"Kawan", I said. I didn't want to say my visit was part of my voluntary work - next she may ask what kind of voluntary work and I definitely didn't want to disclose that the person I was visiting had HIV.
"Kawan tempat kerja ke?"
Oh boy... must she ask more? I've said kawan, enough lah... don't make me lie! Instead of answering her question, I just smiled and asked what SHE was doing at the hospital.
Then there was another time when, after my voluntary duty at the HIV clinic, I bumped into a nurse who was also a kampong folk of mine. With a surprised look (I just got out of the HIV clinic!), she asked, "Buat apa kat sini?!" Wonder what was playing in her mind then... hehehe... Before she starts spreading all sorts of stories in the kampong where I stay, I told her, "Kerja volunteer." She probably didn't expect me to be a volunteer - all she knew was that I had an office to go to... where got time for all these volunteer works! Well yeah, I guess many people don't quite understand my flexi work arrangements...
Some of my clients, when fixing for a place to meet, didn't want to meet up at a place where people knew them. They're afraid people may ask too many questions. Nuri for example, met up with me in town to make sure her nosey neighbours wouldn't be asking too many questions as to who I was. I understood why later when I got to know Ani, another PLWHA who happened to stay in the same kampong as Nuri. Ani said her kampong folks suspected Nuri had HIV and had been talking behind her back. Because of that, Ani was determined not to let even her own family (other than her husband who's also positive) know about her HIV status.
Many of my PLWHA clients hide the facts from their family members for various reasons. Some, because they didn't think their family members would understand. Like as what happened to Ifa.
Some, had elderly parents with the 3-in-1 package of hypertension, diabetic and heart problems, so the PLWHAs simply didn't want to worry their parents.
Some, because they didn't trust their siblings would be able to keep secrets.
Some, simply because they felt conscious that everybody around them may know they're HIV positive. One of my clients even asked me if people knew I was doing HIV voluntary work. To her, if people knew, then when I sat with her, people may suspect she's HIV positive...
There was one particular PLWHA, a young Malay woman, who, during the HIV clinic (I was not on duty then) wanted a buddy but specifically mentioned she didn't want a Malay to be her buddy. While others prefer buddies of the same race so that nosey neighbours wouldn't be too suspicious, this particular lady didn't want a fellow Malay lady.
I found out later from her assigned buddy, a Chinese lady, that this particular client has many relatives in Ipoh and she was afraid I may know her, or, even if I don't, I may know someone who knows her. She was afraid I may tell. She was afraid fellow Malays may look down on her. She was ashamed.