In 1998 I was pregnant and had a sickness in my body, so my doctor asked me to take an HIV test. We had already done a lot of other tests but there was no answer. When he diagnosed me, it was very hard. I felt that I was dirty, outside and inside, like rubbish. I didn’t know whom to tell because I was married and I was scared that my husband was not going to believe me or support me. In fact, my husband passed away from AIDS in 2002.
I disclosed to all the family in 2005 after an uncle of mine died of AIDS. They believed he was bewitched. But I told them, “No, HIV is real. I’m living with HIV, and there’s nothing wrong with having it.”
At first when I told my family, my grandmother said to me, “You know what, don’t tell other people that you have HIV.” I said, “Why not, Granny? If I don’t talk about this thing, it’s eating me up inside. If I do talk about it, I’m feeling free and I’m able to live with this virus.” So after a few months she understood what I meant and supported me a lot. Now the whole family knows about my status. My community knows too. And I’m prepared to go on national TV to talk about it. I’m not scared.
I started a support group for women because I felt that I needed to help women, especially those who didn’t have any support from their families. What often happens is that when you tell your husband you’re diagnosed with HIV, he will leave you, or divorce you, or chase you away from home. If we are alone in a room and we are only women, we can talk about everything and we are free to be open about our status and to share our emotions and our difficulties.
It’s better now because gone are the days when people living with HIV were not allowed to be included in the community, in ceremonies. They would stigmatize you, discriminate against you, and be scared of you. But nowadays there are campaigns that show that a person living with HIV is a normal person: he’s your brother, your sister, your lover. Now my community doesn’t have a problem with me cooking for them, even for big ceremonies like weddings and funerals. They love me a lot. Some even tell me that I inspire them.
In 2007, I started to become very sick and I felt that I had to disclose my status to my children, because it wouldn’t be nice if I died and my children would hear from other people that their mother was HIV-positive. So I called my three eldest children together—the other two were still young—and I disclosed to them. They cried a lot, but I told them, “I’ve come to terms with my status, so don’t cry. All I need from you is your support. I want you to love me. Don’t give me any hard time.”
After that they’ve given me all the support that I need, especially last year when I told the younger two that I’m living with HIV. So now they fight to give me the medication when they are around the house. Everyone is like, “No no, it’s my turn now.” They love me a lot and they tell me so every day. And to my surprise, they don’t go to school without kissing me. Everybody wants to come through the back of the house if I’m sleeping, to kiss me. It’s a blessing from the skies.