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Out of Hiding, Into the World: Thembi's AIDS Diary

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Thembi Ngubane lives in one of South Africa's largest townships, a sprawling sea of houses and shacks made of wood planks, tar paper and sheets of tin.

She has a boyfriend and a close relationship with her mother and father. She is also living with AIDS.

Ngubane was 19 when she first met radio producer Joe Richman in Khayelitsha, outside Cape Town. She was among a group of South African teenagers he interviewed about AIDS in 2004. He gave her a tape recorder, and for a year, she recorded an intimate audio diary that brings listeners into her home, among her family, to witness her daily struggles and triumphs.

Ngubane introduces listeners to her boyfriend, Melikhaya — and recalls when she told him she was HIV-positive: "I thought, 'What if I've also infected him? Now I've ruined my life, and I've ruined everybody's life.'"

She chronicles how difficult it is to tell her father about her illness: "I've felt like I have disappointed you.... I thought that it was going to break you into pieces," she tells him.

And occasionally, Ngubane's frustrations overcome her: "My mother, she clothed me, fed me, raised me, and now, at the end of the day, she must also bury me. I was supposed to be the one who was going to look after her.... That is not right."

But throughout the diary, Ngubane expresses the desire she has to stop hiding her disease — and to help others stop hiding, too.

About 5 million people are HIV-positive in South Africa, and young women aged 16-25 make up 75 percent of all new infections. Ngubane's audio diary collects the intimate moments and disparate episodes of her everyday life and crafts a larger story that tells the story of the disease and its impact.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.