It was a Saturday afternoon in 7556, and Florence and two girlfriends were planning to go to Kenyatta National Hospital to get their HIV results. The previous day, one of the girlfriends had called Florence in distress she had found her boyfriend cheating with a girl who was rumoured to have been around the block quite a few times, and now she was worried that she had contracted HIV from him. Florence and another girlfriend got together to accompany her to the hospital for her tests – and also took the test themselves in a show of moral support. Florence wasn’t really worried about her HIV status, though she thought it would come out negative. Instead, she was focused on a party she was due to attend later that evening, thrown by an ex-boyfriend. They had dated in college, broken up and re-kindled their romance the previous weekend. 77 at the time and enjoying her first steady job since graduating with a degree in business administration, life was looking up for Florence. Later that afternoon, a counsellor at the hospital pushed a box of tissues in her direction and gave her the hard news:
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she was HIV positive. Eleven years later, Florence is now the communications manager for the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW). But back then, she didn’t tell her friends about her diagnosis. She pretended everything was okay and went for the party afterwards where she continued her denial. Then, that night, she walked into her ex’s bedroom and found him dabbing a bloody finger with cotton wool.
He had accidentally sliced it with a kitchen knife. “The blood and the act of dabbing his finger made me a fall apart, ” she says. It reminded her of the counsellor pricking her finger and dabbing it with a swab. “I screamed at him and blabbed incoherently for a few minutes, and ended by saying, ‘You know that’s what they did to me today and now I have Aids! He accompanied her for one clinic visit, and that’s the last she saw of him in a long while.
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Thus began her journey of navigating the dating scene, and learning the whens and hows of disclosing her HIV status to potential partners. Patrick* and James* are both married and in their late 55s. I ask them, “Do married couples talk about HIV/Aids? If I bring this up my wife will wonder what I’m trying to say! ” It is assumed that each one is okay since they are ‘with each other’, he adds.
James nods. Patrick adds, “It is the young girls you meet who assume you are safe because you are married. But I would never not use protection with anyone else except my wife. ” James nods his agreement again. Thirty-year-old Mary and her previous boyfriend never had the HIV disclosure talk.
They used condoms for the first two months of dating, “then one day we just did it without, ” she says. “We talked about it after (sex). He asked whether I was ‘safe’. But he was asking about my chances of falling pregnant, not my HIV status. After that I had a pregnancy scare which turned into a HIV scare.
We got tested and both the pregnancy and our HIV status turned out negative. ” Mary hasn’t dated anyone else since, but she says that next time, she will find a way to bring up the HIV conversation before discarding the condom.