I have a rough plan in mind for how and when I share things, and the order in which I am going with my story. However, I received some comments today that I feel I must skip ahead and respond to...
I realize you do not understand why you were medically separated and are not being reinstated, but there are a number of reasons, not the least of which are your own health and that of people with whom you would come in contact.
On another note, hating to be the negative voice, I wonder why on Earth you even went into a sexual situation in a country where the rate of HIV infection is MORE THAN one in seven, WITHOUT protection of any kind, with a virtual stranger. I am sorry if you feel this is harsh, and certainly do not think anyone "deserves" to get HIV, but why? You were serving in an extremely high-risk country, in an extremely high-risk area. You are young enough to have grown up knowing about HIV and how to avoid it. Peace Corps gave you good training about it as well (I am also a PCV). Thus I wonder about your choices. Was it the naivety and arrogance of youth, thinking it would not happen to you? Was it ignorance - did you really not think it was possible?
Sorry if my comment offends you or anyone else, but I am mystified at how you could have exposed yourself to this illness in the first place. ANY unprotected sexual contact in a country where one in seven people have it (and where it is more commonly found in middle and upper class people) baffles me.
First off, I would like to clarify the fact that I DO understand why I was medically separated. I was medically separated because my body was not healthy enough after 45 days of Medevac status to be thrown back into an environment where I would be prone to more infections and sickness without an up to par immune system. As I said before, I do understand, accept, and even agree with that. I Was Not medically separated for any reasons relating to the health of other people with whom I would come into contact with. That, my dear anonymous friend, would be incredibly ridiculous and discriminatory.
As to the rest of your questions, I would like to start by saying that we are all humans. And humans are, by nature, sexual beings. Stack on top of that the loneliness, stress, and some of the other hardships of being a PCV, and I think many people would agree that we end up up with a strong desire/need to seek out some kind of companionship, comfort, or support. During my training, I remember PC giving us a statistic that at service entry only 20% of volunteers claim to be sexually active, and by close of service nearly 90% are sexually active. In my intake group of 29 volunteers, I can tell you (with absolute certainty) that over 50% of us have already engaged in sex (with Zambians, ex-pats, or other volunteers) in country. This group has been in country for less than 1 year. I am not alone. Volunteers were having sex before me, and they will continue having sex after me. (In fact, this comment has inspired me to stop my poll early, and start a new one. Please take a moment to contribute your vote on the new question!)
Now, is what I did stupid? Did I make mistakes? Yes! Absolutely! But, I also made attempts to protect myself and lower my risks. I did what I thought Peace Corps told me to do to be safe. I asked if he had been tested. I used condoms when I had sexual intercourse. One of my biggest MISTAKES was believing that oral sex is a "low risk" activity, and equating that to "no risk". Peace Corps trainings (and other HIV trainings) emphasize this idea of "high risk" vs. "low risk" activities. I've come to believe now that this is an extremely horrible way to go about teaching people. To me, there is no such thing as "low risk" anymore. It doesn't matter if you are having oral sex or anal sex, or whether the HIV rate is 1 in 7 or if it is 1 in 100! A risk is a risk is a risk.
I sent an e-mail to my Peace Corps HIV Educator very shortly after my diagnosis, and although my writing may not quite have been so elegant at that time, I wanted to share a bit of it with you...
"I think it is very important to talk about and stress the message that low risk is different than no risk. Because I can definitely say that this message did not and does not come out clearly enough. I feel like in our trainings, and other HIV sessions and information I've gotten in my life, oral sex and "mutual masturbation" have always been encouraged as safer alternatives to vaginal sexual intercourse. But, the reality is that they are still not totally safe. I don't think we always hear that clearly. We think, vaginal sex= HIV, but oral sex is okay. And furthermore, I feel like we are given this message over and over that oral sex is okay, as long as you don't have any open sores or cuts in your mouth. And, we even hear, or think we hear, the message that if you use condoms, you will be safe and okay. But, the reality is that I had oral sex, and I didn't have any open sores or cuts in my mouth. I used condoms, and they didn't break or come off. I thought I was being safe. But, the reality is that there were still risks involved, even if they were of the smallest percentages. Someone has to make up those small percentages... and I guess that someone is me.
My advice? Nothing and no one is totally safe. There is no 100%. Best thing you can do? You and your partner get tested, and then get tested again 3 months later. Use condoms for sex, and put it on as soon as bodies are naked and fluids of any sort are available. Even though its hard to imagine, consider using condoms for oral sex. And even after you consider all these things, make sure you know and realize and are comfortable with the fact that even though you are taking the right precautions and being as safe as you can, you are always still taking a risk."
Do I blame Peace Corps training for what happened to me? NO. But, it definitely did contribute to my understanding of HIV transmission, my thought process about what risks I was taking, and ultimately played a role in the choices I made. I know now that sex (of any kind) is a risk... always. This is what I hope others can learn from my experience. I hope this helps... please follow up with any additional questions you may have.
I am 28. White. A Female. And a former Peace Corps Volunteer. I am HIV Positive. This is my story of how a few months, a few people, and a few events in Zambia changed me and my life forever. This is the story of how I contracted HIV and brought my Peace Corps Journey to a crashing halt... and how I am working now to pick up and put back together the pieces of my life as a newly diagnosed person living with HIV. This was not the journey I had originally planned... my path has traumatically and dramatically changed... but it is the one I am on now. There is no going back. There is only forward. I welcome you to follow along with me as I attempt to explore this new life ahead of me, whether you are someone from the Peace Corps community, or someone living with HIV. I welcome your comments, questions, suggestions, and opinions. Let us go forward together. To start from the beginning, click here He Gave Me More Than A Bracelet.