A narrow murram path leads to 30-year-old Cecile Asaji’s house in Kakamega town. Small stones painted with whitewash lie on each side of the path.
Behind them, two lines of freshly watered flowers stretch all the way to the veranda. The petals have only begun to embrace the warmth of the sun.
“I’m glad the sun is out today,” Cecil says, welcoming us into her house. “It’s a good Friday.”
Curled up on her sofa looking relaxed and happy, Cecile is a warm lady to be around. But beneath her happy smile lies an undercurrent of despair, pain and rejection, only recently tempered by courage, hope and determination to once again reclaim her life.
You see, Cecile is HIV positive, and learning to finally win against the demons that once haunted her after the betrayal of her once-loving boyfriend.
Growing up the fifth child in a family of six, with an absent father, in Vihiga district, is where her story starts.
“My father was a banker and my mother was a primary teacher,” she says.
One month after her birth, her father left for the US to work and study, returning when she was 10.
Cecile recalls that although she had uncles to look up to, she still missed a father figure.
“I had only seen him in pictures. I wanted to be with him, to spend time talking about ‘my dad’, just like my friends did.”
Nonetheless, Cecile’s life was otherwise stable, and in 1997, she joined St. Mary’s Girls’ School in Mumias. In 1998, at the age of 16, Cecile was struck by Cupid’s arrow.
James* was a close friend of her brothers, and someone familiar to her since childhood, even though he was substantially older than her. In 2000, she joined M’mbale Progressive School in Uganda for her A-levels, but that did not deter love; James, who was in employment in Kisumu at that time, would often travel to see her.
“I was confident that he was a good catch,” she says.”I told myself that he wouldn’t do all the bad things that men did to women. He filled the void that my father had left, and I felt that he was the only man who cared and loved me.”
Cecile devoted herself to him, and dreamed of one day becoming his wife and the mother of his children. In 2003 she joined Kampala International University for her Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communication.
With more freedom and her own room, she could date and club as much as she wanted, but she opted instead to be faithful to James.
“It looked like fun. At times I felt tempted to join in. But I didn’t. I had a boyfriend back at home who was faithful. I could not bear to hurt him.”
Then in 2004, things began to fall apart. They began to squabble. His visits decreased in frequency.
“I sensed that something was eating into my relationship,” Cecile remembers. Her friends thought there was another woman. Cecile sat him down and prodded him. “He claimed that his mother was very sick and needed to see some grandchildren (before she died),” she says.
“I did not want to lose him, yet I did not want to bear a child out of wedlock.”
When her older sister had conceived out of wedlock their father had been very upset and almost kicked her out of the house, and so Cecile knew that the family would not take this kindly. But in the end, and at the age of 23, she gave in and conceived.
“Coincidentally, my father did not pay my fees that year, and I moved in with my boyfriend, which helped me keep it from my family.”
However, the arguments she thought would end with her conception went on. To add insult to injury, her boyfriend began to see another woman.
“Some days, he would come over to the house with her. I guess he wanted to humiliate me and force me to leave.”
Cecile confronted the lady, begging her to leave ‘them’ alone. “I felt like she was inducing our break-up, and told her to stop. After all, I was pregnant with his child. But she said that I had no business dating and should (concentrate on my studies).”
Towards the end of her second trimester, Cecile had a premature rapture of the membrane. “It happened at around 2pm. We did not have neighbours around and I was not familiar with the estate.”
By the time John returned from work and took her to hospital, her condition had deteriorated. “The doctors said that my condition was critical. They removed the foetus to save my life.”
Chris the playboy
After returning to her boyfriend’s from the hospital, the break up that had been simmering burst out.
“He accused me of prostitution and negligence and kicked me out.”
Heartbroken and in physical pain, Cecile returned to her parents in Vihiga where she lied that she had been staying with a student in hope that her dad would send her fees.
“I did not speak about the pregnancy or the misconception.” It was while she was there that she heard that John had married. “I wondered what I had done wrong to deserve this. Hadn’t I been faithful and submissive? Hadn’t I loved enough? What did I lack?”
In 2007, Cecile returned to campus for her final year. This time, she was sullen and withdrawn.
“I could not accept the fact that my relationship had ended. I felt unlovable, undesirable and unattractive.” One day a man dropped by her room. “He said that his name was Chris* and some students in our row were his cousins.” They began to converse.
“He asked why I didn’t know him, yet he knew me well. He claimed that he had graduated the previous year.” From that day on, Charles began to drop by her room.
“He began to ask for coffee dates. He wanted to date me. Having come from a hurtful relationship, and having a largely absentee father, I feared men. Yet, I needed someone to tell me what I wanted to hear: that I was alright.”
She began to warm up to him. They began to date and sex became part of their relationship. “At first, we used condoms. But after some time, we began to have unprotected sex.”
Then Cecile began to hear stories that her new boyfriend was a serial player. It also turned out that he had never had cousins at the university. But what really shook Cecile was a fellow student’s proclamation.
“She cornered me on my way from the library and accused me of stealing her man. Then she said that I would be very wise to have an HIV test.”
Confused, Cecile stopped all physical intimacy with Chris two months after they had started. “I demanded that we go for a test, or there would be no relationship.” However, her boyfriend utterly refused and told her to go alone.
“I was totally unsettled and had to go for a test to be sure. The test came out negative!”
Cecile broke up the relationship and swore to never date again. In early 2011, she got a job as banker in Eldoret – which she later lost due to illness. In August, her eyes began to swell and her skin developed severe blemishes. “I went to Moi Referral Hospital and got hydrocortisones which eased the skin problem.”
A few weeks later, she began to develop blisters on her tummy.
“The blisters came in tandem with strong fevers.” Her aunt, who was a medic, heard about her problems and advised that they visit the hospital together. “I hate jabs and I was very reluctant at first.” The tests came out positive for herpes. “I also tested HIV positive,” she adds, with a breaking voice.
“I thought it was a joke. Hadn’t I gone for a test that turned out negative?” Her father broke the news to her siblings and other members of her extended family. “I felt really hurt,” Cecile says. In the following days, Cecile and her father could not see eye to eye.
“There was cold hatred in his eyes whenever we met. He couldn’t stay in the same room with me.” Apparently, her father had a mistress who had repeatedly told him stories of Cecile being a husband snatcher in Eldoret town. He now believed that the stories were true.
Meanwhile, Cecile’s health deteriorated. She began to harbour suicidal thoughts. “I thought, ah, if I just swallow all my ARVs, my suffering would end.”
But a second thought told her that she would leave her first boyfriend, James, enjoying life. “I blamed him. If he hadn’t dumped me, I wouldn’t have been infected.
From despair to hope
Now I wanted to infect him and his wife.” They had recently gotten in touch, and Cecile decided to put her plan into action. Since he was once again showing interest in her, Cecile began to come around.
“He apologised and promised to marry me as a second wife and love me more. He even bought piece of land where he wanted to settle me.” Her plan was perfectly falling into place.
Just about then, this January, she came upon an advertisement in a local paper for a HIV-positive networking group. “They were looking to network persons living with HIV/Aids.”
Through the group, she met an evangelist who became her emotional pillar, and a social support network of people living positively with HIV who gave her hope.
“I met people with different experiences. Slowly, I came to see that I had not come to the end of the road. I could still live.”
She began to let the pain go and stopped seeing her first boyfriend. “I have kept a safe distance from him. Though my dad has refused to accept me, I hope that one day we will patch up.”
Meanwhile, Cecile’s emotional healing continues. “I may not have good feelings towards men, but I want to heal. I want to love and live again,” she says with conviction.”I want to be the woman I know I can be. And I will get there.”
* Names have been changed
Source: DAILY NATION