Aminat Oladejo has two things going for her, her spirit and the love and understanding of her husband. For a man who is not too lettered, her husband has been able to demonstrate unflinching understanding and support for a wife who was going to give him his first baby, and now HIV positive after loosing the child. He resisted the pressure from the extended family to drive her out, especially as she is believed to be wayward. His demonstration of support was what gave her back her life. This feat is rear in our society, and today they are both happy together. The husband till today still test negative to the HIV virus.
Looking at Aminat, you’ll see a woman full of life. She’s so confident and focused. She’s carrying another baby now, and hopefully will deliver anytime soon. With her bulging stomach she still finds time out to counsel people who have been referred to their support group. The question on the lips of many that comes in is whether she is positive or not. Her attitude is encouraging and her spirit commendable. During our chat, she told me how she was able to overcome the initial setback occasioned by her testing positive to HIV three years ago; and how they are both coping being discordant couples.
Q: What is your name?
A: My name is Aminat Oladejo, but people call me Aminat Virus because of my HIV status.
Q: Do you like the name?
A: Am indifferent.
Q: When did you test HIV positive?
A: I got to know in 2001. I was pregnant then and usually they just carry out the test on all intending mothers. I wasn’t going to do the test initially; it was one of my friends that encouraged me to do it. She said if I did not do it they wouldn’t take my delivery. After the test, it came out positive. I was looking at them like an outcast as if I didn’t belong to the society anymore. From what I’ve heard on television about HIV, you know that it kills and has no cure, no drugs and nothing. So I just begin to think about my death.
Later, someone introduced me to a group where I met different people with HIV, beautiful women and men. I began to see things differently, and then I realized it wasn’t the end of life. I was coping with the virus but whenever I go to the hospital the nurses stigmatize me, they just look at you as if you are not human, and I developed an attitude that it is their problems.
I didn’t get any counseling, so I couldn’t do anything until I had a miscarriage. I haven’t the gut to tell my husband that I had tested positive to HIV. I was on the sick bed so I told the nurse to write a letter to my husband to go and do his own test but that they shouldn’t put HIV but retro-viral test. They did and his test came out negative.
Q: When you tested positive, you didn’t tell him?
A: No I didn’t, even myself, I didn’t know what the virus is. There is a saying in Yoruba which says that anyone who wants to talk should at least know what he or she wants to talk about. So I didn’t know what the virus is, I didn’t even know how to say it. So I didn’t tell him, I was just weeping.
Q: He didn’t ask why you were crying?
A: He did, but he thought it was because of the miscarriage I had. He consoled me that God would give me another child. So I told him I wanted to go back to my parents, that I wasn’t interested in the marriage anymore. Then he said having a miscarriage is nothing, but I told him I don’t want to continue with the marriage, that I wanted to go back to my mother in Ghana. He pleaded that I shouldn’t go but in my mind I was thinking that even if I will die, I should die where my mother is.
You see, I had changed. I was no longer happy, I became withdrawn. My husband’s family members were encouraging me to meet with my husband to get pregnant again. You know, they thought it was the issue of the miscarriage. Even my husband, whenever he wants to make love to me, I refuse him. Then one day he asked why, and I told him even if we will make love we must always use a condom. He was concerned about how I will be pregnant if we use condom. I told him that when I am ready to get pregnant again we wouldn’t be using any.
I was finding it difficult to tell him and at the same time I don’t want to infect and I was also scared that when I get pregnant again the baby might be infected and I might lose my life too.
Q: So, how were you able to tell him?
A: One day my husband took me out because he felt that the environment was the problem. He took me to a restaurant, after which we went to a joint. He then asked me to tell him what the problem is. He was worried about my attitude and concerned that I was not making him happy. I saw the pain in his eyes, and then I told him that doctors said that I have one ‘kokoro’ (virus) in my system, and that the kokoro needs me to take N30, 000 worth of drugs every month. I was surprised at his calm and understanding. I told him that was the reason I told him we must use condom, then he said no problems. When I brought my drugs home, he started reading the instruction on it, he asked that is it because of HIV that I said I wasn’t interested in the marriage anymore and I said yes, so, he now asked that what if he was the one that has the virus, that will I just abandon him? He told me about his friend that has diabetes in their office and that he is still living so why must I kill myself. He said I shouldn’t allow it to break me, that all I needed to do was just to give thanks to God.
Q: Did he ask you where the virus came from?
A: No, he just took it in its stride.
Q: Who was treating you then?
A: I was receiving treatment at a private clinic. The doctor was nice to me, he introduced me to counseling, and it was then that I got to know more about HIV/AIDS. Even at times my husband will follow me to our support group meeting. He is negative till now.
Q: When you tested positive, were you placed on drugs?
A: Yes, my viral load was high and my CD4 was very low. I am number 24 on the federal government program in Oyo State.
Q: Aminat, tell me, what will you say is responsible for the way you feel now, the way you look; you are really beautiful and radiant?
A: It was my husband. He told me that people usually have different types of sickness like malaria, that if it is not treated well it might kill. So he made me understand that HIV was just like any other sickness that one can live with.
Q: What gave you the courage to go open?
A: It was my husband that gave me the courage. There is this program on radio every Thursday and the program is “LABEEGI” (Under the tree). He loves the program. He then encouraged me to go open on the program, but most people still do not believe me.
Q: You are a very lucky woman. Tell me, how has your family been able to cope?
A: The family did not know before, but later, they knew. At first, his family wanted him to leave me, but he said never, he loved me. He told them he did not know what the new wife he will marry will have. The family said I must have been a prostitute when I was young but my husband still stood by me. Now, everyone has accepted me and we are all happy.
Q: How is life with the drugs?
A: Life with the drugs is okay with me, without the drugs I don’t know what I would be saying now. I am coping fine; at least I know what I have to deal with. I have never been admitted into the hospital for anything since I tested positive and now I am expecting my baby. I am okay. Whenever I forget to take my drugs, my husband reminds me.
Q: How’s your diet like?
A: I didn’t change my diet. I take my normal diet; I take the foods that am used to. I did not have to change my food unlike someone with diabetes who has to adhere strictly to a particular diet. The most important thing is for you to maintain a balanced diet.
Q: You’ve had to cope with opportunistic infections?
A: I have not had any opportunistic infections since I tested positive.
Q: You’ve never fallen sick?
A: Never, even this is like a miracle. I have had to follow a lot of people to the hospital. Sometimes I will cook for our family members on admission and I, that am HIV positive, have never fallen sick!
Q: You’ve never had to be admitted?
A: At all. Except when I just tested positive in the first three months and that’s normal, I lost my baby you know.
Q: What are your challenges?
A: Nothing. I am a Muslim and I don’t stigmatize myself. I do tell everybody.
Q: Can you imagine or guess how long you think you will live?
A: As many years as God wants me to live. Some of our members who are on ARV, some up to three years, their viral load is undetectable. It is not that they don’t have the virus anymore but it’s so low. Everything boils down to how you handle the situation, how you see yourself and how you want to be seen. It’s not that everything will be smooth, but even for those who test negative, things can’t be on the smooth side always, you will just have to take charge and live your life.