I just returned from a community meeting in the sub-county of Gulu called Lakwana. I assumed it would be a casual meeting with a few members sitting around a tree in a field like the last few times. However this time it seemed the whole village showed up… and they were ALL disabled in some way and eager for the free HIV testing. During the course of the meeting, the medical team tested seventy six persons.
It was the first time I witnessed a concentrated group of men injured by the Lords Resistance Army. Man after man rolled up his leg to show me scars from gunshot wounds.
We sat down for introductions and then lined up next to a pig carcass hanging from a large tree. Behind us a group of men observed while slurping some sort of mud looking alcohol through long reed straws out of a dirty communal bucket. The smell of alcohol was on the breath of many or the clients.
My coworker was overwhelmed with registering everyone so I sat down with a pen and some improvised registration forms and tried feebly to get accurate information about birthdates and addresses. Only year of birth and name of village could be specified by most and only a fraction could sign their name.
After a little over month here I realized I’ve become used to the bodily smells that a few months ago would have made me turn away. There I was sitting under the pig carcass, squished up next to persons reeking of sweat and other bodily fluids shaking hands and laughing full belly laughs at my terrible pronunciation of their homes and names.
What has amazed me over and over again is that despite the grime, even the poorest person attempts to dress well: The old blind women with rotting teeth and hands mangled from years of hard work in the field, wore a beautiful satin “kitenga” dress tied with a contrasting sash around her slim waist.
As we organized people for testing a local drama troupe of disabled, HIV positive women presented skits and music about protecting oneself against the disease and the importance of testing. A large group of children sat and eagerly enjoyed the entertainment. I hoped they listened well.
Sitting now in my whitewashed restaurant kilometers away from the village, the full impact of the fact that four of the seventy six tested positive makes me hold back tears.
Posted By Christine Marie Carlson
Posted Jul 15th, 2010