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Lions Roar : March 2006
o u u .....:i .....:i --- z E--< .....:i ::r: .....:i E--< Lewis visits a village in Swaziland, where more than 200,000 adults and children, in a population of just over a million, are living with HIV/AIDS. "You go into a hospice, 25 beds, 23 of them filled by women in their twenties. You can't get the drugs to them in time. You know they're going to die in a matter of months. They all have children. You feel as though everything is out of kilter. "Women are the pillars of family and community-the mothers, the caregivers, the farmers. The pandemic is prey- ing on them relentlessly, threatening them in a way that the world has never before witnessed. The virus threatens the very existence of women in some countries. I can barely talk about it with equanimity. "When I was traveling with Graca Machel, Nelson Mande- la's wife, we were going to villages where you don't see young women. It's so weird. There's no one in their twenties or thir- ties or forties. It just bowls you over." Why are the women disappearing? Primarily, says Lewis, because they are being infected by their husbands, and they do not have the capacity to refuse sex, cannot insist on condoms, cannot negotiate pro- tection of their own lives. "It's just the man's predatory entitle- ment which is so widely accepted, and that gender inequality is really the most ferocious assault on one sex I've ever seen, and I don't think there's any historical precedent." Then there are stories about children. "You go into a little community center for kids.. .and I remember this.. .you have a whole group of kids sitting in a little room. They look as though they're four or five, they're all stunted, and they're really eight, nine, ten years old, all HIV- positive, and there are no drugs. And you know these kids are measuring their lives in minutes. And you just wonder. . . why is this? How long can it happen? How long does it have to go on incrementally?" He tells of being in western Kenya last July, visiting a reli- gious organization that is looking after orphans. "Suddenly all these orphans trot out to make little speeches, seven of them in a row. And they're all in their twenties. Their parents died in '93, '94, '95, '96, and you suddenly understand that this has been going on for so long that you have a new crop of or- phans who are very young, but you also have a group who have grown up without any parents in some kind of commu- SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2006 67