This morning, when I got to school, Zaza hurried over to talk to me. She was upset. “Bouba, Bouba, come on, we’re going home!” “Why? Isn’t the teacher here?” “Yes, she’s here. But we’ve just found out that our friend Hamidou has AIDS and everyone wants to go home. Our neighbour had AIDS and Mummy told me not to go near her.” “Wait a minute, calm down. I’m going to see what’s happening. He’s our friend, after all.”
When I found Hamidou, he was crying. Children were throwing stones at him and shouting. “Get out of here! We’re all going to get sick because of you. We knew you were bad. Heaven has sent this disease to punish you!” Well, I decided to help him. I told them: “Go away, you’re going to hurt him. Leave him alone!”
I tried to comfort Hamidou, but I still felt worried because Zaza had scared me. We know there’s a disease called AIDS, but no-one talks about it. So I tried to find out a bit more. I asked Hamidou: “How did you manage to catch AIDS? I didn’t know children could get it.” “It was when I was in my mummy’s tummy. She’s already been ill for a long time and I was born with the same illness as her,” he told me, crying even harder.
Well, that was hard to believe! His mummy didn’t look sick at all. In fact, she was the prettiest mummy in the school! 4
Suddenly, Hamidou sneezed without putting his hands over his mouth. I jumped back. “Hamidou, you’re infectious. I’m going to be ill too! I’m going to die!” “I haven’t got flu, the illness is in my blood. Don’t say you’re not going to be friends with me any more either!” “I don’t believe you! I’m going to see the teacher and tell her everything.” “The teacher will tell you the same as me. She’s known for ages and she still lends me her hankie when I sneeze.” 5
I didn’t believe a word he was saying and hurried off. As I crossed the yard, I heard all my friends talking about it and I was even more scared. Some said we shouldn’t touch him any more, let alone hug him, or even hold his hand. Others said he should be sent away from school because we couldn’t breathe the same air as him. My friend Abdou said he had a charm that would protect him… but I didn’t! Zaza said she wouldn’t go swimming with Hamidou any more and she would throw away the towel she’d lent him last time. A little girl was crying because she’d drunk out of the same glass as him. Suddenly, someone started shouting in the yard. “Look, he’s going to the toilet. Let’s shut him in there!”
The teacher waited for Hamidou. When he came back, she hugged and kissed him. “Line up to go to class!” “I’m scared,” Zaza said hesitantly. The teacher looked at her sternly and answered: “What you should be scared of is your own ignorance!” We all followed the teacher into the classroom.
Just then, I heard the teacher blow her whistle. “That’s quite enough! Those are terrible things you’re saying! Hamidou, go to the toilet quickly. Can even one of you tell me what AIDS is?” Nobody raised their hand to answer. 8
“We won’t do any art today. The things I’ve seen and heard are too serious. I’m going to explain what you should know about AIDS at your age.
Our body fights diseases all the time, but the AIDS virus prevents our body from defending itself against infection. That virus is called HIV.” “How do you catch it, teacher?” “It’s transmitted sexually, in blood and from mother to child. Charms are useless against it and anyone can be infected: girls or boys, black, white or yellow, rich or poor, young or old, bad or good people.” “Does it show when you have it, teacher?” “You can have AIDS without it showing. So what you should know at your age is what you can and can’t do with the people you know.” “So I might have it too,” said Zaza. “You’ll only find out if you have a blood test, because the virus is found in the blood. Now, look at the blackboard.
“But apart from that, you’ve got nothing to fear from Hamidou. You can go on living with him like before.” “But teacher, can Hamidou get better?” “No. For now, there’s no treatment that gives a complete cure, but there are drugs that slow the most serious effects of the virus, allowing people who have it to live a very long time. Scientists all over the world are working all the time to beat the disease and they’re very hopeful. So stop believing all the rumours you hear. If you have a worry or a question, ask the experts: doctors, people who know what they’re talking about.” I love teacher. It’s a good thing she was there to explain everything because people had really told me a lot of nonsense about AIDS!
Illustrations: Thomas Penin
© UNESCO and Michel Lafon Éducation, 2011