a shoeless girl and a new yorker run against aids

KISUMU, Kenya Richard Brodsky isn’t so much running toward me as maintaining forward movement. His back is rigid and his arms point straight…

KISUMU, Kenya

Richard Brodsky isn’t so much running toward me as maintaining forward movement.

His back is rigid and his arms point straight down; his steps on the dirt road are short and delicate, as if he’s tip-toeing out of a lion’s den.

“I’m going slow but I’ll make it,” he says, after 10 of 42-kilometres.

Three Kenyan girls run beside the New Yorker, who looks and acts like Woody Allen. One is wearing dress shoes; another carries pink sandals in her hands and one has no shoes at all.

This is the Kisumu World AIDS Marathon, a race that Brodsky co-founded in 2004.

He was diagnosed with HIV in 1997. Three years ago, he had a brain tumour removed.

But still, he runs marathons, as well as the Richard M. Brodsky Foundation, which raises money for research.

At 55, he also remains married to his wife, Jodi Brodsky, who hasn’t been infected.

His once impossible story is locked in step with the emerging global AIDS revolution.

Today, HIV-positive people can live almost regular lives if they have access to anti-retroviral medication.

And AIDS itself is looking less like a plague and more like a manageable disease.

Newly revised data from the United Nations shows the world’s yearly number of new infections peaked in the late 1990s and is dropping. As Donald G. McNeil Jr. writes in the International Herald Tribune, “The disease is at last giving notice that it will behave like other pestilences.”

But while desperation over our generation’s worst four-letter acronym fades, it’s being replaced with a more familiar disease in many developing countries where AIDS has left millions of orphans.

Politics.

The road to Kisumu was paved with asphalt in the 1950s, during colonial times, and left to decay into potholes.

What was once a four-hour trip to Nairobi now takes nine hours.

In the city’s harbour on Lake Victoria sits a green garden where last month there was water.

The dreaded hyacinth is back, choking some fishermen from their livelihoods. The government used to send machines in to chop it up, but this is an election year and Kisumu is opposition friendly.

Locals call these “political problems.”

The term seems to fit for a country offering free anti-retroviral drugs to HIV-positive people but often clustering the distribution centres near cities, while nearly 70 per cent of Kenyans survive as rural farmers.

Consider Kisumu.

“You’re not in the city, it can take you a day to travel (to get the medicine) and it can cost you $8 to $10, says Richard. “They can’t afford it. You have to get the AIDS medicine to AIDS sufferers.”

That’s why he first came to Western Kenya in 2004 to start an AIDS Day marathon.

He heard the area was suffering from distribution problems and came to make a difference.

Still, while many running the race with him were also HIV-positive, enemies such as taboos and ignorance lurk.

Richard appears to be winning some battles, but losing others.

Three years ago, 31-year-old Hamud Boy says he was dying. He felt sick and didn’t know why until his sister convinced him to get tested, where he discovered he had HIV.

He began taking anti-retroviral medication, which drastically improved his health.

At last year’s race, Boy ran the half-marathon and then publicly revealed he’s living with HIV.

After that, some shunned him but others have been inspired by his story to get tested, he says.

“If getting tested can make me live, then let me live.”

But poverty — also often a political problem here — is behind continued dangerous sexual behaviour despite the understood threat of HIV and AIDS.

Rosemary Achin, 24, came to Kisumu from a far off village three years ago, finding a place to live with several prostitutes.

She quickly became one herself, making up to $7 per day, she says.

Last year, Achin discovered she’s HIV-positive.

She estimates she is one of hundreds of sex workers in Kisumu, and says the majority has HIV but continue working.

I ask if she worries about transmitting the disease to her customers? “No, we are using condoms,” she says, through a translator.

“You must survive, keep on going. The most important thing is that you know your status.”

Perhaps, but it’s also important both parties involved in protected sex know each other’s status, too.

Which brings us to 53-year-old Jodi.

She does know her husband’s status is positive, but has chosen to stay with him and remains free of the disease.

“He was my best friend; we were married 18 years and I guess I felt sorry for him,” she says of her decision, which forced her to overcome many of the same taboos people face in Kenya.

“It was a choice. It’s a family member of yours. Do you just walk away from that? It wasn’t even a thought in my mind.”

Tim Querengesser is a former Yukon News reporter now writing in Kenya.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A bobcat is used to help clear snow in downtown Whitehorse on Nov. 4. According to Environment Canada, the Yukon has experienced record-breaking precipitation this year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon will have “delayed spring” after heavy winter snowfall

After record levels of precipitation, cold spring will delay melt

Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports of youth being extorted online. (Black Press file)
Yukon youth being extorted online

Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports of youth being extorted on… Continue reading

Fines for contravening the fire ban start at $1,150 and could go as high as $100,000. File photo
Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. (Black Press file)
Yukon campgrounds to open early

Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. The early opening… Continue reading

A Housing First building on Fifth Avenue and Wood Street will be taken over by the Council of Yukon First Nations and John Howard Society later this month. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
CYFN, John Howard Society take over downtown Housing First residence

The organizations have pledged culturally appropriate service for its many Indigenous residents

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. Politicians return for the spring sitting of the assembly March 4. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Analysis: What to expect in spring sitting of the legislature

They’re back on March 4, but election speculation is looming large

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

A rendering of the Normandy Manor seniors housing facility. (Photo courtesy KBC Developments)
Work on seniors housing project moves forward

Funding announced for Normandy Manor

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

Most Read