One year ago I left my country and flew a thousand miles all the way to Washington DC to go to the International AIDS conference. It was an unforgettable experience and one that I will cherish for it opened my eyes to new faces of HIV.
I returned from the conference a few days later all excited but unfortunately this was not to last long. That very week a friend I had been seeing tested positive for HIV. And yes, I believe I infected him! I know many may be wondering how? Why? With all the information that I had; how come? Many may say I could have avoided it. Maybe yes! And maybe No! I just realized that there are a lot of things that may influence decisions and the choices we make. Many can be avoided, but sometimes fate thinks otherwise.
I had met Simon (not real name) over a year before through a close friend. We seemed to have a lot in common and not long after we became good friends. All this while I could not bring myself to tell him about my status believing the right time would come. As we were not having any sexual relations, it didn’t seem a problem. But this was not forever because on his birthday we soon found ourselves in each other’s arms and this happened so fast. I knew what had happened and knew for sure that it was even now going to be harder to tell him.
As each day passed I looked for an opportunity to tell him and hoped that probably he had not got infected. One thing that caused me worry though was when I realized that he was not circumcised. I planned to tell him when I got back from the conference because I felt it would be the right time. However as fate would have it, he usually did a routine 6 months test and this was nothing unusual for him. He was not prepared for what he discovered when he tested HIV positive. Sounds strange but he sent me text and told me to go and take a test. Even at this point he did not believe that I could have infected him.
I had a choice at this point to tell him otherwise but knew probably even in his hurt it was the best time to tell him the truth which I did. It was hard but I sent him a text confirming my status and like anything, his world crumbled. What came after was expected; betrayal, denial. He felt pain like anyone else. He didn’t want to return my calls for almost a week but knowing I was the problem and the solution I didn’t leave him alone. I sent him text messages explaining things and encouraging him. He would reply and definitely ask me why I didn’t tell him because he could have understood. It has not been easy. There have been a lot of tears, but I didn’t give up on him. From crying while holding hands to letting him know that I will not leave him alone. After a while, he told me had forgiven me and what was important was he loved me so much.
I promised myself I had to get him into care because it was the right thing to do. I contacted my medical service provider and told them what had happened. They were supportive and agreed to enroll him. (Its from here that I learnt to appreciate my country for the strides it has taken in providing free anti retrovirals). This too was not easy. It was a journey of excuse after excuse and missed appointments before he finally got himself to the clinic and got enrolled for medical care. I was excited because I knew I had done the best thing for him. However this, too, came with its own challenges. We had up to a point kept this between ourselves, but when he got to the clinic his patient confidentiality was broken when his status was disclosed to some family members. It brought back a lot of pain but because of the love and strength we shared we managed to overcome it. Each day brings with it a chance for a better life.
I have lessons I have learnt along this journey that I want to share;
Some of our religious beliefs I have come to believe will still increase infection rates if they are not changed to cope with the changing world. One religion I will not mention emphasizes no use of family planning methods and strongly advises against CONDOM USE. This is very wrong because many people look up to these spiritual leaders and whatever they preach will be upheld by the followers. Where any other person might have thought of protection first for such people it doesn’t arise. Simon did not think about a condom because it was not his habit since his religion strongly said No to it.
Male Circumcision, I believe to a certain extent reduces the risk of infection. My son’s father was circumcised and for the five years we dated we had unprotected sex but he didn’t catch the virus (I didn't know I was positive and found out when I became pregnant). A friend of mine also infected has also told me about the same with the father of her children. But with Simon because he was not circumcised his chances might have been higher and we didn’t have to do it a second time because one was enough.
Also when you meet someone and you develop a liking for them and see a future in the relationship, please let them know about your status before anything. If they love you, they will still love you regardless. I know that. Simon had an option to hate me because I had probably infected him with the ,but he didn’t. Instead he chose to love me and even told me he probably loves me more because he could not imagine what I had to go through because I always wear a brave face.
The beauty from ashes is that I found a best friend. Someone that chose to love me regardless of what I had done. He is my joy and my confidant and am glad I have him. We laugh together and sometimes cry together and can only hope that we live long enough to tell our story one day. I have learnt to be brave, am stronger and believe a better fighter than I was a year ago. My body is testifying to this because my recent CD4 count was the highest I had since I was first diagnosed with the virus. My (HIV-negative) son is a constant reminder of how far the story has come from.
To quote the greatest statesman; Nelson Mandela “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does feel afraid but he who conquers that fear.”
While sharing this story has not been easy, it is important for me to do so that others might learn from my experiences. Many of us have been infected by those that knew their status, and didn’t tell us….but we need to break down this fear and stigma so that we do not do the same.
Love you all my sisters