Monday, December 1, 2008


Today, I woke up with a good feeling. That feeling you get when something exciting is about to happen, whether you know it or not. The feeling of complete wholeness, where you are in total disregard of your own flaws, or those of the people around you. That feeling that gets you in touch with you, the real you. The you only you know. And it’s an amazing feeling, I’m going to live to see what the day has in store!

Over the past few months, I haven’t had many of the luxuries I used to enjoy in the States, the constant facebooking, web chatting, you tube surfing, gossip seeking, mall sprees, Haagen Dasz Dulce de Leche ice cream (oh that thing is proof that God really does love us), 4 hours on the phone at a go, GOOD ROADS, cheap movie cinemas, student discounts, baileys, 9 thanksgiving dinner offers, 4 of them from faculty members, victoria’s secret……and the list goes on. Living in Swaziland has definitely NOT been living in the States. But it has been a blessed living. I will admit, when I made the decision to come back for a while, I knew it had the potential to be one of the most frustrating things I ever did. Do believe, I have done many-a-frustrata in my life, and I know the “What was I thinking?!?!?!” feeling aaaaaaaaaaaaaaalll too well. Ya, like the time I thought neurophysiology can be studied in one night, and when I thought he was the one. But you know how God can sometimes put u in a position where that stupid thing yre about to do, is pretty much the only thing you can do? And when you make the decision, it comes with tears, curses and “I can’t believe I’m actually moving back under my mother’s roof” comments daily. (And yes, if you’ve lived on your own for a while, please don’t ever move back in with your mother).

But the truth of the matter is this.
I love it.
Even when I hate it really badly.
I can’t even begin to think how I could have ever been an effective, surviving, strong and appreciative individual without having this experience that I’ve had. I’ve attended more funerals in my few months home, than in my entire 8 years in the States. I’ve passed by a hospital highway, thinking people were queue-ing for a bus to Mbabane, when they had all been in line since 5 am, waiting for a doctor. I have visited children who have made their own toys all through life. PS2, anyone? I have met the selfishest of men, and the humblest of grandmothers. I have seen 13 year old teenagers on the laps of old, ugly married men. I have walked the mile, and felt it too. I have learnt how to walk to a friend’s place rather than give her a call. I have learnt that when you are excited about having just enough, you are the richest person on earth. I have loved and lived, and the living has been worth it. I have met Nonhle, who lives in a roofless house in Ngculwini. The first thing she said when she saw me was “I really like your hair”. I have jammed to DJ Fresh and Church Mass Choirs. I even went to a TD Jakes crusade the other day! Funny how that would happen to me in …. Swaziland? I finally find jeans that fit my bum. I have lived, friends. I have cried and laughed, and at the end of the day, I am still living. I live on the delicious mangoes on my backyard, and the addictive chips at Shoprite. I build dreams and create the ways to achieve them. Ive experienced more than one, or two, worlds. And that, to me, is living.

And on World AIDS Day, let’s remember to live. Live to see, to help, to conquer, and to become. Let’s live to be the change, and see the change. Lets remember that even after we’ve read all the statistics, they may tell us 1 in 3, 1 in 5, or 1 in 19 … but the truth of the matter is, whether or not you are infected, you too, are living with AIDS.

RIP Cousin G. You lived your life, and lived it well.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

To Test Or Not To Test ?

The issue of mandatory HIV testing has been playing around in my mind for quite a while now. As if that isn't the understatement of the year, the idea has not gone down well with the Swazi government either. Their take on the ethical issues associated with this is valid, in my books, but who's to say there are no working solutions to get over this? I think we as a nation are far beyond the point where we can debate whether testing is ethical or not. At the rate that things are going, we may as well just go extinct! HIV is just what it is, its a micro retro virus that can't even kill you on its own! How can such an organism be destroying a whole nation? If cancer and other non-communicable, but just as chronic, diseases are on their way to be under control in other countries (ahem, USA), how are we honestly letting HIV get the better of us? Why are we still declining proposals to mandate HIV testing? First let's evaluate the severity of the HIV problem on a personal/household, community, and national level.

1. Young adults, especially women, still want to be "cool". We still want to be known for who we are sleeping with and how much money they make. We still want to be seen in flashy cars and fancy hotels, adhere to fine dining and "live the life". Excuse me, what happened to school? What happened to independence? We all know the sugar daddies (and arguably, mommies, though that is just a hilarious visual if you ask me) have no interest in you beyond what you can offer them physically. Thats problem number 1 -- our priorities are as messed up as messed up can be defined.

2. Even though HIV infection has gotten to the rate of almost 40% in adults, we still find this topic very taboo. I love my culture, I respect it with utmost sincerity, but that does not mean Im an idiot when it comes to analyzing it as well. How can half the nations most productive and reproductive people be in danger of dying and we are still afraid to talk about it? We are afraid to test. The government has made us afraid. Our society keeps us in a tight eggshell bubble that we can't escape even if we tried. U test, then what? What resources are available to you? You can't even go to the supermarket without the neighbors rushing to avoid bumping into you. This topic is so taboo that people are afraid of losing too much weight, or even saying they are sick with the flu. Soooo taboo that the newspapers' orbituary section, growing at the rate of 3 pages a month, choose to specify "minor accident" rather than "undisclosed illness" or worse yet, "HIV/AIDS related symptoms" (I want to live to see the day...). If we don't know what is going on around us, we can't help ourselves, if we can't help ourselves, we can't help others.

3. Investment is going down, down, down. The more people get sick and can't work, the less motivation businesses have, to stay in the country and keep it booming. This goes for private investors and for government franchise. No money is coming into the economy, meaning we have less to support those who are sick, or worse still, those who are not sick and want to continue working. Those who are not sick are not getting jobs, so they will ultimately turn to "trying to live the good life", and get sick. Those who are sick will get worse due to inefficient health care, and die from the bite of a mosquito or a mere cough. Who do we leave behind? The young orphans that are born into an unstable world in a vicious cycle of HIV-Economy downfall, they aren't encouraged to be better, to be different.

In my opinion, mandatory testing becomes an issue when you force people to test for HIV and then dump them with the knowledge, sans resources to help them live better with the sickness, and to help and encourage those who are still HIV-free (yes, all 3 of us). Ultimately, we can't force a nation to go out on a particular day and test for HIV. But, we can still go about it in a systemic way (Please forgive our health minister, who is a Form 3 dropout and may not be at liberty to make informed judgment). For one,
rumour has it, Swaziland is starting a free primary education for all programme starting a year from now. I think that is the perfect platform. Free primary education not only means we can all finally reach secondary level now (even the ministers to-be), each one of us will have access to a school, regardless of where they come from. If we are now offering free primary ed, what is wrong with mandating an hiv test as a requirement to get into the school?

Of course, we wont just stay there, we can then provide the education and resources for all those who test positive. We already have organizations like the Family Life, PSI, the Baylor Clinic, among others who provide free testing and support. ARVs are now (i am excited about this) distributed via NERCHA and not the ministry of health (who, for years on end, ran out of supplies because they could not manage the in-flow very well). It takes one committee to do this. Get all these organizations together and say, ok. Lets strategize a plan to help those kids who are coming into this free program (hopefully, all kids) by providing them with the drugs they need, the motivation they need, and the comfort they require. It might be dangerous to alienate them and put them in their own "classrooms with special speeches", but I certainly think there is a way to incorporate awareness and empowerment among all students, regardless of their HIV status.

The bottom line is I am tired of inefficient governments who refuse to even TRY, in the name of ethics. Are we really still debating ethics? HIV is not being ethical about who it kills and who it doesn't. It certainly isnt being ethical about our economy either.

So if you ask me, to test or not to test?
To test.
To live.
To believe.
To conquer.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Dear Mummy

Sawubona Make.

Forgive me foza, for writing this in English. Not only am I cc'ing many non-SiSwati speakers in this letter, but I am a victim of my surroundings, where I have sadly learnt to think in English and read more English in a day than I eat pap and borewors. I do promise though, that someday soon I will write to you in um-free, like-free, free flowing SiSwati. Can you believe how long it has been since I ate a nice succulent, perfectly marinated, open-fire cooked, sizzling, juicy peace of borewors? It is almost illegal. The things I would do to have that for all breakfast lunch and supper! Atleast I still have my mama to welcome me home with a braai complete with salads (real salad, not leaves put together on a dish) and fanta . Maye vele naleFanta has been versatile lately, remember when it was just Orange. Where did pineapple cherry and grape creep in? Unbelievable. But we have to accept it right? Change. And that is the subject today, of my letter to the most admirable woman I have ever known.

25 years eh? How does it feel? How does it feel to have known me since I was negative 9 months? To breastfeed me and watch me develop into a jolly girl (I was jolly), and to an imperfect young woman? What are the fondest and worst memories you have of our 25 years together? Remember the time you used to beat me atleast three times a day with a yellow plastic belt (where on earth did you get that monstrosity), or when you encouraged me to run away and but gave me the home phone number incase I felt like returning? How about the first time I learnt to talk, what was my first word? What was my fifth? Im sure it was "chicken". Remember when I first learnt how to cook? The day I came home from the usualy long day in school and made the most horrible, saltiest chicken stew that man could dare to taste? And yet you coached me on, and you forced yrself to dutifully swallow half-cooked rice and salty chicken with half a bottle of cooking oil with a smile on your face. I enjoyed the cooking lessons that came after that, and I am now proud to say my stew is lekker! And it has a decent amount of salt.

Did you ever imagine what Id look like? When you studied and taught in the US, did you ever picture me studying here? What were your dreams for me? What do you think of me now? Tell me again, the story of when I came home one day with no uniform, no schoolbag, no socks and no shoes. Did your jaw handle the drop? What about when I saw your first tear? When Mandela came out of prison, holding hands tightly with Winnie. You gave me a look of courage, and helped me develop a spirit of perserverance. You would never let me fail, even if I did. And how come you always favored my brother in our fights? First of all, he was the one that started everything, so of course me I had to burn his clothes. Where do you get your ideas from? How do you manage to raise your children with such grace?

The world is different now that we dont live together during the year. I am witnessing a presidential campaign between a black man and a white woman, I am learning everyday about my responsibility as a young (I am young) Swazi woman in this fight for survival, where we can't just think about our own survival and then turn on the TV and call it a day. I am learning more everyday, what it means to love, to care, and to be concerned, with my name nowhere in the picture. I always remember your quotes, your funny statements and your looks that say a thousand words. Many of our friends and relatives have died of AIDS, thank you for always letting me know that "the power of the mind and your faith in God is way bigger than anything you will ever see". We take small steps, but I assure u, Mama Fakudze ... that we are getting there. If we get there paralyzed and beat down, we still are. Thank you for teaching me that we can always change. Ourselves and our situations. Mostly, ngiyabonga for teaching me that we can change with grace and style.

It is hard to imagine a woman that is beautiful, an overcomer, hard-working, God fearing, most loving, holding 3 fulltime jobs of motherhood, marriage and education, continously smiling, always cracking jokes, fierce, calm, a dreamer all in the same package. It is hard to think how you raised 3 very different children and 3 grandchildren (none coming from me in a while jo) with the same morals and principles, how you know when to talk, when to listen, when to cry, when to smile, when to scold and when to comfort? I can't possibly think there is a woman out there that fits my description of a "powerhouse", a woman who, just by existing, will get me out of many troubles, talk in my head and tell me the truth even when it hurts. And yet, that woman found me in 1983. That woman is you.

Friday, January 18, 2008


-Has it ever solved anything?
-Did it invent the telephone?
-Does it provide scholarships?
-Does it promote healthy behavior?
-Is it fun?
-Does it make one laugh or smile?
-How much money is made from it?
-Does it beef up the resume?
-Do kids laugh and play about it?
-Do we pleasantly talk about it over lunch?
-How many great presidents has it brought about?
-How much trust has it given rise to?
-Can it feed the poor?
-Is it available on prescription?
-Who likes it?
-Who loves it?
-Can it be listed under hobbies?
-How often can it be played for one team to win?
-Does it unify people?
-Is it seasonal?
-Does it quench thirst?
-Is it recyclable?
-Can it be taught at school?
-Can it be taught at home?

...Is it worth it?

Imagine a world where we don't have to fight to put a point across. I can.

Friday, January 4, 2008

After Seven, Comes Eight

It's been a while.

2007 has come and gone. If there was ever a year when my life took a fun some days and not so fun some days rollercoaster ride, it must have been 07. Then again, the universe was created in 7 days. I could even say my life changed in 2007. I'm ever so grateful to have crossed over to 2008 when many couldnt make it, the hundreds of innocent Kenyans who suffered and continue to suffer the sins, wrath and greed of others. The millions of lives still claimed by AIDS, Malaria, road accidents, Pneumonia, Cancer...the thousand of other people whose orbituaries will never be known, those whose important lives werent so important to anyone else. And while some of us toasted slim sleek glasses of champagne on the midnight of, there are still those who spent nights crying in bed, looking out of windows at shattered dreams and remnants of broken hearts. Some spent the night in plastic "blankets" out in cold streets, wondering which venue would have the most leftovers thrown away the following day. Some endured hunger for the night, just to make sure someone else ate. Some might have been at work, others infront of televisions reflecting infront of fireplaces. We all have our struggles, some emotional, others financial, perhaps we struggle with who we really are, maybe we just live the day to day struggles that life brings our way, but we all must have something in common...we must never be too comfortable with being comfortable. Sometimes I wonder how many lives I touched in 07. I know I was touched by many. How many people needed me and I offered a helping hand? How often did I think of anyone else but myself...can someone tell their 07 story and mention my name?

January... Another month, another year. Except this was senior year, the time to procrastinate and get the 4 years over with. Swaziland was the highlight of this month, cant beat that. I love my family. Other than that, Immigration issues and Amarula were still the order of the day.

Feb... when others celebrated Valentines day, I curled up in bed staring at the snow outside and wondering if I was still interested in ever celebrating another valentines day again. Probably not at the time. Anyhow, I think I studied, wished God a happy Valentines and slept most of the day. As for the month--Uneventful except I began to curse myself for taking the classes I did my last semester of college. Oh well. Necessary evils, right.

March - April ... the countdown to graduation begins. As well as the occasional "what am i going to do with my life" freak out sessions. The Highlight was school of public health letters. The lowlight was no money and more brokeness. But I learnt to appreciate my friends more at this point. Jamaican food, arguments, gchat, movies and the occasional amarula saved the day. Still, God was faithful.

May ... My birthday was made special by all the special (and some less important) people in my life. Fun times. I was happy to be done and almost at the end of dream number 1. Finally all my mother's children had completed their degrees. It felt great. 4 years for a piece of paper but my family's smiles were the greatest reward. My eyes were filled with tears on the day, friends and their relatives made me feel lekker too. It was good times. Until packing.

June - Aug ... Prayerful times. Faith took over. It was a fun summer for the most part. People came into my life, some stayed some didnt, i learnt important lessons and missed home. Slept alot, bummed alot, wondered how id make it through some days. I did, by writing, thinking, crying, smiling, praying, laughing and reading. Summer came and went, and it was time for new beginnings.

Sept -Oct ... The journey to a Masters degree begins. Who'd have thought that the end of one drama is the beginning of the next. Still, I took it all in stride. Some days I just couldnt get up to go to class cos I felt demotivated or just bitter (bitterness has since been removed from vocab). Then my anchor took effect and I was constantly reminded of the greater good, the people I feel I represent, the thousands of voices who couldnt even dream of a Masters degree and most of all, the God who brought me there to begin with. Def pulled myself together and studied Biostats, Epidemiology, International Health, Vaccines blah blah and more blah. Academics were more manageable than undergrad. Timing and spacing on the other hand, wasnt. But we still pulled through. I pulled energy from the people around me, and learnt from my own mistakes. Sometimes I was just downright stubborn and had the "whatever" days. At the end of it all, I still remembered I had an anchor who renewed my strength every morning. So first term came and went.

Nov-Dec ... my godchild is supposed to be born. Some exciting news finally. More exciting news came to balance and perhaps overthrow more depressing (depressing also in the works to be removed from vocab) thoughts of "where exactly is my life going, what am i going to do in life, when will i get to my dream point!" before i realized, the dream is NOW. Im living it right now. Because whether the day went great or blah, I still benefit something from it. Im alive. And this is when I start being grateful just to live to see another day. I love my classes, I love my best friends, my family, my boyfriend and everyone else who, in a world where we are often too busy to share a smile, share more than a laugh. More prayerful times, more learning periods, more "personal development exercises (i still dont know how to spell that word)".

And it's now January, apparently the month of new beginnings. I cant say whether or not Im a better person now after the rollercoaster of 07. That may be for other people to judge, but I know Ive grown tremendously by watching role models succeed, and seeing others struggle. Perhaps even alot more by learning how to capitalize on my strengths and stay prayerful abt my weaknesses. Ive also learnt a thing or two about staying positive, genuine smiling and perservering. About never letting go of the dreams that form the very being of who I am. Important as well, are the lessons Ive learnt about love, humility and self worth. That each person I meet is a part of a greater destiny, regardless of how you see them at that point. That we are all strategically placed where we are for a greater purpose. I wont say life is at its best right now, but I'll definitely say that it's worth living no matter the weather.

Happy New Year!