When I was young and married I didn’t know much about sexually transmitted infections (STIs). I would sleep with my husband with no protection. That’s how I got HIV.
We were supposed to get tested before we got married, but we were fools with no knowledge. We didn’t even plan to have children. One day, I found out that I was pregnant. Luckily, my child was not born HIV positive. My husband was still faithful, and at the time I knew that I was negative.
When I was pregnant with my second child I did not learn about it until I was 5 months pregnant. They taught people about sex at the clinic, but I didn’t want to go there. My husband was cheating on me now. He had fallen in love with an HIV positive person, and he would sleep with me without a condom.
When I was 6 months pregnant I decided to leave my husband because of how he had cheated on me and betrayed me. I was jobless with no money. I managed to open a spaza shop where I sold sweets and clothes. I would travel to Jo’burg, where I would sleep in Park Station to buy things before travelling back. My journey was long, as I came from Harare.
I tried to look after my child and myself. The money would cover my rent, water and electricity. I could not buy clothes or shoes or book a place for myself at the hospital. When I was 7 months pregnant I said to myself: “My legs are swollen. I must book for maternity. Otherwise I might have the child at home.”
My landlord was very strict about me paying my rent on time, and would not allow for any interruptions in the paying of my rent. When I was 8 months pregnant, my mother came to my rescue. She gave me money to book for maternity. I booked, and was told that I needed to get a blood test. In Harare everything was slow, especially at government hospitals. They taught me that pregnant women could infect their babies with HIV. That’s how I learnt about HIV/AIDS, but I thought I was going to be fine. I gave birth to my son, but he was not healthy like a normal baby. He didn’t grow well and he didn’t like milk. I started giving him solids because he was always hungry, even when he drank from my breast.
A few months later, my father asked me to come home. I knew that things would be easier now, as I would have shelter and food for my children. I started getting thinner and thinner, and then I got sick after weaning my son.
A woman at church adored me at all times.
“Are you well?” she asked. “I am a counsellor at Epworth. Come, I will help you.”
I felt afraid. I asked myself: What if I have HIV? What then? What if my kids are sick too? I decided to go and see the counsellor with my son, as I knew that my daughter was fine. My son would often get a swollen neck when he was growing up.
We arrived at the counsellor’s office. She tested my son and I, and we found that both of us were positive. She referred me to the clinic. I went there for every appointment. I learnt a lot there, but we were warned that rejection would come. I started taking my medicine, and so did my son. We started to get well.
I decided to tell my family, but only my father supported me. My mother said, “You have AIDS. Tjo! That is what you get for being careless.”
I took my medicine and started praying. I attended a church and my faith grew. I was strong and knew that my hope was in Christ. I then decided to open up to my friend, Eunice, thinking that she would support me.
One day, I asked another friend, Patience, if she could plait my daughter’s hair and she agreed. My daughter Suzie and Eunice’s daughter, Saru, went to Patience’s place to get their hair plaited.
“Won’t you get sick from plaiting her hair?” asked Saru.
“Who told you that she’s sick?” asked Patience.
“My Mom told me that Suzie, Roy and their mother are sick,” she replied.
Patience ignored her and plaited my daughter’s hair. My daughter came back angry. I could see that something was wrong. I sat her down.
“What’s wrong, Suzie?” I asked, holding her hand.
“Saru said that we are sick. Does that mean I’m sick too? Is that why you take medicine?” she asked.
I was pained. How could Eunice do that to me? I had told her to support me. She had even told her child that they could catch HIV through anything, even by talking or plaiting hair or sharing plates.
“No my love,” I said quietly. “Roy and I are sick. You are fine. Don’t listen to anyone, my baby girl. Be strong.”
I was hurt. I took my Bible to read. I taught my daughter to ask Roy if he had taken his medicine, even when I was not there. She was supportive towards her little brother. I decided to confront Eunice.
“So, you speak about me to your child?” I asked her. “The children are not even grown up. I told you to support me, not to judge me or reject me.”
“You know children,” she answered. “I never meant it that way.”
I left in tears. My best friend had rejected me, and so had my mother and even my sister.
I would sit down with my children and teach them how HIV is transmitted, and that knowledge is power.
I also taught them that being HIV positive doesn’t mean that I am not human. We are all alike. Never discriminate against an HIV positive person. Who knows, it might also come to you.
Eunice came back to me and we sat down. “You never come to my home anymore,” she said. “I am sorry for what I did. Please teach me about HIV? I don’t know much.”
“I know that you don’t have knowledge, but it hurts when you discriminate against me like that,” I said softly.
“Please forgive me,” she said sadly. “My child is lonely, she has no friends. Suzie was her only friend. Please forgive me.”
I forgave her and we became friends again.
Tell us what you think: Do you think people still treat HIV positive people like this? Is there still stigma and discrimination in our communities?