By Lydia Namubiru
IN the early 1980s, Kasensero landing site became a tourist attraction for the wrong reason. It was the first locality in Uganda to be hit by AIDS. People travelled from as far as Kampala to the landing site in Rakai district at the border with Tanzania to see AIDS patients. Today, their lifestyle remains shockingly risky.
Women are considered largely communal. Basking in the mid-morning sun at the beach by the landing site, a group of young fishermen ogles a lady cooking food in front of a makeshift restaurant.
One of them says in Luganda, â€œToday she is mine. Yesterday Matovu foiled my plans and took her but I am going to work hard and get her, no matter when.â€ According to Goldiano Kiganda, a peer counsellor, such talk is commonplace at the fishing village, which perhaps explains why the other men in the group appeared undisturbed by their colleagueâ€™s declaration.
He explains that sharing women is done to counter the fact that there are very few women at the fishing village.
Condom use remains unpopular among the Kasensero residents and other fishing communities.
Kiganda tells a story of a friend with whom he attended a residential beach management seminar. One evening he got a prostitute to spend the night with. The prostitute agreed to a fee of sh10,000 but insisted that he use a condom.
She even had some on her in case he did not. The man grumbled to Kiganda about how the woman just wanted to reject him by insisting on a condom. He sulked and went away when Kiganda also advised him to use one.
He offered the girl sh5,000 more if she could agree to unprotected sex but she still refused. When they later went to the lodge, the man still insisted on not using the condom and tried to rape the girl when she stood her ground.
The girl eventually escaped. Indeed it is usual for one to offer much more for unprotected sex. According to Robert Mayanja, the Rakai director for health services, one may offer even as much as sh100,000 for unprotected sex while they will give only sh10,000 for protected sex.
Prostitution also goes unchecked. So widely accepted is it, that one can go to the Police with a complaint like, â€˜I paid her for sex and she ran away before deliveringâ€™ or â€˜He slept with me and did not pay.â€™
â€œThe Police listen to such cases and may even arrest the accused,â€ Kiganda, whose father was the first Ugandan recorded to have died of AIDS, says in bewilderment.
Glazio Njagala, 55, a shopkeeper and resident of the neighbouring village, says people are becoming lax again in issues regarding AIDS. â€œPeople are tired of waiting and now realise that the disease is not going away,â€ he says in an attempt to explain the laxity.
All of the residents of Kasensero and the environs we talked to say AIDS remains rampant especially among the non-permanent locals like fishermen.
The risky lifestyle has prompted the district health officials to focus this yearâ€™s attention on them.
â€œWe took the commemoration of World AIDS Day this year to Kasensero. We want to change the behaviour of the fishing communities,â€ Mayanja says.