Sunday, May 22, 2005

This Is Not At All Funny

It's hard to decide sometimes whether to blog serious or blog funny. As you may have noticed, I usually opt to blog funny. I'll find an article and then goof on it in a (hopefully) amusing way, either to satirize the subject, or because the whole thing is so bizarre that it's impossible to treat seriously.

But there are times I feel my overall tone is inappropriate to the stuff I'm writing about. Like, if I find a picture of George Bush making a dumb face, we can all agree that's funny and entirely appropriate. In fact, let's take a look at just such a picture right now.

That's comedy the whole country can get behind!

But what about when there's a story that's incredibly weird and outrageous, but the ramifications of the story are deadly serious? Is it appropriate to joke about one outrageous facet of a tragedy while still acknowledging the overall tragic nature of the situation?

Let's find out. The subject: the rapid spread of AIDS in Kenya. Not funny, unless you're a total psychopath. Deadly serious. Here are some unbelievable but true statistics:

2 million people in Kenya have HIV. That's out of an entire nation of 30 million. Think about that. That's 6.5% of all Kenyans. (Thanks, Steve.) 1.5 million people in Kenya have already died of AIDS. And that's just one country. 2.3 million Africans died of AIDS last year alone. 2.3 million. AIDS has killed 10 times more Africans than every 20th century African armed conflict combined. You think the World Trade Center was bad? You think the tsunami was bad? You think the Iraq War has been bad?

Well, you're right. All that stuff sucked. But the AIDS epidemic in Africa sucks way more than 1000 times worse!

Okay, so we all agree. It's really really horrible that so many Africans have AIDS and that the international community has done so little to respond to the crisis.

So, here's my problem. I have here an article about one of the reasons for Kenya's massive problem with HIV infection. Apparently, there's an age-old African custom that says if a man is feeling ill, he should have sex with a virgin, and this will cure his pains and heath problems.

That's probably the worst advice in the history of medicine. I mean, leeches, blood-letting, various questionable herbs and roots, invasive anaesthesia-free surgery, leaky silicone breast implants...There have been a lot of stupid Western medical theories over the years. But I don't think anyone has ever come up with a concept worse than telling really sick people to go foist themselves on nubile young virgins.

See? I'm doing it already! This story is really really serious. I don't mean to make light of it. But, come on! It's so hard!

Nassir hesitantly admits he slept with a nine-year-old girl because the clan elders in Isiolo, 200 km northeast of Kenyan capital Nairobi, said it would rid him of frequent bouts of illness brought on by HIV.

"I was given a girl of nine years to sleep with for a week," Nassir said. "I took pity on her but if it wasn't for this disease I wouldn't have slept with her...I had to do what the elders had said."

Oh...Oh my lord...This is the worst article I've ever read in my life.

Although he paid 15,000 shillings ($195.9) and his mother gave up two goats for the purging ceremony, Nassir still gets ill once in a while and goes for treatment in a clinic run by a local charity whose Swahili name Pepo La Tumaini Jangwani, means Wind of Hope in the Arid Land.

After the ceremony, which includes gouging out a goat's heart while it is still alive, the people of the village engage in a sexual orgy intended to help a son or brother cleanse himself.

Nassir said he'll get tested at the end of the year to see if he has been cured.

Say what you will about these Africans, but their religion sounds way more fun than ours. What do Jews do when someone gets sick? They get together, eat a lot of incredibly disgusting foods that include liver and have long Yiddish names and discuss how Maury from down the street wrecked his car near the racetrack because he's such a meshugah.

What they don't do is remove beating goat's hearts and throw orgies. Although if you've ever seen a large Jewish family gathering, the lack of frequent orgies can only be considered a good thing.

Khadija Omar Rama, the founder of the Tumaini charity said that despite the fact that up to 800 Kenyans die every day from AIDS, communities like Isiolo continue to embrace traditional practices which actively help to spread AIDS.

Another ancient custom permits men of the same generation to have indiscriminate and unprotected sex with the wives of their peers. A spear propped by the door of a man's house means that someone else from his age group is in bed with his wife.

"None of us is jealous about someone else sleeping with our wives because we all do it," said Nassir, who says he has slept with the wives of many men, even though he suspects he has HIV.

Ummm....let's just keep moving down the article...

Many women who suspect their husbands are infected with AIDS or HIV have been turning to sufis, women healers, to put off their husband's advances.

Traditionally, a woman seeking to join an elder council or tribal leadership is required to stop having sex and will ask a sufi to her bedroom to discourage her husband. In such circumstances the husband eventually gives up.

But women who choose to use a sufi are not permitted to ever have sex again and they are killed if caught in the act.

This is some crazy shit. So, a woman can get out of having to have sex with her AIDS-addled husband only if she joins some weird cult and has a woman preist come to her tent to put off her husband's advances? That's a really complicated system. Seems like someone should just get these gals some of those self-defense classes where they teach you to kick the guy in the padded suit in the balls. We could be saving millions of lives here.

Okay, that felt good. I'm done, I'm done. Seriously, though, this is incredibly sad, but I'm wondering what we can actually do about it. I mean, education is so important to show people the proper ways to keep themselves and their communities healthy, but why would these people trust American advice over the customs they've passed down through the generations?

I mean, if some African guy came over here and said the reason there's so much gun violence in America is some shit that's in the Bible, would we believe him? Probably not. We'd probably sentence him to the death penalty if he had the poor judgement to make this statement in Texas. Or at the very least, Zell Miller would challenge him to a duel.


Steve said...

2 million is actually only ~6.7% of 30 million. This is not to downplay the significance of Kenya's AIDS epidemic.

Lons said...

Yeah, yeah, Steve, you are correct. I'm going to change it in the article so I don't look like the complete idiot I so clearly am, but I'll leave these comments up for everyone's reference.

Anonymous said...

"It's so hard!" Tee hee.

Cory said...

This article is incredible. Here are my thoughts:

A)There really is not much we can do, since as you said, the tribal practices are going nowhere

B) How much is a ticket to Kenya? Hiyo!

Banjo said...

Heh heh heh... AIDS.