HIV/AIDS, that is.
It became too real for me last week.
I remember, during my first trip to Kenya in 2005, wondering where all the AIDS was. I mean, back home in Canada, we had been fed the news that this horrendous disease is killing the masses. Words like ‘epidemic’, ‘catastrophe’, and ‘threat to humanity’ were being used to describe the disease. Celebs were creating clothing lines where profits were going to ‘fight’ AIDS in Africa. AIDS day became a new holiday. As far as I understood, it was a big deal.
So you can understand my confusion, as a naive 17-year-old girl with a heart to save the whole world, when I came to Kenya and didn’t see ‘it’ anywhere. I guess I didn’t really know what ‘it’ looked like.
I began to realize that people don’t walk around with big stamps on their foreheads saying, “I have AIDS!”. It’s actually not easy to point out people who are living with AIDS because often they are sick with very common sicknesses like pneumonia, malaria, typhoid, or even the flu. Because their immune systems are so weak (because of AIDS), those seemingly common sicknesses become life threatening to those living with AIDS. If you meet an orphan whose parent died with AIDS, they will most likely tell you that the parent died of a common disease like typhoid or pneumonia which is true but AIDS played a big part in that.
I am not an expert on the disease by all means but I have learnt some things in the years I have lived here.
Now I know many people who are living with AIDS. Some of them are very near and dear to me.
I even had a doctor tell me once that, if he had a choice between AIDS, cancer, and diabetes, he would rather have AIDS since, with the right treatment, you can have a long and healthy life with it.
However, last week, the reality of this nasty disease became too real for me.
Kelvin got news that one of his friends was ‘sick’ in the hospital. We didn’t know what ‘sick’ meant as that is how Kenyans describe any type of sickness they are feeling. But we quickly learned that he is suspected to have AIDS as a woman, who he was known to have slept with, was in the same hospital dying of AIDS. Apparently, they are certain wards that contain just people with AIDS and she was in one of those wards. Kelvin went to see her and she was already paralyzed on the left side of her body and was unable to speak. I had met the lady just a week before that.
Kelvin went to see how his buddy was doing since his family really didn’t want anything to do with him if he was now infected with AIDS. People still tend to shun others who have the disease, even if they are their own family.
This lady, who was now on her death bed, wrote a list of all the men she had slept with. On this list were several more of Kelvin’s friends and men in the community. After Kelvin got this list, he rounded up these men as well as some other buddies, and they all wen to get tested. Unfortunately, some came out positive.
This is when my heart really started to break for so many reasons:
– a whole bunch of men, some close buddies, all shared the same woman. I think that is pretty nasty and can only imagine how ashamed I would feel knowing my close friend and I slept with the same person.
-a lot of these men, including our friend, are actually married.
-in one day, their lives have dramatically changed because they couldn’t keep it in their pants just once.
-the community probably won’t be so forgiving of them now that they are infected.
-these men may have slept with other women after sleeping with this woman which means that they could have infected a whole bunch of other women. So now they may have to break the news to some women they got all cozy with, that they too need to be tested.
-I kept wondering how this woman, who was dying in the hospital, was feeling after she infected all these men. Did she know she had AIDS? Did she do it on purpose? Maybe she got it from one of them?
– this lady doesn’t have any family around so I think she was dying a sad and lonely death.
The whole situation made AIDS become too real; it hit too close to home.
And my heart was heavy, really heavy.
I asked Kelvin what we can do. He said that the best thing we can do is teach those close to us to be responsible. For me, that means I have a group of young women from that community that I can reach out to to make sure it doesn’t happen to them.
Finally, last night, we got the call telling us the woman died.