I battled with myself on whether I should pen down this note. I wondered what my family would say and whether they would not reprimand me for sharing such family matters. Then I found consolation in the fact that this happened in the past, and perhaps people may learn from our story. Although it was so many years ago, people may still learn a lot from this.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS was still rife. Much worse than what it is at the moment. Society had, in a decade learned about how terrible this disease is and how it threatened to wipe out our society. There wasn’t as much education on it as there is now. People didn’t speak up about it because the second people learned that you were HIV positive, they suddenly assumed that you were promiscuous – mostly women.
We were not officially told about my aunt, who was living with us and was not herself anymore. We were close as she was the youngest in her home and I was one of the oldest grandchildren. I remember how she used to give me pocket money whenever we had an open day at school. She dressed well, knew the latest fashion trends and was just a ball of fun. She started living with her boyfriend and I doubt my family approved of this. So I often visited her, not just for the pocket money. She didn’t want anything from me, just to know that I was there and I loved her.
When she fell sick, she moved in with us. It was scary; this person who had been healthy not so long ago, was slowly fading. I wasn’t sure what to do. We lived in a four room (2 bedrooms) house so she took our bedroom and we had to sleep on the sitting room floor. It was a small price to pay for this woman whom I loved so much and was in need at this time. The tune soon changed when everyone around me started treating her differently.
I made her food and she didn’t have much of an appetite. She had her own cutlery and dishes. We used disinfectant to wash dishes all the time. You’d swear there was a plague of some sort. Thinking about it now, I just wonder how terrible she must have felt. The disease did kill her, but perhaps we had a role as well because we failed to support her as a family.
When she wasn’t getting better, she moved to her home. Nobody lovingly took care of her. She was often scolded for leaving home to go stay with her man. Her siblings felt that she abandoned them for a man. I recall the one time she needed her bandages changed. She was in so much pain and nobody wanted to help her. She said “Ntando please change my bandages, you will use gloves”. I said “ah Mamncane I’m scared”. I’m a little bit scared of blood and wounds, but at that moment, I should have braved it out for the person I loved. When I was done helping her out, although I was very reluctant, my other aunt spoke about how brave I was. That day, I didn’t want to eat using my hands, my cousin fed me. I cannot believe I did this to my aunt. I shed a tear every time I think about the pain I took her through.
I could have done things better. I could have been there for her emotionally. I instantly forgot how much she loved me and how she probably would have sacrificed anything for me. I was 12 years old, didn’t know much about the disease. All I knew was all I was told. I remember an echo once “Ntando, if you dare get HIV, I will bathe you with a mop”. So in my head, sleeping around was the reason for this disease.
It must have been difficult dealing with all of this on her own – a disease that no one knew much about. My uncle came to the rescue when he took her in. Although I cannot be sure how he treated her, but I think she was better off in his care. I have fibromyalgia, and it frustrates me so much that my family are not even bothered to learn about this syndrome; I often feel alone, so I cannot even begin to imagine how my aunt felt in all of this.
I often wish I could turn back the hands of time and do things right. I can only speak about the naivety because I was young and knew less. I mean I didn’t even know much about getting my period, imagine this. When I think of my aunt, I think about how I failed her in her time of need. She loved me and I loved her so much. I often wish that she could forgive me, wherever she is.
South Africa has come a long way with regards to HIV/AIDS education. It is no longer seen as a death sentence like before. People live with us with the disease and are leading such fruitful and beautiful lives. We are all one way or the other affected by HIV/AIDS. I’m pleased to report that my family has grew from that moment. My aunt is the only one ever treated that way and after that, we never did treat our loved ones the same – whatever the reason for their ailment was. I just wish we would speak out more about the disease and not just be told not to sleep around – it would go a long way.