the faces of HIV

This was a most unusual week at the RESAEC office.  There was nothing typical or ordinary.

On Wednesday morning, a 30 year old woman arrived, accompanied by a friend.  Over her traditional pang outfit, she wore a long flowing white shawl that covered her slight frame and light skin.  She sat quietly at first, letting her friend begin the conversation.  The exchange, though in Fulfulde, seemed easy to comprehend:  she had taken a voluntary HIV test and it had come back positive.  Now what?

A soft-spoken and kind faced woman, she struck me as a quiet spirit.  She provided a bit of information about herself: she comes from a small village, has little education, has a child at home and still lives with her father.

Did she knew who would have been the source of the infection? No..  The meaning behind this is multi-fold:  she’s had multiple partners and could have been infected by any one of them. She could have infected any one of them too.  There is no place here for judgement.  This is reality.  In fact, this is her new reality.

Later that same day, as I waited patiently, holding the fort at the office, for another new client of ours – a young woman – to visit.  She’d been referred to us over the weekend – shell- shocked by the result of her HIV test.  The coodinator’s expert counselling helped re-centre herself and she’d gone back that morning to take the test again – to be sure.  Just a week before, we’d sent a young man to get a third test as it seemed the first two had contradicted each other – one had been a false positive, the other negative.

When she arrived, I saw her face and just knew.  The result was positive.  Again.

At 18 years old, she’s the youngest of the P+ (HIV positive people) we consider our beneficiaries.  Walking into the office wearing her pink Women’s Day outfit, she should have been the image of youth claiming power over any future she desired.  Instead, she looked devastated and broken.

Though the details of her story will likely emerge in the weeks, months and years to come, the highlights suffice to understand the complexity of this side of HIV transmission.  Like many people her age, attending school is her main occupation.  But for her, this came with a twist.  She was infected by her “sponsor” – an older man – who, in exchange for sex, financially contributes towards her education.

Skip ahead another day – she returned to the office briefly and I was glad to see her.  She didn’t look happy, but she seemed settled.  She’d be OK – she’s strong.  She knows she has a place she can go to now where there is no stigma, no judgement.

That place is called RESAEC.

I had felt helpless the day before and had been troubled by my own response to her situation.  This time, however, I felt settled myself.  She’d come back to seek more assistance which told me she’s a fighter.

Atta girl!

Later the same day, a young man in his 20s arrived at the office.  He was looking for the Coordinator to get a referral to get an HIV test.  It was quite unfortunate that I couldn’t help him.  He asked if we had condoms. We’d pulled some out when the other client came through to ask if she wanted some, so I found the package and gave it to him.  This much I knew: it takes a boatload of courage to ask for an HIV test, but it must take an even more guts for a young man to ask for condoms of a foreign, and old/married woman!!!  He doesn’t know his status yet, but his ready to protect himself and his partner.  I can support that.

As it turns out, I handed out the last package of condoms and our organization doesn’t have the funds to get more.  Right now we don’t have funding to pay for the HIV tests, the CD4 tests or to help support those who don’t have the means to pay for the anti-retrovirals.  But somehow my counterpart – the Coordinator – makes it happen.

This was an unusual week, granted, but I’m glad we’re actively looking to develop sustainable programs to assist people living with HIV-AIDS.

After all, these are just a few of the many faces of HIV.

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~ by Caroline Spira on March 19, 2010.

One Response to “the faces of HIV”

  1. I was very moved by your blog. How sad it is for the people of Northern Cameroon, where so many basics are lacking—-and then this has to happen, and to one so young. I admire your courage in giving support.

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