My story of liv­ing with HIV

Their par­ents told them to keep their dis­tance. It broke my heart. The stigma made me feel deeply iso­lated, writes

CityPress - - Voices - Nkosikhona wrote this story as part of a cre­ative writ­ing class spon­sored by the Katle­hong Lo­cal Aids Coun­cil. For more in­for­ma­tion or to sup­port the coun­cil’s work, con­tact Papi Thetele (pa­p­i­thetele@ya­hoo.com). Fol­low the Katle­hong sto­ries on Face­book, T

‘Makhulu, why am I al­ways sick?” I asked my aunt. She winced and sat me down. It was strange be­cause she never did this. But be­fore she could even an­swer the ques­tion, I asked: “Makhulu, why am I drink­ing th­ese un­pleas­ant things from the hos­pi­tal?”

I was seven years old and in sec­ond grade at In­tokozo Pri­mary School in Katle­hong, and for as long as I could re­mem­ber, I had been a weak child who used to go to and from hos­pi­tal – but I didn’t know why.

My now late aunt would just say: “Nkosikhona, we have to wake up at 5am and go to the hos­pi­tal. You need to be checked.”

Hav­ing to drink medicine ev­ery day and eat­ing all that healthy stuff was a nor­mal thing for me – but un­til that mo­ment, I had never thought to ask why.

Makhulu paused and said: “My child, you are HIV pos­i­tive. That’s why you drink th­ese medicines, and that’s why I have to en­sure you drink them at the cor­rect time and en­sure that you eat healthily so you can get bet­ter and go to school on a reg­u­lar ba­sis like ev­ery child.”

But how? I thought to my­self. I had nei­ther touched an in­fected per­son’s blood with my bare hands, nor shared a sy­ringe. There’s no way, I thought. She was ly­ing and did not know what she was say­ing.

What I did not know then was that the virus had been trans­mit­ted to me by my late mother.

“Why are you sud­denly con­cerned, my child?” Makhulu asked me, look­ing wor­ried.

“It’s be­cause the other chil­dren at school al­ways ask me why I am al­ways look­ing sick.”

“Don’t worry my boy. You drank your medicine, right?” I nod­ded. “Yes. You’ll be fine soon. Next time they ask you, tell them that you’re sick with asthma.”

That’s how I re­sponded to per­sonal health ques­tions from my peers at pri­mary school. I said I had asthma.

Be­cause of my ill­ness, I would of­ten miss school. On the days when I didn’t go to school, I was ei­ther go­ing to the hos­pi­tal or to phys­io­ther­apy. It was al­ways fun at the physio be­cause I played a lot of the time. The phys­io­ther­a­pists liked me and gave me a big pur­ple ex­er­cis­ing ball. I would kick the bot­tom of the ball and it would bounce across the room.

But I missed be­ing in school. On the days when I was well enough to go, I would get ex­cited. My teach­ers would also be happy be­cause I was a quick learner who would an­swer any ques­tion asked in class. The teach­ers knew I was sick be­cause my aunt had ex­plained to them why I was fre­quently ab­sent.

Ms Mathe­bula was my favourite teacher be­cause she al­ways treated me like I was spe­cial, al­though she was very strict. She would ask me to join her for lunch, and con­stantly checked how I was do­ing by phon­ing my aunt when I was ab­sent. She would bring me fruit and make me feel bet­ter. I loved Ms Mathe­bula.

As for the other chil­dren, their re­ac­tions were mixed. Some looked at me with great pity, while oth­ers would just be nor­mal. I liked the ones who treated me nor­mally and I al­ways en­sured that I be­friended them.

But other sup­posed friends of mine shunned me, claim­ing I was go­ing to in­fect them with the virus. Their par­ents told them to keep their dis­tance. It broke my heart and I was filled with con­fu­sion that peo­ple were so wrong about the virus. The stigma made me feel deeply iso­lated.

Af­ter school, my aunt would take me to a com­mu­ni­ty­based fa­cil­ity called Phi­la­futhi, which dealt with is­sues such as HIV/Aids, teenage preg­nancy, or­phans and child-headed house­holds in the com­mu­nity. The fa­cil­i­ta­tors would teach us dis­ci­pline, drama and po­etry. They would also help us with home­work if we had any.

Phi­la­futhi also had spon­sors from over­seas, who would come over on Fri­days and give us good­ies and de­li­cious meals. One of the vol­un­teers, a woman named Ali­cia An­drews, liked me and usu­ally brought some chil­dren’s books and toys from her coun­try, which I played with when I didn’t go to school.

I also en­joyed read­ing the sto­ries she gave me about the fortresses, knights, princes and princesses. They kept me busy at home and I would not worry about school be­cause I was read­ing books at home.

When I fin­ished read­ing a book, I would ask for an­other from Ali­cia. The books gave me com­fort, they be­came my best inan­i­mate friends that I would laugh at, feel pity for, love and learn a les­son from. The hap­pily-ever-af­ter sto­ries in­spired me as I would some­times imag­ine my­self as the prince in the story.

I ig­nored that I was sick. I ig­nored the stig­matic so­ci­ety and the pain of not hav­ing par­ents. Of all the char­ac­ters of the books I read, Aladdin was one of my best friends. It was my favourite book to read when I was sick. This is how I came to love sto­ry­telling, writ­ing and read­ing.

The more I ig­nored that I was sick, the more I got bet­ter and bet­ter. The doc­tors were im­pressed as time went by, and my aunt was happy that I was be­com­ing a nor­mal child. The dark cloud in my life dis­ap­peared, like a shadow in the pres­ence of light. I be­came more con­fi­dent in my­self be­cause I got a chance to live a bet­ter life again.

Since then, many years have gone by. I am now 19 years old and have just fin­ished my fi­nal ma­tric ex­am­i­na­tions. I am an­tic­i­pat­ing good re­sults. Th­ese past years have been noth­ing but a jour­ney of per­se­ver­ance and re­silience. This is my story. Through all I faced in my child­hood – the stigma, con­fu­sion, sick­ness and some­times feel­ing sad – I still held some­thing deep within me: courage and liv­ing a pos­i­tive life (I hope you get the pun!).

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POS­I­TIVE LIV­ING Nkosikhona Kumalo has had to over­come many ob­sta­cles

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