Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-Chief
Last Modified: 18:00 p.m. EDT, 11 March 2012
KENYA – A story about Reverend Patricia Sawo and an opportunity to enter NPR’s ‘Three-Minute Fiction Round 8‘ competition inspired me to write a post about a place and time that I had abandoned in a forgotten recess of my mind.
The BBC interview with the Kenyan AIDS activist struck a chord with me in two ways: first because it made me remember my friend Donovan Grayson, G-d rest his soul, who suffered and died from this disease in 1994. Second, it demonstrated the power of our mind to manifest the insubstantial, ethereal and incorporeal into a substantive reality.
Sawo’s story, though tragic in how it manifested in her life, forced me to examine and reevaluate my beliefs and fears. I realized as I listened to her, that I too had experienced the realization of my greatest fears because of my persistent unacknowledged belief that it would eventually happen.
Mine was the false profession that I would never become a single-mom nor allow the attendant tragedies that sometimes befall women raising children alone to happen to me. I secretly blamed these women for their situations, while the thought that plagued my every waking moment and replayed in my head was the fear that it would somehow happen to me. Thus, to my horror, I eventually manifested the tragedy of abandonment, single-parenthood, and divorce into my life.
Sawo, told the interviewer that she previously preached that “HIV was a curse and punishment from G-d for people who had strayed from the path of righteousness.” By her own admission, though she lived in Kenya which has a moderate level of infection amongst the populace, she had very little sympathy for AIDS victims or their children. This despite the fact that she was a church leader and trained as a Christian counselor. Her life changed suddenly and dramatically when she tested positive for HIV.
I could definitely relate to her fear at the moment of testing and revelation. Even though I know the possibility of me testing positive is non-existent because of my celibacy, I still feel anxious each time my physician recommends that I have a complete blood work-up, including a HIV test. This irrational fear of exposure to this disease, though the methods of its contraction and the limited lifespan of the virus outside of the body are well documented, the thought of contraction from some youthful indiscretion still haunts me. In my youth, testing positive for HIV was never far from my thoughts, particularly since my ex-husband of twenty plus years was an intravenous drug user.
Sawo never reveals how she thinks she may have contracted the disease, although she was pregnant at the time and married. ” Later, she confided in two colleagues, who advised her that seven days of fasting and prayer would bring healing from G-d. But she continued to test HIV positive. When church leaders began discussing strategies to identify and isolate all HIV-positive people, Sawo decided to go public about her status.
But her courage had disastrous repercussions: in two weeks Sawo lost her position of leadership in the church, which forced her to end her studies. Her husband lost his job, and the family lost their home, because of HIV-related stigma. All but two of Sawo’s friends deserted her. Without any form of support, the children had to leave their schools. ‘For two years I lived in loneliness and isolation’, says Sawo.” (Source: BBC World Service)