Poet fights stigma with A conversation with a friend

06 Mar 2023

Nineteen-year-old Hazel Dube walks nervously towards the red carpet wielding a microphone. The microphone is a paintbrush with which she delivers her speech, amplified.

In her blue denim jeans, a white shirt and black Vans sneakers with a white logo flowing along the length of the shoes, Hazel walks down the red carpet, facing the dignitaries.

With the microphone clasped in her hands, Hazel serenades her listeners. She throws them into emotional roller coaster with her varying voice projections. She gesticulates, steps back and forth; calculated moves as she paints a rather gloomy picture of a friend living with HIV/AIDS.

She draws, paints and controls the emotions of her listeners who subsequently respond fittingly to her poem, A Conversation With A Friend during the launch of Month of Youth Against AIDS (MYAA) in Bobonong last Thursday.

The attendants punctuated her poem with applause, cheers and some gesticulations of approval as the first-year student at Botswana Accountancy College in the city of Francistown delivers an enthralling rendition of her conversation with a friend who suffers stigma and discrimination 38 years after the first case of HIV was detected in Botswana.

“I listened to her candid truths, and her bitter tongue shook my integrity. She touched my heartstrings, and we both bled that day. I’ve had many conversations about the plague that is HIV, but this time it just hit differently,” she recited to the cheers and murmurs of those who sized her capabilities against her petite figure.

She is unrelenting as she curses and combats stigma and discrimination. Hazel wishes for a society devoid of judgment, but full of acceptance of people living with HIV/AIDS. She prays for a society that is alive to the causes of the disease and subsequent tortures to the patients. Society should be able to accept her friend and allow her to live freely with HIV without fear of stigma and discrimination.

“She breathes in oxygen and exhales carbon dioxide just like you and me. So, let us join hands and fight the stigma of HIV and AIDS as we live in an era that thrives off convenient justice. Let us change the principalities that govern us so that they too know the world of acceptance so they don’t feel alone,” the young poet appeals.

In their conversation, probably overwhelmed by emotions, Hazel tries to throw in jokes to break the ice, but her friend has none of it because she bears a tortured soul. The treatment at the hands of family, friends and the community has pushed her towards attempting to end her life at some point.

“She too has HIV and with a bitter tongue…she showed me the truth about living with HIV in a way I never thought possible. She yanked the truth out of thin air and presented it to me in its rawest form I almost hide.”

Like those who are usually overwhelmed by the truth especially when one discloses their HIV status for the first time, Hazel was without a word. “I prayed that my own vocal cords be ripped out of my throat so I have a reason for not having words to say besides the actual reason of me not having any words to say.”

But it is difficult for her to open up about her HIV status because society is ready to rip her apart and find fault in every move she has ever taken. “She abandoned her sanity…oh, I knew the number of times I tried to tie my own neck to a noose…I was once an ocean of happiness…but all that remains are these pathetic drops, drip drip dripping down my cheeks.”

Amongst those moved by the poem was Assistant Minister of Youth, Gender, Sport and Culture Mr Billy Buti who found the rendition an unorthodox message that gripped the attention of the attendants better than the conventional ways.

He conceded that artists such as poets were better placed to deliver messages succinctly. In the process, the minister bestowed young people with the responsibility to lead the fight against HIV/AIDS.

The government of Botswana is concerned about the disparities depicted by the results of various studies, Mr Billy said and encouraged the youth to focus their interventions on the vulnerable groups in order to bring practical solutions.

“While we celebrate the great national achievements in the past we cannot afford to ignore the gaps in our national intervention initiatives,” the assistant minister said.

The assistant minister said that the youth population in Botswana remained highly vulnerable to the virus. “While there is increased awareness of HIV in general, comprehensive knowledge of HIV remains low, condom use among sexually active young people is declining, and rates of forced sex and teenage pregnancy are ominously high,” said the minister.

For his part, the area MP, Mr Taolo Lucas said young people indulged in drugs so much that they could not account for what happened to them.

He is worried about young people who make unprotected sex a hobby. The MP discouraged young people from judging partners by looks instead of seeking evidence that supported claims of being HIV-free. ENDS


Source : BOPA

Author : Manowe Motsaathebe

Location : BOBONONG

Event : Poetry

Date : 06 Mar 2023