“It is bad enough that people are dying of AIDS, but no one should die of ignorance.”
- Elizabeth Taylor
I was diagnosed HIV positive when I was 22 years old. It came as a shock. It’s not that I didn’t know what HIV was. I did. It was always a topic of conversation in our household. Ma worked in a hospital that cared for TB patients; a majority of whom were HIV positive. She would come back heartbroken about how a young people were dying right before her eyes. She would then redirect the conversation to me. It was an instruction more than anything else. “Pray for your partner. Ask God to guide you to someone you will spend the rest of your life with”. With this, I vowed I would stay a virgin until I was married.
See, I was never told how my prince charming would look like. So, when I met the first man that told me he’s intentions were to marry me, it was clear that this was finally what I had been waiting for. He said I should give him two years to finalize all his things. After which, he would send his uncles to my house and officially ask for my hand in marriage. I was 21 years old. He was 23.
I had been what society deemed as the “good girl”. I never did anything against what my mother told me. I went to school and went straight home. I did the same when I started working. I went to church every Sunday. I didn’t go to parties. I didn’t drink or smoke. I had been obedient all my life and as a result Ma would often say, “surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life”.
Two years seemed like a long time. It was especially hard because I was already emotional enticed with thoughts of intimacy. I started negotiating with God. “Technically, he was my husband. It was just a matter of time. Everything else that follows are formalities”. Deep down in my heart, I knew my reasoning didn’t make sense. I knew the decision I had made went against everything I had believed in. I believe God gave me several signs to change mind. One of those signs was the surprise of my periods arriving a few days before I had planned to lose my virginity. I had never taken contraceptives pills before. It must have been excitement because I didn’t listen to how the doctor instructed me to take my pills. As a result, I started bleeding heavily. That didn’t even stop me. I had made up my mind. Without any condom or any other preventative measure, I went ahead and lost my virginity. I would continue to have sex in this manner for months to come.
It would take a random test at work, during a wellness day campaign, that would change my life forever. I was HIV positive.
It took me 6 years to share my story. I am often asked, “What would you like people to take away from your story?”
It is without a doubt that we still experience several challenges in dealing with the HIV pandemic. Despite efforts to make treatment accessible to everyone, we still have areas that run out of medication. We still have children born HIV positive. South Africa, in particular, has one of the highest rates of people living HIV in the world. Despite all the medical advancements that have been made, why do we still have new infections?
I want to take it back to Elizabeth Taylor’s quote, “It is bad enough that people are dying of AIDS, but no one should die of ignorance”. I could never talk much about others but can only reference my own story. I was naïve. I was ignorant. Despite being affected by HIV, through family members, it was the last thing I could have thought for myself. “HIV happened to people who slept around”, I would often say. I wasn’t sleeping around. I was sleeping with one person. So, why would I worry myself about being infected with HIV? The “I have been a good girl all my life” mentality had prevented me from protecting myself. For that reason, I put my life at risk, and I got infected.
But even when I discovered I was HIV positive, one would have thought that should have been enough to stop me having unprotected sex and start taking care of my health. I didn’t. I was focused on not losing my partner that I didn’t insist when he asked us not to use a condom. I agreed. My doctor had warned me about re-infecting each other. When it happened the first time, I was scared I would wake up the following morning dead. But I wasn’t. I was still perfectly fine. That seemed like more motivation for me to continue putting my life in danger, under the notion, “Nothing would happen. I’m fine. We are both fine”.
It is this mentality that has continued to increase the number of young people getting infected every day. It is this mentality that has continued to increase the number of young people that die from HIV because, “It could never be me”.
As we celebrate yet another World Aids day, may it be a reminder for you to continue taking care of yourself.
If you are HIV negative,
- Stay committed to one partner
- Test regularly
- Use a condom
If you have tested positive for HIV,
- Start your treatment
- Use a condom every time you have sex
- Make sure you continue to test, to monitor your viral load and CD4 count
- Stay committed to one partner
We have come way long way. HIV is no longer a death sentence. With new research presented almost every day, I do believe that we will get to a place where we claim a “Free HIV generation”. But we need to remember that it all starts with us. It starts with us.
My name is Nozibele Qamngana Mayaba. I’m 29 years old. I’m living positively with HIV and #IAmStillMe
Please follow this link to read a Sunday Independent article about Nozibele on World Aids Day: https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-sunday-independent/20191201/281513638013928