Breaking Stone Silence combines the personal with the pragmatic in a discussion of the cultural, economic, and political forces impacting the upward-spiraling AIDS epidemic in Zimbabwe.
Breaking Stone Silence: Giving Voice to AIDS Prevention in Africa By Paul Terry (KNFP 15) Africa World Press, Inc., 282 pages; $24.95 Breaking Stone Silence Paul Terry's Breaking Stone Silence combines the personal with the pragmatic in a discussion of the cultural, economic, and political forces impacting the upward-spiraling AIDS epidemic in Zimbabwe.
Drawing from his year living in Zimbabwe's capital city, Harare, as a Fulbright Scholar, as well as his community development experiences during his Kellogg Fellowship, Terry weaves personal stories with organizational theories, policies, and successful prevention practices to make AIDS in Africa accessible to those in the Western world. He points out, "Our goal needs to be to understand, not to stand in judgment." The complexity of the AIDS epidemic is mind-boggling. As Terry points out, two-thirds of the 33 million victims in the world are living in sub-Saharan Africa, and Zimbabwe has emerged as the epicenter.
Writes Terry, "Imagine every week the Twin Towers collapse with 3,800 of Zimbabwe's young people inside. What's more, it's so commonplace, it doesn't even make the news." And what is yet even more astounding to the author, and the premise of the book, is the government's aloofness and the country's silence about this disease that is taking a staggering toll on Zimbabwe. "I've come to think of the silence around the stigma of AIDS and the quiet malcontent with the ruling party as an immutable barrier people have built around themselves. Zimbabwe seems to be a nation with her depression turned inward, a people for whom 'breaking the silence' would require a monstrous wrecking ball," Terry writes.
Among the many irreconcilable dichotomies Terry enumerates that make prevention efforts so complex in this country are: Many of Zimbabweans can recite the causes of HIV infection, yet still relate to the belief that illness is an attack from disturbed spirits; HIV-infected Zimbabweans tend to rely more on traditional healers, or witch doctors, than on proven, albeit costly, Western treatments; and Drug companies grow rich on drugs that take pennies to produce, yet the pills can't possibly be bought by millions dying for them.
Glimmers of hope surface through the despair, and one such spark is an HIV prevention program developed by Terry and two Zimbabwe college graduates, SHAPE Zimbabwe, dedicated to getting young people talking about sex and AIDS. Such discussions begin to address the cultural context of patriarchy in African society that exacerbates the spread of the disease. Terry's final analysis is also the ultimate lesson for the reader: "With my judgmental filter turned off, I more clearly see life in Africa for what it is, people living in a desperate time, taking desperate measures. I've come to see silence about AIDS no more or no less of an issue than silence about joblessness, crime, corrupt politics, or worthless currency. As my curiosity about Zimbabwean's silence has faded, my admiration for their resiliency has grown."
To order Breaking Stone Silence, go to www.amazon.com. Proceeds from the sales will go to a fund dedicated to HIV/AIDS prevention in Africa.