Wearing a fierce gaze and his "HIV POSITIVE" faded red T-shirt, Winstone Zulu came right out and asked Toronto's Globe and Mail Africa correspondent Stephanie Nolen the question. "What are our lives worth?"
His five words touched on the central themes—economic, political, philosophical, theological—that must be considered in any examination of the AIDS crisis in Africa, and the response from the rest of the world it has and has not generated.
Nolen couldn't answer him and avoided his gaze by scribbling in her notebook. Zulu may as well have been asking on behalf of the 28 people profiled in Nolen's book, 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa, or for the 28 million people in sub-Saharan Africa estimated to be infected with HIV. Each has every right to expect an answer to that question from a world that has turned its back for too long.
In 28, Nolen approaches the difficult questions by telling the stories of an array of people affected by AIDS. There's Tigist, an Ethiopian teenager who has been raising her younger brother Yohannes on her own since their mother died of AIDS. She paints her toenails delphinium blue, lies awake at night worrying about money for school fees and more lentils, and tries to avoid the men approaching her for sex while promising rent money. Pontiano Kaleebu works as a virus researcher in Entebbe, Uganda, searching for an AIDS vaccine. On a good day, when he's feeling optimistic, he says it's at least another 10 years away. And there's Botswana's Miss HIV Stigma Free 2005, Cynthia Leshomo, photographed with one hand on her hip and the other draped down her thigh in the manner of beauty queens everywhere. Their stories, Zulu's story, and 24 more make the issue much more personal and much less theoretical.