How I gradually accepted my HIV status
When Minneh Kamau Bushby left for Canada in 1996 to attend a two-week HIV/AIDS conference, she had another mission in mind- to go and die in a faraway land, away from her family.
She didn’t die.
And three weeks ago, Minneh visited her family in Lari, for the first time in 15 years. “When I left I had been diagnosed with AIDS in 1993. I had seen a lot of people dying in the hospital and they looked horrific and I thought I don’t want this to happen to me,” she explains.
She had kept her condition a safely guarded secret from her family.
Minne was 27 years old when she left the country and her job as a Secretary at the University of Nairobi.
She broke the news to her family years later from Canada. “After about five years in Canada, she sent us a letter saying that she was HIV positive but she didn’t have the courage to inform us earlier,” her mother Rosemary Kamau recounts. “Those are the days when people would die and get buried in polythene bags if its known that they had HIV,” she goes on to say.
A lot of things have happened while Minneh was away. For example, her only daughter Jesse whom she had left behind died in July 1997 aged six years. “It was the most difficult time of my life because I was expecting she may die since I had the disease and she might have had it as well. So when I was told she was dead, the questions I was asking were was she very thin, was she very sick, was she in hospital, was it an accident, what happened?” Minneh narrates.
Because she was residing illegally in Canada at the time, Minneh opted not to travel to Kenya for her daughter’s burial. So when she was finally given her immigration papers in January last year, she knew she was coming home. “Last year she wrote to inform us that she would come home and I told her, I will believe when I see you at home in Kenya,” Minneh’s father Nahashon Kamau tells us.
It has been a long and tough journey for Minneh, the second born in a family of seven. “People don’t just end up getting AIDS, it is a series of things that happen. I was raped at age eight then again at 12 years,” she remembers tearfully.
The lack of self worth led Minneh to the streets of Nairobi as a prostitute. “I was looking for love in all the wrong places and not realising that sex is not love and love is not sex, they are two different things. I cannot tell you when I got HIV whether it is when I was raped or on the bad date or when I was a prostitute but I know for sure it was unprotected sex,” Minneh says.
But like in a fairy tale, Minneh got married in 2005 to Ryan Bushby, a man whom she says saw her strengths rather than her flaws. “I knew that I could protect myself so I saw no reason not to pursue her and am very happy I married her. There are very specific ways that you can catch the virus and you can avoid it, it just takes simple precautions like use of a condom and you are fine,” Ryan says.
Minneh is now involved in educating the youth on HIV/AIDS because she believes if she had the information and knowledge, she would not have contracted the disease.