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Soon I was sitting in a courtyard enjoying the afternoon sunshine with a coterie of aunts, great aunts, nieces and nephews – a space we shared with a skinny heifer, a clutch of chickens and a tethered goat.A matriarchal figure stirred a mighty pan of couscous as it warmed over an open fire.

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A man with two white mares beckoned us from the beach. We dismounted and joined a group of fishermen bringing in their catch. Perhaps we could find the species we had devoured for lunch. It's no surprise that a Gambian man will refer to his wife as "boss lady".

I persuaded Sophie to peel herself from the poolside. " she asked, pointing to a nasty-looking sore on one of the animal's backsides. We discussed everything from Gambian education to the price of taxis in London, before he grabbed a folder from his glove compartment and dropped it on my lap. The folder contained photographs and letters from British people he had met over the years.

My taxi driver, Katim, led me into the front room of his home on the edge of Serrekunda, Gambia's largest city.

Twenty chairs were arranged in a horseshoe, each facing the property's most prized possessions: an ancient-looking television and a battered wireless perched on a creaking credenza.

Sophie, and many of our fellow guests, struggled with that question. Beyond the tarmac, women toiled in fields while their husbands sheltered from the heat in huts and half-built houses.

Each morning the same cast of colourful characters dragged their bodies to the pool, sunned themselves for eight hours and then made half-hearted resolutions to "get out and explore tomorrow". Building sites resembled lounge rooms as men reclined in the shade, turning inactivity into an art form.

Given equal prominence to the headline proclaiming a new government was a huge advertisement asking readers: "Does your roof leak?

" Returning to the hotel, we drove past garden centres, concrete office blocks and more women suffering in the sub-Saharan heat, before Katim asked if I might consider a detour to his home in Serrakunda. "Come and meet my family." I didn't even need to consider the proposal.

Sophie's fears were forgotten within five minutes of our arrival at the hotel. " One afternoon he came to see me while I was by the pool and noticed that a female guest was sunbathing topless.


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  4. Angola (Portuguese)Pisar pisar na min - Contracting HIV is like having "stepped on a landmine"Bichinho - "Little bug" (the virus) Kenya (Kikuyu, spoken mainly in central Kenya)kagunyo - "The worm" (euphemism for HIV) Nigeria (Hausa, spoken mainly in the north)Kabari Salama aalaiku - Literally translates as "Excuse me, grave" (reference to AIDS)Tewo Zamani - Translates as the “sickness of this generation” (another reference to AIDS) Nigeria (Igbo, spoken mainly in the east)Ato nai ise - "Five and three" (5 3 = 8, and "eight" sounds like "AIDS")Oria Obiri na aja ocha - "Sickness that ends in death" (euphemism for AIDS) Nigeria (Yoruba, spoken mainly in the west)Eedi - "Curse"Arun ti ogbogun - "Sickness without cure" Nigeria (Pidgin, the unofficial lingua franca)He don carry - "He carries the virus" Nigeria (English)HIV - He Intends Victory (acronym of HIV and a phrase popular among born-again Christians) South Africa (Isi Xhosa and Isi Zulu)Udlala ilotto - "Playing the lotto" /ubambe ilotto - "won the lotto" (said of someone suspected of being HIV positive; Lotto is the national lottery)Unyathele icable - Contracting HIV is like "stepping on a live wire" South Africa (English)House in Vereeniging - (Acronym of HIV; "bought a house in Vereeniging", a town about 50km south of Johannesburg, refers to someone suspected of being HIV positive)Driving a "Z3"/ "having three kids"/ the "three letters" - All refer to the three letters in the HIV acronym Tracker - If you are suspected of being HIV positive people say God is tracking you, like the popular southern African service that tracks and recovers stolen vehicles Tanzania (Ki Swahili)amesimamia msumari - "Standing on a nail"; euphemism for being skinny, or being small enough to fit on a nail's head, referring to AIDS-related weight losskukanyaga miwaya - Contracting HIV is like "stepping on a live wire"mdudu - "The bug" (refers to HIV) Uganda (English)Slim - Euphemism for HIV/AIDS as a result of the associated weight loss; less popular since the advent of ARVs Uganda (Luganda, spoken mainly in the central region)Okugwa mubatemu - You have been waylaid by thugs (contracted HIV) Zambia (Nyanja, spoken mainly in the east and the capital, Lusaka)Kanayaka - "It has lit up" (refers to a positive reaction from an HIV test)Ka-onde-onde - "Thing that makes you thinner and thinner" (HIV) Zambia (Bemba, spoken mainly in the north and Lusaka)Bamalwele ya akashishi - "Those that suffer from the germ" (HIV-positive people)Kaleza - "Razor blade" (Refers to a person being thin as a result of AIDS-related weight loss) Zimbabwe (Shona)Ari pachirongwa - "He/she is on a (treatment) programme"Akarohwa nematsoti - "He/she has been beaten by thieves"Mukondas - Abbreviation of "mukondombera" (epidemic)Ari kumwa mangai - "He/she is drinking mangai" (mangai is boiled corn seeds, which represent antiretroviral (ARV) drugs)Akabatwa - "He/she was caught" (received a positive diagnosis)Zvirwere zvemazuvano - "The current diseases" (the HIV epidemic)Akatsika banana - "He/she has stepped on a banana and slipped" (someone who has tested positive and therefore will "fall" or die as a result)Shuramatongo - "A bad omen for relatives" Zimbabwe (English)Red card - Like a football player being sent off, life is over Go slow - Taken to mean that he/she is now progressing slowly towards death TB2 - Refers to high rates of HIV and TB co-infection (used to denote AIDS)RVR - Slang for ARVs, adapted from Mitsubishi's RVR sports utility vehicle John the Baptist - When someone has TB or HIV, he/she is said to have been baptised by "John the Baptist", who has come to announce the coming of AIDSFTT - "Failure to thrive" (adapted from the medical phrase, now used to describe HIV-positive children)Boarding pass - Implies that HIV is a boarding pass to death Departure lounge - An HIV-infected person is in the departure lounge awaiting death Hi Martyn, Your blog sounds very interesting to me and and every time I visit it, I could learn something on HIV, AIDS, Exavir Load...

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