Do you dream of living and working abroad? Well, which Kenyan does not?
However, before you book your flight, you need to get things right, especially if you are living with HIV.
In 2004 Jonnie* realised that with all his certificates, he could not get a job in Kenya, so he resorted to what we call juu chini”— moving heaven and earth — to travel abroad in search of greener pastures.
“I travelled using a visitor’s visa. However, I hurriedly got married so that I could stay,” Jonnie told me.
Before he left Kenya, he knew that he was HIV-positive, but did not share this information with his new wife.
The marrying part was, in my view, not wrong. It is the hushing up of such a serious matter that is wrong.
He told me that he thought he could buy time and play cat-and-mouse with the virus, but this did not happen. He had planned to marry, then divorce shortly afterwards.
“This way, I’d get to stay in the country for as long as I wanted without fear of getting deported, and also avoid ruining some else’s life,” he explained.
But his new wife had other plans, plans of them living together happily ever after.
After the wedding, she wanted to know how soon they could start a family. His hesitation did not work and one thing led to another and before long, they had two beautiful children.
Jonnie even got a job and was able to support his family. Then his worst fears became real.
His health started to deteriorate and concerned, his wife advised him to go to hospital. He downplayed his illness until herpes zoster struck, affecting the left side of his face.
“It was so painful that I didn’t care to hide my status anymore as long as I got treatment that would stop the excruciating pain.”
At the public hospital, Jonnie was informed that he not only had an opportunistic infection, he was also HIV-positive.
He feigned ignorance and pretended that he was hearing this for the first time.
“Scared, my wife also demanded to know her HIV status. Fortunately, she tested negative. As we sat there, the doctor made some phone calls, which I didn’t pay attention to, immensely relieved that my wife was HIV-negative,” he told me.
He was in the process of trying to figure out how he would handle their discordant situation when police officers burst into the doctor’s room, where he was waiting for his medication.
They informed him that they were under instructions to take him to the airport, where he would take the next available flight back to Kenya.
They would not listen to his pleas to reconsider, explaining that he had a family that depended on him.
When he got back home, he lied to his family that he had returned to take care of some urgent business and that as soon as he was done, he would go back.
He would leave his parents’ home early in the morning and spend the day visiting one hospital after another, trying to get treatment for his opportunistic infections.
Not once did he inform those who attended to him that he was HIV-positive.
One doctor proposed that Jonnie take an HIV test, but he refused, lying that he had done it the previous week and that it had been negative.
Meanwhile, he was losing weight drastically and was constantly sill. Finally, he admitted to his father that he had been deported because he was sick.
“Unfortunately, I came clean after my parents had sold whatever they could to get me cured so that I could join my family abroad.”
Jonnie never regained his health. By the time he came to KENWA, he was in the last stages of the disease.
Even anti-retrovirals could not save him. A week later, I was informed that he had died.
If you are HIV-positive, you can learn from Jonnie’s story. Denial is not the solution. Accepting your condition and seeking treatment will buy you a long life.
Also, come clean with your loved ones and do not deliberately expose anyone to the virus.
Before you travel abroad, find out what treatment is available in that country. If, for instance, ARVs are not available or too expensive, then you are better off here at home.
You would rather suffer at home, where you are appreciated and will not be treated like a terrorist because of your HIV status.
Even if we do not always choose to be in the difficult situations we find ourselves in, it is important to accept irreversible truths and facts.
Only this way will we be able to move on with our lives.
This is the diary of Asunta Wagura, a mother-of-three who tested HIV-positive 25 years ago. She is the executive director of the Kenya Network of Women with Aids (KENWA). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org