The Herald (Harare)

20 December 2012

Zimbabwe: When Xmas Is a Nightmare

It is Christmas time and many people who work outside the country are flocking home to spend time with their loved ones and families. The streets have a sizeable number of cars with foreign registration plates and the Christmas swing has already started for these folks who are already on holiday.

Since dollarisation in 2009, spending by the Diasporans no longer looks that flashy as the rand and US dollar are now in each and every Jack and Jill's pocket.

The locals do not hesitate to spend a US$100 bill while the Diasporans think twice before they squander such a big amount.

For some locals, Christmas cheer spending is limited as schools will shortly open in January and those with children in colleges, the opening dates are the same with schools hence the need to spend with caution.

Mrs Faro (not her real name) is pleased that her husband is coming home from South Africa where he works. He only manages to come home twice a year for the Easter holidays and this festive season.

He normally sends money through courier services or groceries using the many bus services that ply the Harare-Johannesburg route.

Mrs Faro is also not comfortable to ask her husband to use protection now that he is coming home after such a long time away.

Although the use of protection may appear normal to some couples to others it is a mirage.

How practical is it for a married couple to negotiate for safe sex?

She is one such woman who is in a difficult position.

Mrs Faro said that for the last seven years that her husband has been working in Egoli, she has on all occasions contracted sexually transmitted infections.

"It is now a norm that each time my husband comes home I contract a sexually transmitted disease.

"Most of the times I develop the signs and symptoms when he has already left for his work which makes it difficult for me to confront him.

"I once phoned him and he denied being the source of the STI. He even phoned his younger brother and asked him to keep an eye on me as I had infected him with an STI," said Mrs Faro.

She is not alone in this dilemma. Many more rural and urban women have no power to negotiate for safe sex even though they know that their partners indulge in extra-marital affairs or even have a partner who warms the bed during their absence.

She said she has never visited her husband in South Africa. He claims to live in a hostel where only men are allowed so she is not able to visit.

"What I failed to get was why he did not like me to visit him. He explained that he lived in a shantytown in a man's hostel sharing a room with a friend. This was no place for a wife.

"I believed him since he was a loving and considerate man. After all, he was concerned that I would end up being exposed to the evil conditions at the place he called home in South Africa," said Mrs Faro.

She said that her husband was quick to learn Zulu and the family was fascinated.

What never occurred to them was why he had never bothered to learn the Ndau dialect, which his wife speaks, but like always, a peace-loving wife is not inquisitive.

It's unAfrican to do so; she was brought up to believe. A good wife does not nag, she submits herself to her husband.

The husband always conversed in Zulu with whoever called from South Africa.

This was clever indeed, no one would pick up the conversation and with the wife not suspecting any infidelity he cheated right under her nose.

The husband had learnt Zulu so as to outwit the family when conversing with his new wife from Mzansi.

Mrs Faro said she only got to learn that her husband had a second family in South Africa after a friend who also works in the same country had visited them.

"I only got to know that he had a second wife after his friend pointed out that my young son looked like his little brother in South Africa," she said.

Mrs Faro said the husband later opened up and said that he was a father of two.

He pointed out that he needed to regularise his work permit hence the need to marry a South African woman.

Her main concern is that she is now in a sexual network and her husband cannot stomach her suggestion of using condoms.

"The last time I suggested that we use the condom he told me that condoms were used by women of loose morals and if I demand he would say I was free to pack and go back to my people in Nedziwa," she said.

Mrs Faro said she is dependent on her husband for her upkeep and that of her five children.

"I would not be welcome back home; in fact they would demand to see gupuro which my husband is unlikely to give me.

"By virtue of him being the breadwinner I have no choice but to stick it out in this marriage," said Mrs Faro.

"I fear that recurrent STIs are not good for my health. My husband willfully infects me and still insists that we use no protection," she said with concern.

She is afraid that this Christmas is not going to be any different.

It appears some people in sexual networks do not take protection seriously despite the risk involved.

The National Aids Council reported that a total of 8 500 cases of STIs were treated in 2009 in Harare alone.

Mrs Faro cannot stand up and challenge her husband. She said that would be the end of her marriage.

She said that at least her children are growing up in a normal home.

How normal we cannot deduce.

Many couples fail to reach an agreement on safe sexual practices and risk having the other party infected with STIs and HIV even when they know that they are in a sexual network.

It seems an uphill task to have people understand the role and counter-roles of primary and secondary infection both of STIs and HIV.

Mrs Faro is at a great risk of being infected with HIV. In her dialect she asked: "Taita, kusiri kufa ngekupi?" - meaning does she have any choice after all.

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