The support you receive through these comments is wonderful, but as a former PCV and staffer, I wonder what, if anything, you learned. Do you have any regrets? Did you make any mistakes you can tell others about? Do you have any advice for current and future PCVs? When you're older, what might you tell your daughter before she leaves for international service? Your wonderful candor can be complimented by a bit more introspection."
Thank you for your story! I think you might have more to say, however, than "I have nothing to be ashamed of." Something bad happened to you. In addition to not being ashamed, can you also help others? Please tell us what you learned. What should we PCVs do or not do so we don't end up sick as well? Are we all robots who may end up in the same situation like you, or did you learn something from your experience that we all should know-- and do?"
Thank you for your questions and for pushing me to share a bit more. I feel that these questions all kind of add up to the same sort of idea... What mistakes did I make? What have I learned? And what advice do I have for others? Let me answer as best as I can:
- Judgment- of others and their sexual activities
- Having a Sense of Superiority- in thinking that I was a well-educated person and something like this wouldn't/couldn't happen to me
- Lack of Education- thinking that I had HIV Education and training (it wasn't until this happened to me that I realized HOW LITTLE I really knew...)
- Misunderstanding- of the "risk levels" of certain activities
- Succumbing to Peer Pressure- thinking "others are doing this... why can't I?"
- Trusting Too Much- that what a partner tells you is the absolute truth
- Not Asking Enough- of his activities and history
- Not Using Protection- simply because it seems "awkward" or "weird" to me to use condoms for oral sex
- Attempting to Fill a Void- in ways that may have been more instantly gratifying, rather than healthy and safe
- Enjoying the Extra Attention- and flattery from Zambian men a little too much
- Not Reaching Out Enough- for assistance with understanding and dealing with the cultural differences relating to sex and relationships
I have learned...
- This can happen to anyone. NO ONE IS IMMUNE.
- One action- one poor choice- can change your life forever.
- Low Risk does not equal No Risk.
- There is way too little education about HIV- in other countries and in the U.S.
My advice to others...
- Educate yourself. Research. Read. Talk to people. Ask questions. Don't ever think that you know all there is to know. There is always more that you can learn. A few classes or trainings on the topic is not enough. Follow up to that and do your own research and information collection. Because, ultimately, it is YOU that will have to deal with the consequences (not your trainers).
- Protect yourself. In every way that you possibly can. If you are participating in sexual activities, then you need to be safe. HIV (and other STDs) can be transmitted even during seemingly "low risk" activities. Condoms should be used for all activities- I would even say for touching or "mutual masturbation". Fluids, even pre-cum= risk. And remember that even condoms are not 100% safe.
- Take time to get to know your partner. Ask questions. Talk. And ask some more. Be patient, and go get tested together- BEFORE engaging in any kind of sexual activities. If you (or your partner) cannot wait- ask yourself Why? What are the motivating factors here? What is REALLY leading me to NEED such immediate gratification?
- Finally, consider the possible consequences of your actions. Life is about weighing options, making decisions, taking action, and then dealing with the consequences of those actions. Make sure that you are prepared and comfortable with dealing with whatever outcomes your actions may bring. Decide if this one moment is really worth the rest of your life?