Collen Banda used to consider himself “a star among young men.” Those were the days before he contracted HIV. Looking back on that time, his face changes and he adopts a serious tone. He says, “Now, you can see what this illness has done to me.” Mr. Banda is almost bedridden.
For Mr. Banda, his HIV status is an opportunity to discuss responsible sexual practices with his community. He believes that by telling his story, future generations will be saved.
Mr. Banda is a middle-aged man. He has one daughter and one son. Upon seeing that his health was failing, his wife of five years left him. Mr. Banda says, “I guess she will remember me one day when I am no more.” The responsibility for his upkeep and care is now with his stepmothers.
Like any other small-scale farmer in the Zambian village of Mutakwa, farming is used to be his livelihood. But Mr. Banda can no longer earn a steady income. He relies on his family. To make ends meet, his mother sells greens from his once-booming vegetable garden.
Mr. Banda says that while HIV is an illness like any other, there is still some stigma attached to it. The stigma makes it harder for him to tell his story, but he persists. A constant stream of friends and relatives come to visit Mr. Banda. He makes a point of talking to them about the dangers of having multiple partners and unprotected sex.
Referring to condoms, he tells his friends, “Some say you cannot have a shower while wearing a raincoat, but that philosophy cannot be applied to sex.” He makes it clear to them that if they take more sexual partners, they have a greater chance of contracting HIV.
Mr. Banda’s condition has given his father reason to reflect. Mr. Banda senior comments that HIV was almost unheard of in his time. He says, “I used to indulge in sex without fear of meeting death as is the case with this generation.” Mr. Banda senior has three wives, but notices that polygamy is not so common nowadays. He believes it has been replaced by extramarital affairs among young people. He comments, “Today, I see young men and women change partners like stockings.”
Yet, despite his father’s concerns, Mr. Banda is keen to make an impact on his community. There are no HIV support groups, or counselling available nearby. But Mr. Banda will continue telling his story, despite lacking the energy to knock on doors.