THE VOICE OF A BLACK GIRL.
An autobiographical story of pain, resilience, determination and courage.
Cleopatra Wanjiku is my name and I am HIV positive.
CEO and founder PABAA Collections.
27yrs ago i was born with HIV.
I acquired HIV from my mother at birth.
Mother is so far the best (RIP) and i don’t blame her coz i know no woman would wish this to her child more so her FIRST BORN daughter. Back when I was born, information on protecting vertical transmission was low; stigma so high with many blaming people living with HIV that I can understand how we got here. As a young woman who desires a family of my own, I understand my mother.
I’m the 1st and the best. A rare kind, the forerunner in my generation and lineage. I was delivered to conquer. I’m self made, a self starter, the sense of purpose. Haters beware. Your sentiments and actions won’t stop me.
My father, step mother and siblings have been the best. I will talk more about them in the coming chapters. However, I can’t forget to say this; Dad is the master, the type that surpasses set protocols. The OG, my big man Bazu.
Tomorrow being WORLD AIDS DAY, I will share some aspects of my life, in 10 episodes with the aim of motivating, educating and inspiring someone out there.
It’s a very LONG incredible story, knitted beautifully, restored and packaged fully.
1. COMING OUT.
When mum passed away, i was 8yrs and in class 3. This never affected me so much because when you’re young all you think about is food, sleep and play and for this reason, hold dear to your mum for it’s a scary & confusing world without her. A mother’s love is infinite.
I was a sick child, used to be in and out of hospital throughout my primary school. I always questioned why am different from the other kids and wished i could enjoy school like them. I don’t know if i was a happy kid but all i know is sometimes the dry tears are still wet only because they’re falling inside our hearts.
The signs were always there though in what people would say to me. I do remember though one time my teacher insisting that I should go to a certain hospital which i later came to learn was specializing in HIV.
Another instance my classmate and I had an argument and she courageously told me that i couldnt tell her anything (see the translation i did there🤣) coz my mum died of Aids. This cut deep, very deep to be precise. Kids can be unkind sometimes 😰. All along i knew my mum had chest problems so i couldn’t understand why it’s turning out to be something else.
School wasn’t all fun for me. I tried as much as i could to stay on my lane because at some point i felt people were avoiding me.
In 2007, as i was attending my normal chest clinic accompanied by my grandma, I sensed some tension between her and the nurse and asked what was wrong. Out of nowhere the nurse told me that she wanted to test me for HIV. At this point i just smiled and asked them why and what for?
Seeing the shock on my face, the nurse took it upon herself to assure me it’s just a test to confirm something.
Having little to no information about HIV, i knew very well that it couldn’t be HIV since i hadn’t engaged in any sexual activity and definitely it couldn’t be MTCT (Mother To Child Infection) coz i knew mama had succumbed to something else.
The nurse gathered her equipment’s ready to conduct the test. I was scared of long needles and alot of blood but i just realized it’s a finger pricking process. At this point allow me to encourage everyone out there to go and get tested. Knowing your status is taking control of your life because whatever the results, we have a life to live fully.
At the end of a the longest 15 minutes of my life I was informed I tested positive for HIV.
I couldn’t believe it. I was 13years old, a young adolescent, in class 8, having lost my mum at a 8yrs and now being told that I’m sick is something that i couldn’t handle and this simply proved to me that the world is truly UNTRUSTWORTHY.
Tears rolled down my eyes as i tried to figure my family and friends crying over my demise while surrounding my young pretty corpse. Death is everything that kept ringing in my mind. In school at the time we learned that HIV is a death sentence and i just couldn’t comprehend how i could meet all my dreams and aspirations. I felt the world didn’t want me here. My heart was broken. I could feel it torn in pieces. Wait, is it just me or does anyone else experience times when you actually feel your heart torn in pieces , like you actually feel the pain and it cuts through your heart 😪?
That is what i felt. It was the lowest moment in my life and it’s still vivid in my mind.
I wouldn’t wish this feeling on anyone not even my enemy.
At this point i contemplated suicide but well, it didn’t happen and for this reason I owe God for holding me together when I had every reason to fall apart.
Dearest, if suicide ever crosses your mind, just know we would rather listen to your problems than attend your funeral ⚰️.
2. Post Test Experience.
Here is a dead mother who cannot explain to me everything that’s happening or rather what exactly happened and this is what made it worse for me. My world shuttered and i knew there and then my life will never be the same again. They talked to me but I just wished they could leave me alone.
I was never prepared for half of what i was going through then.
We had a conversation which i merely said a word and i was enrolled in the Comprehensive Care Clinic (CCC)and immediately put on ARVs.
This again hit me deep.
How do i survive on medication all my life & even take these tablets in school since i was to join high school the next year?
At this point it was clear that it’s either i accept this or live in misery for the rest of my life. I remember praying that God grants me the serenity to accept it since i cannot change.
The worst thing that can happen to you is allowing yourself to die inside while you’re still alive so i decided to take each day at a time.
Back at home everyone knew about my status but the issue was disclosure which i totally understand.
Disclosure has and will always be an issue to everyone and mostly for parents to children.
It’s a process that should be handled with alot of care. Everyone is entitled to the choice of who to disclose to or not since it’s very personal.
I would advise parents who have kids born with HIV to try and disclose to them at an early age.
If the guardian is not in a position then they can involve a counselor or a health worker to talk to the child.
This whole process if not taken with alot of caution can mess up a full generation.
Most adolescents and youths have a major issue with drug adherence due to late disclosure or lack of disclosure and the child gets to find out by themselves.
Health workers should equally try and engage these kids partially to make them understand why they’re taking drugs everyday.
Moving on, i received moral and ethical support from my entire family and this is something i cannot trade for anything.
Same year i did my KCPE and passed but not with those flying colours in the success cards 😅but some good marks which helped me join high school.
Here i didn’t know how I’m gonna handle all this thing but my dad came in and talked to the principal hence making my high school life the best.
Let’s clap for the old man once again 🤣. Told you that he’s my OG .
Look, they’re kids who are courageous enough to speak out but for those who can’t the guardians should step in and inform the school for easy accessibility to drugs and care.
Our country is experiencing more HIV infections from the youths as a result of poor adherence to treatment which comes in hand with the school factor.
3. HIGH SCHOOL LIFE.
My highschool wasn’t a walk in the park despite the special diet . (I couldn’t leave that part out 🤣). My thermos was always full of porridge and that’s where my mheshimiwa tummy came from.
When i joined school i used to keep my drugs in my box and you know students can be very poky. It’s hard explaining to everyone why you always go to the hospital every month and the taking of drugs.
Just like any other kid, i struggled adapting to a boarding school and what made it worse is the fear of other students knowing my status.
In 2009, in form 2, i got TB and phew, this was bad for me.
Real bad i must say.
I lost so much weight within a month and i remember our deputy principal calling my dad saying i should be picked since she couldn’t allow me to go to the hospital alone.
My OG picked me and i could see the pain in his eyes and this crushed me.
I could feel his heart ache and all i told him is I’ll be okay.
We went to the hospital, got treated and later home where my step mom took it upon herself to take care of me for atleast 3 days before I resumed school.
Allow me to talk about this wonderful woman, stepmoms are mostly described as wicked, cruel and harsh but she’s different.
She’s the kindest and most caring person I have ever known. It’s never easy loving another woman’s child like your own, but she does it so effortlessly that I’m often left speechless.
She personally loved me and has kept me on toes with regards to my health and i may not say Thankyou everything but it’s people like you whom i say a little prayer for every night. You’re indeed a special person with a wonderful heart mama.
I started my TB medication which i didn’t take well so it reoccured.
When i went back to the hospital, the drugs had to be administered as injections.
Jesus Christ! There’s something about me and injections. We’re not good friends at all 😅.
Every day and on my thighs.
4. LIFE IN THE UNIVERSITY.
Immediately i got my results, i applied for a position in one of the best universities in Kenya and registered for Human Resource and Management since i loved business.
I got all the requirements i needed and during the reporting day i changed my course to Public Health where i specialized in COMMUNITY HEALTH and HIV MANAGEMENT.
I chose this course with my uncle’s help coz i knew it’s not gonna give me a career only but it’s gonna help me as an individual and the society at large.
At some point i felt, maybe this is just what God had made me for while other times i felt like this course gonna add more pain to my wounded heart but again i knew that I didn’t come this far to only come this far.
I joined campus and well, first two months you’re learning how to survive on your own with your own budget and adjusting to the new environment. It was all fun until when i needed to take my drugs and the setting of a hostel made it harder than high school.
Here you’re in the room, it’s time to take my drugs, my immediate neighbor is with a friend, i can’t go ahead and take coz they’ll definitely ask me if I’m unwell making me skip my medication so many times. This wasn’t intentional and ofcourse I knew it’s not right.
Campus life got the better part of me. I got in the normal students behavior because i really wanted to fit in but something always told me that there’s no need to struggle coz at the end I’m gonna die and this landed me in big trouble after using my school fees making me get into fights with my parents.
Away from this, i have a friend who always say in Kenya, it’s very okay to EAT your school fees than eating boychild’s fare 🤣.
After “swallowing” all my fees, coz that’s literally what i did, my parents were so angry and at some point they thought i was doing drugs, those hard drugs that you need to even go for counseling coz they took me for sessions by fire by force 🤣.
I remember my uncle could always call to check if i had gone for my sessions and kept reminding me how important they were.
5 : CLEOPATRA THE DEFAULTER.
The fall and rise of lifelong treatment is what i wanna talk about in this episode.
Guys, taking medication your whole life is hard.
If you think I’m lying, let me propose an experiment.
Put a timer on your phone or watch and everyday at the set time swallow one maize for like a week. You have to remember the time, remember to have the maize(medication) on you all the time.
I do not care what disease it is you’re managing, this is a lifelong commitment and it’s hard.
To be honest, I have failed in keeping up and adhering to my treatment.
I have paid a hard price for this hence I’m here to remind you everything is possible.
Allow me to take you back to when I started medication at 13yrs, here i tried taking my drugs but ofcourse not as per prescription.
In high school i equally tried my best but it wasn’t soo easy due to the fear of stigmatization once people see me.
In Campus that’s where things got pretty worse. At this point and stage in life i felt like i had had enough of everything and i needed a break, yes a break from the medication and this is exactly what i told my doctor (the audacity 🤣).
I wanted to feel free like any other person, lead a normal life and have the freedom to do anything i wanted.
When i dropped out of campus, i dropped off my prescription too. I didn’t attend my clinics and still didn’t take my drugs. I was tired, exhausted, angry and most probably frustrated.
The bravest thing I ever did was continue my life when I wanted to die and nobody really knows this but I NEVER GAVE UP so NEVER GIVE UP and more so NEVER GIVE UP ON GOD.
I defaulted for almost an year and my health deteriorated and i remember my friend then took me to the hospital where i was put on care again.
One of the best killers of people under the age of 30years is suicide so always check on your friends.
Ask them about their day or even if they have eaten anything.
People are silently battling DEPRESSION and afraid of being judged, misunderstood and avoided 😭.
We’re a depressed generation hiding behind jokes, selfies, alcohol, weed and memes.
6 : RECHARGING MY BATTERIES.
Later that year my uncle called me to Nairobi where i was to spend a few days but this Nyeri girl extended her welcome.
Having nothing to do I joined the youth group in church and it’s here i met a girl who wanted to sell me a clutch bag and i requested her to train me on how to make them.
She agreed and we began the training. I thought it’s something easy but i realized training is the essence of transformation.
However, ART is unquestionably one of the purest and highest elements in the human happiness. It trains the mind through the eye and the eye through the mind. Just like the sun colors flowers so does art color life.
This is where my passion began. See, We fall, break, fail but then, WE RISE, HEAL and OVERCOME. Never let the tough moments in life pull you away from this truth.
I started practicing in the house and i remember my uncle would wakeup in the morning only to find me still trying to sew with just a needle and thread with my bare hands.
Look guys, practice is the hardest part of learning a skill.
When you buy something from an artist, you’re buying more than one object. You’re buying hundreds of hours of errors and experiments. You’re buying years of frustration and moments of pure joy. You’re not buying just one thing but a piece of a heart, a piece of a soul, a small part of someone’s else’s life.
One day I sold my aunt a clutch bag and she told me her friend does awesome beadwork and she’ll be glad to teach me. She introduced me to her and that lady did everything to see that I got it right. I did not have any cash to run the business and I remember a day I called my cousin telling her to talk to her mum so that they could help me buy some beads and her response was, “BADALA UOMBE PESA YA SCHOOL FEES UNAOMBA PESA YA KAZI YA UJINGA.”
Lord! This statement did hurt me and I promised myself that I’ll go out and earn my way up so that nobody will ever say that they gave me shit.
I started with Ksh3000 (let me not say 1 bead, thread and a piece of cloth like motivation speakers say
7 : The Birth of PABAA Collections.
While still perfecting my skills, One day as I was grabbing a few items in the supermarket, i told the manager that I’m making some mats and showed him some photos. Those who know me are aware that i can go to whichever limit to get what I want. I don’t take NO for an answer. He told me to bring a few samples which I did and there and then they made an order of Ksh9250. I was very excited but this was short liven coz i was informed that payments are once they clear the stock. Jesus! I wondered where i would get cash to continue running my new hustle.
I talked to the manager explaining my situation and they promised to pay up after a week.
You guys know that items in the supermarkets must be with the pricing stickers and i had to get a name for my mats which was Patra’s Collection. Immediately after they asked for an invoice and i was like you guys have all my money and i still need to use more money to get it hence a reminder that everything in this world is a setup .
8 : THE DATING MONSTER.
Rejection and discrimination is one factor affecting people living with HIV but I’m glad that i have never faced this to an extreme (like kitu kubwa sana 🤣)
Holllaaaaappp, i think i did some time back, so it happened that i disclosed to this guy coz i felt the earlier the better. Waaaahh! The guy ofcourse said we can’t date and well, i totally understood him.
Allow me to rant here please, this particular son of Pharaoh went ahead and told people about my status. You see, i honestly don’t understand where people get the courage to talk about something soo sensitive to other people whereas the person confided in you. He told his fellow gossipers who have been working extremely hard 😆 to pass the news to anyone close to me. Recently i felt bad after learning that these same people decided that they wanna spread information that I’ve never spoken to them about.
Look people, you can protect your friends (what protection are you even offering 🚮) but not at the expense of another human being. Remember this other person has a heart too.
Please note that i don’t have a problem with someone talking about my status coz like i always say, YOU CAN’T USE WHAT I’VE ACCEPTED ABOUT MYSELF AGAINST ME but my friend, don’t try trash talk me and throw my beautiful name 🤦♀️in your ignorance and illiteracy.
The day this world will teach some of you that life is very slippery hence you need not mock anyone will be too late.
Listen, I know what you said behind my back, ni vile tu sipendi mambo mingi coz apparently I do silent cut offs. I no longer address nothing but siku moja zangu zitalipuka niweke screenshots huku then nitag hao wambea one by one 😌.
Such indifichuals 🚮.
End of makasiriko 🤣.
Anywho, for the sake of that group of people coz calling them animals is an insult to animals, let’s try and get some knowledge about things buanaa.
It is not just important but importantest.
Don’t just sit down and display your lack of information to people.
I’ll remind you once again incase you’ve forgotten that we’re not in the 1990’s. We have drugs that suppress the virus making someone UNDETECTABLE like i am, (I’ll keep mentioning 😅) and there’s no room for transmission.
UNDETECTABLE = UNTRANSMITTABLE.
Another bigger scam than (kata simu nikupigie 😅) is relationships.
Let’s discuss relationships in general first,
A relationship is one thing that can mess up your life. Pray & be sensible when falling in love. Love can turn a bright future into a miserable life.
Search for a good heart and not a beautiful face. Beautiful things are not always good but good things are always beautiful. Age and pressure is never a reason to date or marry.
Having said all that, it’s hard for those living positively to freely engage in relationships coz people have less if no information about HIV.
Gone are the days when people thought, me included, that it’s a death sentence.
I mean, look at me, this kanono is 27yrs, 13yrs without any medication and 14yrs on medication.
I always advise my fellow youths, I’m still a youth or should i say I’m young at heart 🤣 to weigh the chances before disclosing your status to anybody.
I need two loud speakers to say this, don’t go disclosing your status to anyone and everyone if you’re not ready for the consequences.
People out here are mean, very mean to be precise. My experiences in life have taught me that most people want you to be unhappy sooo bad but i always say, nooooo darling, WE’RE BLESSED OVER HERE and it’s my prayer you find some happiness so you stop being miserable.
You might tell someone today and the next day you’ll just commit suicide.
You need to have a very thick skin, thicker than my thighs 😄 coz the streets are no longer safe.
Love is a beautiful thing though i personally don’t believe in it. I feel like people prioritize marriage too much badala ukae chini utulie.
Tafuta pesa, kula vizuri na ufanye vile unataka.
Time yako ikifika tafuta mtu mature mkae pamoja.
Sio lazima mzae ata,