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Opinions Sun, 14 Feb 2010

The price of successful antiretroviral therapy

Your love is so divine and I want you to be mine I am helpless without your care So I’m going to hold you tight and squeeze you with all my might Cos I am head over heels in love with you Please let me take a taste and to feel your warm embrace

Eric Donaldson

Three quarters of what I am about to say actually happened. What didn’t, I made up. Somewhere in between fact and fiction lies the truth.

It was a fact that Zorzor was a man of means. A business magnate in his early forties, life had been good to him and in return, he had learnt to appreciate its finer things. Blessed with a sound education and what his friends considered a charming wife plus three wonderful kids in ‘dollarized’ international schools, he was a reputable candidate for Maslow’s class of the self actualized.

The circumstances that took him to the restaurant late that afternoon however were not significantly different from what had brought him there fairly regularly for the past three years. He met clients, had business lunch and struck multi-million dollar partnerships.

Until that afternoon.

He had come totally unprepared for the thunderbolt that blindsided him. The soft purring of his heart, the unusual catch in his throat and the unfamiliar self-awareness on seeing her all told him this was to be no ordinary encounter. From the minute he set eyes on her, it was obvious she was not a regular at the restaurant. He prided himself on practically knowing all the regulars including the waitresses. And yet she it was who had passed by and offered him her unforgettable angelic smile. The very air around her smelt different. Besides, she had this self-assured look about her and my God, she looked good!

“Hi, don’t think I’ve seen you here before. And I’m here fairly often. Do you work here?” “Well, not exactly”, she responded in her soft clear voice. “Dropped in on my aunt who owns and runs the place. Otherwise, here only on weekends.”

“Well, I certainly hope to see more of you. I am Zorzor” and “I am Safoaa.”

As he would later discover, behind her back, there were those who had nicknamed her Crazy Buttocks. And gazing at her receding back that afternoon and many other afternoons later, it was not difficult to fathom why. Safoaa was well endowed. And in the right places too. As they say, the African man needs something to hold onto. All her delicate curves were intact and when she waltzed or walked, there was sweet music and unmistakable rhythm in her hips. Her lips were full and when touched up with the right shade of gloss, looked luscious and temptingly scrumptious. Her make up was light and perfect for her spotless chocolate skin and her eyes were bold and arresting. She looked divine. Truly, the maker had been too good to the public relations officer of the small firm.

One thing led to the other as they say and in under three weeks, the whirlwind romance was blowing full steam. Dinner dates, movie premiers, expensive and tastily selected gifts. And as is so often the case, the relationship got more personal and increasingly intimate. Zorzor wanted more and every time he spent with Safoaa, his surging passions threatened to consume him. They would hug and kiss and yet in the final moments, Crazy Buttocks would always hold back with some spurious excuse.

“I’m in my period” …or “I don’t want to be a marriage wrecker.” This went on for a good six weeks till that valentine night at the prestigious restaurant where they had gone after the movie. Safoaa clearly was in the mood judging by the way she clung hungrily and possessively to him, mouthing sweet nothings constantly into his ears and teasing his right eye lobes with tender provocative tugs with her beautifully even teeth and fresh breath. The night was certainly promising. Zorzor was as ready as a metal rod and although he had no condoms, this could be arranged quite easily. Or so he thought when they broke unto the dance floor after booking a room for the night. In the background was soothing reggae music:

Come a little bit closer You’re my kind of man, so big and so strong Come a little bit closer I’m all alone and the night is so long

In the room, things seemed to be moving pretty fast. The kissing was getting steamier by the minute and Zorzor’s roving hands were doing a great job. Just at the point of undressing Safoaa, she heaved a heavy sigh, sat down with a thud on the bed and looked up at him with a strange look. And then she uttered the words that were to significantly reframe him for the rest of his life.

“Zorzor, I have known you for just a couple of months and yet I could swear that I’ve known you my whole life. I love you and wish we could go all the way. But we can’t because I love you.”

Through Zorzor’s puzzlement, Safoaa added, “You know something? I am HIV positive and we don’t even have condoms! I am on regular antiretroviral therapy which is why I still look so good. It really used to be bad at first before the therapy started. The last thing I want to do is to infect you.” Zorzor was stunned. He had never been in such a situation before. He went limp immediately and started shivering like a child afflicted with malaria and suffering the chills and rigors. He plumped down at the edge of the bed and cried like a baby. He hugged Safoaa thereafter and thanked her for saving his life. They resolved to remain platonic friends and Zorzor emptied his wallet in profound appreciation for Safoaa’s remarkable self control, kindness and selflessness.

Truly, the face of HIV/AIDS has changed with antiretroviral therapy. Infact, HIV infected mothers placed on antiretroviral therapy are delivering babies that are free of the virus. HIV is no more ugly, gaunt and repulsive. It is now a beautiful woman and a handsome man. My friends at the National AIDS Control programme like Drs Akwei Addo, Ayisi and Dornoo have spoilt everything with their antiretroviral therapy. These days you cannot even see when someone is HIV positive in order to make preemptive strikes and take precautionary measures like wearing condoms. It would appear that antiretroviral therapy has been too successful and in making some of us careless through unawareness fuelled by our assumptions of what an infected individual should look like, threatens to exact a heavy price.

The antiretrovirals are working too well making everyone look too good. And that is the danger, which is why the message still remains: for those who are infected, HIV is not a death sentence as hope abounds aplenty, for those who know they are negative, the ABC of abstinence, being faithful and regular condom use still holds and for those who know not their status, a voluntary test is a smart option. Unprotected heterosexual sex still accounts for the greatest percentage of HIV transmission. And as we all know, this heterosexual sex matter is a very private one behind closed doors often with blurred lines between knowledge and practice. After all, don’t we know of knowledgeable health professionals who in the throes of passion forgot to use condoms and not once too?

It is valentine again. That time of the year when condoms are alleged to run out in the shops and when some beaches are reportedly littered in their abundance. You know us. We take somebody’s valentine festival, own it and then recklessly over do it. In all your doings, remember Zorzor’s escaping by a hair’s breath. Your Crazy Buttock’s encounter may not have such a happy ending.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Sodzi Sodzi-Tettey 8th February, 2010

Columnist: Sodzi-Tettey, Sodzi