Lusaka 10 April 2016
Magic and reality
The most notable figure in the waiting room this morning is the frail man in the long raincoat with the big bowler hat on his head. In his lap rests a sort of brush with a carved handle, African style.
Beside him, I think, is his son. A friendly young man dressed in jeans and leather jacket and so to see, healthy. The man with the bowler hat has laughed to me a few times. He is curious about what I’m writing in my notebook.
“Journalist or businessman,” he asks, as I sit down beside him.
“Writer”, I reply.
“Ah, you write. But if you want to do business you come to me.”
I burst out laughing. “Sorry, but I’m not a businessman.”
“Mining! I do mining! You invest, we make money.”
We laugh shyly at each other. All of a sudden there is a yawning gap between his and my culture. So I try something…
“This beautiful piece of work in your hands, can you tell me what it is?”
“It has to do magic. I’m a magician. ”
“Yes! A magician! And a king!” He points to the young man beside him. “This is my bodyguard.”
“You are a king?”
“A real king?
“Yes. A real king. I am Chief Ishima Sankeni VI.”
He takes his card out of his pocket to prove it. And indeed. Here, in the waiting room of the HIV clinic in Lusaka I am talking for the first time in my life to a king. Chief Ishima Sankeni VI rules over a piece of land in northern Zambia.
Chief Ishima Sankeni VI is a modern monarch. Unlike his grandfather, who had a hundred wives, and his father, who had ten wives, he has only one. “Today is a different time,” he says. But he doesn’t look that happy.
I ask him what he’s doing here, six hundred kilometres from his realm, in the HIV clinic… He’s come for the doctors, he says. Here in Lusaka you can find the best in the country.
“Are you also infected with the virus?”
He vehemently denies it. Of course not. No way. No no!
It sounds like a convenient fib. I don’t blame him. Of course kings don’t have HIV. Unfortunately these fibs are not limited to the kings of Zambia, but are a widespread phenomenon. Many people who we speak to; adults, young people from New Horizons, mix a little magic with reality. So everyone swallows their medication loyally and safe sex is practised remarkably often. But the statistics from UNAIDS, the blood results in the clinic and the broken lines on some faces show a different truth.
I understand these fibs. But how disastrous they may be, how necessary it is that they quickly dare to face up to the truth and dare to share it with each other… I understand these fibs. If so many people are not ready for the truth about HIV, as in Zambia, why should it be you who’s the first to tell them?
When I walk into the waiting room a few hours later with a fresh bottle of water I just see the King and his bodyguard walk into a doctor’s consulting room.