In the late 1990s I wanted to purchase a house and was told that I needed to have an insurance policy. When I went to purchase that policy they said, “You need to test for AIDS.” I had the test done, no problem, but when I went to collect the result they said they couldn’t give me the policy because I had AIDS. It was like a bombshell to me. I did not expect it.
I went back to my boss to explain. The people with whom I was working, they started distancing themselves from me. Eventually my employer asked me to leave. The news spread that I had AIDS and my friends started to run away. I didn’t have support from my family. I was chased away from my two children. I had to start another life. I lived alone, without friends. At that time, around the 1980s through the late 1990s, HIV and AIDS were so scary. No one wanted to associate themselves with people with AIDS. Even myself. I could not accept myself as a person living with AIDS.
In the early 2000s you started to see education programs and so on—I think these assisted a lot. Through treatment literacy programs, I learned about the lifecycle of the virus, how the virus operates in your system, how to control it. Me and the virus, we need to have a clear understanding. If the virus kills me today, the virus is going to die. I’ve made a bond with the virus to say, “Spare my life and I’ll spare yours.”
Up until today I’m not on antiretrovirals. My CD4 count is 750. New Ministry of Health guidelines say that ARVs should start if the CD4 count drops below 350. I’ll just wait until the right time comes.
In late 2006 I was facilitating a training for young people with HIV and AIDS, and I met a lady who I’m with currently. And fortunately she’s negative. We are planning to get married sometime this year. I’m going to do whatever it takes to protect her sexually. Condomizing is a challenge. But as people living with HIV and AIDS, it’s our responsibility to protect those who are HIV-negative.
Eventually my children said, “We want our father.” As they grew up, they started to realize how life works. Now they visit me whenever they wish. I tell them, “Any time you want me, just call me. Daddy will be there for you.” So the relationship with them is OK. And with the mother, I told her that I forgive her and I just moved on with my life.
My pictures tell a story of one who is HIV-positive. He was stigmatized, and didn’t receive proper treatment and counseling. At end of the day he realized, “I’m HIV-positive and I’m not going to die because I’m not sick currently. I’m healthy like any other person. Why can’t I rejoice in the life that I’m having, and live positively from today?” The photo of my hand represents the very important role hands play in our lives. They touch, they cook, they wash, they comfort. I want to comfort myself, and I want the very same hands of mine to comfort other people, and give them courage and strength.