I found out that I was HIV-positive in 2004. I was not really sick, I just had some swollen glands behind my ears. We checked for TB, but there was nothing. We did other tests as well, and eventually there was only HIV left. The test came out positive. I was 25 years old.
Honestly, at first I was fine. I was HIV-positive but life goes on. Still, it took me about a year and half to actually face the fact that things had changed. I needed to adapt. Since then I think I’ve been growing up.
I’m going to be quite honest now. At 25, I knew what to do in terms of preventing HIV. But coming from a rural, remote village, and being in Jo’burg where everything is happening, everything is new, everything is at your fingertips—it’s difficult to control yourself.
I knew I was doing some things sexually that I was not supposed to, but there was this idea at the bottom of my mind: I have a good job as a technician, HIV is not a risk for me. It’s a risk for them. It cannot happen to me. I mean, I thought that the people most likely to get infected were the uneducated, or prostitutes, those kinds of people. Dating someone who looked nice, who had some basic information, I didn’t imagine I would get infected.
I actually waited until I turned 21 to engage in sexual activities. And then for me to get infected at 25, I felt really ripped off. If I were to go back and do it all over again, I wouldn’t abstain, but I would condomize.
Now, relationships for me are a challenge, because you meet a person, you like her very much, but then you need to disclose your status to her. I always prefer to disclose before I get too attached, to protect myself. Based on my experience there will be some rejection, either indirect or direct. People who like you initially, you know, they just go away.
I like to photograph roads and railway lines because they are a metaphor for life. Life is a journey. It’s up to you how you want to live your life, but there are times when you will be forced to take a turn, or stop. It’s about whether you’re going to say, You know what, I cannot take this direction and therefore I’m quitting, or, I must try and adjust to what’s happening. Because life is all about adapting and adjusting.
I was working as an aircraft technician when I found out about my status, and with time I decided to disclose to my manager at work. I was a bit disappointed when I found out that he told the executive manager without me being aware. I felt cheated. There were about 1,500 to 2,000 employees in the company, and not a single person disclosing an HIV-positive status. If you look at the statistics, I knew that I was not the only person who was positive.
I decided I needed to do something that would make sense to me, and for me that was to meet more HIV-positive people. So I started volunteering and eventually I resigned from my job and got a stipend as a treatment literacy practitioner. For me, being HIV-positive and being in a position where I can empower other people, it’s great. I’m HIV-positive, yet I’m making a huge impact.