Sunday, a friend came and told me that he had tested, and was HIV positive.
There is nothing like that shock, when you realise a friend is so burdened.
Has happened before, and I, have found myself not immune to shock, and the despair which threatens to engulf me. Not him, but me. Because I feel like I am dying, that I am the one dying.
No. I have to remember. HIV, AIDS today is a tough, serious complication to life. But, it is not quite the death sentence it was a few years ago. And, the despair and feeling of helplessness and hopelessness which possesses me is not a reflection of the reality on the ground. It is true that this is a huge, complication to life. But, it is also true that, built into our make up is a resilience horned by years and centuries. We are simply resilient, and able to tackle such minor details.
He is gay.
And yes, it has happened before. Someone coming to me, telling me that they are HIV positive. When they are gay and closeted in Uganda.
Can you dare even imagine how complicated that is? I mean, don't think of the gay community as angels. We, am glad to note, are survivors. We have fought and come to maturity in a cloud of suspicion and condemnation. And, we have survived.
We haven't done it by being soft. Oh, we fail. We break down, like I did just a few months ago. We do heinous things. We lie, we subterfuge, we deny what we are so that we can survive. And, we seek one another's presence and company for comfort. Because we are in an environment that is hostile.
Darwinian principles. Survival of the fittest.
But, with the same ruthlessness, we loathe weakness. And, we think of HIV infection as a weakness. I said, we are not angels.
Double closeted, that is what my gay friends who are positive have to be. They cannot tell members of our community that they are HIV positive. And, they cannot disclose outside the community that they are gay. Of course HIV still has a huge stigma. Yes, despite the 'enlightened' attitudes now. It is still a stigmatizing condition, despite the drugs.
So, what will I do for my friend?
I will be his friend. That is what I can do. This fight is about real lives, real human beings, real pain in the real world. No abstractions, no fantasies.
Yesterday, I revived an opportunity to do something about HIV in the kuchu community. Oh, I know am gifted, but the gifts are in a frail body. The opportunity came before, and I failed. Am lucky that I was given a second chance. Another chance.
Now, for those of you not in the know, Uganda is a world wide leader in HIV prevention. You will hear that in HIV circles. No, I am not lying.
And, Uganda does not have an HIV prevention programme for gay people. Again, I am not lying.
People like Ssempa, teaching and preaching Abstinence and Being Faithful have huge influence with the Uganda AIDS Commission. Ssempa is on record saying that we cant have an HIV prevention programme for gay men. Because we gay people are illegal. Oh yes, he is. It is on this very blog. And, the head of the Uganda AIDS Commission is on record admitting after lots of pressure, that gay men were drivers to the HIV epidemic in the country. And, he also bluntly said that Uganda will not target gay men for HIV prevention.
No. I am NOT kidding you.
We protested that statement at the Kampala HIV Implementers meeting in 2008. Three of us were arrested, and prosecuted, for demanding an HIV Prevention Program for gay Ugandans. We were only released after international outcry and pressure at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico.
All these things are facts. I have documented them on this blog.
And, like a punch drunk fighter, I tend to forget them. Many times. The details of individual blows kind of gets blurred in the overall effect. I am punch drunk.
Once in a while I remember. Like now.
My friend's diagnosis hit home. Terribly home. As the one who he revealed it to, I was almost speechless. Despite having a little preparation. [I wonder, if I who is not the one burdened feel it so, then, what about him?]
But, I can do something about it. For him personally.
And, I can do something about it. For us as gay Ugandans.
Today is Eid Aduha. Sorry if I don't get the spelling right. Happy Eid day to my Muslim friends. But, I commented because I remembered that it is a public holiday in Uganda. On school days, I stand on the roadside in the evening taking in the air, relieving the stress of the day.
I have noticed a kid, a child of about twelve.
Dresses in a thin and worn blue uniform shirt, khaki pants. Carries a torn back pack. And, walks with a painful dragging gait.
He cant swing that leg. It is stiff, I don't know the reason why. But, everyday, I see the kid either going to school, or late in the evening, coming back. Tired, dragging, limping his way home.
Life can be tough. For me, and for others. I will remember that I am more than resilient. And, I can do something, something for those others who are not as lucky as I am. My gifts as a gay man, a gay Ugandan in my community, my blessings and gifts can be more advantageously used.
Yes, I can, I know.
Have a good day.