Ten minutes before my uncle died in my arms this afternoon, my big brother, Kwazi, spoke to me of a horrific story about imbizas or traditional medicine. He said that one guy, a friend of his, who was sick, had given him and another guy imbiza.
Kwazi said that only a teaspoon of the concoction was so strong that soon he was running to the toilet, vomiting and with a running stomach. Each time he went to the toilet because of the imbiza – which was several times – while on the toilet seat, there would be a bucket in front of him: he would “be shitting and vomiting simultaneously”.
Now, my brother is a strong and healthy person. So, imagine what can happen to a person like Faith ka-Manzi who is living with an immune system hosting the AIDS virus, and whose body at some stage had been incapacitated by this pandemic – death.
My brother continued and said afterwards he had to drink water, and it took him a year to finish a whole cup, because each time he took a sip, there was hellish pain in his throat, like it was on fire. My guess is that his throat may have been burned by the stuff.
He said that “after the shitting and vomiting was over,” he peed blood for a while.
The other man also took a spoonful of imbiza and, like my brother, bled so much that he had to go to the hospital. The one who introduced them to imbiza was not so lucky. He died after having had a spoonful. My uncle, similarly obstinate, did exactly what he was told would kill him. He mixed ARVs with imbiza.
Now, he’s dead.
I don’t even feel like I failed, since I would spend my last penny on the best HIV facility, on him. But he thought he knew better. It is only his sisters who are devastated. The rest of us who were there for him every step of the way just feel let down by his death.
Don’t worry OH, who is not HIV positive these days?
A great many people that I know closely avoid going for testing, by drinking imbizas. They say they would rather stay healthy by virtue of their imbizas than go for HIV tests. To those of us who are open about our status, they say, “Don’t worry OH (a township term of endearment) – who is not positive these days?”
This is done to make us feel better about ourselves. But this is a lot of bull, because at the end of the day the sooner you know your status the better you can manage it.
Having said that, I am no saint.
You see, I used traditional herbs for eight years before taking ARVs. But at least the herbs I took worked quite well. It had been researched well. Like others – selected from the Valley of the 1000 Hills, I was even part of a trial, used as a guinea pig for a woman’s Masters Degree in Medical Technology at the Durban University of Technology, during 2004/2005, registered with the South African Medical Council.
I can’t believe that as I’m writing this, I’m having one of my indulgences – an almost hot bubble bath: the whole works, foam and all. Yeah, this is the life. And if I go for a while without taking a bath, just showers, I get depressed.
I know as an activist, this would be wrong – seen as wasting water. But, please! I grew up until last year always having to use a big plastic pail for washing my body: part of apartheid’s plan for us. Well, they didn’t give us RDP houses, only RDP toilet-baths, enough for a toilet seat and a plastic pail.
So bathing has always meant boiling water, taking it to the pail and cooling it. But now we have a bath (which we invested in since our RDP house has an even smaller RDP toilet-bath) and solar heating.
So, this is my luxury. I worked for it and I’m going to enjoy it!
Faith ka-Manzi is a South African writer and poet who has been living in Cato Manor for more than a decade. Born almost 44 years ago in Durban, she was awarded a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities at the then University of Natal (now UKZN) in 1999 majoring in English and History. Faith is now based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal where she writes and translates works mainly advocating socio-economic, political and environmental issues pertaining to civil society, especially the poor.
This essay originally appeared in The Africa Report.