In your life, you will constantly be surrounded by people who will judge you day in and day out. They will gossip about you when you succeed, and they will criticize and mock you when you fail. It is an absolute certainty that batho ba tla reng (people will talk).
How you respond to this certainty makes a world of difference for your life. Unfortunately, many people respond by shaping their lives around the approval of other people. Today, I want to encourage you to avoid living this way, which is what I call the the batho ba tla reng syndrome. We must learn how to respond when confronted by family or friends who challenge our decisions with the phrase “but what will people say?”
For me, the key to positive living is focusing on what pleases God, not people. People can never be pleased, unless humbled and influenced by the grace of God. The day I decided to go public about my HIV+ status, I didn’t consult anyone or ask anyone if I should. On that day, I found myself alone in my room, struggling with many suicidal thoughts. I remember that while I was fighting these thoughts, something inside of me urged me to share my HIV status with the public.
I made the decision on my own, even though I knew that my family would object. I told my cousin, who was fine with it. I also told my sister, who was against it. I told her that I am doing this for myself, to be free. She said that she didn’t understand what I was going through, but was worried about how I will handle negativity. I told her, “I don’t know how I will handle it, but I will see as time goes on.”
My mother was furious to find out I had gone public after I did it. She said: “ke eng o tsamaya o ikgasakgasa, ntha batho mo ba re ba itseng ga ba itatsetatse mo” (why did you go public, most people we know [who are HIV positive] never did that.) Many other family members began criticizing me for going public, but I chose not pay attention to negative things people were saying about me. I found amazing power within me which allowed me to rise above all of the judgment and negativity. I started paying more attention on building myself up as an HIV activist and motivational speaker. As a result, I began living my life the way I wanted.
Living this way is not without sacrifice, but for me, it is the only way to achieve my destiny. I found out that some people who I loved were trying to distract me from my life’s purpose. I just had to sever ties with the naysayers in order to pave the way to a much better and healthier life. The more I ignored the negativity, the more I found positivity within me, and from people who supported me.
My readers, please do not fall victim to the batho ba tla reng syndrome. Stop worrying what others think or say about you. When you care about what others think of you, you give your power away. You effectively disempower yourself. Worrying about what others think of you is the number one reason why people experience stress, anxiety, and fear. This is why we see many people today failing to accept their HIV status, to disclose to their partner and family, to adhere to medication and live a healthy lifestyle. Some people still fail to get tested for HIV or to enroll on ARV treatment because they are trapped in the batho ba tla reng syndrome. We must continue to rise above it!
Let’s Fight GBV
On a cool Sunday in March some years ago, I decided to take a walk and I found myself at one very popular place in town.
As the place was known for delicious braai and I was feeling a bit hungry, I decided to order a plate. Seated at a table in the back, I noticed a couple enter. I knew them very well. They chose a table, ordered food, and began drinking beer. It was one beer after the other for both of them. They did not notice me. So I pretended not see them and just sat at my table, slowly sipping my juice. It began to get dark and several things started happening. When I noticed almost everyone was getting very drunk and dancing. I wanted to get out of the place as fast as I could.
As I walked outside to the parking lot, I spotted a cab. As I headed for the cab, I noticed some people in the car next to it. The lady I had seen in the restaurant with her partner earlier was inside the car, but she was kissing a different man. The man who was with the lady earlier arrived and a big fight started. The cab driver refused to go because he wanted to see what was happening. We both were able to hear their loud exchange of words. According to the man, the lady was HIV positive and on treatment. He said he was doing her a favour by dating her while he was HIV negative.
He said he was only in the relationship because he thought he had nowhere to run, because he could be infected and still in the window period. The woman also started shouting out and saying how the man was abusing her because of her condition and that she was fed up. I knew there was no place for me to intervene in this matter, more so that I was sober and they were drunk.
I left the place when the situation was a bit calm, but deep down I wished I could have done something. I told myself I would go see the woman and talk to her on an agreed date, but because of my busy schedule I did not manage to meet with her. Later I heard that the guy had killed her and committed suicide. No one knew the reason for this tragic outcome. I could not help but wonder if the fight that I had witnessed had been the tipping point or if I could have said something to her that would have made a difference.
I share this sad story to illustrate how HIV continues to influence our relationships and contributes to sexual abuse and violence, particularly against women. No one deserves to be mistreated by a partner because of his or her HIV status. We can learn to recognize the signs of abuse, report abuse to the police, and be aware of where to get help if you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship. For help, you can contact the following organizations:
Botswana Gender Based Violence Prevention and Support Center (formerly Kagisano Society Women’s Shelter) at 390-7659, after hours: 74265081, or SMS “HELP” to 16510, or send private message to Facebook: @botswanagbvpreventionandsupportcenter
WoMen Against Rape (WAR) Tel: 686-0865/71311244, Plot 517 Moeti Road, Maun. Facebook: @WoMen Against Rape Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Stepping Stones International (contact in cases involving children 18 and younger); Tel: 573-9858, Facebook: @SteppingStonesInternational
“Let’s Break Stigma and Face the World”
Iam convinced that the change we need to end the HIV epidemic can only occur if more people living with HIV begin to participate in the response.
I want to appeal to those who have gone into hiding to come out and face the world. We are not part of the problem, rather we are part of the solution. We need to stand up and show people out there HIV is real, but it can be managed if you live positively by starting treatment early and taking care of yourself.
Recently, I met a group of students from a junior secondary school who surprised me with how much they knew about HIV. I realised how important it is to not wait until it’s too late to talk about HIV issues with our young people.
While we are busy trying to hide things from them, thinking that they are too young to understand, they are actually ahead of us. For instance, they asked me why adolescents (under 16) need consent from parents to test for HIV. They explained that this policy presents a barrier to youth knowing their HIV status. Sometimes youth encounter situations that put them at risk and need to test for HIV, but much of the time they cannot easily discuss this with their parents in order to get their consent for testing.
We still have some forms of stigma that are holding us back as a society from ending this epidemic. I have observed on many occasions the look on people’s faces when I talk openly about my status. This is usually followed by silence or unresponsiveness to what I say.
It is my wish to hear an influential person in my country, whether a pastor or any type of leader, talk openly about their HIV-positive status. It would make a big difference and change the public perception about HIV. Of course, going public with your HIV positive status takes not only bravery, but also commitment to a lifelong journey of living not only for yourself but for the community as well. All eyes begin to watch your every move.
For some of us, facing this challenge moulds us into stronger people, while for others, the challenges of going public become too difficult to overcome. That is why it is very important to find a support system before going public, so that one can be prepared ahead of time to respond to these challenges through proper counselling and support. Botswana Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (BONEPWA+) provides this counselling and support free of charge through a large number of support groups that are based throughout Botswana.
Many people are not aware there is this kind of support near their homes, so when they are faced with challenges they break down or go into hiding. I have seen recent success in adopting what is called the greater involvement of people living with HIV. For example, this year the Treat All Champions project, which was supported by PEPFAR, provided a group of 30 of us with a platform to spearhead new activities addressing stigma, disclosure, ARV adherence, and other issues pertaining to people living with HIV. I am thankful to have served as one of the Treat All champions and I am continuing to encourage people to test and know their status all over the country.