Welcome to the Lhak-Sam

Chapter one: Positive voices
Part VI: Positive makes you selfless

Positive makes you selfless

In Bhutan, 90 per cent of HIV transmission is through heterosexual intercourse, followed by mother to child transmission which is 9.2 per cent.

Karma Yangky (name changed) knew that it was she who had infected her partner Jigme (name changed). She came to know about her status when she went for the mandatory blood screening during her pregnancy in 2007. She was 25 then and PMTCT test had become mandatory in Bhutan for all pregnant mothers. “I was in a turmoil, weighing whether I should tell my husband or not. Then I thought I cannot live with such an important aspect of my life hidden from him. Besides, the counsellor had asked me to get his blood tested as well.”

Jigme was tested positive. The couple was shell-shocked for a moment before the agony gave way to tears. Initially, Jigme could not take the news. “I felt discouraged and angry—I was angry with God and angry with my partner, whom I slept with. I thought my life was now over.”

The couple kept the news to themselves but the self-stigma made them leave their jobs. People’s gaze pierced through their bones. They thought everyone knew about their status. Both Karma and Jigme went into their shells with no friends and no acquaintances around. Eventually, they left the big town and moved in with Jigme’s family in a small village where no one knew their history and their son was also taken care of.

“Jigme’s mother would insist that I breastfeed my baby. Sometimes she would sarcastically say, ‘what kind of mother are you, who do not want to feed the child!’ I told her that I was suffering from a very bad form of breast cancer and there was no milk in my breasts. His mother would make local wine for me, which is given to lactating mothers in Bhutan to increase milk.”

As days passed by, an invisible divide was created between Karma and Jigme, which grew deeper without their realisation. Jigme started consuming alcohol and spent more and more time with friends. His behaviour was becoming wilder and increasingly more uncaring towards Karma. Their fights had become a routine feature in the house.

Karma, on the other hand, racked with guilt, couldn’t fathom if Jigme wanted to stay with her anymore.

The situation led to a major confrontation between Karma’s and Jigme’s families—both ignorant of their children’s status. One day Karma’s family arrived at Jigme’s house and heated arguments ensued between the two families. In the middle of the arguments, Jigme shouted—“Why are you all fighting so much. There is no need to bother, as both of us are HIV positive and are going to die soon.”

The bomb thrown by Jigme had an impact. Initially, it caused a deafening silence and then suddenly everyone was talking of their children’s happiness. “Both our parents thought we would be living for a very short time now and they wanted us to live with them so that we could spend more time with them.” Karma With mutual consent of the families, Karma and Jigme were separated and started living with their parents. Their son stayed with Jigme’s mother who had been looking after him.

For a year they stayed away from each other, before realising that they could make a life and be happy only if they were together. A mutual friend got Karma’s phone number for Jigme, who started calling her.

“One day he just walked into my mum’s house and told me that our son was happy and healthy and was missing his mum. I couldn’t control my tears,” Karma recalls. Once again the couple was together—this time wiser, more mature and closer to each other.

“In 2009 we got an opportunity to attend a meeting of the PLHIV. The meeting was organised by the Ministry of Health. We got a chance to meet others like us. It was such an overwhelming moment for us to see that we were not the only HIV positive people but there were many others and they were living normal lives. We felt inspired and alive again,” says Jigme.

The meeting infused a new life into Karma and Jigme. Soon after, the couple was chosen for a study tour of PLHIV to Bangkok, where they met Wangda Dorji, who later became the Executive Director of Lhak-Sam, the Bhutanese network of positive people.

“There we met many people who were living with HIV, and who had no problem in accepting the fact and telling people about their status. Until that time we had no idea about treatment. We came back not only informed but also enthused to work for others like us. I instantly decided that I wanted to become a role model for others,” says Karma who is now an advocacy trainer and is associated with Lhak-Sam.

She is also invited at programmes to share her experiences. She knows how to deal with HIV and educates others with her experience and knowledge. “Life is beautiful when we know what we want to do and we can do it. I have no guilt and no complaints. The only regret I have in my life is that I could not breastfeed my child because of my physical state.”

Jigme has no regrets. Today he is happy that he is positive because he feels that a positive person is selfless. “I thank God for making me positive. It has given me a chance to help others. I would have thought only of myself had I not been detected positive.”

Karma and Jigme make a beautiful couple. Today they do not want to blame each other for their status but stand together as each other’s support. Jigme has reconciled with his past. “Look at my tattoos, I have many of them. Then I also had a playboy nature. Both could have been the reason for my status”, he says. Both Karma and Jigme are healthy and happy. Their son has tested negative and is growing into a lovable child under the guidance of his doting parents.

Chapter 1 stories
The joke .. | Her past made .. | Wish there .. | For people I .. | Ignorance is bliss | The jail rock | Do negative pe..
Chapter 2 | Chapter 3