27 December 2011

Kenya: Listen, Your Moment of Truth Is Knocking


Turning a new leaf - to a new year, to be specific - always brings back memories, mostly sad, about the tough times I had when I tested positive, and it seemed like every single day was my last.

I have already told you that when, a quarter of a century ago, in August of 1986, I was rudely informed that I had "Aids", my life went into a tailspin.

In those dark days, they did not even have the decency to tell me I was HIV-positive: it was Aids. Period. I was given six months to live.

So, at a time like this 25 years ago, I believed, wrongly, that I had only two more months to live. Therefore, I could not see the big deal about the New Year, resolutions, and all the festivities. As far as I was concerned - and because I did not know any better - I was dead and buried, although my heart, barring the times it missed beats when I stressed myself out, was just as normal as the next person's.

It was only much later, after the New Year of 1989, or thereabouts, when I realised that, if I survived past those six months when I was supposed to die, I would survive other months, even years. I only needed to take it one day at a time, live each day like it was my first and last. I am not saying it was easy. Nothing is easy. But it was either that, or suicide.

Living one day at a time means, for instance, taking my medicines when I should take them, everyday, without fail. Getting one's CD4 count up, or having an undetectable viral load, is like losing weight. There are ups and downs - downs, mostly - but adherence is the operative word. Each day I have to do whatever needs to be done - side effects or no side effects - and it is only through these little steps that, finally, I will find that I have got to the end of the year, and God willing, my CD4 will have something positive to show for it.

Living one day at a time does not mean that I throw all plans, and caution, to the wind and let fate take its course. Before I tested HIV-positive, there were some things that I planned to do, then the virus came and upset the applecart.

After I regained my life - or what was left of it - and got back in the groove as far as living positively was concerned, I started making long-term plans. Initially, I told nobody about them because back then, if you were HIV-positive, you were considered to be as good as dead.

Later, as I got to successive New Years, I was a more optimistic woman and I actually started confiding in some bosom buddies - who were also living with HIV - about my dreams.

However, I realised that, for a woman living with HIV, the glass ceiling is made of extra-tough material, and turning one's dreams into reality can take an entire lifetime, hacking, and hammering at that ceiling. Until something earth-shattering like being told that you have six months to live happens, and it gives you a reality check, most of us waste time without even thinking twice about it.

My moment of truth was when I was told that my days were numbered, literally. For some women, their moment of truth is when their husband abuses them and, after giving them time to change, they realise that, if they stay a moment longer in the relationship, they will sign their death warrants with their silent conspiracy.

I was reading about the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, whose moment of truth was, most probably, the diagnosis with a cancerous pancreatic tumour and his doctor telling him, with the best of intentions, that he did not have long to live.

In his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, Steve Jobs helped to put things into perspective: "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

Happy New Year!

This is the diary of Asunta Wagura, a mother-of-three who tested HIV-positive 24 years ago. She is the executive director of the Kenya Network of Women with Aids (KENWA).

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