Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Pope's right, you know

It is not often that a Rastafarian will applaud the remarks of a Catholic Pope, but we have a saying in ChiShona which goes Chati homu chareva. Literally, the adage is stating that when a baboon makes its grunting noise, it has communicated something. No, I am not suggesting that the Pontifex Maximus of the Roman Church is a baboon-although he is, of course, a, um...Primate. I am taking the deeper meaning of this little gem of my forebear's wisdom and wit, which is that anyone has something to say and we should at least grant them an audience. (These Pope-related puns keep popping up!)

That the Pope was speaking in defence of the Catholic Church's intransigence over a controversial issue prompts another proverb of yore;Muridzo wembwa ndomumwe. Literally, the same whistling call is used to call all dogs, meaning words of advice can be taken by anyone and be as useful.

Pope Benedict (16th of that name) is on a tour of Africa, to highlight some of the problems the continent is facing. One of them is Aids. Zimbabwe is one of the hardest hit African nations, as if we do not have enough problems already. Our approach to the pandemic has been prevention-mostly spreading the message that condoms are the solution. The donor-countries have been helpful in this matter, sponsoring free distribution of the little rubbers,funding the production of movies and adverts where the catchword was that the condom is your Friend for Life! Yes, sir, you won't get Aids if you use a condom.

I am a product of that culture- I have never had sex without a condom before. I am turning 33 at the end of the month. As one who has worked in the movie industry-where you get laid more than you actually do any work, I should be dead by now or at least coughing and wasting away or getting a heart-attack every time I hear that some wannabe starlet died last year or I run in to them on the street and they look like a screen-test for an Oxfam advert. So, yes, I have to say that rolling down those rubbers has saved my life for now.

Now this old German bloke in a robe who bears a passing resemblance to Darth Sidius/Emperor Palpatine steps on to my continent and starts telling that not only will condoms save us from Aids, but may in fact be part of the problem. He's already upset a few Africans over this matter. You'd think upsetting the Jews-and many other people-by forgiving the Holocaust-Denier was courting public anger enough.

But I agree with the Pope on this one! And I have my reasons.

A long time ago, a doctor struck up a conversation with me on the bus. A few other people joined in, and the subject drifted towards Aids. He told me something which prompted much arguement from the other passengers, but made perfect sense to me at the time. "You know what, you are a lot safer picking up a prostitute at Makoni Shopping Centre for $20 than you are with your steady girlfriend," the good doctor said. By the way, I am not saying that Makoni Shopping Centre in Chitungwiza is neccessarily a Red Light District-that's what we have the whole of Unit D, Unit G, Unit N and St Mary's for. But there are a lot of drinking places there, and at night the girls line the streets but take their business to Unit G and other nearby neighbourhoods, so technically it is not a Red Light District.

I don't know if the girls are for $20, or indeed any other sum.

When the "aahs" died down, this disciple of Imhotep elaborated; "When you pick up a prostitute, chances are you are mindful of the risk. It's something that you have to do, but the message is out there that there is danger. So, you will use a condom. If she has Aids, the greater chance is that you won't catch it. Same applies if you're the one with the Aids, she won't get it. With your steady however, you use the rubber for a couple days and then you trust her without going for a test. But after a five-year period, how many girls have you trusted? How many guys has she trusted?"

For a moment there was only the drone of the engine, and a baby crying a few seats down the aisle. Hard as it was for most of us to swallow it, the medic had given us the word. "I have the statistics to show it," he added, but he was now preaching to the converted. "Most people your age who I am treating for Aids-related symptoms have been in long-term relationships."

The doctor was not advising us to get our rocks off the $20/short-time hookers lurking in the shadows in front of Makoni Nightclub. He was showing us that while using a condom may get you passed that "phase" that the average Zimbabwean youth goes through in this day and age, it will not help you in the long run.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things -I Corinthians 13:11

So said the Apostle Paulos. So while a condom was a friend for life with Chipo from down the block because she may also have been an alternative source of energy for her older sister's HIV+husband at the same time that she was showing me the greatest secret of coming of age, a different approach is required at this point in time when I am looking to settle down.

Does anyone remember the furore that the then Minister of Health, Dr Timoty Stamps, caused when he said that the biggest problem with Zimbabwe was the need for behaviour change? He was accused of exaggerating the situation, Zimbabweans could not possibly be the biggest culprits in the wanton sinners department because we are mainly Christian and based on our "culture". The insinuation was that Dr Stamps himself was the one who had his head in the sand. After all, he was of European extraction, how could he possibly understand the moral values of the Black majority? The View from the Gazebo, a column in Parade dubbed him Dr Kill-joy.

At the turn of the century, Zimbabweans had to admit that maybe things were out of hand. With so many famous names dying, and the reason being given in the media as "short illness", and virtually all of them being regarded as paragons of virtue. There's even a few gospel singers in the list. Then you had those cabinet ministers, then ordinary people. In 2002, I attended a funeral every week from around May, and at one time we had to split the family so that some had to remain at one and others proceed to the next as our presence was indispensible to both. Yet, the statistics were showing that while the number of people dying of Aids had risen sharply, the infection rate was slowing down. All these deaths could be traced to the infections of those denial-days when Stamps was the sole Jeremiah in the wilderness. It seemed as if we were, like Uganda, finally getting on top of things.

Today, a different picture emerges. There is a an upsurge in prostitution, caused by the political and economic spiral. There is an upsurge in the sexual abuse of minors-linked to a belief that sex with a virgin is a cure. There are many couples torn apart by economic migration. Such a situation will see temporary but long-term relationships-long enough for the parties to such relationships to begin "trusting" each other. There is also an upsurge in forced marriages of minors, especially among certain religious sects that live in isolated communities where the country's laws on such matters cannot help the girl. If you arrest some 40 year old for raping a 9 year-old girl, will that remove the virus from her body? Chances are she will end up being abused again, or she will pass on the virus to someone in a consensual relationship, when that man decides that he trusts her....

What the Pope is saying that struck a chord with me is "a responsible and moral attitude toward sex would help fight the disease." This is where the fight should be directed- against a culture of child sexual abuse, of small houses, sex-for-jobs and all other such behaviour that is fuelling the spread of the virus. Marriage on its own is not the solution, most of my friends are married and some of them have small-houses. Our values regarding marriage must be reviewed if we are to survive.

Distinguished Rastafarian Scholar, Ras Feqade had this to say:

"When I-man visited Zion (Ethiopia) in the 1992 Centennial of HIM, I saw in the capital city, Addis Ababa, one "Selamawee Self" (Peaceful parade), which was a mass popular demonstration in favour of AIDS awareness and prevention. The slogan of these thousands of Ethiopian marchers, and that they carried on their signs, was not "Prevent AIDS - wear a condom and do what you like". Nor yet was it "Prevent AIDS - be abstinent".Rather, their slogan for correctly preventing AIDS was, in the Amharic language, "AND BAND". Translated into the Queen English, "And band" ( 'and be 'and) are rendered as: "One by one" or "one on one". In other words, monogamy - one male, one female. One Adam, one Eve. A strictly monogamous couple should have nothing to fear from outside diseases coming in sexually, and can rear a family. This demonstration and this slogan were supported by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.I could not help but notice that in contrast with this massive show of popular support in favour of AND BAND (monogamy) as JAH solution for AIDS, the opposing message "Wear a condom and do whatever you like" in 1992 was like a tiny, barely audible pipsqueak in Ethiopia, represented only by a few dismal-looking mimeographed bulletins, clearly translated from English, and posted in places like the Filwoha public bath house (Note such bath houses were quite necessary to public hygiene, given the lack of widespread plumbing there.) AND BAND are also one of the ways in which the Orthodox Christian Church has always defined itself in contradistinction to other doctrines that preach (or have preached) "polygamy". Whether ina the East or West, seen...Accordin to Kufale (Jubilees) in the Ethiopian Bible, there are evil spirits of those before Noah, who will mislead InI Noah's childran of all races with false doctrines.Every so often, an uneducated man here or there will commune with these same spirits, an will become a false prophet, with false revelations of "JAH Word" based on totally wrong etymologies and histories, and with doctrines that preach polygamy, and hatred toward the Body of Christ (Christian churches). This is a recurring problem, although their children do tend to become more polite with the passage of time, at least superficially. This problem is not just for Ethiopia, but worldwide InI must be aware an avoid becoming complacent or deceived, for widespread misapplication of such doctrines could have led to a "Brave New World" (a book by Aldous Huxley) where random pairings are arranged by a temple or state; family and love is abolished or lose meaning whatsoever. Of course, disease are another obstacle preventing this evil vision. But let InI be guided in Life by the True JAH, who is our Iternal King of Kings, and in prayer until Shiloh call InI fe Zion Iternal Kingdom. SELAH

Ras Feqade Tebbaqi I"

The disease is killing Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and the solution that I am calling for applies to all people on the planet. All the major religions preach the same message of abstinence prior to and sex in marriage only. But most civilisations today have diminished the role of religion in society-at the behest of politicians who have recently freed themselves from its paradoxical civilising influence/reactionary burden role.

Can behaviour change? Can we change the liberal view towards marriage? Cannibalism, incest,child rape,slavery, racism. These are some of the evils that humanity has adopted and renounced during the course of history, yet they were acceptable even in civilisations that we today recall with admiration. So, it can be done.

For survival (a human urge much stronger than sex), it MUST be done.

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