Imagine the combined populations of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles infected with HIV, and the magnitude of the catastrophe in Africa is clear. For the past several years, internationally acclaimed journalist Stephanie Nolen has traced AIDS across Africa, and 28 is the result: an unprecedented, uniquely human portrait of the continent in crisis. In every instance, Nolen has borne witness to the stories she relates, whether riding with truck driver Mohammed Ali on a journey across Kenya; following Tigist Haile Michael, a smart, shy fourteen-year-old Ethiopian orphan fending for herself and her younger brother on the slum streets of Addis Ababa; chronicling the efforts of Alice Kadzanja, an HIV-positive nurse in Malawi; or interviewing Nelson Mandela's family about coming to terms with his own son's death from AIDS. She reveals how the disease works and spreads; how it is inextricably tied to conflict and famine and to the diverse cultures it has ravaged; how treatment works, and how people who can't get treatment fight to stay alive with courage and dignity against huge odds.
Writing with power and simplicity, Stephanie Nolen makes us listen, allows us to understand, and inspires us to care. Timely and transformative, 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa is essential reading for anyone concerned about the fate of humankind.
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About the Author
Stephanie Nolen is the Globe and Mail’s Africa Bureau Chief. She is the winner of the National Newspaper Award, the Amnesty International Award for Human Rights Reporting and the Markwell Award of the International Society of Political Psychology. She is also the author of Shakespeare’s Face and Promised the Moon: The Untold Story of the First Women in the Space Race. She lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Read an Excerpt
I looked at AIDS in Africa for a long time before I understood what I was seeing. That moment came on the shady porch of a small mud-brick house in a village called Nkhotakota in Malawi, early in 2002. The house belonged to Lillian Chandawili. She was thirty-five years old, and I met her through the local AIDS organization. We sat in the softening heat of the late afternoon and she told me how she was raising her five children on her own–her husband was gone. She confided that she was plagued by diarrhea and a racking cough; some days she barely had the strength to lift a hoe, but her little plot of land was the only source of food for her family.
While we talked, Lillian’s children ventured up to sit near us, and neighbours and relatives stopped by, polite and eager to greet a visitor. There were a great many children. Lillian explained that in addition to her five she was raising two of her late sister’s children and two orphaned cousins. She laid one gentle hand on their heads as they crept in close–“This one has it,” she said. “And this one, I think he’s infected.” When the neighbours moved on, she gestured with a lift of her chin at one or another–“She is infected. He is positive. Her husband is dying. He lost his wife.”
And as I listened, I suddenly understood that it wasn’t just Lillian and the dozen people in her support group in Nkhotakota who had AIDS. On paper, it was one in six adults in Malawi. But in this village, it was hundreds of people. If they weren’t sick themselves, they were caring for the sick. They were sheltering their sisters’ orphans, their dead brother’s young wife and baby. One way or another, everyone had the disease. And it meant that they earned less, that they grew less food, that fewer children went to school, that no one had any savings. Lillian talked of all the people who had “passed,” and I had a sense of a community quietly evaporating around me.
A few days later, in the Malawian capital, Lilongwe, I set out early one morning for the main hospital, where the lone doctor in charge had agreed to speak to me about the country’s HIV epidemic. When I got to the hospital, however, no one was quite sure where he was, and people suggested I try one ward or another, check this corridor or that office. I wandered the halls in a state of growing horror. I had by that point seen many basic and overcrowded African hospitals, but never anything like this. There were people everywhere: three to a bed, lying head to foot to head; under the beds, lying on grass mats in the stairwells and in the verandas off the wards. They were bone thin and covered in lesions and abscesses. As I stepped gingerly among them, they shifted their heads slightly to look up at me through eyes grown huge in sunken faces. I could not find the doctor; I did find a nurse–perhaps the only nurse–who was stout and slovenly and clearly drunk, her hairpiece of copper curls askew. Looking around the ward, I couldn’t blame her: it was barely 8 a.m., but I felt in desperate need of a stiff drink myself.
I had realized, long before that day, that AIDS was a unique and savage phenomenon in Africa. Back in 1998, in a rural hospital in Tanzania, the chief medical officer had led me on a tour of the wards. In one, we passed rows of antique but tidy beds lined up under billowy mosquito nets. Then we came to three men off by themselves, lying in a row on a thin mat on the floor. Their legs were like twigs, and their breathing was audible from the other side of the room. I was puzzled at first, and stopped in front of them. Then realized what this must be.
“Do they have AIDS?” I asked.
The doctor and his assistants whipped around. A nurse seized my arm and began to pull me out of the ward.
“Shh, shh, shh,” she scolded. “You can’t just say that word.”
The sight of those men stayed with me. Over the next few years, I kept going back to Africa, drawn to what I began to believe was the biggest story in the world. Not the wars or the refugee crises that occasionally–very occasionally–made the evening news back home, but the slow, almost incalculable devastation that HIV/AIDS was wreaking in country after country I visited.
I know something about what makes news. In the fifteen years I have worked as a journalist, I have reported on some of the biggest stories in the world. I watched Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization move into the West Bank after making peace with Israel in the early 1990s. I saw tentative women venture out of their homes for the first time in five years as the Taliban lost their hold on Afghanistan. I watched Saddam Hussein’s army flee Baghdad in the face of an onslaught of U.S. Marines. There is an undeniable thrill that comes with being in the centre of the big story.
But nothing I was sent to cover anywhere in the world compared to what I saw AIDS doing in sub-Saharan Africa. And yet this story never made the news at all.
In 2003, I persuaded my editors at The Globe and Mail that we were missing something important. They did not yet share my conviction about the urgency of the story, but they were willing to let me try to tell it. I moved to Johannesburg and began what would turn out to be years of travel through the heart of the epidemic: the Swazi villages, the slums outside Durban, the highlands of Lesotho, the urban hospitals of Botswana. I found hundreds and hundreds of communities like Nkhotakota on the verge of disappearing. I knew people in North America who had been living with HIV for years, taking antiretroviral medication that does not cure AIDS but will keep a person with HIV healthy for decades. But no one in Africa had the drugs. No one was even talking about getting them the drugs. AIDS was a fully preventable illness at home. But in Africa, it was a plague, and people like Lillian Chandawili could do little but sit and watch its inexorable progression. And I began to wonder how this could be happening–how we could be letting this happen–almost entirely unremarked.
Table of Contents
Why 28 1
Siphiwe Hlophe 19
Tigist Haile Michael 31
Mohammed Ali 41
Prisca Mhlolo 53
Regine Mamba 67
Lydia Mungherera 73
Noe Sebisaba 83
Christine Amisi 99
Manuel Cossa 113
Cynthia Leshomo 125
Mfanimpela Thlabatse 137
Andualem Ayalew 141
Alice Kadzanja 155
Zackie Achmat 167
Lefa Khoele 187
Pontiano Kaleebu 197
Winstone Zulu 211
Agnes Munyiva 225
Mpho Segomela 239
Anne Mumbi 243
Gideon Byamugisha 257
Ida Mukuka 269
Anita Manhica 277
Morolake Odetoyinbo 289
Moleen Mudimu 297
Ibrahim Umoru 309
Nelson Mandela 313
Thokozani Mthiyane 331
How You Can Help 361
Reading Group Guide
1. Compare the various stories in 28. Which affected or interested you most deeply, and why?
2. What did you learn from reading 28? Did this book surprise you? How?
3. Has the West failed to act sufficiently to reduce the impact of AIDS in Africa? Why do you think this is?
4. Why do you think Stephanie Nolen chose to tell the story of AIDS in Africa through twenty-eight people’s stories, rather than (for example) a journalistic narrative?
5. As well as tracing the interactions of the AIDS pandemic with war, the book suggests that poverty and cultural factors–such as the status of women–have made it worse. How does it make this case? Do you agree?
6. Choose one of the issues raised by the book–that wealthy people in Africa are more at risk of AIDS than poor people, or that the African pandemic has been ignored because mostly black, poor people are infected–for debate.
7. If you could add a chapter to 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa what would it be?
8. Based on recent news stories, how do you see the AIDS pandemic developing in the next ten years?
9. Will you take any action to help AIDS charities or others as a result of reading this book?
10. Would you recommend 28 to other readers? Why, or why not?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Though there have been many books published about the AIDS epidemic in Africa that discuss it through the lens of politics, economics and, of course, health and science, very few have touched on it at the personal level. 28 Stories literally tells the story of 28 different people (one for every million people infected with the virus) who have been effected in different ways, in 28 different places by HIV/AIDS. By juxtaposing stories of activists, health workers and clergymen who are infected with stories of Overland-truck drivers, prostitutes and migrant workers, Nolan does a supurb of showing that these people have many things in common but many things that are unique. The book does an amazing job giving this disease a human face, which rarely occurs in books on the subject, and at the same time gives amazing statistics and facts about the epidemic. By taking 28 people from many different places (Including South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe in the South, Nigeria in the West, and Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, etc in the East) Nolan does an excellent job showing that Africa is not one big country and the infected are not just one huddled mass. Startiling facts; beautiful and tragic stories; Amazing contibution to the subject.
Award-winning journalist, Stephanie Nolen, has written this amazing work of the depth, despair and devastation of HIV/AIDS in Africa. Most North-Americans have no idea of the impact of this disease that affects just about everyone (rich, poor, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends, colleagues, farmers, factory workers, politicians, pastors... and CHILDREN.) In this incredibly well-researched book, Ms. Nolen demolishes typical prejudices with her moving portrayals of victims from a wide cross-section of African society. These are real stories of real people facing the real challenges of living with HIV/AIDS. Courage - we can learn from their struggles and do more to make sure they don't go quietly into the dark night of our collective global ignorance. 28 - TWENTY EIGHT MILLION - dead already. Thank you to Stephanie Nolen for writing this outstanding book. This is a must read for everyone (!!) but especially those who love Africa, and well, human beings from everywhere!