Knowing your status is the start of a new journey

2009-11-13 13:16

A VERY personal thing happened in Cotonou.

I was strutting down a dusty boulevard on my way to painting the town red on a Friday night when I realised I was scared of getting an HIV test the following morning.

That test could potentially change my life, and the fear was kind of paralysing because I knew I had put myself in positions that now had me coming face-to-face with the killer disease – the extension of a lifestyle that people want to write books about. That’s how wild things are.

I was getting tested first thing on Saturday morning. Meanwhile, I allowed myself the only flashback to the sex that brought me to this point: when he removed the condom during sex.

Did you know men have the power to turn sex into something sinister?

I made the decision to gather the calm and grace I have always disdained (I find lady-like virtues a mark of repression), and get on with my fabulous Friday.

I was still the picture of calm and grace – now featuring poise – at the Polyclinique St Michel the following morning. The three giggly nurses/receptionists had the place to themselves when I stepped up to them and announced “HIV test”.

At first they ignored me, then just looked sad. The doctor was reading a book when I went into the consulting room.

I announced my plan to the doctor in French. He told me to head to reception and await further instruction. One of the three nurses took a blood sample. Monday midday is the hour.

The hell of the pre-test anxiety out of the way, I spend the rest of the weekend waiting for a breakdown induced by regret, fear and the like. Nothing. Not even concern about how uncharacteristically calm I have become. Where is my drama?

Sunday night. Still no tears. No bargaining with God. As in trying to pray.

“An old white man gets my pudding anyway! And without paying my bills for it!”

Out came the journal. That’s when sadness hit. HIV and Aids are such old news that people shouldn’t be infected.
That’s a fact.

I live in a continent where the rate of infection has free reign. Because of that, there is information and ongoing conversations about HIV and Aids.

Silent as the billboards are in light of the tsunami that HIV is, messages like get tested, abstain, be faithful and condomise still speak. I’ve heard them all my life.

Yet here I was journaling a thought that was more real than the possibility of being HIV negative. Back at the clinique on Monday, I wait for the envelope with the results.

The doctor wants to give me the results himself.

“Tell him his compassion will be lost on me, please,” I say.

A different and fatherly looking doctor hands the loot. To open or not to open? When and how to, do I come out, do I even have to?

My curiosity gets the better of me. I peek. I chicken out of glancing. Gather courage by way of chanting mantras: outcome is nothing compared to a greater ­reality.

Being HIV positive or negative is the start of another journey. And like all journeys, one can transorm the one against a raging terror to something meaningful or simply waste it, right?

More mantras: it does not ­matter the status, one just has to know it and in that start owning it.

It’s obvious that the virus is way ahead of us in the fight we claim we are in.

Just sharing, staring at the ­results and starting another journey as an African who will no longer forget, not even for a ­second, that the virus is not a walk in the park.

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