From ‘ca­su­alty’ to hero

The Horowhenua Mail - - FRONT PAGE - JOEL MAXWELL

She had sheets burnt after she slept in them, was told she would die, was told she would live, and was part of a his­toric trial against the man who gave her HIV.

On Fri­day, Marama Mullen-Ta­mati had a badge pinned on her chest and was told by Gover­nor-Gen­eral Dame Patsy Reddy that she was an in­spi­ra­tion.

Mullen-Ta­mati, ad­vo­cate, ac­tivist and ed­u­ca­tor for peo­ple liv­ing with HIV and Aids, was made amem­ber of the New Zealand Or­der of Merit at Gov­ern­ment House in Welling­ton.

NowMullen-Ta­mati has shared her mem­o­ries of liv­ing with a death sen­tence, gain­ing free­dom through ex­tra­or­di­nary med­i­cal ad­vances, and the stranger who changed her life for­ever.

In 1993 when Mullen-Ta­mati was 22, Kenyan mu­si­cian PeterMwai spot­ted her in the crowd and made a ‘‘bee­line’’ for her in theWaikanae Ho­tel on the Kapiti Coast.

For the first and only time in her life, she had a one-night stand.

Later that yearMwai was the first per­son in New Zealand to be pros­e­cuted for de­lib­er­ately in­fect­ing sex­ual part­ners, in­clud­ing Mul­lenTa­mati, with HIV.

Mwai was in­tel­li­gent, and in the few con­ver­sa­tions they had, keenly aware of the con­trast be­tween suf­fer­ing in places like New Zealand and the de­vel­op­ing world, Mullen-Ta­mati said.

‘‘I think he wanted a nice, rich Western coun­try like ours to ex­pe­ri­ence what was go­ing on in his coun­try ... he wanted us to know what it felt like. I just ended up be­ing a ca­su­alty of that.’’

Over the years peo­ple have burned sheets after Mullen-Ta­mati slept on them, dumped cups and plates after she ate from them, and ac­cused her chil­dren of hav­ing Aids.

She was given a life-ex­pectancy of 10 years and spent seven of them ‘‘liv­ing to die’’, with­out med­i­ca­tion be­cause there wasn’t any. She could not have chil­dren with­out in­fect­ing them.

In 1999 Mullen-Ta­mati was given new anti-retro­vi­ral medicines that sup­pressed the dis­ease, let her live a full life, and have chil­dren with­out HIV.

She has gone fur­ther than she ever dreamed. For the first 12 years of life with HIV she ‘‘lived in de­nial’’, hop­ing to keep her head down and lead a nor­mal life.

‘‘But I saw some in­jus­tices, par­tic­u­larly with Maori, and I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, I sup­pose.’’

The woman who at 22 wanted noth­ing more than a hus­band, kids and life as a house­wife in Kapiti has spo­ken to the United Na­tions in New York and worked around the world.

Mwai was con­victed and sen­tenced to seven years’ prison for hav­ing un­pro­tected sex with five women, and in­fect­ing two.

He died from tu­ber­cu­lo­sis in Africa after his de­por­ta­tion in 1998.

When Mullen-Ta­mati heard that the man who gave her HIV was dead, she didn’t feel hate or anger.

You have to have loved some­body to hate them, she said, you have to have a con­nec­tion.

‘‘I saw some in­jus­tices, par­tic­u­larly with Maori, and I couldn't keep my mouth shut.’’


Marama Mullen-Ta­mati Marama Mullen-Ta­mati on Waikanae Beach and, inset, with Gover­nor Gen­eral Patsy Reddy in Gov­ern­ment House.

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