Ageing positively

As a woman and mother living with HIV how do I see ageing?

A lot of people are afraid of ageing, yet for me it is a very exciting journey and I am actually looking forward to getting older! So, let me share with you why I see ageing in a positive way.

The whole of my adult life, only based on my appearance, people often assume I am still very young. This despite my double trouble of HIV and diabetes. In my life this has led to many embarrasing situations.

When I took my first born for her first vaccination to the clinic 20 years ago, the nurse told me to call my mother. When I told her that I was the mother of my daughter, she yelled at me ”Listen girl, don’t play with me. Call your mother, we need to ask her some questions”. This made me very sad as it reminded me of my mother who died two years earlier. So, with tears in my eyes I responded that “I AM the mom”. When she started hitting me I took out a breast, squished it and made the milk jump unto her. Calmly, I said, “Do you believe me now?” With her guilty face, not even apologizing, she finally started vaccinating my baby. That was the first time I really wanted to age and look like a mother to the people around me.

Three years later, another story happened on the 14th of February 2004 during my husband’s birthday in Luanda, Angola. We invited friends to celebrate with us at a local disco. Everyone was allowed to enter, except me! The bouncer said “You are a ‘quatorzinha’ (14 year old), you can’t enter here!” Everybody started defending me saying I am 26, married and a mother. So when we were about to leave by car, our Angolan driver greeted us and called me “boss, please get in”. The bouncer asked him if he knew me and he replied that we are a married couple. Finally the bouncer believed me, apologized and let us in. I really wanted to celebrate in this place as dancing can lift my spirit! In no time I was already back in a good mood to forget all the drama of being called a quatorzinha.

Since then there were countless times I have been mistaken for my age, hoping that when I reach 40+ things will change. But even as recent as last week, when I wanted to buy a bottle of wine in a supermarket, I still was asked to show my ID by two employees to prove I was older than 18! I told them to look deeper, that I was older than that. But they would not believe me and that without showing my ID they were not going to give me the bottle. Luckily, I had my passport with me. You should have seen their face when I showed it and when they read I am 45! They apologized and said “We are so sorry you look too young for your age!”

Over the years I have learned from these stories that instead of feeling insulted by people that misjudge my age just by looks, I should accept it as a compliment. So these days, I smile at these embarrasing yet funny moments rather than becoming angry like I used to in the past.

What is my ‘secret’ to ageing? I firmly believe that taking good care of my body and mind has a huge positive effect. I am staying in shape by walking everyday 10+ km, I love performing on stage, I am always trying to be happy when I am at home by singing and laughing out loud. This positive take on life must help I guess. And the added benefit is that I am still reducing my diabetes medication intake!

So ageing does not bother me at all. The fact that my ‘looks’ apparently do not match my age is something I now embrace rather than fight! What matters most is that while I am ageing, I also become more fulfilled, happy and healthy!

Peace,

Eliane

Memorable summer of 2021

Whilst we are nearing the end of a rainy summer, I would like to reflect on my summer time. It was actually very enjoyable no matter how I look at it! It started excellent by hearing news from my diabetes doctor that I was allowed to stop 3 more pills of my medication.

Then there was Mandela Day on the 18th of July where we shared our Stories of Hope through a photo exposition, and I had a great celebratory closing party with my heroes!

A few days later I celebrated my kids’ birthdays which all of you know happen for all three of them within 4 days! My oldest daughter turned 20, one of my sons 15 and the other 13. What a blessed week for all of us. 

Then we took off for a few days in the South of the Netherlands, Maastricht. What a beautiful place and surroundings. It was a short stay but full of sportive activities as I like to keep my Healthy New Me in shape! We walked hills, went into caves which still made me accomplish my sports targets every single day during my holiday! And on top of that we went one day on an (e-)bike and mounted some impressive hills with equally impressive names like the Dead man’s alley (Dodemansweg in Dutch). I was so proud to be able to get to the top of these hills and admire the incredible view. Who says Holland is flat?

Despite the many showers it was real fun to cycle together and sometimes get surprised by a shower and hide under a tree, still ending up wet because of the drops getting through the leafs. We never gave up, no matter how the weather wanted to stand in our way.  It was a truly memorable time in Limburg.

Back in my hometown, I was just on time to join Amsterdam Pride. It was my lucky day because on many years whilst in the Netherlands, Pride week would always happen when I am on holidays abroad, so this time I could attend for the first time! Joining the Pride as part of the BI plus walk and wearing my HIV stigmafighter t-shirt and U=U bandana also allowed me to spread the message of UequalsU and to fight HIV stigma.

Being part of the Pride helped me to convey these two messages to a few more people. It felt great joining so many activists and LGBTQ+ communities in march. I keep on dreaming to one day see people in my country Burundi wave the Rainbow flag like here!

Beautiful people, Do not let the fear of corona conquer your life! As long as you try to stick to the rules, it’s ok to have a little fun. We really should accept for us to live with corona for many years to come and start adapting to the situation, dealing with it just like we have dealt with many other pandemics.

Nelson Mandela once said that “A WINNER IS A DREAMER WHO NEVER GIVES UP”. Who know one day we will win this battle? keep on fighting for change!

I had a great, fruitful and memorable summer of 2021.

PEACE,

Eliane

My Heroes of Hope

As an African artist living with HIV in the Netherlands for more than 15 years now, I continue to experience a lot of stigma and discrimination based on me being open about my HIV and my beautiful colour. I realized that for many people with a migrant background stigma is indeed still a major issue. So, in April this year I launched Stories of Hope which aims to inspire people to share their talent as a positive way to deal with and raise awareness about stigma.

On 18 July, Mandela Day, together with the other ‘Heroes of Hope’ we shared our stories with the world!

Sharing our stories on Mandela’s birthday was a perfect moment as he continues to be a big inspiration to me and the world. I have learned a lot from his life experience as a freedom fighter, reconciler, unifier and inspirer. In the spirit of Mandela’s legacy, I truly believe that Stories of Hope will give people inspiration to fight stigma and bring positive change in our communities.

Stories of Hope can be visited at www.storiesofhope.nl. My dream is that our collection will continue to grow in the Netherlands and also beyond. Please vist the website and feel free to connect me to people that would like to share their inspiring stories with us. We believe in your talent and let’s fight stigma together!

A very special thank you to the European Aids Treatment Group for supporting me to make Stories of Hope happen!

Peace,

Eliane

I want the world to know

In May 2014 I finally told my secret; I published a note called ”The Hidden truth” on facebook to inform everyone about my HIV. I had been thinking about coming out of the closet for many years and that day I was ready to share my reality and prepared to face a storm of reactions.

Before coming out I told a few friends, neighbours and parents of my kid’s friends. Why did I do that? I was creating my small safe haven, in case the world would turn its back on me. So I was assured that these people would hold my hand and support me! 

Back then I was not sure what reaction I would be getting, but in the end I received a lot of supportive responses. Some people called me, others wrote messages calling me a strong and courageous woman, thanking me for sharing, telling me they love me, and reassuring me I would still be the great dancer and remain who I was.

Then Hello Gorgeous, a Magazine for people living with HIV, approached me if I wanted to share my story as a HIV talent. So in the 2014 autumn edition I became a cover girl for that magazine. I decided to use the magazine cover as my facebook profile picture.

This is when the troubles at my kids’ primary school started;  a parent went to tell the director of my HIV. He asked me to remove the picture, he said ”You scare the parents!”. I told him that if parents have questions, they are welcome to ask me. I added that I could change my facebook profile picture but that the truth would still be out there, in the magazine and online!

That’s when I handed him a copy of the magazine. He looked inside and saw me posing with my Indonongo and said ”You look happy and strong!” I said “That’s exactly my point! Have you ever seen me unhappy? I came to this school with HIV but I did not tell you. There are other parents with secrets as well. I am out of the closet and please don’t tell me to hide again!”

But some parents did not give up yet! A few days later a teacher told me “Mrs Becks, I am sorry to tell you that parents are very worried that your son is going to infect the whole classroom”. I was furious and asked “ Are you seriously thinking that my son is going to infect your classroom including yourself?”

To my surprise he answered that he was afraid that was going to happen. So I told him that first of all he does not have HIV and secondly even if he would have it, how is he going to transmit it to you and the other kids? Is he going to have sex with you all, is he going to breastfeed you or is he going to inject drugs and share a needle with you? By now he was begging me not to be angry, and said he needed to ask this so he could answer those parents.

I was like, well you got your answer. But since it is HIV you are trying to push me and my children down. I will NOT allow it! Tell those parents, whoever has a question, to come to me and we will talk. Shame on you as teacher, not making an effort to look for basic information on HIV. And you are hiding behind the parents while you are afraid yourself.

You all thought this would be the end of it, right? Well, things just got started… Very soon after this, teachers started reporting to us that one kid was suicidal and the other was uncontrollable and was continuously hitting other children. So all of a sudden they had mental issues? But as the school already reported this to the social care system, we were now labeled a dysfunctional family thanks to this school. This unleashed an army of social care ‘specialists’ towards us. I can tell you, there is no way to keep them out of your door and you are guilty until proven innocent!

So, we went through a very stressful period of observations by psychologists, dozens of talks with social caregivers, and hundreds of forms/ tests to fill in. All this to discover if my husband and I were evil. Guess what? They found nothing! And all we got from the school was a simple apology for the misunderstanding…

I felt really down for suddenly being treated as a bad mother, whilst I have always been so active for the school helping them out with many activities including making music. The moment I came out, all went down the drain! That period in 2014 I had to stand tall and fight tooth and nail against this bigotry. But I showed them that no matter what kind of box they tried to force me into, I did not fit!

My secret was out, and nothing was going to stop me now! Luckily my safe haven did its work. Of course, some parents were fully understanding and to date my kids are friends with many of their children.

It is not easy to fight stigma and discrimination, and when it comes to my children I will do anything to protect them. In the end the drama caused by school and the army of caregivers stopped and we walked free after our long fight!

I am glad I came out and I did not regret my decision!

Peace,

Eliane