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|The Bigger Picture|
|Written by Sosena Tesfaye|
If you are a regular listener of Betengna, you will know that at the end of a diarist’s series, we do a special program for their finale. When Aster Kebede’s series, my diarist on Debub FM 100.9, ended I decide to do a program about her encounter with some of her professed dedicated listeners in Awassa. I thought a semi-formal discussion about what they thought of her diaries as they listened to them for 40 weeks and what they learnt from them would suffice. But I could never have expected the reception they gave her and the after-effects of it stay with me today, months after I stopped producing her diaries.
The listeners had already gathered but before Aster made her appearance, I asked them to speculate about her physical appearance and character. Although I knew that after 40 episodes of her diaries, they would have a very good idea of who and what she was, I actually found their response to be very accurate, especially when they started to list out some of Aster’s distinctive characteristics. I felt as though they have been living together with her for a long period of time. With the exception of one or two listeners who thought Aster was a short woman, their descriptions were spot on. One of her regular listeners said Aster is an aggressive but courageous woman; confident and energetic enough to accomplish whatever she puts her mind to. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that her audience understood her as well as knew her.
Eventually I asked Aster to come out and meet her faithful audience. Surprisingly, Aster’s listeners become emotional when they saw her and her two daughters, who have also been interviewed on Betengna later on in Aster’s series. Some of them broken down and couldn’t control their tears. Lidya Abebe, a listener in her mid twenties, who has missed only one or two stories of Aster, was crying the hardest of all. “From Aster’s narrations”, she said, they left me with an impression that they have suffered immensely, both mentally and physically. So I never thought they would all be this healthy looking and beautiful” There was another older woman who kept on crying out to Aster “…beautiful girls God bless your daughters”. Despite their earlier precise descriptions about Aster, no one really expected this picture of a healthy family going about their everyday business after all the drama they had experienced and endured.
Tsega Ayenalem, a 2nd year Management student in Dilla University, is Aster’s first daughter. Her young sister, Sara Ayenalem also seems to be following in her footsteps; a rank student in preparatory class. Both of them, stylishly dressed, attended the gathering with pride. They seemed to be secretly enjoying proving that a woman who is HIV positive and a single mother, living in poor conditions and struggling with life’s challenges on a daily basis, can still be successful with her life and daughters…just like their mother is. The gathered listeners had a great discussion with Aster and her daughters. The questions and comments raised was the central achievement of Aster’s heartfelt narrations. Some told her that they got tested for HIV after listening to her stories. Others said that it was thanks to her that they realized the importance of open discussion and joint decision-making among couples and family. But none of the listeners felt articulate when it came to the love and openness Aster obviously shared with her kids.
Several things were going through my mind. In general, it was more than safe to say that the overall objectives of the programs had been achieved. The listeners had spoken about several and concrete behavioral changes they had made throughout the discussion. But it was also amazing how much of each of Aster’s episodes they recalled with clarity and emotion. Towards the end of the afternoon, we all sat down to have coffee. Aster was preoccupied with her self-appointed role of hostess and very busy mingling with her listeners. It was a great moment in which I sensed her ability to create a sense of belongingness among one another. I wanted to stay in the background and watch her weave her magic. Aster did her job well because not a lot of time passed before one of Aster’s listeners disclosed to everyone sitting there that she is HIV positive as well; another achievement that added to my pride in the series I produced, the confidence it inspired to be open about one’s status. Aster also seemed to appreciate the disclosure and with that they all launched into how Aster and her can live a healthy life. If possible, they all seemed another degree closer than they were before the lady’s disclosure. The coffee session turned out to be more fruitful than the first formal one I had arranged for the beginning.
After the last bit of coffee was sipped and as the last goodbyes were being said, I started seeing the bigger picture; I heard them telling each other they should keep in touch, not to forget the invitation to one of their daughter’s graduation, etc. In the one afternoon that they spent together, Betengna was all it took for them to become a rough but ready version of a family. They all wanted a picture with Aster before they parted. A sign of new found love and respect that I knew Aster sensed when I saw her eyes water at the request. A few days later I met with Aster and she told me that it had been one of the most special days in her life. I believed her, because her eyes still sparkled like she was still at the center of all that glorious and flattering attention, her treasured reward for baring her soul to all who cared to listen.