Wednesday, April 20, 2016


When I was 23, I went to Tanzania to help set up an electronic database to track babies with HIV.  I wrote about the clinics (  and how I held a baby with HIV and how ““[The nurse] didn’t want to tell mothers they were HIV positive if she didn’t have the medicine to treat them.”  Her words circled me for years.  I didn’t think I could work with HIV again.

But now I’m back in Africa, back in the HIV clinics, this time in Swaziland: a country with the greatest HIV prevalence in the world (26%).

I was led into the clinic and greeted by the Nurse, Sunshine.  Sunshine was in her late forties and had long braided hair dyed red at the tips that she kept in a swinging ponytail.  She was an HIV prevention nurse who has been working with adolescent girls for the past 15 years.

“Hello momma, come sit down.” Sunshine had a voice as colorful as her namesake.

I sat down on a chair in the minimal but clean and brightly lit clinic. 

“Hi Sunshine it’s so great to meet you!  Can you please take me through what a normal HIV Prevention session looks like?”

“Of course momma.  You see, I tell my queens that their vagina is their playground.  But they have to keep it protected.”

She opens up her wooden drawer and pulls out a massive black dildo and slaps it on the desk.  It wobbles around a bit before standing aggressively erect. 

“I tell my queens, you can have fun with a brother,” she starts waving around the dildo “but tell him he cannot enter your Southern Hemisphere without a condom.”

We moved on to female contraceptives.

“I tell my queens, if your man tells you that your IUD is poking his thing, you come straight back in and I’ll cut your strings so you can get right back to it.”

I can see the line of young girls outside many with babies of their own.  The same kind of line I saw in Tanzania years ago.  But I’m older now.  It’s the same heavy, dark field, but it’s the lightness that I can now see and take home with me.  The Sunshine.

On my way out Sunshine pulled me to her side.

“I hear the US has condoms that light up in the dark?  Could you bring us back some of those? I think we could have fun with them.”

I promised her I would.