A Woman's Fight To Provide For The Extended Family

Nov 18, 2002 03:00 AM EST

UKWIMI, Zambia -- Ailedi Zulu lives in the village of Ukwimi in southeastern Zambia. She is on her own since her husband and children have all died as a result of HIV/AIDS. Ailedi has sole responsibility for her seven grandchildren. Her fight for survival is a hard one.

"I am old and I don't have much strength any more," Ailedi says, looking with concern at her grandchildren that leap about around her on the grass mat. The children are tired, dirty and hungry. They do not have enough strength to play or do any mischief like other children but mostly sit around with apathy, watching their grandmother.

"My children all died as a result of HIV/AIDS last month. They had been ill for quite a long time. I have tried to supply food to the family this last year. But my strength is not enough both for looking for food in the woods and for looking after the children".

Ailedi tells how she often has to go out at dawn to look for toxic roots or beans, which she then boils in order to make them edible. Sometimes it can take up to 20 hours before the water comes clear - a sign that the beans have become edible.

"Finding food gets worse day by day. We are so many looking for food so we have to go further and further away every day". In this little village people do, however, try to help one another; they share the food that they can find.

About 30 people live in the village. "We share the food with one another, but sometimes there is just not sufficient food. Today we have not eaten anything at all because we have not found any food," Ailedi says, drinking a mouthful of water to stay her hunger.

There is water in the well just over two kilometers away from this little village. It is part of the daily routine for a couple of the older children to go and fetch water in the morning.

"I feel so bitter because we cannot get any help. We have heard on the radio that there is genetically modified corn in the storehouses. And we starve. We have nothing at all to eat and all we can find is toxic roots and beans," Ailedi says.

"The corn is at least edible. Of course we have heard that there are certain risks, but for us the choice is an easy one. We would rather eat that than starve to death". Ailedi says that she has heard how several people have died of starvation in the neighbouring villages.

She takes a dark view of the future, her own future and that of her grandchildren. "The harvest has failed for two years running," she says.

"At the moment there is nobody who has the strength to grow anything, so we cannot put any hope in the next harvest, which would have come by next March. All we can do is to continue to look for roots and beans".

Soon the rainy season will begin in Zambia, and that will make it even more difficult for these families to find anything edible. Even so, Ailedi does see some glimmer of light as she ends our conversation with these words:

"You have come and listened to our story. Maybe someone can help us to find some food".

About 2,4 million people out of the population of just over 10 million suffer from famine in Zambia. The figure is expected to increase because the harvest has failed for the last two years. Now there is a lack of grain across the country, so there is very little hope of a good harvest in March next year.

By Marianne Edjerstan