Being poor and HIV-positive is not easy on a good day.
Approximately 50 percent of the residents of Kibera have HIV/AIDS. Many of them get regular supplies of anti-retro viral drugs from medical aid groups, but they struggle to get adequate nutrition to support their immune systems.
When the protests and violence swept Kibera after the December election, many people were left without homes, work or access to their regular medicines. The health of many people with HIV deteriorated because of the stress, and poor shelter and nutrition.
As part of the African Woman and Child Feature Service's Voices project, Joyce Chimbi visited HIV-positive women who have been displaced from Kibera. Here are the stories of Rose Gakii and Grace Oloo.
Rose Gakii has gone through a whirlwind of emotions since 2003, when she was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. She has gone from denial to withdrawal and even attempting suicide.
With counseling, Gakii says she overcame the crippling desperation she felt after testing positive for the dreaded virus. With renewed outlook towards life she has worked hard enough to feed her seven children.
Her life crumbled again on January third, when violence erupted across Kenya. Since then, her once tranquil days in Kibera’s Makina village have become a nightmare.
“I envy the dead, when you die; you go to a better place, a place of rest.
These tears that are streaming down my face are those of bitterness. I am 44 years old, a poor woman who has not stolen even a single cent from anyone. But look at me now. I have become a refugee in my own country.
I have been at Jamhuri Park for the last one week.
I tested positive [for HIV/AIDS] in 2003. My husband has been dead for the last five years. I am the sole breadwinner.
I have seven children, three of them orphans. My stall has enabled me to pay my rent, which is Ksh 600 per month [abou 10 USD] and to put food on the table. But everything was destroyed in the fire [following the election results of 2007].
My 16 year old boy is in Kabete prison. He was arrested on the 16th of January. I’m his mother and I know that my boy is innocent. They said that he was among the youths who stole and slaughtered a cow.
The constant worry and the overbearing nervous tension is driving me to the edge, I feel like I’m running mad. You can imagine what this is doing to my health.
I feel as if my head is a well of tears. Tears and my children are the only things I have left.’’
For the mother of seven, although life will never be the same again, she says if peace was restored the sense of security would be an impetus toward rebuilding her life.
Grace Oloo’s life had taken a predictable but comfortable routine since she tested positive for HIV/AIDS about four years ago.
Every morning, she would wake up with the cock crow, see her children off to school, tidy her house, and open her business in the Soweto village of the Kibera slums.
Like most people, Oloo says she had never imagined Kenya sinking into chaos. As fresh incidences of violence flare up across the country, she says her personal turmoil escalates.
“Everything I have worked hard for has been reduced to ashes. Having triumphed against great odds to get this far, the sorrow within me is overwhelming.
In March of 2003, I had been bedridden for quite sometime. I was suffering from Tuberculosis and despite treatment, doctors said I wasn’t making progress. They tested me for HIV which confirmed their suspicions. I was HIV positive. At only 33 years, my world fell apart.
But with four children of my own and a grandchild, I had to soldier on. My husband, also positive, resorted to taking cheap brew. As the sole breadwinner I began selling fish.
It was a very humble beginning but I have expanded the business over the years. I have been able to look after my children. My 18 year old daughter and my orphaned niece are also HIV positive.
After the general elections results were announced, Kibera was transformed into a madhouse. I live in Soweto, which was terribly torn apart.
My children and I fled on the third of January. It was the worst experience I have ever had. Even though I didn’t leave my anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs behind, without a warm place and quality food, I knew my health was in jeopardy.
I wasn’t really as worried for myself as I was for my one-and-a-half year old niece. Besides being HIV positive, she suffers from pneumonia and asthma. I had this cold fear deep within me that it was only a matter of time before she died.
For the two nights she spent at Jamhuri Park, I stayed up all night frantically trying to warm her shriveled body. The sores on her body were getting worse and she was too weak.
Her sunken eyes would stare at me for most of the night, the cold being too much for her to sleep for long periods. Her health has deteriorated to alarming levels.
I am not any different from her, I have been experiencing constant headaches. The three nights I spent at the park have put my health between a rock and a hard place.
During the destructions, I lost fish that was worth about Ksh 25,000 without profit [about 400 USD]. I take my orders from Tanzania and I have been making good progress.
At the moment, I feel like I’m just about to write the last chapters of my life. The devastating desperation I feel erases any traces of all the dreams I once had.’’
Oloo says with some investment capital, she would be ready to start afresh.