AIDS, Risk, and the Impossible Horizon

AIDS, Risk, and the Impossible Horizon

Juma was aware of HIV/AIDS and had heard of the disease on many occasions. While many of the city’s street boys had one or more parents die of the disease, they rarely spoke of HIV/AIDS in this context. Most references to HIV/AIDS by street boys centered on the immorality or sexual promiscuity of women and how they were to blame for spreading the virus to the general population. They frequently pointed to Mwanza’s hardcore group of professional prostitutes in this respect, most of whom were well known and easily identified. On no occasion did Juma or any other street boy speak of their own vulnerability to HIV/AIDS as a result of kunyenga activities, which they viewed as a risk-free “practice” or “pretend” sexual activity, or as an assertion of power and authority within their intensely hierarchical network of relations. In most cases, kunyenga was thought of as a form of physical aggression and lacked sexual connotations or references.

Juma reflected the general sentiment among Mwanza’s street boys that HIV/AIDS was a comparatively inconsequential problem in the context of day-to-day survival on the streets. He regularly denied the risk of HIV/AIDS in this manner, often expressing complete incredulity and shocked amazement whenever it was brought up as a potential threat:

AIDS? Are you serious? AIDS is like a cloud on the horizon. But the pain in my stomach is here, now. It’s in me. Don’t talk to me about distant clouds, my friend. When you live like shit and die like flies, you can’t be bothered by things like that. [Juma, June 2006]

As was the case with most of Mwanza’s street boys, HIV/AIDS was contextually remote in the culture of pragmatism and immediacy that necessitated their survival. Direct and overt acts of violence were defining features of their day-to-day lives, and the experiences and risks associated with such acts influenced their behaviors to a great extent.

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