“I’m alive because we tested for HIV together with my partners and were it not for this difficult yet wise decision, the story would be different today” Those are words told by one Deaf man, Jared Obunge, 45 as he reflects on a journey spanning over a decade of discordant life. He narrates a heartrending yet inspiring story:
I married my first wife- Eunice, also Deaf in November 1996. I had no idea about HIV or AIDs or the importance of knowing one’s status before getting married. My dad was a staunch and respected church elder, and I was also trained in biblical teaching, I got married in the Christian way. I was jobless and desperate. As the time went by I got consumed under peer pressure and eventually into alcohol to escape the toll of stress and even responsibility of being a husband. Soon thereafter a new behaviour set in on me where I and my friend started engaging in unprotected sex with several different women, some even married and others young girls.
My family, including my dad got alarmed of my sexual behaviour and so as our Luo culture would demand they recommended that I should have a second wife like my other brothers, and keeping in step with my polygamous father. My father had four wives. So I married my second wife in 2003. Nothing changed on my behaviour! However, I began to notice that some of the women I had unprotected sex with and also those of my friends’ became very sick, thin and some eventually passed away. Three of my close male friends also died but I was told that what killed them was called “Chira”- the result of being in breach of some traditional Luo culture. I could not understand this, but at least I was relieved because I had broken none of the dreaded traditional rules as the elders assured me.
My false sense of relief and bravery was replaced by fear as I grew anxious and felt afraid each passing day when my first wife, Eunice became sick on-off for long. I could not establish the cause even after several visits to the hospital. In May 2005 I was informed that an organization named Liverpool VCT (now LVCT Health) had organized for a health check, also known as HIV testing and counselling. A group of Deaf educators and counsellors had previous conducted a mobilization and awareness meeting around my home in what is now Homa-Bay county. Testing services was planned for a week later which I attended. I was extremely scared because at this point it had now downed on me that what was referred in my village to as “Chira” was in fact called “Ayaki” or AIDs. But I had no choice and after getting a lot of support and encouragement through awareness and clarification of facts, I decided to go for HIV test with my two wives.
The three of us got counselled for about 35 minutes by a Deaf counsellor before getting tested for HIV together. It looked like a full day from then on even though it took us less than 30 minutes to get results. It was really a difficult and stormy season but I thank the Deaf counsellor for his sense of professionalism, skill and experience in handling us three through. After three rounds of testing and confirmation using different test kits my two wives, regrettably, tested HIV positive. I tested Negative. I was extremely devastated. A part of me had left me, or so I felt deep in my system. My two wives were downhearted. But here, in the tiny room, was the Deaf counsellor who did great, and our future seemed to lie on his hand.
We were then referred to the nearby Homa Bay level four hospital for further test, care and support. At the hospital we were all tested again. The female nurse who did the repeat procedure knew me and my father so well. I could clearly see she was uncomfortable with the situation; the two wives of the son of a church elder who had just tested positive in front of her was too frightening to contemplate. But I reasoned that no matter how enlightened we think we are the bottom line still remains that somewhere deep within our psyche we seem to only associate HIV with immorality. After all, how my two wives got infected with HIV I still do not know up to this day. That’s the unhelpful question one should not dare ask in such circumstance, so I learnt.
After a month my two wives got enrolled for Comprehensive care and I also underwent more tests three and six months later but result remained negative. I continue to practice safe sex as I committed to supporting my two wives. Occasionally, I would accompany them to the hospital for CD4 check-up and sometimes collected drugs for them. In 2007 we started the Homa Bay Deaf support group where we currently have more than 80 Deaf members. LVCT Health has supported our group through capacity building and organization system strengthening. I also got trained as a HIV Testing services provider in 2008 through LVCT Health training institute. This was great inspiration that imparted me with more knowledge, esteem, skills to support my partners. It helped me provide leadership to the group and also champion for couple testing amongst persons with disabilities in my village and beyond.
In October 2011 my first wife lost the battle due to complications and passed away. It was really depressing especially for the children but we also got determination to carry on. I support my second wife a lot to live positively as we take care of our 7 children, 3 of whom my first wife left behind. I genuinely share this life experience to encourage others, fully conscious of the saying that the greatest battles are those told by survivors and not those who die in the battle. Testing together with a partner remains the best option for support and care as my case testifies. I’m currently a HIV services provider in Suba Sub- County, Homa Bay, Kenya. I thank LVCT Health for offering me a new lease of life through training and support through which I’m able to tell this story.