The Policeman and the Provocative Question

Blog-Challenge-2016

This Entry’s Theme of the Blogging Abroad Boot Camp Challenge: crazy moments (aka 90% of this blog’s content). Just for clarification, the amaZulu and Republic of South Africa are not the crazy parties. I am the crazy one, bumbling around rural KZN to the lighthearted amusement of my communities. South Africa is never boring and it always keeps me on my toes. Every day there is at least one cultural curveball from the Rainbow Nation. These moments come in many forms including conversations where English is a second language for one of the participants, which was the case last Monday…

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Washing day for the cars of Schnitzeland’s SAPS (South African Police Force) office. You can see the distinctive trapezoidal shape of SAPS cars.

Here in Amajuba, a policeman visits my house once a week. It is actually a spontaneous arrangement I am happy with, as at site 1.0 the police did not know I was in the area until our Safety and Security Manager visited due to a sudden escalation of violence in the area. If another PCV supports this organization, I will certainly have a discussion about boundaries and how they with differ with each person. For now, Sargent is very respectful and never enters the house. He always stops by in the early evening on his way home so I can anticipate the brief visit which usually consists of exchanging greetings and I confirming there are no concerns.

Last Monday, our conversation was a bit longer than usual as he indicated there were problems at the schools with feminine hygiene products being stuffed down the toilet. I offered to join him on visit to the schools and see what was going on (because if a policeman lectured me about my menstrual behaviors at age 13 it would have intensified my existing embarrassment). Puberty was not that long ago for me and sensitivity to the mater could move towards a solution with minimal hurt feelings. Anyways he was open to the idea and while plans were made to stay in contact(will keep y’all posted if anything comes out this…I am still trying to understand why the police monitors the female toilets) we joined my host family’s spirited conversation under the rondavel’s shade. 5 minutes goes by and the isiZulu translation part of my brain reached daily capacity. So I zoned out, until Sargent asks me a question that I did not anticipate.

“Simphiwe, do you have AIDS?”

Now there were 3 thoughts that flashed through my mind..

1.) That was a very forward question in a valley where stigma is so prevalent that patients will not openly declare they ae picking up ARV (antiretrovirals) prescriptions, at the local clinic. They will say “pansi/down” gesturing to the HIV ward but never describe the amaphilisi/pills with “HIV” or “ARVs.” Also, World AIDS Day 2015 in Schnitzeland did not feature a single speaker who talked about being HIV positive.

Then the more irrational 2.) Crap. They know about autism (which I keep private at site…post explaining why is coming within the month) and have extrapolated my life experience to the prominent life-threating condition that also starts with the letter “A.” Great.

Finally 3.) Eish, South Africa. How do I respond to this without adding to stigma? I have every reason to believe that I remain HIV negative, but taking the literal interpretation of the question and firmly responding “No” could indicate that HIV is something I consider shameful. Not the accurate let alone productive message I want to portray in the community.

Once I remember that no one could find out about my identity as an autistic as the internet capabilities are limited in my area (let alone I have not divulged any hints), I use my 1-year-in-country knowledge to determine that no one would openly diagnose a community member in South Africa outside of a clinical setting (and Sargent is not a sister/nurse at the clinic). He meant to ask something else and I calmly ask him to please clarify.

“Do you have American Money for HIV/AIDS?”

Turns out a creshe serving orphans and vulnerable children just lost funding and Sargent wanted to know if there were American based options. Still not a fun conversation to have  but a dramatically different request. I tried to explain the confusing situation through a 1 minute summary with basic English. In a sentence, there is limited HIV related funding available in South Africa and organizations in Amajuba do not currently qualify for assistance because we have one of the lowest HIV prevalence rates in the province. Sargent apparently understood, as he responded by saying we should write a letter to Obama. Eish, if only international aid was that simple.

Another day in South Africa with another Eish inducing moment. Life is never boring in the Rainbow Nation.

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