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July 6, 2010

Paul’s story

By Cynara Vetch

Paul Kasououona is an HIV activist working in Zambia, the only straight man in the country who speaks out on gay and lesbian issues.

by Tammy Tschentscher

“I will never forget the day I discovered I was HIV positive. It was in 2000 and back then Zambia didn’t have any ARVs, The woman who tested me said that I was sick and that I could never recover, she told me to go home and prepare myself for death.”

“When I went back to my community everyone judged me. They said that I had been promiscuous, that I brought this illness on myself and that I should not accept sympathy. That was when I decided to leave Zambia.”

Paul had a plan “There was a civil war going on in Angola at the time, anyone who could do business there earnt much more money because it was so dangerous. I decided to go there to trade Zambian goods. My plan was simple, I was going to earn enough money to pay for my funeral, I wasn’t going to have any of my family spending their money and begrudging it because I was HIV positive.”

“When I reached Angola I set up my stall in the area allocated for foreigners but I wasn’t there long. One night at a bar a white man heard me speaking English on the phone, this was unusual in Angola and he wanted to hire me straight away.  This turned out to be very lucky, one day he came to me because he had heard that they were now giving out ARVs in Zambia.”

Paul planned to return to Angola once he had his medication but it did not work out that way “When I reached Lusaka I began to see what was happening in my country. There were ARVs in Lusaka but they didn’t reach any further, many people were dying in the countryside. I couldn’t return until everyone had access to the drug.”

Paul has been working as an HIV activist for over 10 years now. He’s an outspoken critic of the government and controversially he works amongst Zambia’s underground homosexual and lesbian community. Homosexuality is illegal in the country and he has faced discrimination and shrinking job opportunities because of his advocacy for gay rights. He remains however undeterred

“If AIDS didn’t kill me, what can anyone else do” he asks “nothing scares me now.”

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