KAMPALA, UGANDA – We’re reading the papers in the heart of Africa and this is what we see: How a woman’s derriere needs the right jeans. Photo included. A cartoon of a married fellow who’d rather give up drinking than sex on the side. And a story about boda-bodas — the motorcycle- taxis everyone here uses — and how ladies of the night like to proposition drivers while on board. One driver says he gets headaches if he refuses.
Such are Uganda’s two national papers, tabloids like Beavis and Butthead. Television is worse. Africa’s highest-rated show ever is Housemates, a voyeuristic, so-called reality show with, besides the usual banality, something called “shower hour.”
Meanwhile, 38 million Africans, the largest group worldwide, have AIDS. The disease now kills about 20,000 North Americans annually, but more than 100 times that in sub-Sahara Africa. One country, Botswana, has a 44 per cent infection rate.
New anti-viral medicines will give some victims a few more years — if trained health workers go where they’re needed. But the UN believes AIDS will still kill 50 million people worldwide in the next decade.
Those are just numbers until, like Jean and I, you visit a man who’s buried most of his family in his backyard, or meet a grandmother raising nine grandchildren; until you hear the laboured breaths of an innocent, twoyear- old girl infested with the disease, or until you see the many coffin-makers that dot Kampala’s roadsides.
Yes, it’s the innocent who suffer, often the faithful wife of a playboy husband, and the children. Uganda has 1.5 million orphans. Fortunately, to counter the sexual recklessness spread by pop culture, other Ugandans have been trumpeting a clarion call to a better way. Even Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and his wife have repeatedly declared the obvious: no sex outside of marriage means no AIDS.
In fact, by promoting not only condom use, but abstinence outside of marriage, Uganda has cut its AIDS rate from 30 per cent to less than 10 per cent. Open talk on the radio, on the street, in the markets, in sex education, helped Uganda become a symbol of what’s possible for the rest of Africa to become: A place of hope. One official told me, “We can’t die now. We’re not finished yet. We have work to do.”
Of course, some people will always insist on running like suicidal lemmings off tall cliffs. They’re in Uganda, just as they’re in Canada, where AIDS is not such a mainstream problem, but where responsible sexual conduct still needs to be the foundation of a healthy society. They run. But why follow them?
How strange, for example, that while it’s now almost impossible to find a child to adopt in Canada, 100,000 abortions are performed there every year. And why, when teen girls have the highest rates for STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) of any group, do most health officials maintain the notion, which I find silly, that condoms are the best answer for hormone- raged teens because they’re incapable of controlling themselves?
How often do you hear the public message that plenty of people — Jean and I for example — were virgins until they marry? In truth, restraint is neither impossible nor weird. Not only will no body parts fall off, people who wait for sex wind up with more trust and better relationships. Being disease- free is simply a bonus.
Really, we all need to take responsibility for our sexual choices, especially when cultural licentiousness leads to love in all the wrong places. Because, contrary to what the Beavis and Buttheads of the world say, all decisions are not equal. And casual sex is not a victimless pleasure.
If you don’t believe me, look again at the many tears that are shed by innocent people because others simply won’t rein it in. Honestly, isn’t it time to stop running blindly off that cliff?