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Thembi was 19 years old when we gave her a tape recorder to make an audio diary of her struggle to live with AIDS.

For more than a year, Thembi captured the small moments of her life that help tell a larger story: her first conversation with her mother about AIDS; a visit to the township clinic to apply for life-saving drugs; facing neighbors and friends as they slowly learn her status; a moment of quiet, late-night dancing at home with her boyfriend.

» English: Thembi’s AIDS Diary (23 minutes)
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   Transcript of Thembi’s AIDS Diary (English)

Chapter 1
Thembi introduces us to her boyfriend, Melikhaya. She asks him how he feels about the fact that she is responsible for infecting him.

A few months later, Thembi records a diary entry about becoming very sick.

"My face was becoming like bones, I couldn't walk. Everything that was happening I thought would never happen to me."

» download mp3

Chapter 2
Thembi has been on anti-retroviral drugs for a few months and is walking around her township, Khayelitsha. She talks about the stigma of AIDs.

"Our parents stuggled against apartheid, they wanted to be free. And it is the same with HIV/AIDS. This is the new struggle."

» download mp3

Chapter 3
Over the 3 years that Thembi has known she is HIV positive, she has slowly been dislosing her status to more of her friends and family. But there is one person she could not bring herself to tell. Thembi finally tells her dad that she has AIDS.

"I felt like I could tell the whole world, but not him. But he's my father and I want him to hear it from me."

» download mp3

Chapter 4
Thembi, Melikhaya, and their daughter, Onwabo, are all going to sleep. Thembi reflects on death, and promises herself that she is not going to let AIDS stand in her way.

"I am the one who has hands and feet and mind. And it's only something that is inside my blood. So it will try to rule inside. But outside I'll be the boss."

» download mp3
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"The last thing I thought I wanted to hear was another story about AIDS, but Thembi's voice and speaking style captured my mind, my heart, and touched my soul. I had to get off of I-495 and stop because I couldn't see through my tears. How can a 60 year old healthy white man fall in love with a black South African woman with HIV/AIDS over the radio in 15 minutes. It's a good question with a good answer."

—Listener from Essex, MA


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Thembi inspired me, enlightened me, made me cry, and made me laugh. To be so far away, I can hear her story and see her pictures and she is not foreign to me. She is African and I am African-American but we are sisters because her spirit reminds me of my mother, my sister, and so many strong vibrant women in my life. The best thing about her story was that I didn't feel sorry for her but simply and wonderfully inspired by her. To be a better person, become more selfless, and to give more. My prayers are with her and Africa.

—Listener from Rowlett, Texas


I was completely engaged when I heard Thembi's voice describing her existence with AIDS. I became extremely emotional over the fact that a young woman such as Thembi had not only come to terms with her illness but with the hope that she could become a mother and hopefully avoid her daughter from being infected. Often times we can become judgmental about hearing stories of women having babies with that are ill.   However, I heard such a sweet and honest voice in Thembi describing her desire to bare a child.... someone she could live for.   Thank you Thembi for sharing your story with us.   

—Listener from Anaheim, CA


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