Monday, July 12, 2010
Cameroon: What love is all about
Emmanuel is 22 years old and is living with HIV. He has a bright spark of enthusiasm when talking about his life. He works as a cook in Yaounde, Cameroon. Accepting both his homosexuality and his HIV positive status in a hostile environment has given him cause for reflection.
‘Cameroon is quite an unforgiving country for homosexuals. There are laws to suppress homosexuality and this is supported by many people in Cameroon. Discrimination runs deep within families. People living with HIV also face a lot of stigma and discrimination – therefore it is terrible if you are a homosexual living with HIV.
When I was a kid I was never into the kind of games ‘real’ boys liked. This really frustrated my parents. As I grew up, I felt more and more attracted to men but realized that I would never be able to freely love a man in Cameroon.
In my teens I met Julio. He was much older than me, and he helped me discover what love is about –what my body and heart were longing for. It was at this time that I think I contracted HIV. I met him secretly so that no one knew, but my family began to suspect. They accused me of ‘not being virile’ or as macho as my friends. I was scared by their questions and harassment. My family seemed to be looking for evidence by searching through my things.
Finally I cracked, and I told them I was gay and HIV positive. This was the beginning of hell. I was brutally rejected by everybody I knew. I was assigned a specific space in our home. I couldn’t mix with others and I was given separate dishes to eat from, a place to cook my food and when I became seriously ill, nobody helped me. Eventually, a neighbour took me to hospital. It was then a gay friend told about the MESDINE project run by Cameroon National Association for Family Welfare (CAMNAFAW) where I could go to safely meet with others and also receive non-judgemental counselling, support and sexual health information. This was the most important moment of my life! It was like being born again. I’ve met people like me and people totally different from me but who accept me. Nobody judges one another. I have made so many friends and have been given information about how to take care of myself.
The hatred in me has gone. I’m happy with myself, I’ve reconciled my conscience and I’ve even tried to start a dialogue with my parents.’