Name: Daniel Kamau
It is raining and I start sipping my coffee waiting for my subject to arrive. The day has decided to turn gray before anyone could grasp what was about to happen; the clouds have ushered a downpour, the warm sun is completely banished. Seating exactly at the window of dainty version of the concept of a coffee shop, I can see the drama unfolding outside – a woman rushing by, covering her weave by a piece of newspaper, the man who has given up fighting, settling for a brisk walk. Such a perfect weather to drink coffee at the epicenter of Dar es Salaam.
But all of a sudden I start getting worried that my subject will not arrive. While I am tossing and turning a million reasons for his no-show, he bursts into the dim lit coffee shop, wet like a bathed cat. I wave at him and he comes over. He is tall and slender, with a sweeping motion of a human being happy to be away from the rain. When he opens his mouth, a concoction of English and Swahili from Kenya, the latter which, would be mixed with words like chapaa, manzi, madha, and the like. But he is a gentle soul and happy human being.
This is his story.
Daniel Kamau, who is 23 years old, is a Kenyan boy who found out that he was HIV+ on 28 August 2014, after a friend of his who worked in a clinic encouraged him to get tested.
“You see six months before August I had tested negative, so I was really comfortable going in for the test during that day,” remembers Daniel.
Little did he know that everything was about to change and his life was about to be redefined.
“The doctor told me that I was HIV+,” Daniel’s eyes got shiny but he smiles as his Adam’s apple retracts. After a brief pause he continues.
“That day a mixture of overwhelming emotions swept over me like gusts of angry winds sent for destruction. I couldn’t breathe. I could hear a ringing in my ear as if someone had punched the life out of me. You see, sometimes I can still hear the voice of the doctor when I close my eyes,” he picks up his cup and takes a sip to break his emotions.
Just like any good doctor would do, Daniel was reassured that he is going to be alright and that HIV+ status didn’t mean that his life had come to an end. But those words didn’t make any sense to him and his head was abuzz with every little sound you can imagine.
“I have heard of people run over by cars after getting bad news. I thought it would happen to me. I wanted it to happen to me. I thought my life had come an end and I had already started contemplating suicide by the time I was walking back home. My small world had come to a halt. It was over and nothing could be done.” Daniel narrates what he felt, his eyes focusing on something in the room, his presence lost, until he comes back from the reverie after finishing the narration.
When he tested positive he was dating his second boyfriend, Jimmy, after breaking up with the first, Ben, seven months before. Daniel never got the courage to tell his boyfriend so he became distant and eventually they broke up because he felt he had also infected him.
You can imagine that the weeks following this revelation were characterized by nothing apart from stress and heartache. Like they say, sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. Two weeks after the diagnosis he got another shocking result.
“I had 149 CD4 count and the doctor said I was practically a walking dead and that I could die any moment and I was immediately put on a Septrin dose,” I can see bitterness as he tells me this.
“I turned to the only thing that I knew best. Drinking. I drank a lot during the weeks after my diagnosis in order to escape the reality of my life. I managed to do this in shortest periods only to be awaken by the flashlight of the reality of the painful world,” the downpour is coming to a halt and the room is empty apart from us two.
Just like many in such a situation, he indulged more and more to numb the pain. It wasn’t long before the biggest and worst reality hit him.
Things were going south when his contract was not renewed after his performance at work deteriorated due to the stress and depression from his new condition.
“Then I got sick; that type of sick which is not good. I had to be hospitalized for three months,” tells Daniel.
It was around this time that Daniel told his sister and brother – his only surviving family – about his HIV status. But Daniel had to lie that he got infected by a girl because his siblings didn’t know about his sexual orientation and they wouldn’t approve.
New Revelation & Decision
Everyone has their turning points. This was his turning point. Right there, in the hospital sick and smelling of death and walls reeking of funereal sounds. It was the U-turn of his life. He told me that one night he saw myself hanging from cliff, below a blazing fire of molten lava invited him. He knew that he had to stop.
“So I promised God and myself that when I get better, I will tell people about my HIV status,” he continues.
Forgiveness, New Love & Big Announcement
“I realized it was stupid the way I was treating myself. I am better than this, I told myself over and over again until I believed those words. I knew I had to take care of myself because otherwise I would die,” a plumb lady in a kitenge dress comes in and sits right behind Daniel, talking on the phone.
First of all, forgiveness, such a loaded word, but in his case a very important one, had to happen.
“Four months after testing positive I went to see my first boyfriend, Ben. When I saw him I cried a lot because he had already developed AIDS symptoms. I saw death in him and it hurt me so much,” his eyes get glinting again.
“Ben confessed that he was the one who infected me. I cried again because the pain was unbearable but I had to learn to forgive him in order to move on,” continues Daniel.
Later, he told Jimmy, his second boyfriend, that the reason they had broken up was because of his HIV status. He took him for VCT and surprisingly Jimmy was negative. They went to another clinic and the results were the same. Jimmy wanted to get back with Daniel because he still loved him but many things were happening in Daniel’s life and he had already moved on.
Later, he would meet Noah, his current boyfriend who is HIV-.
“I was very open about my HIV status with Noah before dating him and we have been together ever since,” you can see happiness in Daniel’s face, the happiness of a man in love.
“After 8 months I had finally accepted myself fully and I was ready to fulfill the promise I made to God and myself when I was on my deathbed. I posted my HIV status on Facebook,” finally the sun comes out, pushing the clouds apart, dazzling the wet surfaces.
Charting the cause!
After he posted his HIV status, many sent him messages concerning their HIV status and he decided to create a group to bring young people with HIV together. Currently the group has about 30 people who are helping each other to fight the disease.
“I am currently creating awareness concerning HIV/AIDS especially among young people. I visit schools and speak to students concerning my life and HIV/AIDS and the importance of testing,” Daniel shows me some photos of his work.
Recognizing the power behind social media Daniel has been vocal about HIV/AIDS, posting commentary and information on the subject, using his image to champion the cause.
“I believe it is important for young people to know their status so they can protect themselves and those they have sex with,” he adds.
From his interaction with young people he has realized that many don’t want to gest tested because of the fear of finding out that they are HIV+, as many tend to engage in unprotected sex.
Gay, straight and feminine
Daniel tells me that being a feminine gay guy in Kenya is not advisable; one can get beaten up.
“I am straight acting, which helps me conceal my sexuality from the public. But I also surround myself with gays who are also straight acting in order not to send red flags. Even little things like wearing boxers and not briefs comes in,” says Daniel.
“My brother and sister are not aware of my sexual orientation and neither are most of the people in my community. On my Facebook I don’t post anything gay-related and either way, my brother and sister are not in my Facebook friends list,” he further explains.
My life now
“Guys still hit on me regardless of my HIV status, which is a good thing, but I turn them down. I have a boyfriend whom I love and who loves me back and that is enough for me. I don’t want to get married to a woman like how many gays in Kenya would do. In fact, I would like to marry a man and adopt kids. I know that is not possible in Kenya so I would settle for a boyfriend in secret.”
Sex as HIV+
“Sometimes it is hard to use protection because of time and place but I try to protect my boyfriend from infection by using protection all the time. For example, if I have mouth ulcers or bleeding in my gums we don’t kiss. We talk about things,” says Daniel.
Advice and moving forward
- Many gays in Kenya are after sex and not real love so it is sometimes hard to find someone in the pool of promiscuity.
- Personally I don’t consider myself a hero but a guy who is trying to make a difference.
- Of course I am afraid of being discriminated and segregated. And of course the challenge of announcing my HIV status to the public is the scary one as I have had people who have tormented me for that. But I have met angels who have supported me along the way. They make me strong and energize me for the path I have taken. So I thank everyone who has supported and will support me.
- My advice to other young people is. Be faithful. Use protection. Don’t give up in life regardless of where you are and what you’re facing. Don’t wait for luck but decide and create your destiny.
If you would like to get in touch with Daniel and hear more about his life and work and support him in whichever way you can, don’t be afraid,
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