Saturday, January 2, 2010

World Aids Day: December 2009


World Aids Day: December 2009

The children came to school on this day with candles. After the first teaching session, the whole school walks outside together to where the road curves into the driveway. The children make two lines, and stand single file on either side of the dirt road. The candles are held straight, and the children are either silent or helping each other to light the flames and keep them strong against the wind gusts.

When the line begins moving, an uncontrollable metaphor enters my mind: I am witnessing a death march. As the children start walking, imagined images start to crash against the present. After 1 year, how many children will disappear in the fight against AIDS? After 5 years, or 10 years, how soon will only a handful of children be left in that line? I can see them walking far apart and abandoned as clearly as I now see them in two crowded lines. This is the visual expression that reflects the percentages we are given of AIDS rates.

But the children are still walking, on this day, here and now, and they are proudly carrying the memorial lights with both hands in their march back towards school. Slowly and silently they make their journey back to the auditorium building. Once we are all inside, the heat from the candles begins to bake us under the tin roof. The hopeful wind outside gently rattles the stones that keep the roof on.

Then the singing begins – beautiful, prayer singing – a mourning of the people lost in the fight against AIDS. These children have watched their family and friends die, and many may be facing the disease themselves. The flames reflect in their bright eyes. A young man dutifully chalks the anouncement of World AIDS Day on the only chalkboard in the auditorium. He carefully outlines the letters in alternating colors, making the message almost festive, and suggesting the day as a symbol of hope.

The principle is at the front, and she begins speaking to her community, “We must not shun those who are positive, we must love them and care for them.” When will they become we, and we become they?

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