As early as Class Eight, Nasike Agatha* knew the ABCs of fighting HIV.
“We were taught about the virus: the fact that it is very dangerous and therefore we should watch out that we don’t get infected,” she says.
Agatha was a delegate at this year’s Maisha Conference which took place in August at Pride Inn Shanzu Hotel in Mombasa. She was among the young women rising past HIV with the help of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF).
As an adolescent, she had chosen to abstain: deliberately avoiding naughty boys with sinister motives. Having been brought up in the larger Nyanza province (a region with the highest HIV burden in Kenya), she understood only too well how the virus could affect her life.
She was, therefore, frightened when a badly behaved boy managed to quickly lock his lips onto hers.
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“It happened so fast; it seemed like he had carefully planned the attack prior to executing it,” she says.
She recalls wringing and rinsing her mouth. But no amount of washing could take away the anxiety that came with the possibility that she had been infected with HIV.
“I went to be tested to determine if I was infected,” she says.
She was negative. But – as it is the routine – she was asked to go back after three months. She did. To her relief, the test still turned negative.
Happy and thankful for coming through unscathed, Agatha committed to regular checkups. From the time she was in Class 8 up to the time she dropped out of school in Form 2, she says she had numerous tests “nearly every three months.”
She says she tested almost for fun. “I was not engaging in sex or any reckless behaviour. But I just wanted to have the confidence that I was safe from the virus.”
In 2015, she dropped out of school for lack of fees. Her father left home to marry another woman, effectively leaving the family financially unable to afford basic needs.
She travelled to Mombasa to live with a relative. She became a hairdresser apprentice, moved into her own place, and effectively transformed into an autonomous ‘adult’. “I even began dating,” she says.
Before committing to the relationship, she says, they got tested “at least twice”. It was a precautionary measure just in case the relationship got physical. Even so, they both continued with the routine of testing for HIV regularly.
Life would, however, take a twist - one so obscure that even Agatha herself remains perplexed about to date.
“The plot I moved into was the kind where we shared amenities like toilets and bathrooms. There was this woman who did not like me from day one. She was fond of accusing me of every mistake that affected all residents,” Agatha narrates.
“If someone misused the toilet and left it in a bad state, she would say it was me. She was loud. She could not keep her mouth shut especially if it was on something negative about me,” she continues.
“I stomached her for a while but soon enough I was fed up. One day I told myself I would not let her speak ill of me again. I resolved that the next time she yelled at me or verbally abused me, I would teach her a lesson,” Agatha says.
Sure enough, the following day, the woman was at it again. Tipsy from imbibing cheap alcohol, she attacked Agatha with her stingy words. Agatha did not wait a second longer.
“I jumped on her with kicks and blows. She did not know how to fight and that made my work pretty easy,” Agatha confesses.
But things (for Agatha) were about to take a turn for the worst. The woman, in a bid to defend herself, grabbed Agatha’s hand and sunk her teeth into one of her fingers.
“She kept biting. I could feel her teeth on my bone. Blood was oozing from the wound,” she recalls.
With a few targeted hits and blows, Agatha managed to free herself. She sought medical services from a health Centre nearby. The finger got stitched and the wound dressed. She also received an anti-tetanus shot.
A few days later, her neighbours began sounding warning alarms: “That woman is positive (has HIV),” one woman told her. “You could be having HIV right now,” another one smirked sadistically. “Please go and test your blood just to confirm,” yet another one advised.
The anxiety that she felt when that randy boy forcefully kissed her came back; hanging over her head like dark clouds.
“What was I to do with this information? I had gone to the hospital and all I got was a tetanus shot? Wasn’t that supposed to be enough?”
At first, though anxious, she ignored what she was being told, hoping that if she ignored it for long enough it wouldn’t be true. She was also confused about what she could have done differently.
News of the incident reached her boyfriend who promptly ended their relationship in fear that Agatha had been infected with the virus.
“He freaked out and dumped me with immediate effect,” Agatha says.
A couple of months passed. Then one day, an old man with good-Samaritan charm, asked to escort her to the hospital for a HIV test.
“He held my hand and told me it was important I knew if the bite infected me. He took me to Magongo Hospital in Changamwe,” Agatha narrates.
To her dismay, the test result turned out positive. She sought a second, and a third test – at private hospitals. All turned positive.
“It was difficult to accept that, after many years of being careful about HIV, I had the virus,” Agatha says.
After coming to terms with her new reality, Agatha visited Kongowea Dispensary, where she says she signed up to be on anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs.
It was also at Kongowea that she met AHF – Kenya: who she says took her through more counseling; helping her stay sane.
In 2020 she was enrolled in AHF’s Girls Act programme which offers TVET-level scholarships to assist girls living with HIV become economically empowered.
“I took a short course in Beauty Therapy. I am done with the first phase. I am able to earn money providing beauty and hairdressing services,” Agatha says.
As for the lady who infected her, they’ve never met. The lady was kicked out of the estate for being troublesome and Agatha too moved out later. “I don’t know anything about her.”
The one lesson Agatha says she picked from the incident is: “Hasira ni hasara!” (Anger has no profit).
She says: “Today, I am not easy to provoke. You can even call me a prostitute and it will not move me an inch.”