Contracting AIDS saved my life.
I know that sounds back to front, but life doesn't always turn out the way you expect it to.
I married at the age of seventeen. We didn't have a ceremony or anything because only rich people have weddings in my home town. Instead my boyfriend went to my parents to negotiate the bride-price. If you ask me, it's kind of degrading hearing your future husband haggling with your father about how you're worth a lot less than he's demanding. But then again I was five months pregnant at the time and no one was about to walk away from the table without an agreement.
My honeymoon lasted all of two nights whereupon God decided that I deserved a taste of hell on earth. Seven horrendous months later, my drunken husband drove his motorcycle off a bridge and left me a grieving widow. As if! Rather, I was left a penniless widow with a starving baby to feed and only 50,000 Ugandan shillings to my name. That's about US$20 if you're not from round here.
Little girls don't grow up saying that they want to become prostitutes. Sometimes it just works out that way. It's not as if you need to go on a training course you just lie on your back and let a man have his way with you. It's not all that different from being married except that your brute of a husband doesn't have to pay you for sex.
One of the things you learn early on is that you must always use a condom. Only problem is that most men hate using them. I once heard a Kenyan man say that wearing a condom is like eating a toffee with the paper still on I don't know about you, but I think that's really funny. It also explains why prostitutes can charge considerably more for unprotected sex. I could sometimes get as much as 40,000 shillings a go, which is a lot of money when you have a bunch of hungry children waiting for you at home.
I'm not sure when I became infected. The first time I took an HIV test was one week after my youngest child died. She had been sickly from the day she popped out and her death wasn't that much of a surprise. I had also lost a pile of weight and it seemed that hardly a month went by that I didn't have malaria or a dose of dysentery. Looking back, the positive result was a foregone conclusion.
Meeting Sister Augusta was the best thing that ever happened to me. She was my post-result counsellor and a member of the Redeemed Church in the centre of Kampala. She patiently explained to me how to take my 'rainbow pills,' the drugs that would inhibit the spread of HIV within my body and grant me perhaps an extra ten years of life enough time for me to see my darlings through school and able to manage on their own.
I never told Augusta I was a prostitute but I think she could tell. That's why she met with me every night for two months and taught me how to do needlework. Then she vouched for me at the women's cooperative that met every week at her church. Six months later, my embroidered wall hangings were selling faster than anyone else's and I could hardly keep up with the demand from the tourist craft shops.
The other thing that Augusta taught me was to put my faith in a God who loves and accepts me. I've been born again and I'm hoping to be baptised in September. I sometimes teach Sunday School and I even tried joining the choir although someone finally let slip that most of my notes were sharper than my now famous needles.
Up until last week no one knew my HIV status. I was terrified that people would despise me, maybe even drive me from the church. Last Thursday I went to the clinic as usual to pick up my monthly prescription of rainbow pills. But as I walked in, I recognised another woman from church. At first she was shocked to see me, but then she smiled and motioned for me to sit down beside her. What she said was so beautiful I couldn't help but cry. "Don't worry, my dear," she whispered. "We all have a past. But it's Jesus who gives us a future."
Gregory Kane is a missionary from the UK who ministers in Mozambique, Africa. He can be contacted through his web site at http://kane.elim-moz.org/
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