It was on Saturday the 1977 Christmas eve. Everybody was busy finalizing with Christmas preparation. Outside the small thatched kitchen, there was a big heap of firewood. The mud wall was well decorated with red clay soil. It was beautiful to look at as it portrayed the true African picture. The only thing remaining to make the D-day complete was the Christmas tree. This had to wait until it was evening lest it dries up.
At around 5 o’clock in the evening, the Christmas tree that was made of fresh Cypress tree branches and decorated with wild flowers of all kind was set-up. This gave the whole compound a new look! It was actual Christmas.
When Imani was through with the decoration, she bathed and dressed up to go for an overnight church service. As she walked out her mum handed her a warm scarf and with a smile, she told her “be safe my dear daughter and keep warm”, little did she know that this was a beginning of new phase of life.
It was around 6 o’clock and since the church was approximately 10Km away from her home, Imani decided to get a motorcycle so that she could get there in good time. After negotiating with the motorcycle rider for the transport fee, they settled for KES 50. She got on the motorcycle wrapped the scarf around her head and the journey picked off.
They had only ridden for approximately 1 Km and now in the middle of thickets that grew on the path. By now darkness had already set in. Imani realized the motorcycle rider was slowing down, out of concern she asked him what was going on, the man answered him with a harsh voice “silence woman” definitely she sensed things were not going on well. Suddenly another man dressed in black jeans and a black t-shirt appeared from the side. He ordered the motorbike rider to stop which he obeyed. The man in black jeans laughed sarcastically and said “I can see you have got another beautiful one” the rider laughed and said a yes. Imani started crying loudly but since she was in the middle of the bushy path no one heard her cry. She was beaten up and raped by the two men. This is how my mother got infected with HIV and got pregnant. Nine months later she gave birth to me.
For the entire pregnancy period, she suffered a lot from rejection to stigmatization. No one wanted to get near her since they thought that by interacting with her they will get infected with HIV/AIDS. My grandmother took care of her for the entire nine months, when the time of delivery came, she gave birth to me. Although she did not survive, I survived but was born HIV positive.
My grandmother took care of me; when I was one year old she moved out with me to another village that she was not known. This was just to protect me from stigmatization and rejection that my mum went through. My grandmother regularly took me to the hospital and I was put under ARVs. She made sure that I did not know of my status since she did not want to disappoint me. I grew up as a bright child and I was always top in class from kindergarten although to high school. Anytime I asked my grandmother why I was taking medicine and yet I was not sick, she told me that I was born underweight and to stay healthy I must take those medicines daily. I trusted her so much and therefore, didn’t question her anymore.
After my primary education, I performed very well and I managed to be among the few people selected to join the most prestigious high school in the country. The most difficult task that my grandmother had was how to break the news of my status to me now that I was going to a boarding school. She did not know how to explain why she had kept it a secret to me for that long and how I will handle the news. She decided to tell my new principle who later could tell me. My principle was a middle age lady, of about 5ft tall with a chocolate complexion she was smartly dressed and her gray suit gave her that authoritative look. After some 30 mins of counseling and giving information regarding HIV/AIDS she told me about my HIV status. I was a bit traumatized and bitter as well, my grandmother explained why she had kept this a secret for that long and asked for my forgiveness. I thought that this was a death sentence for me, I thought my dreams of becoming a lawyer were shuttered off I did not imagine how I was going to survive in school. However, this was not the case. My new high school headmistress was so supportive. She introduced me to a support group of young people living with HIV/AIDS. From the group, I came to learn that HIV/AIDS was just a disease like any other and with the right management one can live a long life and enjoy anything they ever dream of. In the support group, people of different age groups talked freely of their status. In different sessions of group meetings, we had successful people in various professions such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, business people and teachers (including our headmistress) who were living with HIV/AIDS talk to us and encourage us.
This encouraged me a lot and I learned that the virus in my blood streams was not supposed to deter me from being the lawyer that I wanted to be. People living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) can live and achieve their dreams. They can have friends, family, loved once and interact freely.
The lady giving the story completed her high school education, went to a good university and is now a reputable advocate in the country.
To conclude this: let us say no to HIV/AIDS stigmatization! PLWHA have right to education; right to have families; right to be loved; right to work; right to hold big offices as well as leadership/management positions and a right to belong to the society. Let’s talk about HIV/AIDS! Know our status and manage it.
STOP STIGMATIZATION! START LIVING!!
BY: JOYCE MUTONI
LEARNING ADVISER – IRES