Women is...: Positively Romantic

Positively Romantic

I married, when I am 20, complete grandiose hopes for the future. It is brought to family of Chistian, I was ready to undertake my marriage journey, as faithful and submissive wife and enthusiastic mother.

But just three years later, I found out that my husband had been cheating on me. I decided to call it quits and demanded a divorce. We were living in Kisumu at the time and since it had the highest prevalence of HIV infection in Kenya, I was aware of HIV/AIDS. But never for one minute, did I think I was going to be infected because, like many people, I believed that only promiscuous people caught the disease.

A year after splitting with my husband, I found love again. After a while, the relationship took a serious turn and we began to discuss the possibility of having children together. That was in 1994, when we decided to check our HIV status by getting tested. To my utter shock and horror, I tested positive while my boyfriend tested negative. I did not expect this because I was faithful throughout my marriage. I was healthy and had not fallen sick or shown any signs of being infected.

Not surprisingly, I lost all hope in life. I thought I was going to die and so I stopped living. I stopped making plans for my future and no longer had any interest in my job. I even declined a scholarship I had won to study abroad as I didn't see the point. My one constant worry was for my two-year-old son. I didn't know what would happen to him once I died.

Fortunately, my boyfriend remained supportive. He didn't desert me, but gave me the emotional support I so desperately needed at the time. From that experience, I learned that it is very important whom you choose to disclose your HIV status to the first time. That person can either build or destroy you, so it's crucial that they have a positive perspective towards life. Being a lawyer, my boyfriend constantly coached me on my human rights and urged me to move on with my life. We eventually parted and he went his own way, he is now married and has a family. But we remain good friends to this day and I will be forever grateful for his support. He gave me the strength to realize that it was not the end of the world and that my life should go on.

For the next four years after I was tested, we kept my HIV status private. I did not want to tell anyone because of the stigma associated with the virus. In 1998, my older sister, Terry, died of AIDS-related complications and my entire family supported her throughout her illness. Still, I continued to keep my status a secret.

Then while working with Safari Park Hotel, I decided to change my career to suit my needs as a woman living with HIV. HIV has a way of changing one's perspective completely. So I began to network with organizations dealing with HIV/AIDS - in order to learn more about it. For me, knowledge is power.

In order to share my status with others, I first had to learn how to deal with my stigma against myself. People will view and treat you how you view and treat yourself. If you don't appreciate or respect yourself, then others won't. It is very important, therefore, that people living with HIV first take responsibility for their own lives so they can then be responsible for the lives of others.

I was glad to discover that some organizations had risen above the social stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and hired people who were infected. A job turned up at the Holiday Inn, and part of the interviewing process included a medical pre-employment test. When the doctor gave me my results, I told him I was already aware and did not want it hidden from my records. Holiday Inn hired me to be their conference manager in spite of my HIV status.

It took a while longer but I eventually told my family that I was HIV-positive. They were very supportive though surprised that I had known for so long without telling them. They were even more surprised when they found out that my boyfriend knew and was still with me. It gave my brothers a different perspective on how to treat women, especially those infected with HIV. My friends, too, were surprised, learning that I had lived with the virus for so long without telling them and that we had kept hanging out and partying without any of them having a clue.

My life became as normal as I could make it. I continued hanging out with my friends, but I was cautious and knew my limit.

Because I so wanted to work in the HIV field, I took courses in public health from South Africa and in capacity building in sexual reproductive health from the Centre for African Family Studies. In 2000, I won a scholarship to London to study for a post-graduate degree in sociology. And it was here that I met JP, my current partner. Because I was heavily involved with an organization working with HIV, I was quite open about my status. JP knew I was HIV positive when he approached me, and he informed me that he was as well. We have been together now for four years, and I love the special companionship and support that this relationship affords me.