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HIV-positive Dolvince keeps spirit of life aflame JAYAPURA - The mere mention of the term "PLWHA" (person living with HIV/AIDS) will make people's imagination immediately form the image of a frail person characterized by a severe inferiority complex and a strong urge to keep himself aloof from society. This is a common image about a PLWHA because the people in this country, generally, still find it difficult to accept them.

Someone with HIV/AIDs here will always be looked down upon because of the assumption that they were infected because of their bad behavior -- such as fornication or promiscuity. As a result, PLWHAs prefer to isolate themselves from the rest of society, as a defense mechanism against all the ignorant people that have stigmatized them. Such cases are not always just that way, however, as evidenced by Dolvince Minneke Imbiri, 42, nicknamed Vin, who has been living with HIV for years in her town of Sorong, Papua.

Dolvince Minneke Imbiri, or Vin, is a 42-year-old person with AIDS.
Dolvince Minneke Imbiri, or Vin, is a 42-year-old person with AIDS.
If you meet Vin, you will never believe that she has HIV because you will see someone who is big, healthy and strong. She has been able to stay physically in good condition because she always takes her ARV (anti-retroviral) medication and stays positive when leading her life. For her, to be able to lead her life as it is, free from any feeling of shame due to HIV, is the result of a fierce mental struggle and the fruit of her mental resilience.

"When I learned that I tested HIV positive, I fainted and felt really hopeless. I was overwhelmed by great shame mixed with my disappointment with what had happened to me. I thought life had been unfair to me and my family. "For days on end, I locked myself in my room and refused to see anybody, including my own husband and my children," Vin, when reminiscing about her early days as a PLWHA, told The Jakarta Post in Jayapura.

Vin was infected by her husband, who died in 2002 after two years of suffering from AIDS. She said her husband may have been infected while he was in Timika. "My husband worked for a company away in Timika and I think he got the virus while he was there," she said. When the doctor confirmed that her husband was infected by HIV, Vin took her own initiative to take an HIV test and found out the tragic news.

Coming out

At first, it was really a big burden for Vin to even picture herself as someone infected with HIV, especially after the death of her husband left her as a single parent to care for her two daughters. However, it was these two daughters who made Vin come out of hiding, literally and figuratively, and start getting along with other people. Vin is a civil servant at the secondary education agency in Sorong regency.

"Even if I continued hiding, it would not change my status as a person with HIV, I then thought. Besides, my daughters needed money and my attention. I came to the conclusion, then, that there was no difference, actually, between being someone with or without HIV. Both are alive, right?" she noted.

Her resolve encouraged her to start getting along with other people again. She did not even get angry when people ridiculed her upon learning that she was someone with HIV. "I simply did not care. What mattered to me was that I was alive and did not disturb other people. "Besides, I said to myself that I had never chosen to be someone with HIV and that I had become one just because of sheer bad luck," said Vin, who loves volleyball and basketball.

In her workplace, Vin is not discriminated against because of her status as someone with HIV. "My office mates understand what I'm going through and they also know that HIV can be communicated only through bodily fluids. So, they have never felt either reluctant or revolted to get along with me. Often they drink from my glass," said Vin, who now has three grandchildren.

Unfortunately, Vin has been ridiculed not only by some community members but also by her in-laws. One of whom used to be a government official in Papua, basically excommunicated from the family. He did not want me to appear in public as someone with HIV, saying that I brought shame to the family," Vin said. Gradually, however, he changed his attitude, perhaps because he saw Vin's courage and resolve to lead her life with a full sense of self-confidence. Finally, he praised Vin for her mental resilience.

Unfortunately, those in the medical "profession" here are still unable to fully accept Vin. Every time she has tried to get false teeth, she lost some after a fall from a motorcycle, the dentists always refuse her treatment. They just write me a prescription. "Can a prescription make my teeth grow back?" she asked, exasperated.

Then her friends suggested to her that she should not tell the dentist that she had HIV, but Vin could not accept this suggestion, arguing that she wanted to be treated very carefully by the dentist when her false teeth were fixed to prevent any possible wound that could communicate HIV to other people. "Of course, it is better for a dentist to refuse treating me if he is not sure he can handle my case, as otherwise it is always possible that other people may get HIV from me," she said magnanimously.

As she is a person with HIV, she does not want to find a new husband. "It is enough for me to lead my life as I am now. I don't want to share it with other people," she added.

Building self-confidence

Although she quit hiding her status as a person with HIV, many men do not believe her. "Once a man asked me to a dinner. I told him that I had HIV but he did not believe me. Finally I met him in a restaurant but I refused to be taken home by him. I preferred to take a taxi home. I was afraid he would really fall in love with me," she said, reminiscing.

After her initial shock, Vin has always been open about her condition. As a result, some of her friends that have also been infected by HIV have been inspired and now do not suffer from an inferiority complex because of their condition. Most are also ready to be speakers to tell other people of their own experiences as people with HIV so that other people will not be infected by this lethal virus.

At present Vin never stops encouraging other people who have also been infected by HIV to foster their self-confidence. "Those who do not think their attitude is right will come to me for consultation. I always tell them if they test HIV positive, they need not feel disappointed. I ask them to lead our lives with virtue. Everybody, not just people with HIV, will surely die at some point."

Thanks to her resolve, Vin has often served as a speaker in seminars on HIV/AIDS. She usually shares her own experiences about how to live a full life despite her condition. In August this year, she was sent to Jakarta for a seminar on women. "In that seminar, I also shared my experiences with the other participants."

"Mama Vin's testimony has motivated us to get along with the rest of the community and to be bold in facing the reality of life. Not a single PLWHA has chosen to be one, but it is our bad luck that has made us one. Must we stop living the moment we know we are PLWHA?" said Ima, one of Vin's mates in Jayapura Support Group Half-way House.

Nowadays, Vin lives in peace in Sorong along with her daughters, her sons-in-law and her three grandchildren. "I'm happy just to be taking care of my grandchildren. This is entertainment for me and it also makes me more resolved to boldly lead the rest of my life." Vin is always cheerful. She always thinks positively. She will respond positively to whatever treatment she is subjected to.

Although she is now 42-years-old, Vin has never lost her spirit to make progress. At present, she is studying law at Al Amin University in Sorong. "I want to be a university graduate. If I have enough money, I will continue my studies in the master's program. It will be a real source of pride for someone with HIV to hold a master's degree, right?" she said, cheerfully.

When you meet Vin, you will find that she is very good at making people laugh. "Mama Vin is very good at cracking jokes to make people laugh. When she comes here, this house will be noisy with laughter," Ima said.

"I want to share my experiences in my own way with other people with HIV/AIDS. I want to stress to them that life goes on and that they must not have an inferiority complex or feel they have been discarded or useless. Everybody in this world, a PLWHA or otherwise, will be useful for society. "Why must we ruin our own lives simply because we are PLWHAs?" she asked.

Related information
World Aids Day 2005

Posted in Culture @ 01 December 2005 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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