I decided to go back to school after I got fired from Barclay’s Bank because of my status. I was diagnosed in January 1988. My daughter was breast feeding at the time. I just got sick, and went to one doctor, another one, and another one, and it wasn’t getting better. And so eventually the last doctor decided, “Let me test for HIV,” and I was HIV-positive.
Of course, when I was diagnosed I was extremely resentful. I was mad at the world, “Why me?” Because my husband gave it to me. I was the “good wife” who just stayed at home. When he was sober he was the sweetest of men, but when he drank he became violent, and, you know, usually would demand to have sex, so I guess what I experienced was rape in marriage.
And then he died, in 1990, World AIDS Day – ironical. And once he died I just realized, “I’m all by myself,” and my in-laws were stigmatizing. Essentially they felt angry because we had brought this shame to their home. I didn’t get any support, so I was angry at them, too.
But I looked at my poor babies and I said, “I gotta live for these kids. Dying is not an option.” At the time when their father died, one was five – that’s the boy – and then the girl was three. I had to be healthy, I had to keep living, it didn’t matter what it took. So my kids are what has led to my being here today. We’re very close. We’re really tight.
I really felt, I guess, at a loss when my kids left home. That was probably part of the depression that came to be. I retired from the UN about two years ago. I was at a crossroad and trying to figure out, “So what’s gonna be my next target? What’s gonna keep me alive?” My daughter, who’s very supportive, is like, “Gotta set yourself another goal. You’ve gotta see the grandkids. You’ve gotta see us finish school.” So I guess she set the next goal for me.
You get tired. Every so often you get sick, and then it’s lonely. And I’m working in Africa, my kids are here [in the US]. So that was another really big, big choice. I knew I had a lot of international experience, so it would be easier to get work in Africa. But then I didn’t have my support system. I didn’t have my children. So, I’ve been really see-sawing back and forth, do I come back, don’t I come back. It’s just a very lonely, lonely road.
At some point I know I’ll come back. Unless I get married to… someone really special. Which I haven’t found yet. I’m looking. It’s been difficult. I mean, you get so tired of the whole disclosure thing. And then, I have this tendency to meet very young men, which just doesn’t work out.
And I have been in relationships where, you know, they’ll say initially, “I don’t mind that you’re positive,” but then, you know, when you get into it and you get intimate, and it’s like they touch you like you have cooties. So it doesn’t really work very well. You have the age, and then I have also the HIV, which is sort of like a double negative.
We sort of make light of it, but deep down you’re really lonely. And I know everybody is, but I think dating for us is that much harder. I want to get somebody who’s intelligent, who is educated, who is self-made in the sense that he’s got his money and everything else.
A lot of people who are earning a good income, or in a good job – professional and educated and all that, all the kind of people you are looking for? Would not be out. And for me, I didn’t really come out. Somebody found my story and, I think, maliciously, just decided to plaster it in the paper.
I just bury myself in work. I have done so much, perhaps because of having this disease. I probably went to school in half the time that most people would have gone to school. And my sister used to tell me, “God, it’s like you’re driven! There’s a devil chasing you!” And I’m like, “No! Gotta finish! Gotta finish! My aim is to get into the UN! Gotta get into the UN!” Now I’m outta the UN. And it’s like I’m always doing these things in a frenzy.
But, you know, in the recent past I’ve realized, look, you gotta slow down and enjoy life. Smell the roses, smell the coffee. So, it’s a beautiful time because I’ve lived this long, I’ve got wonderful kids, and I have the capacity to earn a living, not through telling my story – because that’s what I used to do. I’m no longer, I don’t call myself an advocate. I’m able now to actually teach, I teach at the University of Nairobi. And I also work with a USAID contracting agency. So I feel very good about the fact that I don’t have to be formally employed. And this other business that I’ve started for food delivery shows me that I can become a business entrepreneur.
It’s a blessing, having lived for all these years, and I know I have a whole lot more to live. So, there’s just so much going on. There’s just so much to look forward to. Life is good! Beautiful! Yeah, and I might still get that special person, I’m thinking…