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Power Lines

October 11, 2012

Power Lines is a book by Jason Carter about his experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in South Africa in the late 1990s. The title comes from the power lines that ran over his village, bringing electricity to the city while supplying none to the villages they pass over. I have those too. They pass by the soccer field and the clinic on their way from Mozambique to the city. They’re mounted on tall steel frames decorated with barbed wire so no one can climb too high, and sometimes I can hear the electricity sizzle and crack if I’m standing under them.

The book is a pretty accurate depiction of my life in South Africa, although I found it kind of dull.

At our last Scout meeting, rather than having it by the soccer field, we went to the fenced off lot behind it. It was probably someone’s property, but these things don’t matter here. The land was steep, asymmetrical and filled with thorny plants, so naturally I thought it would be a good field for playing Capture the Flag. It might have been if they had understood the rules, or if we had enough helpers to ensure people didn’t cheat.

As soon as we started playing, this tall boy ran straight to the enemy’s flag and grabbed it, and he almost made it back to his side, but he fell down and was tagged. His arm was scraped and bleeding. I decided I had to take him to the clinic. He didn’t really want to go, but I kind of had to be the responsible adult here. The Troop Scouter is still in high school and he looks to me regarding these sorts of thing. After the meeting, the three of us walked the straightest trail to the clinic.

We walked down the red dirt of the cow trail, some parts smelly and some parts thick with thorny bushes, and when we reached an actual road, the Troop Scouter gave a start and dropped the pink umbrella he was carrying for protection from the sun. I picked it up and almost dropped it too. We were under the power lines, and the electric field was doing a number on the metal rods in the umbrella, shocking and cracking every second. I decided it was kind of cool and carried it that way.

When we reached the front of the clinic, the guard waved us through without making us sign in after she saw how badly our Scout was scraped up. The clinic is allegedly open 24 hours, and although some days it’s absolutely packed, this day no one was in the waiting room but the nurses and a mother with her child when we walked in. The nurses took the Scout’s vitals and then into a room without us. I chatted with a nurse about possibly doing a demonstration about first aid or health for our troop.

He came out with a big and thorough bandage wrapped around his arm. We parted ways, him going home to a nearby village and the Troop Scouter and I going back to ours.

“It’s always frightening, to go to the clinic,” he told me on the walk back. “Whenever you go, they want to test you for HIV. Even that little girl in there, the first thing they did was test for HIV.”

Good, I thought, considering it’s an epidemic and all.

“When I go there,” he continued, “I don’t let them test me. If I have HIV, I don’t want to know.”

I was at a loss for words. “But… if you know your status…” I scrambled to think of a reason for something that seems so obvious that I never thought about it. “…you can prevent spreading it to other people?”

“Oh sure, I’ll get tested once I leave this village, but now I don’t want to have to worry about it.”

I didn’t know what to say or do. Writing about these things helps because now I know I should plan a session on HIV prevention and management into one of our meeting programs. Maybe I’ll pay that nurse a visit after all.

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