Search The Editor's Blog

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

From The Archives: Thandi Haruperi: Positively Woman

Written By: Thandi Haruperi—If it’s true that sometimes our paths are laid out for us to walk through then that must be true of me and my diagnosis. I really had no business getting an HIV/AIDS test. I was not ill, had no symptoms, and did not think I was "one of those people"; but the events that led to me taking my test are so baffling that even after almost seven years I still ask myself: what is this really about. This is my story.

I was born in Zimbabwe, but grew up in Zambia having lived there since I was two. At sixteen I met the man who was to become my husband. Twelve years later the relationship ended, leaving me with two young children. To support myself and my children I found work with an English expatriate who had just started an HIV/AIDS project in Zambia, but I ended up leaving after a few weeks for England. When things didn’t turn out as planned in England, I returned to Zambia where the job I once held had been given to someone else. My involvement with HIV/AIDS ended, or so I thought. A year after my return to Zambia, I went back to England at the invitation of my younger sister. I was told the usual stories about immigration restrictions and how difficult it is for foreigners (especially Africans) to get a decent job, harder still for someone like me who had left school and walked straight into marriage. Blissfully ignorant of all these limitations, I believed I would make it. With relentless determination I sought and found work and three years later, after establishing myself, my children joined me. Despite the difficult circumstances, including the fear in the back of my mind of working illegally and being exposed to the authorities, I steadily moved up the career ladder. It was nothing great but notable progress nonetheless.

Counting my blessings I found that on average things had turned out quite well for me and I felt a great need to give something back. The only thing I could afford to give was time so I decided to do charity work. Coincidentally, the first advertisement I responded to turned out to be an organization supporting those infected with HIV/AIDS. For the second time in about six years my path crossed HIV/AIDS. Barely knowledgeable on the subject, I joined the project as a befriender, but before my work could take off, the project folded due to funding problems and for the second time in my life my relationship with HIV/AIDS ended before it had even started.

Continue reading Thandi Haruperi's story by clicking on the "Read More" link ...

A few months later a friend who desperately felt there was a need to respond to the many HIV related deaths our community was experiencing, invited me and a few other friends to help set up an HIV prevention charity Pamodzi; for the Zambian community. In the meantime, I was still working in my nine to five feeling increasingly frustrated; the thrill of an office job had long gone and I thought to myself that I needed to get out and pursue my dreams of running my own business. Ever the one for making radical decisions and taking risks I resigned from my job with no set plan. Because I love clothes, I thought I could set up a business in fashion but precisely at that point I was involved in a road traffic accident where I injured my shoulder and was signed off sick for almost a year. Unable to work I decided to channel my energies towards more volunteer work with the charity I had co-founded. It was during that time I decided to take my HIV test. With hindsight probably more as a commitment to my work than anything else ... or was it fate calling? I had become so committed to my work that I felt hypocritical not knowing my HIV status. Around the same time, my ex-husband died, bringing along further reason to go for a test. I also wanted to support a close friend whose health problems were causing rumors that she was HIV positive so I offered to go with her and both of us took the tests.

Two weeks later my friend walked out of the clinic with her results. They had come back negative (instead she was diagnosed with Lupus). "We are so lucky"; she said. Unbeknown to her, mine had come back positive. The first five months of knowing that I was HIV positive were difficult, but the fear of leaving a legacy of shame for my children and family made me trade my fear for liberation. I did not want to bury my dreams and live in the shadows of society by being represented as a statistic without a face or a voice. I strongly believe that when you hide or protect something, you give that issue power over it and over you. Even before I went for my test I said if ever I tested positive I would come out publicly because the secrecy and stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS did not make sense to me. Sometimes I think I was unfair to everyone around me, especially my family because inadvertently I forced them to live with my public disclosure without their say.

Whilst for me coming to terms with my diagnosis wasn’t too difficult; for some members of my family my coming out was rather uncomfortable. Overall, however, they have been very supportive. My daughters have been wonderful even though once in a while they have to deal with the fact that mummy may one day get ill and go before her time..I have been unable to trace how I contracted HIV. Even though my ex-husband had died I have never pointed my finger at him. I am not sure what he died of; he was in Zambia and I was in England; and I had been divorced from him for seven years when he died. In that time I had had other relationships. I like to remind people that while HIV is sexually transmitted that is not the only mode of transmission.. The virus can also be transmitted through blood, blood products, and breast-milk and from mother to child. I don’t know that I am an unusually happy person, but indeed I am optimistic.. Perhaps this is largely due to my philosophical approach which I have always been told I have: if I am going to live another day let me be as beautiful, healthy and rich as I possibly can. These things help cushion some of aches of life. Once you’ve starred death in the face like some of us have life takes a totally different meaning. People wonder what I am scared of. In the past I would have said HIV, but today my answer is being broke and having to beg. I can identify with Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata when he said, "I would rather die on my feet than have to live a lifetime on my knees." This is what makes me get up and face the day everyday.

I have always believed that being HIV positive will only be a barrier if I allow it just as much as anything in life can be a barrier if I let it. As difficult as it has been sometimes, being open has enabled me to live a fuller and freer life. Before my diagnosis I had dreams and even with the diagnosis I found I still wanted the same things even more. I knew I wanted to go out, open my wings and fly. In every person there is a little child that never grows and believes can do great things. The little Thandi still wanted the nice toys, clothes, friends, happy children, a beautiful house ... and a perfect job. I believed I could have those things if I worked hard enough and six years later I am happy to say that I have got that. The most important thing that has happened to me in these past six years is not so much what I have achieved but more so the person I have become and the character I have developed. I asked Siphiwe, my 19 daughter what she hopes my legacy will be and she said, "We will remember you as someone who sacrificed herself for others."

(Originally Published In December 2006: Joy To Your World) (Photo Credits: Provided Courtesy Of Thandi Haruperi And Restore Ego)


Anonymous said...

This is a powerful article.Thank you for sharing your story

Anonymous said...

Awe Inspiring story about conquering our fears. Thank you for sharing this article.

Anonymous said...

a woman of character and strength. i am in awe thandi honestly. i admire you.