Those lips! Those eyes! That virus! The September 6 coronation of Miss HIV Stigma-Free 2003, in the southern African nation of Botswana, mercifully spared spectators the pageant clichés of leering hosts, squirmy production numbers and baton twirlers. The touching true-grit spirit of the affair was more appropriate to the country with the world’s highest rate of HIV, a looming nightmare often obscured by Botswana’s dazzling diamond industry. At this second-annual event, 14 women (12 have HIV, two have positive relatives) sashayed down a hotel catwalk in Gaborone, the capital. • Pageant founder Kesego Basha—head of the Center for Youth and Hope, which sponsored the affair—created what she calls an “edu-entertainment.” She aims not only to prove that positive women are attractive and desirable but to crown an anti-shame ambassador. “We are not just looking at someone’s beauty,” says Basha, herself an HIVer. “We are looking for someone to do the job—to break the stigma across the country.” • And the winner is...(drumroll!)...the lovely Kgalalelo Ntsepe. A youth counselor who tested positive in 2001, Ntsepe says she entered the pageant because she “wanted to show people that even when you’re HIV positive, you can make it.” For the next 12 months, she will sweep across the country, talking up prevention, testing and Botswana’s free-treatment bonanza, which supplies her meds. And she will deliver a special message of empowerment to women, who have little control over safe sex. • On the eve of the competition, POZ took a peek behind the leopard-skin curtain. Lucky for you, we’re fluent in Tswana.