By Glenn Shaw
╬ô├ç┬úHIV affects everyone in Zambia, in some way or the other; everyone has a story about a close relative, a distant relative, friends or individuals themselves╬ô├ç┬¬ Everybody has an HIV story… And I think that as much as that is true, everybody has a multiple concurrent partner (MCP) story that is a part of their lives╬ô├ç┬¬ So when we were developing this story, we actually drew a lot from experiences we had had personally, and from stories we had heard from friends or relatives. So in a sense this story is very true to life,╬ô├ç┬Ñ writes Fred Phiri, writer of Club Risky Business, a 10-part mini-series that is part of the OneLove Kwasila! Campaign in Zambia.
Contemplatively speaking about inspirations for a new mini-series drama, Club Risky Business, writer Fred Phiri demonstrates a keen understanding of his audience, as well as his craft.
Club Risky Business chronicles the relationships surrounding three Lusaka men, exploring the realities of MCP and how it exacerbates the HIV pandemic in Zambia.
The series and project is a large component of a campaign entitled One Love Kwasila! – the end product of a successful partnership between the Ministry of Health, the National AIDS Council (NAC), Society for Family Health (SFH), the Zambian Centre for Communications Programmes (ZCCP) and Health Communication Partnership Zambia (HCP), generously funded by DFID, UNFPA, Soul City Institute for Health and Development and USAID.
With a national HIV prevalence of 14.3 per cent amongst 15 to 49 year old Zambian adults, researchers continue to hunt for clues as to how to impede the disease╬ô├ç├ûs spread in the country.
MCP has been found to be a principal catalyst of HIV in Zambia. As a social phenomenon, MCP relates to having more than one recurrent sexual partner at a time. If a number of individuals in a community are involved in MCP relationships, a web is created.
This network allows for the easy spread of the disease, fueling the epidemic. A significant reason for this can be found in the way the HIV virus reproduces.
When someone is initially infected with HIV, a surge of the virus is experienced in the infected individual for between three to six weeks; yet current testing methods will find no traces of the disease during this ╬ô├ç├┐window period╬ô├ç├û.
The rapid growth and intensity of the HIV viral load makes it easy at this time to pass the virus from one individual to another, through the exchange of bodily fluids such as blood or semen.
If this individual is involved in a network of sexually active, unprotected people, the disease can then spread like wildfire. And researchers have suggested that this is most likely the case in Zambia as well as in other southern African countries where MCP is common.
Subsequently, the One Love Kwasila! campaign partnership looked to create a vehicle for getting this message out. Media 365, a local Zambian media house, was hired to write and produce a story which ordinary people could relate to.
Club Risky Business is the result of this collaboration. Sitting and speaking with the cast of Club Risky Business, they reflect on their ╬ô├ç├┐on set╬ô├ç├û experiences. Phakeni Makowane, an established Zambian actor and comedian who plays David, a rowdy, out-of-control playboy character, notes that although the cast truly enjoyed the opportunity, and the work, the roles and story could be difficult at times.
╬ô├ç┬úIt was obviously quite challenging to play David╬ô├ç┬Ñ, says the charismatic actor, ╬ô├ç┬úHe is involved in all of these shenanigans, his MCPs. I must say he mirrors society in some ways. These are things that actually happen. Grown up men are involved in relationships with college kids because of the economic situation; obviously they have a great deal of resources to give these kids, and the girls are half their ages╬ô├ç┬¬ [The girls] are looking for economic favors, and sometimes they contract the virus from these older men, or vice versa, and might pass it on to their boyfriends, and so on╬ô├ç┬¬╬ô├ç┬Ñ
And while speaking with other members of the cast of Club Risky Business you get the impression that these feelings of ╬ô├ç├┐art imitating life╬ô├ç├û were felt by all. That a genuine concern exists amongst them, and that their respective roles were bigger than just another acting job.
Lloyd Kalipinde, who plays Charlie Lucky in the drama, as well as being a former ╬ô├ç├┐Survivor Africa╬ô├ç├û participant, agrees that his role was equally challenging, ╬ô├ç┬úI had a very difficult time to figure my character out, basically I didn╬ô├ç├ût relate to him at all, but I had a lot of help╬ô├ç┬¬ He was the type of character who is stereotyped as a hustler in Zambia. In my research about him, I found a lot of these characters in bars. Everybody knows a ╬ô├ç├┐Charlie Lucky╬ô├ç├û╬ô├ç┬¬ But I wanted to do something of substance╬ô├ç┬¬I had to think about what people were going to think about me when they see me on the streets╬ô├ç┬¬ [Thinking about the stigma potential] maybe I was a bit nervous at first, but I thought about it and everything else that that inspired me to do it; I╬ô├ç├ûve lost friends, I╬ô├ç├ûve lost family to HIV, and I thought it was an opportunity for me to do something to save a life.╬ô├ç┬Ñ
The rest of the cast also agreed that this production could be a somewhat controversial moment in Zambian society. However, rather than worry about any negative reactions, they felt this was a topic which needed to be discussed amongst families, friends and in Zambian society in general. In fact, they seemed to embrace the potential for dispute, and look forward to being the catalyst which opens up a debate.
As project director and actor Jeff Sitali articulates, this discussion could become a vehicle for valuable discussion amongst all social levels in the country, ╬ô├ç┬úZambians like being disturbed, and I think they need a message like this to disturb them, so they will be compelled to watch and listen and tell their children and tell their spouses, ╬ô├ç├┐Did you see what was going on there, it can happen to you, it can happen to us, and the debate takes off from there?╬ô├ç├û╬ô├ç┬Ñ
One Love Kwasila!, as well as Club Risky Business both launched on Tuesday, June 16th , at the Ster Kinekor movie theatre in the Arcades mall, Lusaka.