I actually got the idea for this story back when I was writing something else for Volume 1, but decided not to write it at the time because I was already knee-deep in the original story. Originally, I envisioned it as being from the point of view of a foreign aid worker, probably someone working with Médecins Sans Frontières.
The story never got written, at least not for the first Machine of Death book, but when the call for submissions for a second volume went out, I decided to go ahead and write it, and see whether I couldn’t get a workable story out of it. However, by that time, I had realized that the perspective I wanted to explore most was of regular Malawian caught in the crossfire of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the administrative response.
There’s one thing that’s unfair about this story, and that is, it imagines this Malawian HIV/AIDS concentration camp as something new and horrible, and as a Malawian innovation. Sadly, it wouldn’t be in our world, as I discovered while working on revisions of the story. At least two other countries–neither of them in Africa–have run concentration camps for people who are HIV-positive or who have full-blown AIDS:
- Cuba (where the camps are official public health policy. Here’s a moving 1989 letter from H. Daniel, a fellow Latin American revolutionary, to Castro, calling him out on it.)
- America (HIV-positive Haitian refugees who’d applied for asylum were held in a concentration camp for eighteen months from 1991-1993. By the way, the camp was called Camp Bulkeley, and guess where it was located? Yep… Guantanamo Bay…). So far, the US hasn’t started putting its own citizens in such camps, though radical extremists, that is, mainline Republicans like Mike Huckabee, have proposed domestic HIV concentration camps in the past. Oh, and it’s not like they’ve stopped proposing it, either: go and read about Kansas House Bill 2183 if you want to get that sick feeling in your gut for real. (If I understand this website correctly, the bill passed into law, but I don’t know how heavily amended it was by then, nor do I know whether quarantine is still sanctioned. But that it was even considered ought to be blood-chilling enough.)
But Africa being the continent worst struck by this disease, I couldn’t help but wonder if, eventually, the various powers that be might work together to, er, “solve” that problem… and it wouldn’t be the first time a bad first world solution to a problem gets exported to the developing world.
I am happy to discover there is also an international organization in the USA that operates camps, but aligned in the opposite direction: The Safe Haven Project runs camp programs (all over the world!) designed to empower youths living with HIV/AIDS. So if this story chilled you, you might consider supporting them, whether by spreading the word, volunteering, or by donation.
By the way, this is my second story set in Malawi, for a reason: I was born there, and my father grew up there. My first story set (in part) there was “Dhuluma No More.” (I’m thinking a cheerier story set there might be a good idea, next time.)