One evening on December 2008, I went to sleep without knowing if I would ever wake up again. I was hospitalized because of several opportunistic infections, -including pneumonia, that could easily kill a person with HIV/AIDS. In a lot of pain, I knew that I was having my close encounter with the grim reaper. And friend, let me tell you, that wasn’t a nice feeling. Think about it. Lying awake with your eyes open, you’re forced to confront a certain conundrum: what is it on the other side? Not to mention the awful knowledge that you’re going to leave your loved ones behind. On that moment, I was petrified to learn that what I wrote in my letter to my son might actually come true. I might have been knocking on heaven’s door, but those forlorn hours at that night were a fiery hell that made me cringe in tears.
Now as you continue to read this, please keep that picture in your mind. A terminally-challenged HIV patient contracting himself in agony, drenched in a shiny film of sweat, tortured physically and mentally in his last night to live. For any one that could pass it and actually gets better like me, there are hundreds that did not make it to the morning. In fact, of all the 6 persons in the room where I was hospitalized, I am the only survivor. I watched them die one by one.
Fast forward to now. Within the last several days, a certain minister of our country issued some statements over Twitter about HIV/AIDS that I found insulting. Without trying to gloss over what I’ve already said in my answers to him, let me just say that his statements are typical to what stigmatization is all about. Also, it seemed to me that there could be no possible excuses that could explain how such statements are allowed. Personal opinion? Sir, you forfeit your personal opinion when you take that job. That’s just the cost of politics. Was merely quoting another person? Hey, how stupid do you think I am? Unless it was specifically stated otherwise, you just don’t get around quoting people without agreeing with their points.
I am not a mind reader. But to me, it was clear that the minister was displaying a cocksure braggadocio. Whoever he was trying to impress, to a common sense it will always be a lame attempt of bravado. Which is why I’m offering him a chance to turn it into a true bravery of a man.
Mr. Sembiring, let me repeat the invitation that I extended before. I would like to have a chance to meet you over a cup of coffee. And that’s the keyword: a cup. For if you dare to share my cup, our country would witness a man who dares to own up that he made a mistake, and is freed from any distorted thinking of bigoted stigmatization against people with HIV/AIDS. And don’t you worry, Sir. I’m a man too. While I have my differences with you, I will be the first to shake your hand and tell my friends that you’re a good man once we’re done with that coffee.
The question you have to answer is: Do you have to do it and accept my invitation? Of course not. But let it be clear that our country will take note of your response to this. If you do it, it won’t be about me winning or you losing something. No, the winner would be Life itself, with a capital “L”. Plus, you get the bonus of turning a previous bravado into a true act of bravery.
As I close this piece, understand that I’m not doing this for popularity or grudge. No, I am just trying to finish what I have started. Being a HIV patient myself, I know that there are too many punishments we have to bear. We don’t need another insult to our dignity. And if I get to be the one who do this, I’ll do it over and over again: I am fighting back. I rest my case.