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I refused to be ‘inherited,’ was shunned for my HIV status

 Beatrice Khalai

Beatrice Khalai was 35 years old when she tested HIV positive. That was eight years into her marriage to a man she tied the knot with as a virgin. Though it is the husband who infected her, he refused to take ARVs and died. She not only lost her job, but also, friends. She shares her story with Cate Mukei

Tell us more about your marriage.

I met my late husband in church and we started dating soon after. I was 27 years old and a virgin. He is the one who broke my virginity. I worked at a local school as a cateress, while he was a teacher. We got married in 1997 and were blessed with three children.

How was your marriage?

My husband was perfect. He took care of his two children; a son and a daughter. He called me every day to check on us. It was total bliss. However, in 2005, he went to Kenyatta University to study and that is when he changed.

What exactly happened? I was pregnant with our third child and so I went for antenatal clinic. The doctor said it was compulsory to test for HIV and I confidently agreed. I had nothing to fear since I had lived my life perfectly. I almost had a heart attack when I was told I was HIV positive. I thought the doctor was mistaken and went home. I did not know what to do.

Did you inform your husband? At first, I kept quiet because I was scared and not sure of his reaction. When he came home from the university, I informed him. He denied and blamed me for bringing the disease to our home.

He warned me not to share the information with anyone since it would bring shame to the family.

How was his health? He was just fine, but months later, he became sick. He refused to seek medical attention and would travel from Busia to Eldoret. People came to learn he was sick during his last stages. He had lost a lot of weight.

How were you coping? I was also ailing, as was our newborn daughter. Unfortunately, she died on December 15, 2005 and by now, everyone was gossiping about our health status. My husband died in May 2006. He refused to take ARVs.

How was your social life? Everyone knew that I was positive and so everything changed. People avoided me and even at work, I was shunned. People would laugh and gossip about me to the extent of sending friends to tell me to leave.

I cried every day. I also refused to take ARVs because I was bitter. In fact, when I look back, I blame my pastor because after marriage counselling, he did not advise me to be tested for HIV. Finally, I had to quit my job.

Did the children know what was going on? Not really. They knew I was sick, but they did not know it was HIV. I just told them recently. I first told my daughter when she was going to high school. My son, on the other hand, found out after we had a small tiff. I shouted at him and informed him I was sick.

How did they react?

They were both shocked, but now they are used to it. It is no longer a big deal.

So are you taking ARV’s? Yes. I regained my hope in God and decide to take charge of my life.

What has changed the most in those 10 years? I have had to deal with very mean people including my in-laws. My brother in-law, at one time, insisted on ‘inheriting’ me as a wife, yet he knew I was positive.

When I refused, he harassed me and even threatened to evict me. I remember just after the burial of my husband, my sister-in-law came and picked all his shoes. She also demanded to be given the maize that remained after the burial.

What do you miss most about your husband? Just the assurance that all will be fine. If he were alive today, I believe he would be successful, because he would have graduated. Maybe I wouldn’t be struggling to pay school fees and to provide for my children.

What would you advise people in similar predicament? Don’t give up. HIV is not the end of the world. Take your medicine and live well. Also, keep the right company because stress is the number one enemy.

Beatrice Khalai has two children in from one and form four. They are unable to go to school because of lack of school fees. Anyone willing to come to her aid should get in touch with The Nairobian: send an email to: [email protected]

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