HIV and hope: one woman's story
1 December 2010
Ntombi Zondi* of Pimville, Soweto always gets mixed emotions on World Aids Day. Ten years ago to the day, she tested positive for HIV. She speaks about her journey since then, and her belief that HIV/Aids is not a death sentence but an opportunity to create a better life.
Ntombi Zondi (*not her real name), a mother of two HIV-negative children, is one of millions of South Africans living with the virus.
Speaking to BuaNews at an event to mark World Aids Day on Wednesday, the 36-year-old said she would probably be dead by now if she had not started taking anti-retroviral drugs.
"My decision to test for HIV had little to do with me being sick or suspecting that I had HIV. It was World Aids Day and I was curious to know my status," says Ntombi, whose red eyes speak of deep emotion. She was 26 at the time and pregnant with her first child.
Reliving the day she was tested, Ntombi takes a long pause.
"I was in shock. All I could think about was how can this happen to me and why. I was in denial. I was still young and my future was bright."
Soon after testing positive, she started drinking almost every day to hide the pain and the embarrassment.
"At that moment, I didn't care about the baby. But after a while, I started losing weight fast, then I start hearing about people around my age group dying of Aids, and I started freaking out.
"I said to myself, I want to live as long as I can. I decided I'm not going to let this kill me. So I started going to the clinic.
"I take my treatment (ARVs) every day and I'm looking forward to a longer life. I'm 36 years old now. It was 10 years ago when I [tested positive]. Look at me, I'm still here."
Doing something about it
Ntombi says she also owes her longevity to the positive mind-set she adopted after attending counselling sessions, and the support she got from friends and family.
"I told myself I am going to hold my head up high and do something positive about it."
She now juggles her part-time jobs with that of being a counsellor for people living with HIV/Aids.
Apart from the training she got from a non-profit organisation dealing with HIV/Aids, Ntombi has no formal training, but says people feel at ease talking to her about their status.
"I let people know that they should not stop being what they want to be in life just because they are HIV-positive. And I will continue to teach my peers about this until the stigma stops and until we find a cure."
Ntombi fiddles with the red ribbon pinned on her right breast pocket.
"I know that some are asking a hidden question: they wonder what experiences in my life have moved me so that I would want to wear a red ribbon every day.
"My answer is always the same: I wear it because I can. I am still alive, still able to carry the message about the reality and urgency of Aids and how HIV can be prevented. I carry this message for those whose voices can no longer be heard, but whose presence can still be felt."
Although living with the virus was not easy, Ntombi says people should not see it as a death sentence but as an opportunity to create a better life.
Telling family and friends
She says she decided to disclose her status in order to stop people from talking behind her back and to motivate others living with the virus.
It took Ntombi about six months to make her first disclosure. It was to her mother, who was disappointed at first.
"I did it because I wanted them to know the truth, that HIV is here and it doesn't matter how educated you are," she said, adding that she was also avoiding a scenario where people would gawk should her health take a turn for the worse.
At times, Ntombi admits that she gets depressed from thinking about her status. "Sometimes I feel I am not ready to die. My wish is to be with my family, especially my daughters, for years to come."
Asked if she has made peace with the father of her first child, whom she claims infected her, Ntombi takes a deep breath and thinks before she answers.
"I was never mad at him for infecting me. I was mad at him for not wanting to talk to me afterwards; but now I have made peace. I have a supporting family, boyfriend, and friends who don't judge me."