HIV Tencoversations for Health

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for Health

Poems by Albert Nyathi and Daniel Low-Beer

Photos by John Rae




for Health

Poems by Albert Nyathi and Daniel Low-Beer

Photos by John Rae

Written by Albert Nyathi (Son, Daughter, Woman) and other poems

by Daniel Low-Beer. Photos by John Rae.

All Rights Reserved ©

These poems present ten conversations for health. Talk to your

son, your daughter, nieces, nephews, politicians, Ministers of

Finance, men and women about health, and about the ten things

they can do to be health providers too.

Go to www.10conversations.net for more information, to support,

download the poems, or to add your own poems and conversations.

Ten Conversations to end AIDS are also available there to


Supported in memory of Ann and Tom Low-Beer. The content

does not reflect the opinions of any institutions or affiliations

Design: Inis Communication – www.iniscommunication.com

ISBN 978-2-9701126-5-5


Introduction: Health Beat 1

You are your own doctor 5

My Name is Woman 9

Son 13

Health is wealth 17

Health heroes 21

Man 25

To My Daughter 29

Politicians 33

Minister of Finance 37

Listening to health 41

Appendix 43

Health Beat

There is something beating,

Deep inside you,

Which is your health.

Like the sea,

It breathes with you,

Wave after wave,

Day in, day out.

Its tide is your current,

Taking you far,

In shore or out in life.

Like the moon,

It waxes and wanes,

With your months, your years,

Like the moonlight,

You reflect its glow,

Through your skin,

Your eyes, your look.


It flickers inside you,

Like a candle,

Tender it,

Breathe with it,

Exercise, care,

And feed it well.

It is the flame,

Of your body,

Mind and self,

Burning inside you,

Is your health.






You are your own


What is health?

Twenty percent medicines,

And eighty percent what you do.

You are your own doctor too.

Health is what you eat,

Health is what you drink,

Health is what you do not drink,

Health is what you do not smoke,

Health is how you care for your body,

And for the body of others too.

Health is what you do.

There are simple things you can do,

To be your own doctor too.

If you don’t talk to them,

They will ask uncle YouTube,

They will ask auntie Twitter,

If you don’t talk to them,

They will ask grandpa Facebook,

They will ask Google gogo.

So have the health conversations

Of ten things they can do.

First walk your talk, wherever you go,

Whatever your journey,

Exercise each day, shake your stuff,

Like a snake.


Do not be a forest fire, with your own lungs.

Sit around a fireplace, not in it.

Smoke your sausages, not yourself.

Water is life, water is health, Water is wealth.

Would you water your garden,

With fizzy drinks, with alcoholic drinks,

Don’t wash yourself away with drink.

Safe water, safe fun,

And safety belts.

Belt up to have fun.

Shake your stuff safely, like a snake.

You are what you eat,

Fast food is slow death.

Does a lion eat fried food?

You can eat, or be eaten by your food.

Shake yourself like Shakespeare,

Shaking Shakespeare,

Like the snake Shakespeare,

Shake his spear, shake his spear.

Like the African Shakespeare,

Shakespeare, Shakespeare.

And last, take time to care,

for yourself and for others.

Do the ten simple things you can do,

To be your own doctor too.






My Name is Woman

My name is Woman.

I am the pillar

I am the foundation

I am the ‘carer’

Where hospitals and doctors have failed.

I am the farmer,

I walk barefoot across the fields,

I work with my bare hands

I feed the nation.

I do the ploughing,

The weeding, the spraying,

The harvesting.

My name is Woman!

I brought up all these men and women,

Breastfed them,

Changed their nappies,

Told them stories,

Sang lullabies for them

Sent them to sleep.


I am the woman who brought you up,

With all the burdens,

My work immeasurable,

Uncounted, undercounted,

Unpaid, underpaid.

I am the pillar,

I am the foundation,

I fill the national granary,

I feed the nation,

‘’Wathinta abafazi, wathinta imbokodo.’’

If I falter

Oh well, she is a woman after all.

If my son cries

Hey mfana, do not be like a woman.

If I am seen driving my lorry to my farm

Oh my goodness, she’s a lion, she’s a man!

Even William Shakespeare mocked me in Hamlet:

Frailty, thy name is woman.






My son Shakespeare,

Do not just shake your spear everywhere.

My son Shakespeare, I am proud of you.

Today you have become a warrior,

A warrior eager to explore and tame the jungle,

With your sharp spear that never misses.

Be wiser than yesterday,

Because today you have a chance to listen,

Not so many are so lucky to get advice.

Don’t fall in love with the leopard’s skin

And want it to adorn your broad shoulders,

For you will pay dearly, very dearly for it.

Wear your own skin proudly.

The chameleon’s make-up is meant to confuse you,

So you can no longer see real colours or judge situations.

Just like the sweet-looking gentle spingboek will tease you,

Encouraging you with never-ending promises.

Dear son,

Don’t hunt on Facebook or Twitter or

WhatsApp or Instagram.

Animals on all applications, old or new, are not real,

Have no home, smell or spoor.

Some animals will play games with you like the python,

While you enjoy their tight embraces and cold kisses,

In between sweet nothings uttered by forked tongues!



My son, great hunters steer their spears.

Carefully with their eyes and ears,

With all their senses,

With their intellect and heart,

And their sense of right and wrong,

How they use their spear

Points the way for others.

And they keep it and use it,

With their sheaf,

Keeping the blade sharp and safe,

Until they find the one.

Use your spear carefully, Shakespeare,

A hunter knows when to act, and when not to act.

He knows how to choose.

The jungle says eat or be eaten,

But be careful how you eat the porcupine.

Remember, the hunter can become the hunted,

The fisherman can become the fish!

The leopard can be hunted,

The predator may easily become prey.

Shakespeare, use your spear in many ways not one.

Your spear is not just what you think it is.

Write with your spear,

So you can learn and earn a living,

Use your spear to find your path,

To walk with into the future,

Strong, supportive and upright.

Steer your spear with your heart,

And intellect and sense of right and wrong.

Use your spear to help others and point the way.

My son Shakespeare, do not just shake it,

A hunter uses his spear in many ways.







Health is wealth

It is Oliver Mutukudzi who says,

As music flows from his hands like a river,

Rhythms rumbling like the Victoria Falls,

That health is wealth.

And that life and wealth drain away,

Like a stream in the Kalahari,

When there is no health.

If you are healthy, you are wealthy.

Your life flows like a river,

Like the Zambezi, to the Indian Ocean.

So what is to be done?

Todii? Senze njani?

Seek health everyday,

And in every way.

Like you seek wealth.


Work at it each day,

Inch by inch, minute by minute.

Earning, saving up health.

With what you eat,

With how you drive,

And walk and talk.

With how you exercise,

And sexercise.

Having fun safely.

And care for others,

And care for yourself.

Then you will become a health millionaire.

You will be healthy in your wealth.

You will be wealthy in your health.





Health heroes

Who is a hero?

Who are the health heroes?

Where are they hiding?

They are not hiding in the jungle,

They are not hiding in the offices,

In the bars or restaurants,

They are out there in your communities,

They are all around you,

Community health workers are our unsung health heroes.

Their job does not start at 9 and end at 5.

They are there when you are ill.

When you need them most.

Day in, day out like the sun,

All through the night like the moon.

Universal health care starts,

With these everyday heroes.

Linking real people with health.

They leave no one behind,

No star in the sky.



Community health workers are like gazelles,

Darting in and out of our communities,

Bringing health near,

Twitching their ears, listening for our health,

So we do not fall prey to disease.

Who are the threads winding in and out,

The net of Universal health care?

Who are they who walk in the cold,

In the depth of the night,

Groping to find you in the dark?

Sometimes it is raining,

Or the sun is roasting.

Who is it who searches out health,

Wherever it is?

Moving on to save a life.

It could be yours.

Who are the heroes?

Community health workers are the heroes.







Man, Man,

Who are you?

Do you know who you are?

Let’s have a conversation.

Talk with me.

We need to listen when we can,

Open the question what is a man?

A real man provides.

Not only money,

Not only rounds of drinks,

Not only fun times,

And fast food,

Emotions on Whatsapp,

Care on Snapchat,

Which disappear with a snap.

And unwanted pregnancies,

Which do not disappear.

A real man is a health provider.

Man, health is also about men.

Being a man is about health.

A real man provides good health,

A real man respects his woman,

Understands that health is wealth.

Are you a provider of health?

Or of illness?

Do you look after your own health?

In how you eat and drink,

Exercise and Sexercise.


Having fun healthily.

Do you respect woman?

Equally, healthily as woman?

As your partner in life?

Only a queen makes a king.

Are you her health provider?

Her health is yours, and yours hers.

Do you care for those around you?

Or do you only care for a drink,

For a night of fun and lights?

Flickering like the stars,

Which disappear in the morning?

Man are you a lion, providing.

Or a hyena in your pack,

Feeding on remains.

Man, you are not a provider,

If you do not provide health.

Your wealth is no wealth without health.

Man, we have forgotten,

How to ask the open question together,

Of what it is to be a man,

Many men remain boys,

Few become lions.

A real man provides health,

A real man respects his woman,

Understands that health is wealth.

Man, we are talking with you,

We are questioning you,

We are encouraging you,

Who will you be, what will you do.

This is our conversation,

You are health providers too.






To My Daughter

When I demand that you

Be home before dark everyday,

I, my daughter, do not hate you dear.

I am merely trying to protect you.

From the jittery and jumpy, jumpy monkeys,

Leaping from tree to tree,

And from branch to branch,

With no particular base.

From giraffes that look down on you:

They will make you feel you matter,

Then toss you in the mud,Once you yield.

From the trumpeting elephants,

That love party times in the depth of the night.


Beware, the python,

How it changes its colours,

O those mesmerizing colours !

Remember, they are meant to lure you

Into a tight embrace. Before you know it

Your heart is stopped by suffocation.

I am trying to protect you,

From the seemingly innocent porcupine,

That will prick your heart apart,

Before you even touch its soul.

Remember there are many different animals,

And you only have one heart !

Daughter take heed,

Darkness has no eyes.






Do not spend,

So much time in your global village,

In your meetings,

Talking about health.

Come to our villages,

The real ones,

Without passport control,

And air miles,

And VIP entrances,

Talk to your real villages,

About their health.

Health and real politics start,

In our village meetings,

In our workplaces,

And in our schools.

Wander from the global village,

Which shines above you,

Like the sun.

Seek the constellation of real villages,

Pulsing around you,

Like stars at night,

That make up your nation,

And give it its light.

What is real politics,

Fourty percent parliaments,

Global villages and meetings.

And 60% conversations with your people,

That is how you win their votes,

Their health and their hearts.


And what is health,

Forty percent medicines,

And sixty percent conversations,

Local policy and practice,

About eating and smoking,

Walking and talking,

Safe water and safe sex,

And safety belts.

Caring for yourself,

And caring for others.

That is how you win their health,

And with that their votes.

You are a politician,

You know how to speak,

To your people,

To fight an election,

For their health,

With what you say,

With what you do.

You are a politician,

And a health worker too.

So come down,

From your global village,

Be a real politician,

Be a real health worker,

Get all your politicians,

Local chiefs, religions,

Those with local trust,

They are the doctors,

The health workers,

The nation’s wealth,

And talk to your people,

About health.






To My Minister

of Finance

The Minister is also,

An aunt or uncle,

She grows ill and healthy,

Is cured and cared for.

So why is the Minister of Finance,

Often A Minister of No Finance,

For our health needs?

We need a conversation,

To make her a Yes Minister.

Talk to her about health.

Health is not just a cost,

Not just money lost,

In a bottomless sea.

Health is an investment,

In the productive, flowering,

Garden of her people.

Health is her wealth.

We need to show her,

That she can become,

A health millionaire,

In the hard currency,

Of lives saved,


Which lasts for her life.

It does not devalue,

Like paper money.

And whisper in her ear,

Like the wind,

The lives she loses,

By not acting now.

We need to show her,

She may wear a gold,

Not a white coat,

But health is her wealth,

And wealth without health,

Is no wealth at all.

We need to talk to her true,

That Ministers of Finance,

Are our health workers too.






Listening to health

There is a silence,

A listening to conversations,

Of illness and health.

First, to people who are ill,

A talking with the eyes,

Open as moons,

And sharp and focused,

As the stars.

Twinkling as you listen,

To their conversation,

To disease and life,

To fear of death,

To the everyday,

And the web of stigma,

Which speaks and does not listen.

The line between health and illness,

Is as thin as the horizon,

Which the sun passes over,

In a few moments,

Of blood red sunrise,

From health to illness,

Like from night to day.

The ill are you, and you them.


Second, listen to your own health,

Talk health, and listen,

To its heart beat,

Behind your everyday,

To its pulse,

Giving you energy,

Or taking it away,

The tide of your body,

Strengthening and weakening,

As you age,

On the beach of your life.

And don’t be afraid,

To be tested too,

To consult and to listen.

Let your health speak to you.

Listening is a conversation,

As much as talking,

The expression of your face,

The openness of your eyes,

And your soul,

The time you let drip,

Like musical notes,

Between your words,

The listening with your ears,

Your heart, your self,

To the conversations,

Of illness and of health.



Fast food, slow death

Who you are,

Is how you eat.

Why fry yourself with chicken,

Crackly and crusty,

Your skin will look like that after years,

Of fast food, slow death.

Why fizz yourself dizzy,

With sugar drinks,

Additives and addictives,

Your blood will bubble,

Like that after years

Of fizzy fast food,

And slow death.

Start from what is real.

Cut and cook real ingredients,

And you will be real.

Your skin glowing,

Your hair flowing,

Your body and soul not weighed down,

With burgers, fried chicken, and fizzy drinks,

Which have become you.

You can eat, or be eaten by food.

The choice is yours.


Doctors - patience with your patients

One of the last conversations,

My father,

Who was a doctor,

Visiting Soweto had,

Went like this:

“How many of your patients

are affected by HIV?

About one third in gastroenterology.

Do you talk to the patient,

About their condition?

No, we do not mention it,

Or mark it on their records,

This is partly due to insurance,

but also mistrust.

So how do patients know

What condition they have?

Often they do not,

Often they do.

But we don’t talk about it.

For the doctor,

There is so much stigma,

So much paperwork.”

My father,

Was just a gastroenterologist,

But he was a doctor first.


And he had this look,

In his deep, diagnostic, brown eyes,

Which he could open,

As wide as the world.

Yet still focus on you,

With surgical precision,

Like an X ray,

His questions,

Cutting to the centre,

Of an issue, beneath the surface.

Yet glowing like embers,

Sparkling in a fire,

Waiting to flame a response,

An engagement with his patients.

As all good doctors,

Know their medicines,

They also know,

Their conversations,

To look, and diagnose,

With talk and listening.

And he gave one of those looks then,

One of his last.

“But isn’t there,

A basic responsibility,

For a doctor,

To talk to his patient,

About the underlying condition.


How else can a doctor,

Or patient face disease”.

There was silence,

A silent conversation,

Between two doctors,

Who have diagnosed,

Something essential together.

How to fight a disease,

With drugs, and tests,

Scans and prescriptions,

But also with conversations.

Difficult and real,

Face to face,

With no discrimination,

With words and listening,

With presence and patience.

Conversations are your diagnosis,

Conversations are your medicine,

Take the time so after you,

They can absorb what is meant,

They can be their own doctors too,

Be patient with your patients.


“These poems are beautiful, powerful, and accessible. Community

conversations offer an empowering platform to engage with allies in

government and civil society on the issues that matter most to them.

In doing so, opinions are changed and action is taken. I am proud of Daniel

Low-Beer and Albert Nyathi’s creative new work.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

“We are delighted and proud to launch this book. We need to talk about

health as politicians in meetings, but more importantly to our people, in

real villages.”

Dr. Parirenyatwa, Minister of Health, Zimbabwe

“We still need to learn to talk to each other more freely about Health and

HIV. The poems in this book are a fun, engaging but serious contribution

to stimulating conversations. Read them yourself and then read them to

ten other people.”

Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS

“What is health 20% medicines, and 80% what you can do. We need Ten

Conversations so that individuals, families and communities become more

engaged with their health. This is a fresh and empowering approach to

extend universal health access into communities and peoples’ lives. Read

the poems, listen to the music and do 1, 2, 3 or ten health conversations

and actions.”

Dr. Shiva Murugasampillay, Chair of ZimHealth

“This is poignant and powerful poetry. We need conversations like these

for prevention to have the decisive impact we know it can have.”

Rachel Baggaley

Coordinator Prevention and Key Populations, WHO

“Eastern and Southern Africa is driving the agenda to reinvigorate

prevention in a powerful and practical way. These are lovely poems, to get

us to have ten key public and personal conversations.”

Professor Sheila Tlou

Former Minister of Health Botswana, UNAIDS Regional Director

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