Review: Our Kind of People by Uzodinma Iweala
Title: Our Kind of People: A Continent’s Challenge, A Country’s Hope
Author: Iweala, Uzodinma
Length: 256 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Health
Publisher / Year: Harper / 2012
Source: From the publisher for review.
Why I Read It: I read and enjoyed Iweala’s debut novel, Beasts of No Nation, a few years ago, wanted to give his non-fiction a try.
Date Read: 16/06/12
In the minds of many, African brings up images of war, violence, poverty, lack of development… and AIDS. In this book Iweala tackles those stereotypes head on. He discusses HIV/AIDS as it affects Nigeria, those living with it, the campaigns against its spread, and those working to improve conditions for all who have or who are at risk of catching HIV.
AIDS, in many ways, is working to keep up or reinforce the original stereotypes that many have about the continent as a whole as dangerous, disease-ridden, and lacking any hope or option. Instead of allowing people to relate to very real humans around the world, people instead get these images with which they cannot relate, of a completely different place. The idea of HIV/AIDS as something that is acquired through ‘immoral acts’ was an idea that also existed in the US, the ‘immoral’ has just moved from gay men to Africans.
One thing that Iweala discusses often is how HIV/AIDS is different for everyone who gets it. The lives people lead before and during changes their perception of the disease and their options after getting it. The amount of people stepping up into the public to advocate for others with the disease is improving conditions and decreasing stigma, but issues are still there – just as issues exist for those with the disease around the world.
Another point that the author brings up is that unlike in North America and Europe, those in Africa, and in Nigeria in particular, didn’t used to and still have more trouble with accessing the basic medicines to keep HIV at bay. The lack of access to medicines means that the disease remains fatal where it doesn’t have to be. This keeps the shame and stigma higher. As the drugs become more available, it can start being just a regular disease that people manage and live with – as it is here.
A really interesting book that looks at life for a group of people who we so rarely hear speaking for themselves. Through interviews, Iweala gives them voice and allows them to talk about their struggles and lives. He confronts stereotypes and discusses their roots, giving further background and information we can all benefit from. Highly recommended.