By the time I was calling her, Doreen Moraa Moracha was booked by mainstream media ahead of World Aids Day Celebrations. That however did not stop her from taking an interview with me. I had explained to her that this one, she will be doing it for the girl child, though we both understood that this was for all of us. It had nothing to do with sexuality or femininity, we all must talk about it, we must all be responsible for it. In the morning, she met a journalist at her house for an interview, and just before she rushed to meet me, she was across town for a radio interview.
Doreen is a person living with HIV and an a activist of the same. I found her waiting for me, a round curvaceous woman with an infectious smile. You couldn’t tell she was positive, but she confirmed to me that she is in fact positively positive.
She speaks with confidence, her humorous nature kept me laughing, but what she said to me sank deep in my thoughts. She told me stories of Babu, the healer in Loliondo, the Tanzanian side of the boarder where she and her mother went in hope of having their dreaded disease healed. She told me how quick ‘bae’ turned to ‘siz’ when she disclosed her status to a guy who asked her out on a date, and how she has to timely take a tablet a day for the rest of her life.
Doreen was born with the virus. Her parents have been a discordant couple since. It is this relationship and the interest that she has in her own being that has encouraged her to live positively and to talk openly about it, if not for anything, to eradicate the stigma.
She admits, it has not been easy. Both she and her mother stopped taking their Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) after the Loliondo visit. Babu told them that it is their faith that will heal them, and faith they had. They later learned they were still positive, she was at some point rushed to hospital with acute pneumonia having taken up faith and abandoned her treatment. It took her a while to recover mentally and emotionally and to get back to her drugs.
But all this I had already read about in a local newspaper, I wanted to know about her womanhood, her relationships and her interactions. You would think with all my education I would know, but I didn’t and Doreen was bold enough to tell it to me in black and white.
While she is confident in herself, dresses like a lady and speaks like four hundred men, she has been discouraged from speaking about her status openly. Her siblings, who test negative and who have loved her since, are okay with her vocal activities, but do not like to be associated with her status. Her extended family think she should take her ARVs and live her life in silence, they are afraid of indirect stigmatization.
Despite that, Doreen cannot wait for the day she will be married, she says she must go to her husband’s office wearing nothing but high knee boots and a coat, it’s going to be a fellowship of some kind. There is no question she is aware and confident of her femininity. She however assures me that she does not gas up men with her fantasies, they are safely kept for her future husband.
Speaking of men, Doreen does not wait for the third date to disclose her HIV status, this she says is discussed before the first date. It helps her sieve out the serious ones from those who stigmatize or are afraid of her. Doreen insists on the importance of people knowing their status. It promotes good character and is the only way to live a healthy and long life.
Many who have wanted a relationship with her have gone past her status but have revealed their ignorance in conversations. People assume many facts about HIV, they do not understand that if the virus is suppressed and the CD4 count remains low, an infected person can not only leave a healthy life but also have a healthy discordant relationship and family. She informed me more about Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and how it eliminates the risk of getting HIV if taken consistently and correctly. She says that people must know about this too, should they chose not to abstain. We cannot assume in a third world country full of youths, that people are not doing the deed. Though sex is the leading cause of infection, there are other ways HIV can be transmitted; deliveries must be done in hospital by qualified practitioners to avoid infection from mother to child, blood must be screened before transfusion and rescuers must protect themselves in accident sites to avoid exposure from injured and bleeding people.
From my interaction with Doreen, I could tell she is proud of herself. To her, HIV is not a death sentence, she has after all already lived 26 years, and she looks forward to many more. She is used to the stigma and separation but she is happy that her immediate family is supportive of her.
‘Many young girls practicing unsafe sex prefer HIV to pregnancy’ ‘Pregnancy is a temporary stigmatization’ she states. ‘It will result to joy and life. HIV on the other hand creates a permanent stigmatization, let alone questions on your moral standing. I would not wish what I go through to any girl, they must learn to abstain or use protection, and if pregnancy occurs, they must be wise on their decisions. HIV should never be an option or a choice.’
Miss Moracha insists that everyone must know their status. ‘Everyone should take responsibility if we are to succeed in eradicating HIV. Each partner must know about their mate, not by trust but by test.’
I left Doreen an informed lady, I knew for sure that I must know my status.
Doreen is the first cool girl I have met, she has proven that we can know and accept our status, and live a longer fulfilled life.