We Americans were sitting at the café with our new South African friends; seven guys driving across Africa in different directions. They’ve spent a year surfing their way up the coast and on this night were debating the relative physical merits of the female populations of various African nations.
This was how we came to the topic of sex in Africa and the threat of AIDS.
We’re all in our late-20’s and came of age at the same time as the disease. One thing that’s become clear to me as I’ve met more young people from all over the world is how much more vigilant Americans are about having safe sex and how much more worried we are about HIV/AIDS.
One night a couple years ago, as this difference was becoming clear, my German friend Jens asked me how many people I knew with AIDS. None, I said, and he said that was his point. It’s someone else’s concern.
But that’s not the case in South Africa, where one in every three women in their late-20's is infected.
You might think that would scare the South Africans celibate but it sure hasn’t. Even if you sleep with someone who is HIV-positive you’re not likely to contract the disease, they say, and it’s easy enough to be safe.
“There’s only one guaranteed way to be safe,” Lex said, and my health class mantra kicked in: abstinence.
“Yeah,” Tim agreed, “use a condom.”
It must be mentioned that these were white South Africans who know that while 13% of blacks in their country have the virus, only 0.6% of whites do. So it was curious to them that we’d be so worried about it, an expression of fear out of proportion to the actual risk, like being afraid to fly in a plane.
It was curious to me too that they could be so unconcerned.