LIFE BY LOUIS: My first HIV test - Daily Nation

LIFE BY LOUIS: My first HIV test

Wednesday December 5 2018

I found a testing centre conveniently hidden in a third floor room of a backstreet building.

I found a testing centre conveniently hidden in a third floor room of a backstreet building. ILLUSTRATION | IGAH 

By LOUIS MUIRURI
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I have noticed that there are always many activities on World Aids Day, marked every December 1.

The activities range from low-budget roadshows featuring acrobats and traditional dance troupes, to the high-end conferences in five-star hotels where panellists drop big words and read from thick journals.

But one of the activities that catches my interest is the free HIV testing and counselling sessions, mostly held in makeshift tents in various public places.

On this day the voluntary counselling and testing centres keep their doors wide open and bring out the best counsellors, beautiful ushers and the latest testing equipment.

They also go ahead to offer informational booklets, and from the more generous ones you are likely to walk out with a packet of male contraceptives.

HIV TEST

I am aware that voluntarily walking into such a centre is an elephant of a task for some of our young people, therefore you need to start the preparations early by scouting for a safe centre well in advance.

If you have never been to such a centre, I want to encourage you and demystify some of the misconceptions that you may have had regarding the activities therein.

I am talking from a point of personal experience.

I migrated from my village in Matimbei when I was joining an institution of higher learning in Nairobi, which recently hosted the blue economy conference.

At some point after staying in the city and engaging in extracurricular activities outside the lecture hall, I decided to know my status.

Because I do not want to be investigated by the relevant domestic authorities on these activities that I engaged in, let me clarify here so that I remove all doubt.

Those days the myths surrounding HIV were as diverse as they were ridiculous. Some of the activities that we were told could put us at grievous risk were sharing spoons and cups in the vibandas, being bitten by a mosquito or sharing bathrooms in the hostels.

Since I had engaged in these activities in one form or another, I considered myself as highly exposed.

FEAR

I needed to identify a safe testing centre where there was almost zero risk of being spotted by someone from my village.

My fears were based on the fact that they were likely to go back home and spread a rumour that I was spotted in a medical facility that deals with critically ill people, and I was likely to face stigma when I returned to the village.

I walked around Githurai and finally found a popular centre whose name suggested an association with Liverpool football club. It was conveniently hidden in a third floor room of a backstreet building.

On day one, I walked around the building 10 times then placed myself strategically across the street for five hours monitoring the building’s entry and its surroundings for any familiar faces or suspicious activity.

On day two, I went back and this time I climbed up the stairs. I didn't get into the specific room that was painted a deep purple and had purple ribbons hanging from the door.

Instead, I stopped two doors away where I made a hopeful tailor take my measurements for a suit. I was not interested in suits; I was keeping an eye at the centre, looking at the faces of people coming in and out, trying to pick out any signs of fear or uncertainty.

On day three, I popped into the centre and pretended to be lost. Everyone wore branded polo shirts and they were all eager to welcome me with pleasant smiles. Halfway through the initial pleasantries I lost my confidence and went off my initial script.

I asked the receptionist if they sold broiler chicken feeds and shock absorbers for Audi cars. Meanwhile my eyes roved, looking for potential show stoppers.

D-DAY

I spotted a light-skinned counsellor with a thin waist and generous hips, and I instantly concluded that she was going to be my preferred person for the current engagement. Even under such duress, my youthful hormones still raged in my veins and my taste for fine things in life was intact.

I gave myself a four-day break to recover from the initial shock of entering the centre, then I called myself for a meeting where I resolved to pursue the agenda further.

"What brings you here?" the woman with a benevolent smile and thin lips asked me.

"I was bitten by a mosquito and I believe that it is an insect of loose morals. I suspect that it has infected me".

I only felt the stupidity of my answer after I had uttered it. She was unmoved; she must have been used to worse theories.

She lightened up my mood by pulling out a demo male organ and demonstrating how to clothe it with a male contraceptive. She was emotionless, just like a mother showing her children how to tie shoe laces.

"Is it possible to replicate that in the dark?" I asked just to appear relevant.

My untested understanding of the process involved putting off the lights, removing the main fuse and tripping the estate transformer, under the blanket, and with eyes closed just to be sure.

She said it is recommended to wear the contraceptive with lights on. I almost jumped. I was still single and was asking for details regarding engaging in sin against the teachings of my catechism. Conducting sin with lights on was going to push my luck too close to the everlasting fire of hell.

There were a few more lessons from the counsellor. One contraceptive at a time; safe opening and rolling down techniques; safe removal and disposal; don't put the pack in the back pocket; no recycling.

She blessed me with a big packet – maybe I struck her as person who had aspirations of being busy.

After softening me with a few other light moments, she asked me if I was ready to proceed with the test. My submission came naturally, she had in the one hour managed to break down all my inhibitions and demystified all the raw ideas I had about the topic at hand.

The rest of the details are for you to find out when you visit the centre near you.

I can only guarantee you that there is nothing inside there to fear. And knowing your status gives you a lot of freedom to make informed decisions.

Jua hali yako.

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