My sister has been dead for some years now. I was twelve years old when my big sister, who was eight years older than me died. The circumstances surrounding her death is, well, mean to say the least.
I am currently filled with guilt anytime I remember my sister. I have been tormented for so long because I was forced to do something which I did not understand then.
One morning, my Uncles from my mother’s side came to our compound. They had a meeting in hushed voices with my mother and left with very grim faces afterwards. Three mornings after, they came back with much grimmer looking faces. They were offered seats which they took but refused the water my mother served them. Typically, we the children were sent out of the compound as soon as they settled down. They had a very short meeting with my mother and I was called before them almost as immediately as I had gotten out of the compound to play.
I was given a cup and ordered to go give the drink in it to one of my sisters who was in a room on the compound which was situated in one corner. She used to live with us in the main house but she fell sick and after sometime, that small hut was built for her. The rest of the family all used wares together but she had been given her own bowls, cups and bucket and had been warned to not get into contact with anything which was used by the rest of us. When I got into her room that morning, something that I had been banished from doing, she was lying down and indeed her sight was pitiful. The order given me was simple. Give the cup and its content to your sister. Stay and watch her drink the entire content before you leave. This order I followed to the core. I was also not supposed to take the cup back.
I did as I had been ordered and left. I informed my uncles of my accomplishment. They asked just to be sure and asked me to go and play. All through their various visits, my mother had usually had a grim face. Today, she was actually sobbing while her brothers were telling her to stop. Her husband, my father, with whom she had eight children with had left the house when my sister got sick and she became the talk of the town. My mother was left with taking care of her and the rest of us. We constantly got teased about my sister and I did get into quiet a lot of fights with children who teased me often because of her.
My uncles had left. I returned home later in the evening to see them back in the house. My mother was wailing uncontrollably and they were forcing her to shut up and dry her tears. My other siblings were all looking sad. My sister whom I had been given “medicine” to be given to her had died that afternoon. I dared not ask any questions even though I personally had been subject to taunts by people in the community because of her.
I was twelve years old. I knew of HIV\AIDS. Well okay I had heard about it. Some people in the community started teasing us when my sister would constantly fall sick and it got worse by the day. I later got to know that indeed my sister suffered from HIV\AIDS and my uncles felt she was a disgrace to the family. My father left because he felt my mother was responsible for my sister’s sickness. According to him, my mother had trained her up badly.
Now I am twenty five years old. I have been able to further my education to the tertiary level and I am working now. I got to know that HIV\AIDS can be treated through a radio program on HIV. That information surprised me and made me sad at the same time. I immediately broke into tears as images of me giving that cup to my sister flooded my memory. Apparently my uncles had prepared poison for her. They wanted to end the so called disgrace. And I had been the bearer of their diabolical plan. I feel very guilty as it is. I feel sad. I miss my sister terribly and wish the family hadn’t connived to end her life at the time they did. I wish they had given her the support.
My father never returned home to us. I personally do not know where my sister was buried as definitely she was not buried in the communal cemetery. I have had to go through some sort of counseling to help me deal with the guilt. I wish we had the proper education about the illness so we could have just supported her. This incident happened in the year 2001 in our village somewhere in the Volta Region of Ghana.
I am now an HIV activist aside everything else I do. I educate people on HIV anytime I get the chance. Majorly, I talk about support for persons living with HIV\AIDS. I talk about people accepting them and treating them as any other normal human being. I am now passionate about it, maybe because it gives me peace where my sister’s memory is concerned. HIV\AIDS is not a communicable disease. It can be treated ad I urge all of you to at least educate yourselves on it. It is not deadly anymore. If for nothing, just learn more about it please, and well, take my word. It is not deadly anymore.
By Sakyiwaa Mensah