While I do have over 20 PLHIV women under my care, the most amongst my fellow volunteers, not all of them are really active clients. Most of the other volunteers have only about 3 or 4 active clients each, while those who have more, are mostly keeping in touch with their clients via telephone calls only.
In my case, I can’t be visiting all 20 over clients every month. Where got time??
Some I visit every month, or at least every other month; some I just meet from time to time when they come to Ipoh for their appointments, some I visit just for Raya while some I’d just keep in touch by telephone. No, not that I practice favoritism, but having over 20 families in my list, I’d have to prioritise. I usually pay more attention to the problematic ones, at least until they become somewhat independent. Once I see that they can be independent enough, I’d slowly back out from their lives, not totally, but slowly. Maybe from monthly visits I’d reduce to every other month, then maybe quarterly and so on. I can’t be helping them all my life.
I do however, have clients who don’t want me to visit them at home, for fear that their neighbors may want to know who came to visit, and why we visit. One of them is Nuri. She’s so fearful that her kampong folks may find out that she is HIV positive. Coincidentally, I do have another client, Ani, who stays in the same kampong as Nuri, and yes, they do know each other. From Ani, I found out that their kampong folks had long suspected Nuri to be HIV positive because they had suspected Nuri’s late husband, who had been an injecting drug user, to be HIV positive as well.
Oh well, looks like despite the precautions Nuri took, her kampong folks had already assumed that she has HIV.
Nuri was one of those who had initially refused Buddies’ services. To her, having a buddy meant having someone to remind her of her HIV. But the time came when she needed our help to apply for welfare aid, so she called my colleague whom she met during one of our HIV clinic duties. My colleague then passed her case to me, thinking that having a fellow Malay lady as a buddy, Nuri wouldn’t mind me visiting her at home.
Nope, Nuri still didn’t want me to visit her at home. The last time I went to visit her, we promised to meet up somewhere in town, and when I asked her to recommend a place where we could sit down and maybe have something to eat while talking things over, she insisted to go to a place a bit further from her kampong, for fear that she may meet someone she knew.
We did help her get some financial aid, and with the financial aid that she got, Nuri opened up a food stall near a school. Sometimes business is good, sometimes it’s not. But that’s her source of income and with that income she brings up her children. Despite inviting her to join us for our Family Day every year, Nuri had always refused. To her, joining the Family Day activity would mean other people would know she has HIV.
While I feel that her children may want to attend our Family Day activities (otherwise the children hardly gets a chance to visit other places), I still have to respect Nuri’s wishes. I can’t force her to join us. I still contact her from time to time just to find our how she’s doing, but most of the time, she’d just say she’s okay.
After some time, my calls couldn’t get through, and my text messages went unanswered. Once in a while, I’d bump into her at the HIV clinic during my voluntary duty. When asked if she had changed her phone number, she’d say she’s still using the same number. It was as though she didn’t want to give us her number.
Actually I’m a bit concerned about her because she has an HIV+ child, Farah, 9. The girl was diagnosed rather late, because the parents didn’t know of their own infection earlier, and unlike now, pregnant women back then were not tested for HIV. During her first year in school, she was always sick and tests later revealed that she was HIV positive. With the many days of school Farah had to miss due to her illness, Nuri just told the teachers at school that Farah had some lung infections, which was also true.
The poor girl has since started taking Anti Retroviral drugs, and she has to take them all her life.
So why am I bringing up Nuri’s and Farah’s story now? Well, after a long silence, Nuri finally contacted me 2 days ago, from a new number. When I asked if she had changed her number, she said, “Eh tak, ni nombor lama!” But of course, she had been using that number for some time, but because she never gave me the number, it’s new to me!
Nuri called to ask if I could help her sister get a place at a government nursing college (she had already applied online, she was hoping I could pull some cables or strings). Ah, she needed a favour, so she called me! Too bad, I don’t have any cables (not even a rafia string!) at the necessary department or agency, so I couldn’t help her out.
But I took the opportunity to ask her how little Farah was doing, and was told that Farah had to be hospitalised again quite recently, again due to lung infection.
The poor girl! I’ve met her twice before and she looked somewhat fragile. Just like her mother.
The last time I bumped into Nuri at the HIV clinic (which was quite some time ago), I commented that she looked skinnier than before. And her immediate reaction was, “Akak nampak dah berisi!”
I wonder how Nuri and Farah looks like now. I know I have added some weight since I last met them, so I can just imagine a repeat of the very same sentence Nuri said to me the last time…