Wednesday, 18 July 2007

I am only human

After posting the piece below just this morning, I received information about the death of my friends dad. Tragic road accident. We have been very close families, and I referred to him as daddy when addressing him. Doesn't make my day any better. Well, I wasn't feeling that great to begin with, but now there is a real reason. I have also realised that there are times I will feel great, and there are times I will feel really bad... and it's all part of life. Even really healthy people have their 'bad days', so what makes me think I am any special. I am only human.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

A journey of many turns

It's been a rollercoaster of feelings, thoughts and activities through the night... but that's no surprise. First, a series of earth tremors have been felt in Nairobi since Saturday, leading to a major panic last night with rumours that a major earthquake was imminent. Most residents spent half the night outside their homes (I wonder how life-saving this is). Do understand, we have been blessed enough never to have experienced real earthquakes, just slight tremors so when such news do the rounds, some of us pack up and head to the gates, open fields and some to our folks. Well, that passed and reassurance came through the airwaves this morning.
I did manage to drag my sister to yesterdays AA meeting where she sat through listening to our little chit-chats, saying nothing all the while. I was trying hard to read her mind, without necessarily looking at her. I don't want to fill her with any guilt, and I don't want any mercies, wont want to torment her soul... just want her to understand that we are fine... and we all have each other when here. But, what I expect of her is not what I feel. I feel guilty, and I am on and off in self-pity mode - I can't help it, I just find myself there. My soul is tormented with issues, several issues:
During the meeting yesterday, I met a widow who has been doing a small business to support herself and her three children, she comes for the meeting not for financial support but for moral support. But she woke up to a razed down business... their go-downs had caught fire in the night and everything was gone. She spent the whole day sitting in the yard, contemplating her next step, and soon it was time for the meeting and there she was. Yet, we didn't learn about this by her own contribution, someone in the meeting had learnt of the fire and knew that one of us worked in or around the area... that's how we got to know. There is the grandma with several grandchildren under her care. Yes, she is strong enough to work, but if young, strong graduates have problems getting jobs, where would she head to. Her presence in the room has come to mean one thing to me... food for the kids. Pity it has to come to this. This lady did her job with her kids, brought them up and was done with it. But AIDS has taken her back to the drawing boards, this time it's her grandchilren she has to toil for, only a little late in her life.
As we wound up the meeting, I looked at the mother of three and saw this blank stare on her face. I walked up to her and held her hand, with a very beautiful forced smile decorating my face. I was not in the mood for smiles, to tell the truth, but I was ready to force one if it was going to make a difference. I told her not to worry, that things were going to be alright.
"Will they?" she asked, as if talking to herself.
"Yes, they will. Just hold on to your inner strength." I was glad I was able to spare an equivalent of US$3.00 Believe it or not, this is food for her and the kids for almost a week. She was so grateful and hugged me tight, but I couldn't wait for her to let go and move on, so I could release the burning tears. I eventually left with my sister by my side, parting ways outside. I did what I could. For her. Yesterday. But what happens next week? What happens to the others?
At least I have come to realise one thing, that this is not just a journey, it's not just my journey... it's one heck of a journey with lots of people and issues on the road with me. One minute I have the drive and energy to hit that hill, and I do it with zest to the top, then the next minute I am drawn of all energy and willpower to even take one extra step... that's what it felt like this morning.

Live or die... is it about where you live? No!

I was blog-surfing over lunch and came across various interesting blogs... most full of encouraging messages and it touched me to see people reaching out across the oceans. Then a saying on this blog, texasinafrica.blogspot, caught my eye and won't leave my mind. The quote is by Bono, and goes... "where you live should not determine whether you live or die..."
My mind is now on marathon and I am developing an idea that I hope to share with you in due time. In the meantime, I have just called my sister and asked her to free her evening... I want her to join me in the AA meeting today, just to let her meet my new 'family'. I still feel so elated that I opened out to her and she is by me... I cannot begin to tell the kind of reactions I was expecting. Well, none of the bad stuff. All good right now.
Forgot to mention that I have started on one medication whose name is either too long or technical for me to remember... I am so not used to it that I even forgot it in the house this morning so will have to catch up on the dose in the evening.

It's a Journey of many

I attended yesterdays AA meeting and had a chance to personally meet some of the ladies in attendance. I had heard their stories, and wanted to have a one-to-one chat with someone. After the meeting was wound up, I aproached a young looking woman and introduced myself. She told me she had noticed me on my first meeting, mainly because there were not many young people joining up. True, most were older and elderly women, some here on behalf of their children and grandchilren. I asked Josephine how long she had been attending the meeting and she told me it's been almost an year.
It had been a total 3 years since she had been diagnosed with HIV. She had decided to go for a test after the death of her boyfriend and, as she said, that kind of saved her life as she was now able to take better care of herself in terms of eating and social behaviour. She is still not sure who had passed the virus to the other, but that was beyond her concern right now. She was more interested in living a changed life from what she had before. Before hooking up with her late boyfriend, Josephine was a prostitute in the streets of Nairobi, drawn to the trade by the biting poverty in her home. Infact, she had met her guy in the streets, becoming a regular client and eventually pursuading her to leave the streets and live with him. They had been together for only two years before he passed on. In the second year of their relationship, Tom, her late boyfriend, had fallen ill several times, suffering from a range of diseases before finally getting the famous TB that all AIDS patients are said to have here. It's called 'the famous TB' because TB is almost always what doctors diagnose here before coming up with HIV/AIDS. I am not sure if it is by chance or cover. These days, when someone is in hospital and you explain that it is TB, you are sure to attract some 'oh-no' looks. It's like a sighting of a cloud before the rains... it's when you see smoke before a fire, it's an itch before a sore spot.
Anyway, after her boyfriend's funeral, and knowing only too well about the famous TB, Josephine decided to go for a test and there she learnt that she was HIV+.
I asked her how her family had taken the news and, with a sad look, she said not very well.
"I still can't believe it," she said. "I sold my body out in the streets in order to feed my family and now that I am sick they do not want to see or hear of me." She explained how her father had dragged her out of the house in the middle of the night, after he had come home late and her mother passed the news to him. She is still not sure about her mothers and siblings stand, if they are agianst her out of the fear they have of their father, or if it was a genuine reaction that they didn't want her in their lives.
After learning about this group, it had become her family. Here she gets temporary jobs whenever they are available, or someone to provide a meal when the jobs are not available... it is here that she has found solace amongst those like her... those on the same journey as her.

Sister Love

I am in a state of mixed feelings right now, trying to seive and rid of the bad feelings of self pity, anxiety and depression and keep the good few. But I am alright... I know I will be.
I decided to start breaking my news to my family, one at a time, and being closest to my sister, she was the easiest target to start with. So I called her up and asked that we meet. I was torn between meeting in a private place, so I could cry my heart out if I needed to, and meeting in a public place, so she couldn't cry her heart out if she needed to. Eventually, we met up at a private place. I didn't beat around the bush... went straight to the point.
"I am sick," I told her, and went into detail of what, when, where...
To say she was in shock would be a principal understatement, explaining her denial would sound funny, but telling of her understanding is what warms my heart. She first thought I was kidding, and started to giggle, then told me to stop making fun of such a serious issue. Then she realised I was neither laughing nor smiling... she asked that I go for several other tests at monthly or bi-monthly intervals just to be sure. I told her I was sure of what I was saying and further tests won't prove otherwise.
"But you can't be... it can't be" she said, fighting back tears.
"I am."
"Why you? You are good. You are my sister."
"Who would you rather it be?" I asked her. "And why not me?"
Even I didn't believe I was saying this, but it gave me a chance to be brave and so I explained to her that being in this situation does not and will not making me any worse a sister. That I hope it will only help in making me stronger for her and many other people. I also explained that wishing it was someone else was mean (thought that's what I have been wishing for the last number of weeks, I must confess), and that the someone else has family just like me. Actually, talking to my sister made me see things from a different platform. It was no longer all about me, me and some more me.
"Have you told the others?" she asked, the 'others' being the rest of the family.
"No, I havent."
"Will you?"
"Yes, eventually."
"Do you want me to tell them? When you are ready?"
"Yeah. Just let me know before you do and leave the boy out for the moment." 'The boy' being my son. I needed him counselled and totally prepared. I wanted to be sure that he could live with it and still love himself, and me.
We parted ways after some long hours, not saying much in the final few minutes. Then, last night she called and asked that we have an early breakfast together before going to work. I agreed.
"I realised I didn't say things that I should have said to you the other day," she said to me this morning. "I still love you and will be here for you. Just let me know any time you need me for anything. And never leave me out of anything in your life. We will go through this together."
"Thanks," I said, finally letting go of the tears. I knew she had been thinking about me since we met, and that had given her a chance to go through all I had told her.
I told her about this blog and she said she would go through it.
I have never seen my sister cry so much before, and I felt good about it!

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Office matters.

It's tea break at work, and instead of going for a cup of tea, I've decided to come to an internet cafe for a quick update. My medical file was sent to the senior boss (thank goodness not HR) as required. I had totally forgotten that the organisation has a right to my medical profile, and since it was a company doctor I saw during and after my miscarriage, he was obligated to send the information to the office... attention management. What happened to privacy?
The boss asked that I see him this morning - that was the first call I received the second I sat at my desk. It was like his secretary could see me through infra-red? lights (what do you call vision through walls?) and was waiting for me to sit my bum then whooosh! Rrring! Rrring!
"Morning dear. The boss wants to see you now."
"What about? Do you know?"
"Not a clue. Didn't tell me anything else but to ask you to come and see him."
"Alright. I'm on my way up."
Walked into his office and he had a warm smile... what a smile to start my day... hope it's an early bonus... good old boss, eh?
"Goodmorning Miss. How are we today?"
"Morning Sir. I am fine, thanks." Keep it short... always the advice when speaking to the boss on something you don't yet know (even what you know, just keep it short)
"I will cut to the chase. I received your medical file from the doctor..."
Darkness. My head is spinning. I lean onto the chair and sit. I can;t hear what he is saying. I struggle to stay upright and slowly regain the little lost conciousness.
"...if there is anything the company can do... any way that we could make life easier for you..." he is saying.
I am fully alert now, and hiding a smile. I am thinking... a good increment never hurt.
"Who else knows," I ask him.
"Such information comes straight to me, and I am the only one privy to the file. Not even personnel has access, unless there is a real need or an emergency. How are you handling it?"
"Not very well at first, but I am getting round to it... slowly. Some days I am fine, trying to have my old normal days, others I am just done in."
"You are aware that the company insurance does not cover for HIV/AIDS related illnesses and treatment due to the high costs?"
"Yes, I know. My only request right now is that this information doesn't go beyond your office. I would rather handle my situation my way."
"Ofcourse. Wish you well."
"Thank-you. Have a good day, Sir."
I went back to my desk and spend a minute going through what I had just been discussing with my boss. I didn't think it was right for information as private as my medical situation being sent around to the office in manila envelopes, and I din't think it was the company's business to know anything that it doesn't intend to take care of, but then I felt lucky that the discussion I had just had was all there is to it. I have read about employees being given the sack after being diagnosed as HIV+ and/or AIDS and, anyway, I had agreed to the company terms when I took up my job. Thinking about my son and my own medication, I cannot start to think of taking up legal issues or quitting... we both need every penny and that's just how it is.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Psychic or what?

I was thinking about this earlier today, trying to place my finger on what exactly it's about. The day I went to an AIDS programme office, the lady behind the desk knew that I was there due to personal HIV/AIDS issues. Though she didn't directly tell me so at first, there was no doubt that she knew it was me I was there for. Then, Sunday I go to the childrens home, and the duty manager can just about tell that I have some issues with HIV/AIDS... well, that's why I was in the home in the first place, but for her to know that I was infected... psychic?
Then there was the rude, loud woman receptionist at the VCT center, who knew that 'everyone else was there for the same reason as me'. This one was kind of obvious, for why else would I be sitting/waiting at the reception of a VCT centre? I wasn't passing time or on a tea break, I was waiting to see an advisor who, for my information, is not a financial, relationship or academic advisor. Anyway, so much for trying to get some cover. But, you know what, I don't feel as bad right now that a couple of people picked out my issues. That saved me the agony of wondering where to start from or if to tell them at all. Like the lady at the childrens home... of what good would I be whining about my situation when she had a home full of kids that all needed her attention, mostly orphans, yet I am a totally grown woman with a very healthy son and should take a grip of myself. I want to go back to the home and volunteer. I want to go back and be the mommy the kids are lacking. I want to go back with my son, and introduce him to the world of HIV/AIDS and how other infected and affected kids are dealing with it... have him see how well they are carrying on with life. This might actually be a good starting point, for him to join me on my journey... he still doesn't know, you see.
Back to the psychic... Just how did they know? I guess it's something to do with spending time with people of a certain nature. I guess it's being part of the flock that makes you recognise those in your fold. The spot on my face is just about gone, and I am gaining back the weight that I lost out of stress and worry, so I do not have the basic, obvious signs that would attract undue attention.