My fa­ther has beaten HIV

The am­bu­lance peo­ple came and my granny just pointed at my dad, her big hands shak­ing. They picked my dad up and laid him on a stretcher The state of HIV in South Africa af­ter 30 years

CityPress - - News - BASETSANE KAUNDA news@city­press.co.za Kaunda (16) is a Grade 10 pupil at Alasang High School in Katle­hong. She wrote this story as part of a cre­ative writ­ing class spon­sored by the Katle­hong Lo­cal Aids Coun­cil. For more in­for­ma­tion or to sup­port the counc

Iwas only five years old, but I knew some­thing was very wrong. For the pre­vi­ous few days, I had no­ticed changes in my fa­ther. He had started los­ing weight, his face was ter­ri­bly ugly, he fell over with­out warn­ing. One day, I came back from school and my dad was in bed. He wouldn’t talk to any­one about any­thing, and even when he tried, his dry lips wouldn’t let him.

The two of us stayed alone in a small, blue room with paint that was fad­ing lit­tle by lit­tle – my mother floated in and out, but was of­ten gone for a long time.

Af­ter my fa­ther got sick, I started do­ing the dishes, even though they were very hard to wash for a five-year-old. And each time he would tell me that he loved me. Ev­ery day when I came back from school, I would find him in the same place – cough­ing and smok­ing in bed.

One morn­ing at school, my teacher asked to talk to me out­side. “Who do you live with?” “My dad,” I an­swered. She looked at me with se­ri­ous eyes and she bit her lower lip.

“Basetsane,” she said, “for these past two weeks, you look dirty and un­tidy. Does your fa­ther wash your uni­form?” I looked at my grey shirt. “No, he doesn’t, he just sits on his bed all day and I am too young to wash.” “And who cooks?” “We eat takeaways,” I smiled. “I’d like to talk to your dad. Ask him to come to the school.” “Yes, ma’am.” I got home and told my dad what my teacher said, but he didn’t re­spond. Soon, he grew weaker and stopped eat­ing much of any­thing.

A few days later, my grand­mother came to visit. I pulled on her long black and white skirt, and hugged her tight. She looked straight past me to my dad, who, by then, looked like a zom­bie to me.

My grand­mother sat be­side him and brushed his cheek with her hands.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were this sick?” she asked him.

As usual, my dad didn’t an­swer. He just licked his ex­tremely dry lips.

My granny took out her phone from her bag and di­alled a num­ber. Af­ter that, there was com­plete si­lence in the room – no one knew what to say, and my granny looked at me with pity.

The am­bu­lance peo­ple came and my granny just pointed at my dad, her big hands shak­ing. They picked my dad up and laid him on a stretcher bed. As they got out­side, ev­ery­one from our neigh­bour­hood looked at us. My dad was put into the am­bu­lance and off he went.

My gran took out clean clothes for me. I changed and took a few things with me, in­clud­ing my Bar­bie girl bag.

“Granny, where are we go­ing?” I asked as we got into our third taxi.

“You, my baby girl, are go­ing to live with me in Soweto.”

That’s the most famous town­ship ever, I thought. We got out of the taxi and started to walk and there was her house, with green grass out­side and the fence cov­ered in flow­ers. There was a small wooden house in­side the yard. I asked her: “Granny, who lives there?”

“Hand­some,” she said. That was her dog’s name, but he had died.

She opened the door, and I froze in awe. The walls were painted peach. I looked at the mi­crowave, floor, plate stove, white tiles, black leather so­fas. Here, it seemed, was every­thing in the world that my fa­ther didn’t have.

“This is your room from now on, and I’ll paint it pink,” my granny said.

Why did adults think that when you are a girl and young, you love pink? “No, I’d like to paint it pur­ple, please,” I said. “Pur­ple, oh okay. Are you hun­gry?” “Yes…” We watched TV and ate un­til it was dark, and I changed into my py­ja­mas and went to my own room. I liked the sound of that, “my own room”.

But that first night, out of nowhere, I woke up feel­ing scared. I felt the right side of my bed and re­alised my fa­ther wasn’t with me. I opened my door and hit some­thing with my foot be­cause it was dark.

“What’s wrong?” my grand­mother said as she switched on the light.

She said that I cried from the pain that was de­mand­ing to be felt. She picked me up and I rested my head on her big chest.

“I can’t sleep alone,” I said as we got into her room, which had a big mir­ror on the wall and I saw my eyes in its re­flec­tion.

She tucked me in bed. As she slept be­side me, I started Peo­ple on an­tiretro­vi­ral ther­apy Peo­ple liv­ing with HIV New HIV in­fec­tions Aids re­lated deaths Aids or­phans Chil­dren liv­ing with HIV MIL­LION 0

3.4 mil­lion 17 mil­lion

to slowly close my eyes.

In the morn­ing, I heard my grand­mother’s phone ring and, as she talked, her face changed into some­thing un­known. She sat down and then she put her phone down. I could see her mind was not okay, her mind was some­where else. “Granny, what is HIV?” “HIV?! Where … where did you hear that?” “Just now, I heard you talk­ing on the phone, say­ing dad has HIV.”

“Well, lis­ten here my dear, you are too young to un­der­stand. Your dad will ex­plain every­thing when you are grown up. It’s some­thing that has been mak­ing your dad sick, but he is go­ing to be okay be­cause he is in hos­pi­tal.” “When will we visit him?” I asked. “You can’t visit him, you are too young, but your mother is with him right now, and af­ter that she will come and see you.” I just nod­ded and bowed my head. “Come and give your granny a hug.” I did that and she hugged me tight. Eleven years have passed since that day, and I now un­der­stand what HIV is. I truly smile when I hear my peers say­ing that they want to be­come doc­tors so that they can find a cure for HIV.

But I also un­der­stand that this dis­ease does not have to kill you. My fa­ther has sur­vived. With the right med­i­ca­tion and by eat­ing healthy food, he has beaten it all.

TALK TO US Have you been af­fected by some­one liv­ing with HIV?

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PHOTO: SISA SODLADLA

PER­SE­VER­ANCE Basetsane Kaunda was a young girl when she found out her fa­ther had HIV

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