Last Saturday started in typical fashion. After a 4:30am wake up and quick trip to Wakawaka so Dery could get some local ‘performances’ done (read: local medicine/magic/whatever) we pulled back into the market square around 9:30am to sit down at the market side. After taking the requisite pot of pito, a couple of health workers pulled up and organized a meeting just beside the road. Dery said we should sit and join, so I downed the last couple of drops out of my calabash. I sat down and the nurse started speaking in Dagarre. I am still nowhere near conversational in Dagarre but the topic of conversation was obvious about two minutes in with the mention of three English letters: HIV.
I tried my best to hear what was being said, lots of references to ‘do’ and ‘po’ (man and woman), some questions that various people volunteered to answer, some talk of food for some reason, koko (porridge), fufu (pounded yams), zevarre (soup ingredients) and fairly regular chuckles from the growing crowd. After fifteen or twenty minutes, the talk wrapped up.
Dery asked if I had understood, and I said small small. He explained they were talking about HIV/AIDS (yes, caught that part) and the different ways it is transmitted, from unprotected sex to blood transfusions. Turns out the part about the food was trying to encourage healthier eating so that the risk of needing a blood transfusion is decreased. Last but not least, the most important part of the talk:
“She said they’ve brought HIV tests and they are giving them free of charge.”
“So will you get tested?”
“Oh yes, I will do.”
Wow. For some reason I wasn’t expecting that. I don’t know why I expected there to be more resistance to the idea, but from Dery’s perspective it was definitely something to get done. I was impressed. Dery is usually ahead of the curve, and I was glad he was leading on this too.
If that impressed me, the next two minutes were almost astounding. Not only was there a significant interest in the tests, there was a rush! I A couple of men fought about who got to go first, with Dery managing to secure second place. Very soon there was a lengthy line up for the test as people registered their names and ages in the log book.
It wasn’t long before the inevitable happened:
“Nasado! (White man) (a bunch of Dagarre that I can’t remember)?”
“They want to know if you’ll also get tested.” Dery chuckled a bit.
I thought about it for a minute, but it was pretty clear I would have to. And why not? I suppose I was taking up some donor’s money that wasn’t intended for me, and I would be an additional person in the line, but other than that, there wasn’t a good reason. I should set a good example too.
I said yes, and signed my name. Despite signing 16th, I got the usual bump to the beginning of the line. The man in front of me finished up and I sat down with the nurse. She asked if I had understood the meeting, I told her not really, so she gave me a quick recap of the general ideas before asking:
“Are you ready to know your status?”
I responded in the positive and took a deep breath. As most people know, I’m not a big fan of anything medical related. I guess you would call it squeamish. Luckily for me, this test didn’t involve a needle and it was over in a minute. The nurse pricked my left ring finger, pipetted up some blood and squirted it onto a piece of plastic with three labels: “HIV 1; HIV 2; CONTROL”.
“Alright, come back in five minutes and I’ll tell you the result.”
I stood off to the side, holding the alcohol swab to my slightly sore finger. A couple of women waiting in line looked at me, and giggled a bit. I smiled nervously, pacing a bit. It was a long five minutes. The women laughed some more. Finally the nurse called me back to sit down and receive my result. To my relief only one dark red line cut across the white test material.
Dery and I headed back to the house. We sat down.
“So what did they tell you?” he asked.
We exchanged results, and I asked him if he had ever been tested before. To my surprise, he said yes, this was his third time. He had gone to the clinic himself the past two times. He knows that the nurses recommend getting tested every six months but he says he doesn’t always get time, so aims for once a year. I asked him if he thought other people also have been tested before and he said no, this was likely the first time for most.
I don’t hear HIV/AIDS talked about much here in Ghana. There are certainly billboards and radio ads, but I’ve rarely heard anyone talk about it. I have no idea what prevalence rates are in Bole Region, or how many people tested positive that day. For some reason I assumed the relative silence would mean there would be resistance to getting tested, to knowing the the answer to a scary question. But at least on the Dagaarte side of Seripe, I was impressed by the way people reacted. I’m certainly no HIV/AIDS or health expert, and testing is certainly only a small part of effectively managing HIV/AIDS, but to my uneducated eyes it looked like some pretty positive results.