In 1999, I had a breast infection so I went to Baragwanath Hospital. They did all the tests and found that it was untreatable. The doctors suggested I do an HIV test. The results came back HIV-positive.
It was difficult, but I disclosed to my family the same day I got my results. The whole family is very rich in love and support. And now I’ve become a role model to them. They refer their HIV-positive friends to me when they need information. “My cousin is also positive, and she’s living openly with her status. She can help you.”
After I disclosed to my family, HIV became a normal topic at home. When my son was seven years old, I told him. We are very open with one another and he’s supportive of me—he even reminds me to take my treatment. On Saturday mornings, we have our time where we sit in bed together and reflect on the whole week. He gives me a will to live, to fight, and he always makes me smile. We laugh together. We cry together. Still, at times I feel like there’s too much on his shoulders because of HIV.
I find inspiration in my church. After I learned about my status, I went to church and found my true identity, that I am made in the image of God. But my church doesn’t address HIV, though I have fought for years that they need to do something. They are not making room for people to talk about it. It’s a no-go zone. A lot of people are running to other churches—it’s a challenge we are facing. The church leaders are in denial of the fact that they are leading dying churches. Even the Bible says, “My people are perishing because of lack of knowledge.” We want somebody who will tell you there is a God who will help you with what you’re going through, but they talk about God in general without addressing HIV.
In 2001, I got a job doing HIV management that offered to buy my ARVs. At the same time, I started experiencing discrimination and stigma. I was treated differently from other employees . They couldn’t put me on their employee insurance because I was HIV-positive. In 2008, I joined a new company, where I was promoted to the position of prevention coordinator. A lot has been done around treatment but not as much as has been done about prevention, and I’m tired of hearing about people getting infected every day. When I make a difference in somebody’s life, it makes me feel like a bigger person.
A part of me died when I became HIV-positive. That’s the part about being a woman, about being able to have a husband and a fully functional family. That died. But even with the pain and the sadness that comes with HIV, there’s always hope in the support of people who are full of life. I always remember my aunt who said, “When you feel like crying, you need to cry. Cry until you don’t have tears anymore. And then just look yourself in the mirror, wipe those tears, and move on.” That’s how I cope at times. I cry the pain out and ask myself, “Why am I crying? There’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t heal it. No one can heal it. So why cry about it?” And then I wipe my tears and, voila, I’m back. I’m myself again.