Despite the timid, quiet, and reserved nature of many of the women I have met through LPK, there is a boldness and a courageousness to them. They have the strength and courage to tell their stories to a stranger that they are meeting for the first time.
In fact, when I first preparing for these interviews, I wrote out a list of questions to ask these women in order to guide the conversation because I was nervous about making them relive all of the terrible ordeals they’ve suffered through. After the first few interviews, though, I stopped looking at the questions entirely. Rather than asking questions, I just let them go, and their stories came pouring out. I realized that they have no qualms about reliving their stories for the hundred thousandth time.
Perhaps this is because every time they retell their story, it strengthens their ownership of it. Despite everything the world has thrown at them, they are determined to be the writers of their own narratives. They will not play the victim, but rather, the victorious protagonist. LPK has given them the strength and courage to rewrite their stories in a way they see fit. Carol is a perfect example of this.
Carol used to think that only prostitutes and people living on the street got HIV and AIDS; but marrying an unfaithful husband proved her wrong. After they separated, Carol became very sick. That was in 2013. Thankfully in four short years, she has come a long way; but it was a difficult, and unfortunately, all too familiar journey filled with rejection and discrimination.
Upon telling her mother of her HIV status, she was disowned and called a prostitute. But with two children, no money, and nowhere else to go, she had no choice but to stay there. Her family did not make it easy for her. “There was so much stigma,” she says. “They did not want to be associated with me. If somebody cooked, and I touched something like a utensil, nobody would use it. Not even my own children were allowed to touch food that I touched. It was a difficult time.”
Eventually, after a confrontation that almost became physical, Carol knew she could no longer stay there. “She said there were two women in the house, and one of us had to leave.”
And so, Carol looked to her younger sister for help. Her sister was married and lived on her own. She agreed to house her until Carol was well enough to look for a job.
This proved to only be a temporary solution, though. “Soon my mother called my young sister and summoned her to ask why I was there. She said that I am the older sister, she should not be the one housing me. After they spoke, my sister came back and chased me from her house. I had nowhere to go.”
Miraculously, Carol was saved by a good Samaritan. Carol cried to this random woman on the street and explained her ordeal. Not only did the woman offer to shelter her in a small iron sheet house for free, she also gave her free food and actively looked for work for Carol.
Unfortunately, Carol soon found herself hospitalized for six weeks with joint pains and headaches.
After those six weeks, she called her mother to pick her up. Not surprisingly, their old arguments resumed almost immediately. Carol only stayed for two weeks before moving to her aunt’s house so that she could live close enough to a hospital where she could get regular treatment.
One day a social worker went to visit her aunt. The social worker heard Carol’s story and passed it on to Mom at LPK. “I was so happy because Mary treated me with her heart,” says Carol. Mom enrolled her in WEEP and gave her and her children free housing on a farm.
Carol’s life slowly started coming together. She was surrounded by loving peers, she was getting stronger, she was becoming independent, and her stigma was disappearing.
“I started to feel everything was going to be okay when I stepped into LPK,” she says. “I found a light. I saw my stigma lower, and I had more self-esteem. I knew that I’d survive long and watch my children grow.
“In WEEP class we shared, we learned, and I was so happy that I had found some colleagues.
“My mother realized I wasn’t going to die soon, and she started to embrace our relationship again.
“With my skills and my strength, I could stand on my own two feet. I can work on my own and feed my family.”
All of the pieces of Carol’s life were falling into place thanks to LPK. She was healthy, she was financially stable, she had her family back, and she had a circle of friends who cared for her.
“To me, LPK is my second home,” she says.” It makes me feel good. It makes me feel that I am not going to die tomorrow. LPK has given me a new life. It gives me hope. ”
Hope is the recurring theme to many of the stories I’ve heard from the women of LPK. It is the loss and rediscovery of hope. Hope is the inspiration and driving force behind many of their stories. And hope is what will carry them to their happily ever after endings that they so rightfully deserve.