The Power of Stories
Because a story is a story, and you may tell it as your imagination
and your being and your environment dictate; and if your story grows wings
and becomes the property of others, you may not hold it back. One day it
will return to you, enriched by new details and with a new voice. The particular
characteristic of old tales is illustrated in the traditional conclusion
of the Ashanti narrator: “This is my story which I have related,
if it be sweet or if it be not sweet, take some elsewhere and let some
come back to me.”
Nelson Mandela from the foreword of Madiba Magic – Nelson Mandela’s Favourite Stories for Children
Story telling is a powerful tool to create greater understanding, or to get to the underlying problem of a community. But you must be acutely aware of the environment you’re in and you may need to adapt the story so that it is appropriate to the local community. Here are some of the examples we uncovered during our months of travelling to different dioceses:
Be aware of your environment
·The sheep story isn’t appropriate in Swaziland, for instance, because only the royal family is allowed to keep sheep. But goats are a perfectly acceptable substitution that the Swazis could relate to.
·The image of a raging river washing away people’s livelihoods wasn’t sensitive in Mozambique given the recent floods they’ve experienced.
·In another community, after we had asked people to visualise trees as a metaphor, we realised that nobody was responding with much enthusiasm – and then we looked outside. We were working in an area that had absolutely no trees for miles around.
The idea, then, is to stay faithful to the metaphor, but not to the details of the story.
It rained that day, a huge downpour of soaking rain. It symbolised how
all of us felt –
sad at Bra Madiso’s passing. Ma Madiso was saddest of all. None of us would hear his loud voice calling out as we walked past the shop, “Hey, hey any fresh bread today?”
None us would hear his bass voice singing out the hymns he loved in church. As we stood at the graveside all of us thought of the church bell, the small bell with an old rope that hung down behind the preacher’s table. Bra Madiso rang that bell every Sunday. He rang it with strength and conviction, every Sunday, to call us all to church. It was his way of telling the world what he believed.
We all stood quietly, Bra Madiso’s bell ringing in our heads, when suddenly young Kihato broke the silence.
Kihato – community health worker:
“You all say it was TB! You all know it wasn’t. You all know it was the three-lettered word HIV. How long must we bury people here and say TB, TB, TB, when we all know it was the three words that sound like a bell in our heads – HIV! When are we going to start telling the truth? This thing is here! It is here in our place! If we don’t talk, how many more will die? How many more will we bury?”
I was standing right behind her and I heard Ma Madiso draw in a deep and frightened breath. For a moment all of us were frozen by the words of Kihato. Then Father Tom turned on his stern look and began the final hymn. As we walked away we sang and someone else, not Bra Madiso, began to ring the bell.
Man who has HIV/AIDS and is sick and dying:
As Kihato called those words, HIV, I knew they could all see. It was written on me. I take it wherever I go; they see me.
“Here’s the thin one with the thin disease,” they say, and then they move away from me. They think they can get this thing from me. My sister won’t let me use the plates or cups. The cups and plates for me to use are kept on one side. When I go to the clinic I see them watching me and thinking, he is HIV. And when you get there, they give you nothing! I know there are pills that can help, but what do we get – nothing! A painkiller, perhaps.
Now I’ve come back from the city where I was doing so well: I finished my studies, started a good job, and now this… The city is no place to die: I’ve come back to my roots, my family. I know that my family will care for me.
I feel small Lindi’s hand in mine. What about her? Should I tell
her I am dying? How do I tell her? She is so small, what should I say?
How do I tell Joel? He is nearly grown and has his own troubles. What do
I say to him? He needs to hear from me what I am suffering from. He hears
the talk. It is better if he hears it from me before it takes me away.
And this dying. Bra Madiso there in his coffin under the ground. What is this death like? Will anyone be with me when I die? Will any of them come to my funeral if they know I died from HIV? I think Kihato is wrong; it is better if they don’t all know. It is better if they are just guessing.
This HIV! It follows me everywhere. And we bury them. Yo! We bury them! Sometimes two on Saturday, every Saturday. And it is not the older ones any more. It’s babies and young people, mothers and fathers. It’s too much!
What do I say at all those funerals? How can I talk about HIV at a funeral? Is there no respect for the dead any more? This HIV. They even want me to talk about it in church – from the pulpit. I must talk about HIV and sex! Pah! I don’t know how to do that; I haven’t been trained for that kind of work. I don’t know enough about it. I am a pastor. I know where I belong: I stood with Bra Madiso; I brought him communion; I performed the Last Rites; I prayed with him and his family; I stood at his grave. That’s all part of my ministry.
Yet in all this darkness, there is light. God is everywhere. He is in everything, even right here in our community where there is so much pain and sorrow. This community is rebuilding. We have started soup kitchens and the distribution of clothes. But we need community planning and services. So much more is needed to rebuild this community. This HIV is a nightmare!
It’s HIV, Kihato says, that killed Bra Madiso. HIV! Is that what they will say to me? Every time I feel this child move in me I think, HIV. Is that what they will tell me: “HIV-positive, you and your baby, HIV.”
Sis Gloria says it is best to be tested; then they can help the baby. But what if they say HIV? I have heard it is not good to breastfeed, but what will the mothers say if they see me feeding with a bottle. They will know. I know there is medicine that can save the baby, but people here don’t get it. What if they say to me HIV?
What will Rachidi say? Will anyone love me if I am HIV? Will he want to hold me any more, make love to me? Will he blame me? Will he beat me? What will happen to me? Will I die alone? What will we do for food? Tendo eats so much now he is growing, where will I find money to feed three children without a man and his wages? And now there’s a new baby on the way.
Will the baby be sick? Will it die soon? It is better not to know. Kihato is wrong. It is better not to talk. If you don’t hear the word HIV, you can hope.
She is right; this HIV is here. And I know who we will be burying next – my grandchild. The one who was going to save us all from poverty. Even now I must hurry, as she might need me, I cannot leave her for too long. How are we going to bury her? Not in a coffin with shining handles like Bra Madiso. Who will pay for the coffin and the burial, and for the tombstone for this girl who promised so much?
Whew! This Kihato, she is right: no-one talks. We are too afraid of this thing that is here with us. She’s right – we are all silent now, even me. Me, the one who leads the women, the one who tells the men to let us speak. The one who calls them all to dig the wells and plant the trees. We need to speak. Enough of this weakness now. Kihato needs help; we need to speak and help the people face this HIV.
Child (14) whose parents have died from HIV/AIDS:
I see them all. They are here at the funeral with their parents and we are alone. Not even Bra Madiso to make a joke about the mistress as we hurried past his shop on the way to school. We are alone. They are all here with their parents and we are alone. I want to turn away and go from church. My heart is sore remembering. Remembering when we came to church with parents too. How is it for our parents lying too in a box like Bra Madiso?
Every day now is a struggle. When the teacher is busy talking, I am worrying about home; food; where I will get the things for school for me and the others. Sometimes the teachers chase me back home because I do not have exercise books and then I get the books, and they want covers. Every day is a struggle to go through. I wake up, go to school, get chased away and I am never sure of whether we will eat before we sleep. It is hard for me to keep the little ones from fighting when we do get some little food at home. It is hard to be the parent.
And these people here, they pray for you when you are in church, but when we go out from church they will not give us plates to eat with them. They say they will get this thing from us because our parents died from it. No, Kihato. It is better if people don’t know that you died from this thing.
Kihato – community health worker:
Eesh! What have I done? I’ve said it now. What have I done shouting out around the grave? Eesh! But I’m right – we need to talk! We need to talk about abstinence, about faithfulness and about condoms. Yes, even condoms in church! I’ve tried to be polite. We need to talk now! Mothers need to talk to their children and men to their wives, on the taxis and trains, at school and in church. We have to stop this thing from spreading. Each small word, each small action will help. I love these people and know that if they would talk and listen to each other, together, we can, we can!
The narrator begins again.
It rained that day, a huge downpour of soaking rain. It symbolised how all of us felt…
The congregation begins to sing a hymn while he reads the story – his voice slowly fades away.
Written by Glynis Clacherty and based on the stories of the Khululeka group at Ekupholeni Healing Centre in Kathorus, Johannesburg.