Living positively with my children beside me

Date: January 1, 1970
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I moved to South Africa 14 years ago from a very small country in central Africa. I always wanted to give my children a chance to grow up with a father figure since I had been a single mother for the first 15 years of their lives. I started corresponding with an old boyfriend living here in Johannesburg, and in January 1995, I visited him, rekindling the spark.

We decided that I would stay to make a life together. Before long, in March the same year, my children came to live with us. Everything was going well until two months later when his true colours started to come out. He would leave the house in the morning around ten o’clock and only return the next morning at two o’clock, dead drunk. All his friends and acquaintances loved him because he would buy alcohol and even paid rent for some who could not pay for themselves.
However, at home we begged for money for food. In desperate times, I would actually steal it from him, especially when he was very drunk. I could not leave him because I had nowhere to go, and what made it worse, I was foreign and could not speak English. Our life became unstable. During the period that I was with him we did not stay in a house for more than six months, we were always evicted because he did not pay rent.
This was not because he did not have money but because he just did not bother to be responsible enough to pay it. Sometimes we stayed in very ugly motels that you could never imagine. Sometimes he would come home drunk just to find us evicted outside. The situation became so unbearable that my children would go to the park and beg for money so we could eat. Instead of getting a new place to stay, he went and bought a new Isuzu 4×4 and took us to stay with his friend.
His friend got so tired of us that he moved out of his house leaving us there with nothing. So many nights he kicked us out of the house because we did or said something he did not like. This trend continued until 2000 when we moved into a furnished apartment South of Johannesburg. As always, he did not pay rent on time, but we were fortunate because our landlord was very understanding. He would kick him out but let us stay. Once the landlord 6 kicked him out and he said he would not pay unless he kicked me and my children out. At least by this time my children were working.
Because my children worked, we managed to pay the debt as well as the rent. Eventually he went his way, we stayed on our own. He went to stay in a very "low class" hotel in the east and carried on with his drinking and his wayward ways until he got very sick and needed me to look after him. We took him in and nursed him back to life.
At that point, he humbled himself and started working again but my children still paid
the rent. He then came up with the idea of buying a house. When the house was completed, he decided instead for his family to come live with him. My children and I accepted this because my children were working. My ex-boyfriend and his family then separated. He stayed in his new house and they found a house of their own.
He became sick and got worse by the day. He got weaker and weaker and had no one to look after him or cook for him, and he could not work. One day he visited us and continued to live with us. He deteriorated until he could not even go to the toilet on his own so much that he had to wear nappies. In 2004, he passed away.
After this, life had to go on, but I always felt this nag in my heart that I could be HIV positive, since I did not know what my late boyfriend suffered from. One day I shared my thoughts with my friend and my suspicions about the state of my health. My friend held my hand and accompanied me to get tested.
To my horror, my results came out positive. It was the most devastating news I could ever get. I prayed and asked God to carry my burdens for me and give me the courage to tell my children. Along came my colleague with whom I usually work who asked me to come along to a workshop that would present me with an opportunity to write my own story about my experiences.
After the first “I” Story session, I felt a sense of release after speaking out for the first time about my status, and immediately began my process of healing. I got the courage to tell my children. I thank God for my children because when I told them, they did not cry. Instead, they said, "You will make it, it’s not a death sentence all we have to do is change our lifestyle and be positive. Together as a family there’s nothing we can’t beat, not even HIV can put us down.”
As I write my story, I feel good that my children have accepted my status. We eat healthy, exercise daily, think positive thoughts and give all glory to the Almighty.
* not her real name
This story is part of the “I” Stories series produced by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence.

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