I am on holiday at last! And somewhere very very hot: Miami. It makes for a happy and relaxed me- at last!
I had a busy time before leaving. Last week-end I was in Bath where I facilitated the PozFem South West meeting. The aim of the meeting was to introduce PozFem to the women in the South West of the UK as well as get a picture of the experience of Stigma in the region.
We were in a lovely place just outside Bath: the Ammerdown Centre. It rained most of the time – as usual for an English summer- so we couldn’t really enjoy country walks, but we had a lot of time to bond and talk to each other.
The group wasn’t very big, we were 11. But Wales, Cornwall and Devon were represented. As well as Zambia, Zimbabwe and Kenya.
One of the participants , I will call her A, when we arrived looked very tense. She set at the margin of the circle of chairs and didn’t speak much. In the afternoon we completed the questionnaire for the Stigma Index. When we finished we opened the discussion. I think it is always important to have time to talk about what came up while completing the Index because it can be emotionally really straining.
A said: ‘ Living in this country as an HIV+ immigrant has robbed me of all my dignity. I came to the UK in 2003. In my country I was a valued member of my community. I worked as a teacher. However, since I became HIV+ two thirds of what I earned went into buying the medications I was on. The money left wasn’t enough to live on. I was really struggling. I thought that if I came to the UK I could work, earn a better wage, pay for my medication and have enough to live.
The Home Office took my passport in 2003. Since then I have been going to sign at a police station every month. Last year, once, I went to the Police station and they said that my case had been refused and I had to be deported. They kept me in a cell at the police station for 5 days. I couldn’t wash, change clothes, or even brush my teeth. I didn’t even have my medication. I called my local HIV charity, but they said that nobody could come and help me – they didn’t have time. Finally another member of PozFem managed to bring me clothes and my medications. I was moved to a detention center. They said I would be put on an plane and sent back to my country. I asked to see the detention center’s doctor. I explained to him my situation, that I was HIV+ and if he could please arrange for me to have a couple of months supply of HIV medications so that I would have enough time to find out where and how to get ARVs in my country.
He said: ‘No, it is not possible.’
I asked him: ‘What am going to do then?’
‘Do what Africans do’ Those were his final words.
My lawyer managed to get me out of the detention centre and bring my case to appeal. I continued waiting. I have waited for 6 years. I am fed up. I had to change ARVs and the combination I am on is not available in my country. But I am so fed up, I just want to go back. I asked the Home Office to give me back my passport. I want to go. But I am still waiting for my passport…’
A ‘s story stirred so many feelings within us. We were moved, sad, but above all really angry at the inhumane way she had been treated. Almost as she was a criminal. But her only ‘Crime’ is to have been born in a poor country where HIV is still a death sentence for most people.
We realized once again that it is so important that us, PozFem members, let others – and especially those in power- know what is happening to people like A.
By the end of our meeting A looked more relaxed. One of my best memories from the two days, was walking in the breakfast room and see A talking animately to other members and burst out laughing.