No Place Left to Bury the Dead: Denial, Despair and Hope in the African AIDS Pandemic

No Place Left to Bury the Dead: Denial, Despair and Hope in the African AIDS Pandemic

by Nicole Itano

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Overview

No Place Left to Bury the Dead: Denial, Despair and Hope in the African AIDS Pandemic by Nicole Itano


EVERY DAY in Africa, approximately 7,000 men, women, and children are erased from the face of this planet by the devastating AIDS virus that -- even after more than two and a half decades -- continues to wreak havoc around the globe, especially in underdeveloped nations. No Place Left to Bury the Dead dares to go where media, governments, and ordinary individuals in the West seldom venture -- face-to-face with fellow humans suffering in the shadow of our collective ignorance and neglect.

In this haunting investigation, acclaimed journalist Nicole Itano goes beyond traditional journalistic methods as she eats, sleeps, and lives with the women who struggle daily with the raging epidemic of AIDS. Working from the personal accounts of a few real women living with the disease, Itano traces their moments of discovery and diagnosis, their first symptoms, and the ways they cope with treatment and manage the news with their families. Itano's masterful blend of the personal, scientific, and historical turns statistics into stories and balances tragedy with hope as she outlines the scope of new treatment and prevention.

In a time when celebrity and political heavy hitters such as Bono and Bill Clinton are rushing to find a remedy for Africa's increasing problem, No Place Left to Bury the Dead shows the world how the transformation of a few courageous women can heal entire communities and eradicate denial, and how books like these increase global awareness of one of the worst epidemics in human history. Like And the Band Played On and The Coming Plague, this book is a wake-up call that is urgently needed.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743270953
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: 11/20/2007
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.44(h) x 1.19(d)

About the Author

NICOLE ITANO has reported for numerous newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and Elle. She spent more than five years living in and reporting from Africa. She now lives in Athens, Greece.

Read an Excerpt

No Place Left to Bury the Dead

Denial, Despair and Hope in the African AIDS Pandemic
By Nicole Itano

Atria

Copyright © 2007 Nicole Itano
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780743270953

Introduction

By the time I first stepped off the plane in Johannesburg in early 2001, at the beginning of what was to be a five-year stay there, a new sense of urgency had arisen over the issues of AIDS. In part, the country had finally awoken to the sheer magnitude of the crisis. By then, South Africa was home to an estimated five million HIV-positive people, more than any other nation in the world. But I suspected the real reason for the new energy was that, finally, it seemed something tangible could be done to halt the epidemic: treatment.

Efforts to prevent the spread of the disease had always seemed depressingly ineffectual and immeasurable; for two decades infection rates had largely continued their upward momentum. Most Africans did not even know their HIV status, and for those who did know they were infected there were few treatment options available; most were simply sent home to die. Communities were staggering under the weight of the sick, dying, and orphaned. The epidemic seemed unstoppable.

The five years that I spent living in South Africa and working there and in neighboring countries, however, was a period of enormous change and new optimism. Treatment that had seemed impossiblein Africa just a few years before was becoming possible. A new grassroots activism arose around AIDS, new international money poured in, and treatment centers opened across the continent. In the jumble of new initatives, some projects were ill conceived, and there was much overlap and duplication. But for the first time in nearly two decades, progress was being made.

This book tells the stories of three families and their communities during this period of enormous change, although I try to put their experiences into a broader context and to show how the epidemic unfolded in Africa. I spent more than a year -- between 2004 and 2006 -- visiting the three communities I've written about in this book, talking to ordinary people, community leaders, and activists. Much of the time I spent simply observing, and to a degree participating in, the daily life of the families who generously allowed me to chronicle their lives. I ate meals with them, helped wash their laundry and harvest their fields, and even occasionally slept at their houses. My goal was to try to paint a picture of how real people and real communities were dealing with the epidemic, not based on a single snapshot in time but over a period as they adjusted and dealt with the virus.

The three families whose stories comprise the bulk of this book do not represent the most extreme or tragic cases. In many ways, the stories I have chosen to tell are quite ordinary. Some of the people on whom I've focused are even relatively prosperous or fortunate within the context of their communities. As you will see, however, all the families have been stricken not once, but many times by the epidemic. Often I discovered the other cases of HIV/AIDS only much later, after I had spent many months with the family. But increasingly, in the nations of Southern Africa particularly, few families remain unscathed. In these cultures where familial ties and responsibility include not just sisters and brothers, but cousins many generations removed, there are few people who have not lost some relative and many who have lost more than one.

The main characters in this book are predominately women. In part this was out of necessity -- it is largely women who are willing to talk about the epidemic -- but it also reflects the fact that in Africa it is women who are bearing the brunt of the epidemic. They are caring for the sick and orphaned, and they are dying in larger numbers and at earlier ages. For the women I met, the AIDS epidemic was intricately entwined with abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and hunger. It was rarely, if ever, simply a matter of choice.

From the beginning, I also did not feel that, ethically or emotionally, I could watch someone die and do nothing to help. Therefore I chose to work in places and with families that would likely be able to avail themselves of new treatments as they became available. As a result, this book is less about dying from AIDS than living with it. For many of those I met, however, the line between life and death was often perilously thin.

Often this process was difficult to witness: I saw families crumble and disperse and watched young women I had come to care about return again and again to abusive situations where they put themselves at risk of being infected. I sometimes despaired and frequently felt helpless. The challenges, for the families and their communities, at times seemed insurmountable. In the three places themselves -- located in the Southern African countries of Lesotho, South Africa, and Botswana -- I often encountered a similar bewilderment. Few understood, much less knew, how to stop the slow disintegration of their communities.

I was painfully aware throughout the process of researching and writing this book of the limitations of my own perspective. I was an outsider, a wealthy Westerner. In a region with a deep and divisive racial past, I was also a "white" person writing about black subjects, with all the cultural baggage that entailed. Although I do not classify myself as white -- my mother is of Japanese heritage and my father of mixed Mexican and European -- in the context of Africa I am very aware that I am usually identified as such. In writing this book I chose to use a limited first-person narrative, so that I could explain as much as possible the relationship I had with my subjects. I knew that, given the long-term nature of my involvement with them, I would be unable to stay true to the traditional ethic of journalistic noninvolvement, an ethic I have come to suspect, in any case. Inevitably, though, given the difficult nature of this subject and the many cultural and economic divides that lay between us, finding the appropriate relationship was often difficult, and I didn't always succeed. I have tried to be honest about these failures in part because I think the readers of this book deserve to know, and in part because I think they are themselves instructive.

Given the enormous cultural divides between myself and those I was writing about, there is much that I struggled to understand and probably more that I misinterpreted. Yet I think there is an even greater danger in not trying to understand each other. How can we begin to break down such barriers if we are too afraid of giving offense to confront our differences? I hope one day an African writer will tackle this subject and write the story of AIDS on the continent from an inside perspective. For now, though, I have tried to keep an open mind so as not to let my preconceptions color my views. In some cases, people I spoke to made sweeping statements about their own people and culture that may seem offensive in our Western, politically correct culture. In some cases I disagreed with these statements, and in others thought they contained elements of truth. But in general, I have chosen not to edit these and to let people speak with their own voice about their own lives and struggles.

In the course of researching and writing this book I found more questions than answers, but I also discovered that much of what we had thought was unshakable truth about AIDS in Africa might not be so uncomplicatedly true after all.

1

On a warm October day in 2003, a young woman named Adeline Majoro made her way across Maseru, the capital city of a small mountain kingdom at the tip of Africa called Lesotho. A hint of spring was in the air, but the land lay parched after several years of drought. Most of the city was brown: dusty dirt roads, mud-colored mountains, gray-brown concrete buildings. As she usually did, Adeline walked a few blocks down a rutted lane from the single room where she lived alone, to a main road. There she waited for one of the run-down, sagging Toyota vans, called taxis, that serve as the main form of transportation in the city.

On most days Adeline caught a taxi to the city center, where she taught business and accounting to high school students not much younger than herself. That October day, however, Adeline had steeled herself to make a journey she had been avoiding for weeks. She climbed into a taxi and headed to a small mission clinic on the other side of the city for the results of an AIDS test.

Then just twenty-two years old, Adeline had a broad face, wide hips, and a big, ever-present smile. She dressed conservatively, avoiding the tight, revealing clothes popular among many of her contemporaries. Her mode of dress reflected a certain seriousness in her character. Adeline knew what she wanted from life and worked hard to get it; she had no time to spend at bars or looking for men. During the day she taught, and at night she took classes on a government scholarship to become a chartered accountant. At home, in the village where she was born, she had a young son who lived with her mother.

Like most Basotho1 -- the collective name used for the people of her country -- Adeline was born in a rural area but had been lured to the city in hope of a better life. In 1966, when Lesotho was granted its independence by Great Britain, its capital of Maseru was a sleepy colonial town of about 15,000 whose grandest buildings were a handful of administrative structures built from yellow sandstone hewn from the local mountains. There was a single hotel and a handful of paved roads. In the four decades since, Maseru has sprawled outward from a small center. Today it is home to around 170,000 people and is the only city of any size in a country that remains largely agrarian.2 But beyond the loud and bustling city center, which now awkwardly pairs those original buildings with a handful of modern office blocks and run-down shopping centers, Maseru still has a rural feel. In the neighborhoods that ring the center, such as the one where Adeline lived and the one to which she headed for her test results, the houses were scattered over the landscape rather than squeezed in close together in the manner of a classic slum.

When Adeline arrived later that warm morning at Maluti clinic, a simple, crowded health center run by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a nurse recognized her. To the annoyance of those already in the waiting room, many of whom had been there for hours, she was ushered immediately into a private consulting room. "Maybe they were afraid I would run away," she laughed ruefully when she recalled the incident to me many months later.

Adeline had started several years earlier on the journey that had brought her to that small clinic. Over the previous few years there had been small signs that all was not well, each on its own easy to dismiss. First she suffered from strange sores under her arms, then a series of painful abdominal cramps. She sought the services of a traditional healer for a burning outbreak of herpes and, finally, was plagued by itchy and puffy eyes that she initially attributed to an allergy.

In the beginning, Adeline tried to convince herself that it was nothing but stress, that her body was simply worn down from the heavy burden of work and school and motherhood. She rose at dawn most days and often went to bed after midnight, studying by the light of a bare bulb in her single room. She had never been sickly, though, and repeated bouts of bad health worried her. She began to fear that something more serious lay beneath her health problems.

The allergy-like symptoms finally drove Adeline to confront her fear. In the weeks before she went for an HIV test, she was sent repeatedly back to the clinic, where she was prescribed various syrups and pills. But nothing seemed to help. "I would wake up and my eyes were sore and puffy," she recalled later. "I was going to the doctor every week, but nothing he gave me helped."

During the two years that her health had spiraled downward, no doctor ever suggested to Adeline that she get an AIDS test, although some of her symptoms, particularly the "herps," as she called it, are common opportunistic infections associated with HIV infection. Once she even asked a physician if she should get tested. She was breast-feeding when sores appeared under her arms and so asked the doctor she went to see, a private practitioner in the platinum-mining city of Rustenburg in the neighboring Republic of South Africa (where she had been then living), if she should have an HIV test done. He said no. She asked if she should stop breast-feeding and again he said no. She stopped anyway, on the advice of her mother.

That was in 2001 and AIDS was running rampant across Southern Africa. Less than a year earlier, Nelson Mandela had called the epidemic "one of the greatest threats humankind has faced" at a huge international AIDS conference held in Durban, South Africa.3 Yet Adeline's doctor discouraged her from taking steps to learn her status. Perhaps he felt helpless in the face of this incurable, deadly disease. Believing that there was no treatment he could offer his patients if they did test positive, he may have thought it better that they not know. In this he would not have been alone. Many doctors, aid workers, and government officials across the continent felt the same way; throughout the epidemic, Africans in even the hardest-hit communities were often discouraged from learning their status. That would later prove to be one of the biggest mistakes made in combating AIDS in Africa.

It was in Adeline's nature, however, to confront the truth. Listening to the radio in South Africa one day she had heard that abdominal cramps could be associated with HIV. The increasing number of posters and signs around Maseru urging people to use condoms and not discriminate against HIV-positive people were also hard to ignore. By 2001, the seed of doubt was planted. Two years later, it had grown into a gnawing fear.

It was the end of September 2003 when Adeline finally made her way to the Seventh-day Adventist clinic which was then one of the few places in the country where HIV tests were performed. On that first visit, a nurse had explained the difference between HIV and AIDS, and told her that even if she were infected with the virus, she might not have AIDS yet. She described how the test worked and asked Adeline if she was sure she wanted to take it. The nurse drew some blood and told her to return in a few days. Tests that gave results in minutes were already being used in wealthier parts of the world, but such new technology had yet to reach that small mission clinic. To determine if she was infected, Adeline's blood had to be sent to a laboratory in another part of the city, and she would have to return. Many patients who found the courage to come for the test never came back for their results; Adeline nearly became one of them. For weeks she delayed her return. "I was scared to go back. Every day I told myself I should go for the results, but I was so afraid." Three weeks later, when she finally found the courage to come for the results, she found herself sitting in a plastic chair in the clinic's bare consulting room, bracing herself to hear news that deep down she thought she already knew.

"You have the maleshoane," the nurse told her gently. The two women were alone in a consulting room of a mission clinic, but even there the nurse spoke in metaphors, referring to her patient's sickness by the name of an insect pest. Perhaps the nurse thought it would help soften the blow if the evil remained unspoken. Or perhaps, even at that small mission clinic in a tiny nation at the heart of the epidemic, the sickness in the young woman's blood remained too taboo to be named.

For Adeline, though, the meaning was clear enough. In her blood flowed the deadly human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Despite the nurse's gentleness, the words were a sentence of death. For even in those days, in the third year of the new millennium, there was little hope in Lesotho, one of the world's smallest and poorest nations, for those who tested HIV-positive. She would, she thought, fail her parents, who had sacrificed so much to give her a better life. Her son, just two years old, would grow up an orphan. And she would die.

Adeline thinks she cried, although she cannot recall precisely. The nurse tried to give her hope. She told Adeline she knew people who had been tested years earlier and were still healthy. If she ate well, got plenty of rest, and avoided stress, she too could still have years of life ahead of her. Then she referred Adeline to an associated hospital, more than an hour's drive away, that was also run by the Seventh-day Adventist Church and had the country's only AIDS program. If she had enough money, perhaps they could give her some treatment. Her own small clinic had nothing more to offer.

As she emerged from the consulting room, almost an hour after she had entered, Adeline heard the grumbles of a group of women outside. "Look at her," she heard one complain. "We came here early and she came late but took the whole day." Adeline walked out without a word and made her way into the hot, dusty streets of Maseru.

I met Adeline in June 2004, about eight months after her test, through a small organization of people living with AIDS called Positive Action. We were introduced by an articulate, wiry young man named Koali Job, who had left behind a life of boozing and womanizing after he tested positive and become one of a handful of openly HIV-positive people in Lesotho, which was belatedly trying to come to terms with the epidemic.

Not long before I met her she had left her teaching job and found a new position as the bookkeeper for a small catering company, called In 'n' Out Catering, that operated out of the back of a bar. At night she still took her accounting classes. Koali took me to meet Adeline at her new workplace, where we bought meat from a nearby butcher and watched it being grilled on an outside barbecue.

Adeline struck me, in that first meeting, as confident and well-spoken, with a naturally optimistic disposition. During the time I spent with her, she never once shed tears for herself, though she had plenty of reasons for self-pity. Adeline did not fit any of the stereotypes about women with AIDS. She was not a prostitute, barmaid, or loose woman, just a good girl who had had the bad luck to fall in love with the wrong man.

She told me some of her story that first day, as smoke curled off the cooking meat, letting off a mouth-watering smell. Other parts came out over the successive weeks and months, often as we sat eating in her small home with South African soaps blaring from the television. On the afternoon she learned she was HIV-positive, Adeline told me, she returned to her school and taught the remainder of the day's classes. She stumbled blindly through the rest of the week and then made a slow, agonizing journey home to Ha'Senekane to inform her family of the news.

Adeline told me she felt she had failed them as well as herself. She was an only child and much adored by her parents. But her mother, a seamstress who sewed traditional dresses, and her father, a gold miner in South Africa who was home for the weekend, told her they were proud of her for being open with them. Later, after he had returned to South Africa, Adeline's father wrote her a letter telling her how much it meant to him that she had trusted them with this information. That, she said, was itself an extraordinary act: "My father is not a letter writer."

The support from her family improved her spirits. She was soon also befriended by an openly HIV-positive young woman in her accounting class. The woman introduced her to Positive Action, but died a few months later. Her death frightened Adeline, but she tried to rationalize it. Although the woman was open about her status, she continued to drink alcohol and eat poorly. Adeline told herself that she would survive because she would live positively.

Positive Action, and particularly Koali, became important sources of support in those early days. He introduced her to his church, a small evangelical outfit called Fill the Gap, and helped her through those rough first few months. "Having other positive people to talk to -- that made a big difference," Adeline said. "It made me realize that I could keep living."

When I met her in the year after she learned she was HIV-positive, Adeline appeared to be in good health, especially compared to how she described her health before her diagnosis. The mysterious, allergy-like symptoms had disappeared and she felt less tired. No one would have been able to tell by looking at her that she was infected; Adeline certainly didn't look like the victim of a disease that had been nicknamed "slim" in parts of Africa. She was plump, with large breasts and a healthy appetite. Once, when I went to a clinic with her, the nurse pinched her fondly and exclaimed: "Ah, this one is healthy. See how big she is!" She quickly sobered after skimming through Adeline's medical card, which bore a small, seemingly innocuous notation from her visit to the Maluti clinic, marking her HIV status.

Adeline's outward appearance of well-being, I would soon learn, masked her fragile health. After her positive test, she went to a mission hospital where she had a CD4 count, a common test that measures how far the disease has progressed. It examines how many disease-fighting white blood cells, known as T-helper cells, remain in the blood. Healthy people have CD4 counts of above 500, meaning that for every cubic millimeter of blood an individual has at least 500 T-helper cells. Anyone with a CD4 count below 200 is considered not just to be HIV-positive, but to have full-blown AIDS. Someone with less than half the body's normal allotment of T-cells is extremely susceptible to infection, and without antiretroviral treatment (ART), would likely live less than two years.4 Although I knew she had been symptomatic, I was still shocked when I learned that Adeline's test, taken a few months before I met her, showed a CD4 count of 111. I shouldn't have been, but I was. She seemed so healthy.

She had felt better since her diagnosis, though, and attributed her low CD4 count and prior illnesses to the stress of worrying whether she was infected. In a way, once her worst suspicions were confirmed, she was able to come to terms with her infection. "I sort of already believed I had the virus," she said. "So I was ready to accept the outcome."

There was probably an element of truth to this. After her test, Adeline took better care of herself. She tried to eat better and began taking vitamin supplements. But with her body's natural defenses so weakened, Adeline remained worryingly susceptible to infection. Many patients, it's true, waste away slowly over months or even years. Death, however, can also come swiftly with AIDS, on the wings of a single deadly, and often invisible, infection.

Adeline was born on a wide, fertile plateau in Lesotho (pronounced Le-SOO-too), one of Africa's smallest nations. Landlocked and completely surrounded by South Africa, it sits at the tip of Africa in a mountain range known as the Maluti. It is a ruggedly beautiful country of jagged peaks and high, soaring plains whose people are known for their distinctive conical grass hats and the heavy woolen blankets they wear like cloaks in winter and summer.

With a population of just 2.2 million5 and no real natural resources, except for a few diamonds located inconveniently high in the mountains and an excess of water, it is also, in terms of geopolitics, a thoroughly unimportant place. Until recently, when its astronomically high AIDS rate brought the country new attention, Lesotho's main claims to international fame were geographic. The country is one of only three enclave nations in the world (the other two nations that are completely surrounded by another country are the Vatican and San Marino, both located inside Italy). It also has the highest low point of any country in the world, 4,600 feet above sea level. Nearly 80 percent of the country lies above 5,900 feet, and much of it is covered in ancient, rocky mountains.6

Lesotho is also one of the world's poorest and least developed nations, and like much of sub-Saharan Africa, it has become poorer in the postcolonial period. In 1974, one in ten of the world's poor were African; today half are.7 Disease, overpopulation, corruption, war, and political instability have all hampered the continent's growth, and many of those factors played a role in Lesotho. Before AIDS, though, the quality of life in Lesotho was on a slow, upward trajectory. Life expectancy had risen steadily, from 41.6 years in 1960 to 45.7 in 1990. More people had access to safe water and education, and despite opposition from the Catholic Church, contraception had become more widely used and the birth rate had begun to fall.8 Today, by almost every indicator, the standard of life is declining.

The pressures on Lesotho are numerous and complex. Its population has doubled since 1970, putting enormous strain on the land and other resources. Across the country, once-fertile soil has been overgrazed and overworked, and the percentage of arable land has been steadily decreasing. Today only 11 percent of the country's land is suitable for cultivation.9 In addition, the region as a whole has suffered from severe droughts, the most recent of which forced the country to turn to international food aid in 2002.

Perhaps most important to Lesotho's declining fortunes, however, has been the slow shrinkage of South Africa's gold industry. Once South Africa was the largest producer of gold in the world, most of which was dug up by foreign mine workers from surrounding countries, like Lesotho, that sat on the fringes of the continent's biggest economy. Many of the men in Adeline's family spent years in the mines. But over the past decade, South Africa's gold industry has struggled to compete globally and has shed tens of thousands of workers as it has shrunk. In 1995, 125,000 Basotho men toiled deep underground in South African mines; their earnings financed 50 percent of Lesotho's imports. By 2005, that figure had fallen to just over 54,000, and their contribution to imports had halved.10

Then there is AIDS, which reversed much of the progress made in Lesotho's early decades. Life expectancy has fallen to thirty-six years, and a child born today in Lesotho has a staggering 67 percent chance of dying before his or her fortieth birthday.11 Like many of the countries in Southern Africa, during the 1990s Lesotho experienced a dramatic increase in the number of infected people. Today, around 23 percent of adults in the country are HIV-positive and almost a hundred thousand children have been orphaned by AIDS.12

In this new world, the members of Adeline's generation, in general, have bleaker prospects than their parents. By local standards, Adeline was not badly off. She had a comparatively well-paying job, a stable and loving family, and an education. But she had bigger ambitions. She was, she often joked, "on her way to the top."

Adeline's parents were solid, working-class folk. They were not highly educated themselves but, like many African parents, saw education as a ticket to a better life and worked hard to ensure that Adeline could get the best. She went away to a boarding school -- there was no high school in her village -- where she studied according to the internationally accepted Cambridge method, developed in Great Britain. Inspired by one of her teachers, when she finished there she went to Maseru to take a year-long accounting class and then won a scholarship to study to become a chartered accountant.

At the time we were introduced, in mid-2004, Adeline lived in a tiny single room in an outlying neighborhood of Maseru called Ts'enola, about three miles from the city center. Her room was one in a long concrete row, each with a door facing a dirt street that became impassable during summer rains. A double bed, always neatly made, filled half the room. In addition to the bed, she owned a large, worn wooden cabinet, overflowing with clothes, a plastic table and two chairs, a stereo, a two-burner hot plate, and an electric kettle. The only decoration was a slightly tattered poster of a little boy in his underwear, showing his privates to a similarly clad little girl: "Facts of Life," it read in bold lettering. Water came from a tap outside, and the toilets were outhouses on the other side of the yard. In its favor, though, the room had electricity, run off a small meter recharged with vouchers bought at local stores.

A few months after we met, Adeline moved to a larger place, on the same road, with two large rooms. The rent was more than twice that of her old home -- almost $40 a month, compared to the $15 she had paid before -- but the new place was far larger. Not long afterward she bought a television and refrigerator, and her home was always stocked with food. By many measures, Adeline was lucky. She never went hungry and had, compared to many of her neighbors, an enviable number of material possessions. Yet she still paid less for rent in a month than I regularly spent for dinner on a single evening. And sometimes, near the end of the month, she would struggle to find the 50 cents she needed to pay the taxi fare to work. Wealth and poverty, in a global sense, are highly relative.

When we met in mid-2004, though, Adeline felt as if she had hit a brick wall in terms of her career. The job at In 'n' Out Catering was supposed to only be temporary while she looked for something better. She earned 1,500 maloti per month, about $235, a livable salary in Maseru, but that was still far less than the salaries of most of her classmates at the Lesotho Centre for Accounting Studies. Often the owner paid Adeline and the other employees late, causing much hardship. What she really wanted was a government job, which came with pension benefits and health care. Lesotho's government was desperately short of qualified accountants and bookkeepers, and officials had told members of the accounting technician course she had completed that they would soon be offered government jobs.

She and her classmates submitted their qualifications, but two years later Adeline was still being told their applications had yet to be processed. Nor did she have any success finding something better on her own. "I think sometimes that maybe my luck has run out," she said. She even wondered aloud whether she had been bewitched, then quickly dismissed the idea.

Adeline hoped that when she finished her studies and became a chartered accountant things would change. Unlike many of the women who lived nearby, many of whom worked in struggling textile factories, she had, at least until AIDS cast a shadow over her dreams, reasonable aspirations of moving up in the world. Adeline's night course, preparation for the same exam that students in England take, cost about $2,700 a year, nearly her annual yearly salary. When, and if, she passed her course, she would have a ticket into the middle class. In South Africa, black chartered accountants, especially black women chartered accountants, were worth their weight in gold.

I often worried that she pushed herself too hard, that the stress and lack of rest would send her over the edge and into an unstoppable downward spiral. Yet I could hardly fault her for working hard and for continuing to dream. Even as I worried, I admired her strength and unwillingness to give in to the virus in her blood. "I'm fighting to show that I can still succeed," she told me once. "An HIV-positive person is not a disabled person. I still have my dreams."



Continues...


Excerpted from No Place Left to Bury the Dead by Nicole Itano Copyright © 2007 by Nicole Itano. Excerpted by permission.
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