Friday, June 13, 2008


This was difficult for me to write about but I felt it was important. I apologize for writing two consecutive posts on heavier topics.

Earlier this year at UBC, a group of activists placed hundreds of tiny white crosses in the grass on a main campus boulevard to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. A sign described the horrific effects of the virus and presented some of the staggering statistics, primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa. The image reminded me of photos I had seen of the white crosses in graveyards from the World Wars and it stuck with me.

An estimated 1 in 5 people in Malawi have HIV/AIDS. Life expectancy is currently 39 and is projected to drop to 33 by 2010. These numbers, combined with the image from UBC, made me feel like I was heading into a war zone. But statistics do not always accurately communicate realities and Malawi feels like anything but a war zone. With the exception of billboards and flyers distributed by various organizations, HIV/AIDS is largely invisible here. It is rarely discussed and, after a while, I began to wonder if I had been misled by the numbers and little white crosses.

I attended a funeral last week in Chisemphere. A young woman, age 30, died of AIDS. I didn’t know her, but it was still hard. There is something about the crying family, the gathered community, and the echo of the choir in the morning that statistics will never quite convey: the real crosses have names on them.

A vast amount of foreign aid in Malawi is directed towards combating the virus. People are becoming increasingly aware and testing and treatments are free throughout the country. The virus has taken its toll and, though not quite a war, people are fighting back. I just wish that they wouldn't have to add another cross on the lawn at UBC.

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