The first time Aminat saw her father shed tears was when she was on admission at the hospital and had just tested HIV positive. During her 24 as his daughter, she had never once seen the old man cry. “When I saw tears drop down my Dad’s eye, I knew I must live for him”.
“Dad cried for over one hour and he had to be consoled like a little baby”, Aminat said. His reaction to her diagnosis demonstrates the level of love that exists between them. That Aminat is alive and strong today can actually be attributed to the understanding and love that her father has demonstrated in abundant measures.
I met Aminat on the set of Lagos Television (LTV) in Ikeja during a UNICEF-organized talk show on HIV/AIDS a few months back. Aminat was part of the entourage of Doctors Without Borders. On first observation, she was a young girl with a lot of determination and focus. She was attentive while the lecture was on and when it was time for her to contribute to the discussion (we were actually examining HIV stigmatization and discrimination in our society), she betrayed no emotions while openly declaring that she had not encountered any serious act of discrimination since she tested positive. The audience was quiet while she spoke, obviously moved by her determination to reach her peers and advise them to abstain from pre-marital sex, which Aminat says is responsible for her present situation. As she explained, “At 25, I am now forced to observe secondary abstinence”. At that point, she lost her composure, but was quick to contain her overflowing emotions.
Aminat’s determination spurred my own to record her story. Her tale could be aminatthe story of any young girl in Nigeria today, but most importantly, she wants it to teach a lesson. I asked why she cried when she talked about her observance of secondary abstinence, and she explained…
February 14, 2004 was Valentine’s Day. The atmosphere was thick with feelings of love. Prior to this day, the air waves were filled with announcements of different programs lined up to celebrate the day for lovers. I was not one to be left out of the fever of love that pervaded the city. I eagerly awaited the day like any 24-year-old and had mapped out my rendezvous. Sadly, I never got to celebrate that day.
I could no longer be part of the celebration because it became compulsory for me to seek medical intervention. I had been feeling extremely weak and could not explain what was responsible. When I managed to get to our physician, he was really surprised that I could make it to him in my condition. He ran several tests. All that came up was that I had signs of pneumonia and tuberculosis. I was emancipated and taken back home. I continued treatments while at home, but had to go back to the hospital when my condition didn’t improve. At the hospital, I began treatment for pneumonia. I never had any premonition that what I actually had was HIV.
I became seriously ill. When Dad saw me, he cried like a baby. I have never seen him cry before. It took awhile before he could be consoled. All this while, I was being treated for tuberculosis and pneumonia. Then there was this man who was at the hospital to see someone, but on seeing my condition he approached us and advised that we do the HIV test. We heeded his advice. On February 14, 2004, Valentine’s Day, the day I had been waiting for, I was pronounced HIV positive.
The knock of death
I actually thought I was going to die, even though I had been a peer educator prior to this time and was enlightened about HIV. But the reality that stared me in the face was overwhelming. When I was told I had tested positive, my worries were more on what the reaction of people around me would be — our neighbors, my friends, the extended family and so on, rather than the disease itself.
All my training was put to the test. I thought the end had come. But I lived. I had a wonderful counselor in Patricia Okoli. Patricia is with the AIDS Alliance in Nigeria. She virtually brought me back on my feet. Before I met her, I had been receiving counseling at the Salvation Army here. In my case, they made things worse as I felt I had been treated like a pack of junk. In my mind, I really wanted to live, if for no other reason but for my Dad who was always there and who remained there for me. These thoughts and Patricia’s efforts bounced me back.
Revealing my status and coping
Before I left hospital, quite a number of my folks knew what had happened. I was however shocked by their display of love. This helped a lot. Even my brother’s wife, who is a nurse, cared for me, as did my elder sister and her husband. I stayed with them at Surulere. Not once did they treat me like an unwanted virus. We ate together, used the same things, ate with their children, the attention was overwhelming. This made it easy for me to open up about my status. The little training I had also came into play. Already, I know HIV doesn’t have to kill me if I do the right things, especially treatment, which I was bold enough to immediately embrace.
The reaction of my best friend, Adebisi Makanju, was really touching. When I told her that I had tested positive, she cried so much and then prayed with me. At the moment, she is doing her National Youth Service in Nasarawa State. She is an angel. Just like my friends at the Yaba College of Technology, everyone knows that I am openly positive and they have accepted me.
The first thing I decided on was that with all the love flowing around me, I would not stigmatize myself. Because I did not stigmatize myself, it was be difficult for people to stigmatize me. Come to think of it, who are the people to stigmatize me? People who do not even know their own status, people who cringe when they hear the term ‘HIV test’? No, no one will discriminate against me, I have decided. I have been lucky, because I have seen genuine cases of stigmatization happen to some of my friends. But what I am saying is that your attitude as a positive person matters in this situation. With the right attitude, you will get along better with people.
There is no denying the fact that I became HIV positive through sex. I told him what had happened to me, but until today he has not deemed it necessary to determine his status. I know this guy likes babes, and only God knows how many girlfriends he’s had after me. I know he had several girlfriends even while we were dating, but you know how it is. After I got well, he actually came back wanting us to continue the relationship. You know, even some guys, when I tell them that I am HIV positive, they hardly believe and still want to get down with me.
My low moments
Sometime I would love to be with someone to share my feelings, someone I can cry on his shoulder and share my mind. I have some close friends, but, you know, it’s a bit difficult. At times like this I feel very down.
What keeps me going?
The love that I get from my Dad and friends, and it’s important I mention Abu Tunde. He is always there, especially when we were trying to come together and form our organization. Also, the fact that in one way or the other I am doing something positive, this has kept me on.
I won’t say I have any regrets. Anyone could actually be in my position. We have all been careless, and the fact that some of us are positive doesn’t mean that some are still not exposing themselves to the same risk factors. We preach abstinence, which is good, but the results of most research point out that young people are having sex. They do it, which is the reality. It is time we change our approach and focus more on safer sexual practices.
I am happy that, prof despite my status, people have taken me for who I am. In November 2005 I met Prof. Wole Soyinka and Uncle Yinka Craig. I was really thrilled to be held by the Professor; I look at my little self, and it’s like the beginning of a new life.
The greatest challenges are the opportunistic infections that you have to deal with, and then the drugs. I hate drugs, and you know, it’s a lifetime thing with the ARVs. Don’t forget HIV is still without a cure. I have had to be treated for tuberculosis before (I was treated at St. Kizitos in Ajah) and then you have to cope with bouts of malaria from time to time. It is different between individuals. In reality, some people who don’t have HIV have more demanding health issues to deal with, and that is where we must realize that HIV is a condition that does not always entail the most hassles.
Aminat and Monisola allow us into the privacy of their lives as they share the daily details of how they live and cope with being HIV positive.
A recollection by Mr. Rasaq Ali (Aminat’s Dad) on the news of his daughter’s diagnosis
Mr Rasaq Ali
She was at Surulere by that time in her mother’s house. I was told that she was sick; I thought it was just an ordinary fever, so I didn’t bother to check her. When I heard she couldn’t walk or stand and that she had been brought to her sister’s house, I went to check her the next morning. I discovered she couldn’t walk; her sisters had spent so much money. When I saw her I was shocked, and do not know when I began to cry. I cried a lot. May God never allow such to happen again.
Q: When you saw her situation, did you ever think of disowning her as your daughter or condemning her?
A: No, I can never do that, although she’s always been a stubborn girl, she’ll go out for two or three days and not return. She went to UI (University of Ibadan) and stopped midway. What I cannot deny is that she is a very bright girl, from childhood, even brighter than her sisters. There is nothing new under the sun and whatever will be, will be. By next year I’ll be 70 years old, but I thank God and I pray that this type of sorrow will never befall me again in my life. The Holy Quran says we should always be thankful.
Q: She said she’s never seen you cry
A: It’s a very sad thing and I had eye trouble, then, I’ve never seen something like that before.
Q: When you look at Aminat now, will you say it’s a miracle or something?
A: Well, it’s the work of God, night vigil prayer here and there, that God should guide us because whatever one does, we should always tell God because everything is not all about money.
Q: When it happened, were people behaving funny?
A: No, nobody did that, even at her sister’s house. She was with her children and she had improved before she came here. In the neighborhood, some people knew while some didn’t know, and those that knew didn’t stigmatize her. This thing is about our mindset; whoever it befalls and has been saved by God, I think the next thing for such a person is to make him or herself happy.
Q: Before it happened to Aminat, had you ever heard of HIV/AIDS?
A: Never. I did not know anything by that name. I don’t know what it is, but I hear it in the news that it is all over the world and also in Nigeria. So one has to be careful, that is why when I go to the barber, I go with my own blade and after I break it and throw it away.
Q: Do you have any fear for her?
A: No, no fear at all. We are now in the hands of God. I have faith in God. I think everything is alright; she should just get closer to God.