If you were going to talk to someone about disclosing their HIV status to family and how to plan for the future, where would you choose to meet with them? Perhaps, at your home in your living room, sipping coffee or tea? Or maybe the fireside or prayer room at your church? Or the pastor’s office, or a counselor’s office? Or at least in a somewhat comfortable Sunday School room? You would probably try to arrange a place that has somewhat of a calm and peaceful ambiance and is private, safe and secure.
Where we met yesterday for the C.R.O.S.S. Project was far from being a place of calming and peaceful ambiance as we talked with people about disclosing their HIV status.
The church that we meet with on Fridays is located in George Compound, which is positioned by the Lusaka industrial area and is on the edge of town with “the bush” on the other side. The church building is missing over one-half of it’s roof; it’s also missing half of its walls, and the walls that it does have are sheets of aluminum nailed to small wood studs. All of that wouldn’t be so bad in and of itself, but the building has a tavern on one side and a community school on the other side, which unfortunately make for a rather distracting combination. The tavern cranks up their music (which seems to be a selection from dramatic movie soundtracks), and it gets so loud sometimes that you have to yell to be heard. Then, when the kids from the school are out at recess, they run around the building playing tag and banging on the aluminum wall. Or else, they huddle around our car trying to get glimpses of their reflection in our side mirrors or windows. Or, they try to get a glimpse of the mzungus (white people) in the spaces between the aluminum sheet walls and yell, “mzungu, mzungu!” at Kristin and I. Added to this, when the wind blows, the sheets of tin on the partial roof bang very loudly together, and dust blows down and forms a thin layer of brownish-red dust on teaching materials and Bibles.
Needless to say, I was pretty distracted for the whole lesson. But it seems like, for the most part, the class was not totally distracted – just mildly. After all, this is their home – one that is loud, cramped, dusty, dirty and full of drunk guys (like the one that decided to come and join our class for a few minutes). This is an environment very typical of a lot of the urban poor around the world…an environment that seems very far away from our fireside and prayer rooms of calming ambiance that many of us have at our churches to talk with people about hard issues. But this distracting, loud, dusty environment is a good picture of HIV family disclosure in Zambia – messy, unsettling, distracting, and fear-producing.