About the Book

Henning Mankell is not a public figure in the way that politicians are, nor does he court publicity for himself, but he is one of the most successful authors of our time and has devoted his recent years to work with Aids charities. In I Die, but the Memory Lives on, this master storyteller has written a fable to illustrate the importance of books as a means of education, of preserving memories and of sharing life. In a very personal account he tells of his own fears and anxieties for the sufferers of HIV and Aids and, drawing on his experiences in many parts of Africa of the journeys that he has made to remote villages and the impressions he has gained there, proposes a way to help. The problem of Aids has been kept largely under control in Europe, but in Africa it is a very different story. Lack of education about the disease and lack of money to buy life-prolonging drugs for existing sufferers have turned the problem into a plague of biblical proportions. As parents die at a young age, infant orphans are left behind. The cycle continues, seemingly in perpetuity. Memory Books is a project through which the HIV-infected parents of today are encouraged to write portraits of their lives and testaments of their love for their orphans of tomorrow. Through a combination of words and drawings they can leave a legacy, a hope that future generations may not suffer the same heartbreaking fate. The publication of this book will raise awareness of this international problem which, though it may not always be on the front pages of our newspapers, must be always on our minds until something has truly changed for the better.

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Afterword

THE PEOPLE I have written about here exist in the real world. But their words are not only theirs, the words are also mine. What I have written is a record of what I heard them say and to an equal extent my interpretation of what they didn’t say out loud.

In conversations overshadowed all the time by death, silences are often long and full of meaning. I have interpreted what I heard and tried to understand what was not said. I have named some people by name, but the text also contains other people and other stories.

I am full of respect for all the dignity, all the strength I found.

My worry is that we do not all of us in our part of the world understand that these people need – and have a right to – our solidarity.

H.M.

Sweden

AUGUST 2003

Appendix

This Memory Book

is for

…………………………………

and has been written by

…………………………………

 

 

 

 

 

— Information About Your Mother —

Family Name ................................................................................

First Names ..................................................................................

Nicknames ....................................................................................

Date of Birth .................................................................................

Place of Birth ................................................................................

Your Mother’s Story

(in brief, more details are included in the following pages)

 

 

 

 

 

— Our Family Home —

— Important Friends —

 

 

 

 

 

— Special Memories —

Information

— About Your Relatives —

 

 

 

 

 

Family Traditions

— And Special Events —

— Special To Me —

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts On Life

— And Things I Believe In —

— My Likes & Dislikes —

 

 

 

 

 

— Special Interests/Talents —

— What I Do In My Free Time —

 

 

 

 

 

— My Health —

— My Working Life —

 

 

 

 

 

— My Education —

About My Childhood And

— Where I Grew Up —

 

 

 

 

 

— Information About Your Father —

— People Who Are Special To You —

 

 

 

 

 

— My Hopes For Your Future —

— My Favourite Memories Of You —

 

 

 

 

 

— Your Likes & Dislikes —

— Your Interests —

The Mango Plant

1

ONE NIGHT IN June in 2003 I dreamed about dead people in a coniferous forest. Everything in the dream is very clear. The smell of moss, steam rising after rain. But it isn’t summer. Fungi are growing around the roots of the trees. The dream landscape is autumnal. September, possibly October.

Unseen birds take off from damp branches.

My dream is about dead people in a coniferous forest. The faces of the dead people are let into the tree trunks. It is as if I were walking through a gallery of unfinished wood sculptures. Or I am in a studio hastily abandoned by the artist.

The faces are contorted, but no screams come from their half-open mouths, only silence.

They are black faces, African faces, yet the forest is in Sweden.

The dream is unexpected. There again, are not all dreams unexpected? No dreams can be planned nor do they turn up to order. The messages of the night can never be prepared for, nor can they be averted when they do come. These messages often disappear without trace, without their meaning being interpreted.

Dreams are like skilful jesters: whimsical, surprising, never quite possible to keep tabs on.

The dream fills me with uncertainty. But one thing is unambiguous, on one point there is no uncertainty.

The black people whose faces can be made out among the tree trunks have died of Aids. The skin is tightly stretched over the bones of their faces. The dead people are thin, fading away, in great pain. Nowhere is there a trace of calm or resignation.

Their screams are silent.

2

I often dream about death. My own death, the deaths of others, the death of everybody. The images are usually clear and distinct. Realistic, you might say. A dead person is dead. The dreams are most often well scrubbed, stripped of symbolic implications. There is no room for metaphysics. My dream-maker does not allow any religious or supernatural excursions.

That is why I am surprised by this coniferous forest with its remarkable, lifeless faces. It is as if the dream has intruded upon my subconscious, is there without permission.

Afterwards, when I wake up, it strikes me that nothing like it has ever before taken place in my brain while I’ve been asleep. Not at any rate according to what I have been able to remember of my dreams afterwards.

Most dreams evaporate into their own secret archives, to which nobody has a key. But that those archives exist I have no doubt.

Dreams can be deceptive. Hard to pin down. Not least when they have dressed themselves up as real life.

This dream upsets me. It seems to me that the images of the conifers and all the dead people have been visiting the inside of my head by mistake. As if they had no business to be there.

3

It is dawn, one morning early in June, in 2003. I am in a borrowed house right on the sea. In the grey light of dawn beyond the window, I glimpse a deer through the mist. When I move my arm only slightly, it bounds away out of sight. The sea laps almost noiselessly against the shore. The strong wind from the previous evening has slackened or shifted to another direction. It is so early that the vigilant terns have not yet started their screeching. I go down to the shore and think about the dream that has woken me.

The images are clear. They follow one another like glittering links in a carefully directed film. Not a skimped job. It is a plot in which I take part as well as observing it.

My dream, as I recall it:

I am walking along the edge of a coniferous forest. It is somewhere in southern Norrland, in the north of Sweden. The light is hazy, the sky is grey, as after a long spell of rain. Afternoon, early autumn. I can hear a bird flapping its wings somewhere, taking off from a branch and vanishing.

The dream changes at that moment. I recognise the scene, but I also have the impression that I have never been there before. There is a moment of hesitation: maybe I ought to steer clear of the path leading into the trees. But I follow it even so, walk down a path which might not be a path but only my imagination. The air among the trees is heavy with smells. The forest is soundless, not even the usual little rustlings can be heard.

It is a gentle sort of dream, nothing is threatening or dangerous. I walk peacefully through the soft, damp mossy woodland. The smells are acrid, lively. A cone falls from a tree.

Then suddenly I notice that the trees are not trees, but that they are human beings. They are partly carved out of the tree trunks, they are like half-finished wooden sculptures. An impression flutters past: a great many sculptors have lately been at work on these trees. But something has happened that something has made them run away as fast as they can go. They were trying to help these images or people out of the wood. The people trying to get out of the tree trunks have been abandoned, and now they are stuck in the trunks like dead, half-rotten remains. Broken branches are the arms, the needles their hair, the cones are maybe eyes or bones from their elbows. These are people who have themselves been running away. But they were caught and died attempting to escape.

In my dream, I wonder why I am not afraid.

I contemplate all these dead people, one by one. Slowly I make my way through this remarkable gallery of people who are half-finished sculptures carved out of trees in a northern Swedish forest.

But there is something odd about them. Their faces are black. And I know they have died of Aids.

I am still calm, I feel no fear.

Most of them are children, or teenagers; a few are very old. But all of them are dead. Their faces are not giving up their secrets. None of them speaks to me. I begin to retrace my steps. The bird I heard seems to come back to his perch again. The flapping of its wings fades. Then it is as if the sound tape of the dream has been cut. Cleanly. I stop and I have the feeling there is something behind me. Something I ought to see.

When I turn, I find myself looking into Aida’s face.

And then I wake up.

4

Soon afterwards I stand by the window and gaze out into the whiteness. In mist, all landscapes can seem similar. The floorboards in my room are pine, with that distinctive smell. They are cold under my feet. It is as if the sensation of damp moss was still with me. But even so, the landscape out there in the mist could be Africa.

That’s the way it is: really clear dreams accompany you out into reality, they take on a life of their own, freed of their subconscious origin.

5

It is two weeks since I met Aida in her village, a few miles north of Kampala in Uganda. The earth there was red and the banana trees grew in dense clumps. It is two weeks since she showed me where she had hidden her mango plant.

6

I had gone to Kampala by car from the airport in Entebbe. Kampala is a cluster of hills, seven or eight, and tucked tightly between these hills dotted in elegant houses with large gardens was the town itself, with far too much traffic, far too many people.

Africa is always a conflict of opposites, of urban muddle and vast, empty regions.

I say Africa, but Africa can be divided into any number of parts. Some countries within this continent are the size of all of western Europe. There is no clear-cut, single entity that you can think of as Africa. This continent has many faces, but wherever I have been the dense urban muddle and vast, empty spaces have always been side by side.

Aida’s village is like all the other African villages I know. The houses are made of clay or sheets of corrugated iron or the strangest mixture of materials that happened to be at hand for the builders. But all of the lived-in houses I saw in her village had a roof.

On the other hand, there were also abandoned houses that had collapsed. When I asked why this was so, I was told that the people who had lived there had died of Aids.

African houses often have a distinctive character. Perhaps you could say it is the equivalent of the Scandinavian passion for ornate carpentry at the end of the nineteenth century. In Aida’s village two doors from an old American car make up the gate in a ramshackle fence round a house where a hairdresser is plying his trade. As we pass, he is cutting a customer’s hair in the shade of a tree. Shortly before we came to Aida’s house – or rather her mother, Christine’s, house – I notice two men, their backs running with sweat, building a wall made of rusty pieces from old petrol drums between two corner-posts.

African houses in rural areas are a hymn to the imagination, if you like. But of course they are also an expression of poverty and destitution. Around the houses are small gardens, gravel roads meandering all over the place, and apologies for fences. Nearly all of the windows have broken panes with curtains flapping behind them.

Life proceeds at a leisurely pace in these villages. Haste is a human error that has not established very deep roots in the African countryside.

7

But none of this is important. I do not need to describe houses and roads, as if this were some sort of travelogue from a country in Africa. I have other reasons for being here.

In this very village, Aida’s village, there is something else that all the other villages in the area have in common. Many of the villagers have Aids. Many are already dead from the disease. You can already see the big gap: lots of children, quite a few old people, but not many in between. Aids generally kills people from fifteen to twenty years old to those in their early fifties. The old people have to look after their grandchildren when their parents are no longer alive. When the old people die, the children are left to look after themselves. What that means is obvious to everybody. Children who have to be one another’s parents have a pretty distorted start in life. They slip up.

Even if life goes on as usual, it is as if there is an endless silence all around them. Daily events, everyday events, take place under a cold shadow. Many people, too many people, are going to die. That shadow is not black, nor is it white. It is just not visible. It is like a cold gust of wind.

In Aida’s village the silence was so tangible that it did not need to be visible.

8

There were various sorts of waiting among the people I met in Uganda. Those who knew they were infected and spent every day looking for symptoms. Those who didn’t know, those who had refused to be tested, but nevertheless looked for symptoms every day, from the moment they opened their eyes.

But there is another kind of waiting. For the people who find themselves in the same position as Aida. She is only a child, she knows that she is not infected, but she will become mother to herself and her siblings the moment that responsibility is passed on to her.

And now I see her again in a dream. It is not a very long time since we were together. The last I remember of her, she is waving vigorously. Even when she could no longer see me nor the car, no doubt she went on waving.

We all do that when we hope against hope that somebody will change their mind, decide to do something different. Come back, break off the journey, stay behind.

9

But in the dream she’s dead. Her face appears as an unfinished wooden sculpture. That upsets me. And it’s not right. It must be somebody else, somebody who looks like her. She is not the one who is dead. It is others who are dying. Not Aida. She is alive. She hasn’t grown thinner, she isn’t covered in sores, she hasn’t lost all her strength so that all she can do is lie on a bast-mat in the shade, staring up at the sky or at the big leaves of the banana trees.

10