Some came up to hold my hand or simply to say hello and introduce themselves. I was even proposed to and offered 20 cows. It was overwhelming, but hilarious, so I humored them. And of course, I got the usual questions, "do you live in Los Angeles?" "Do you know Beyonce? Or Chris Brown?!?"

After my 15 minutes of fame, I headed into a room where we set up a little HIV testing center. In the US, HIV testing is extremely private and confidential. Here, they kind of have to work with the resources they have, so we set up the counseling in one corner of the room and testing in another corner. One of the leaders was exhausted and needed break (or maybe wanted to catch some z's in the car), so he had me do the testing. The testing itself is very simple; you prick their finger and place a couple drops of blood and solution into a testing strip similar to pregnancy test. One line means negative, two lines means positive. The results are given in less then 3 minutes.

While performing the tests wasn't bad at all, waiting for the results was torture. What made it even worse was that NORMALLY if someone tested positive, the person who normally did the testing would then offer support and counseling and further instructions. I was given no training, advice, NOTHING on what to do if someone tested positive, so I asked one of the other caregivers who was doing counseling in the corner if I could send any positive results her way for counseling. She agreed that it would be necessary, and so feeling a little better about my situation, I began testing. Thankfully, all of the first students I tested were negative, but in each case, every time the testing strip would start to change colors, I couldn't help but hold my breath as my heart POUNDED. It was awful.

To try to kill the three minutes of tension, I would use the time to encourage the "ABC's." Here in Africa the ABC's are a well known acronym for simple guideline for decreasing the transmission of HIV: (A)bstinence, (B)e Faithful, and (C)ondomize. I would go over these steps with each student and then also encourage them to take school seriously and strive for university.

After delivering nearly a dozen of those three minute ABC speeches followed by happily negative test results, I tested a young girl in the 12th grade who told me that she had been tested before and that she currently had a boyfriend. As the testing strip began to change color and that second line began to appear, I started to PANIC inside. My stomach felt like it was all of the sudden in my throat. I simply didn't know what to say. This was the biggest thing of her life, and I was supposed to break the news to her?? Worst yet, we weren't in a private room where we could freely discuss her results, and even if we were, she barely spoke any English. Since I didn't know how well we would be able to communicate, I knew that I was CLEARLY not the right person for this job. I looked around and everyone was already engaged in something. Without making too much of a ruckus, I got the attention of one of the other workers and asked her to give me a hand. When she approached, I showed both her and the young girl the results. The girl's face was really hard to read. I think she was really confused or maybe just shocked. This other worker was already in the middle of a counseling session, however, so she quietly went out to wake the worker who was on a break, so that he could take my place and offer the girl some support and counseling. UUUUUGH. I cannot tell you how awful it was. This girl came in to get tested, not at all expecting to receive the most devastating news of her life.

I waited in the car while they counseled the girl, and I chatted with one of the caregivers about some of the cultural norms, myths, etc about HIV in Africa. Did you know that less the ten years ago it was a full blown belief that if an HIV positive person had sex with a VIRGIN then they would be CURED??? How ridiculous is that? He told me that it was a HUGE problem, that there were a lot of rapes of very young girls. Thankfully, many NGOs quickly stepped up to provide education to the community on the matter.

Tonight, we were invited to one of teacher's houses for a "traditional Zulu dinner." Fortunately this was the same teacher that we gave my kitten to, so I got to see the little angel again! I was so delighted. The food, however, I wasn't so delighted about. Everybody knows that I'm EXTREMELY picky when it comes to food. It's not something I'm proud of, it's just the way I am. But I decided beforehand that I was gonna try everything that this gracious teacher served, no matter what. She served sweet potatoes (which brought me very close to hurling), cooked spinach, bread that tasted like plastic, and chicken gizzards. Yes, gizzards! Needless to say, I didn't eat a whole lot... just enough to claim that I was full. I was kind of proud of myself for powering through, however, and I do feel REALLY BAD about not enjoying her cooking, because it was so sweet of her to invite us over in the first place. I just know never to volunteer to go to eat Zulu food if I don't have to again.

After dinner we came back to the convent and played Rummikub with the sisters. It was hilarious. One of the sisters, who is probably about 80 years old, is a firecracker, and definitely on her game. That woman put us all to shame.