Lost contact: silence, movement, and the politics of HIV care in Aceh, Indonesia
Paper short abstract:
This paper draws on ethnographic material on HIV care in Indonesia to discuss how silences of people who do not return for treatment after diagnosis may be a haunting presence in the quest for bureaucratic transparency, while strategic silences of people living with HIV may also be a form of care.
Paper long abstract:
How do silences move through space and time? What, on the other hand, are the social and historical constellations in which untold stories may become stuck? This paper draws on stories told by people who travel long distances to obtain HIV care in Aceh, Indonesia, and reflects on the mostly untold stories of the people who don't. In Aceh, AIDS is made both publicly present and invisible through lingering colonial and postcolonial healthcare bureaucracies and the unspeakability of violence. People living with HIV navigate a politics of speech, in which speaking out may be both socially dangerous and medically necessary. Silence is a strategy for those who undertake the often costly, time-consuming and socially risky travel to the provincial hospital to pursue healthcare. For them, silence may help to retain ordinary life. At the limits of narrative possibility, intersubjectivity here emerges out of gestures, whispers, and half-spoken sentences. Yet silence also resides in the untold lives of those who cannot or do not want to travel and be known, those who the hospital staff categorize as "lost contact": people who do not return for treatment after receiving their diagnosis. While the silence of the "lost contacts" haunts the bureaucratic need for transparency, the intimate navigations of silence and speech of the people who do seek health care at the risk of social stigmatization reveal the im/possibilities of silence as care in precarious lifeworlds. In this postcolonial healthcare setting, I suggest, silences may haunt as well as heal.
Silences of/and mobility: towards an anthropology of the unspoken and unspeakable