The Many Faces of HIV

Posted on: 7th March 2013

“Because it is about sex, many people automatically think you got HIV because you have been “loose”, that you are not anything better than a prostitute. They do not believe you can contract HIV any other way.

You behaved immorally, and you got what you deserved.

My name is Emebet, and I have a different story to tell. I have been living with HIV for about four years. I am originally from Eritrea and came to join my husband, who was living and working in London and sponsored me to join him. We have three teenage children back home who are being looked after by my mum.

I knew my husband was taking medication when I came to live with him in the UK. I could hear it rattling around in his suitcase as he would take it around with him – the pills shaking in their bottles. But he didn’t tell me anything. It was his friend who asked me, ‘Your husband, do you know he’s ill? Do you know he has got the killer?’ This is the local name we use for HIV in my country, the killer. I was shocked. His friend suggested I go and get tested, and this is when I found out I was positive. All along, my husband had known, but he continued to sleep with me. I was absolutely devastated. My world had come to an end.

Things were not good between my husband and I after that. He continued going out, drinking, staying with different friends. I did not see him towards the end of his life. It was only through one of his friends I found out he had passed away.

As for me, my life as I knew fell apart. I was evicted from my house as he was the breadwinner and I was not able to keep up with rent payments. I became homeless, and slept rough around Elephant & Castle for 4 months. I slept in doorways, in halls, in alleyways. One evening two men who had been drinking caught me in a quiet alleyway. I tried to resist but I was too weak from not having eaten and slept properly for months. They took me to their home and raped me, one by one. I only managed to run away at dawn.

The next time I saw my doctor at the clinic I broke down. I could not do this anymore. I needed help, desperately. He put me in touch with Body & Soul, who referred me to a specialist advice charity that helped me find temporary shelter. It has been ten days now I have been sleeping in this hostel. I am so, so relieved to have a roof over my head at last. But things are still not great. I’m not getting any kind of subsistence support and live from hand to mouth. The hostel where I live does not even have a washing machine.

I miss my children terribly. My biggest fear is that I will not get to see them again before I die. Looking forward, my only hope is to be ok, to be well… to survive another year.”

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