Chapter Three

A Time of Madness

…………Continued from last week

Many people who grew up before 1980 know very well how difficult it was to get a secondary education in the then Rhodesia.

I am one of those who was negatively affected by these and many other educational imbalances of that sad era.

I was born on 24 October 1960 but ended up changing my date of birth and first name  three times in order to be accepted in any one of  the few secondary schools that existed then because no one was allowed to repeat Grade Seven  due to the bottle neck system that existed then.

The whole of Gokwe comprising of Gokwe North and South boasted of one secondary school then, namely Kana Secondary School which was a Roman Catholic boarding school which went up to Form Two and was classified as an F2 school which specialised in practical subjects such as Agriculture Home Economics and other such subjects.

I was extremely intelligent in school work that those with whom I went to school always testify each time we meet about how bright I was and how above all I loved school and had it not been for my father’s untimely death during the war of liberation in November 1978 I could have gone very far with education.

My father’s death affected me in a very bad way and I ended up leaving school soon after form 4 to help my mother look after my siblings who were still very young and needed to go to school.

In 1983 I got a job as a temporary teacher at Lukukwe secondary school in Gokwe which was near my rural home. I taught English and History at the newly established school and was very excited to be a teacher and I did enjoy my work there though I was not sure whether I would get my pay as according to my date of birth I was still under age and had only been employed because of cover letters from the Social Welfare Department which indicated that I was an orphan who needed work in order to help my widowed mother take care for my young brothers and sisters.

Fortunately I got my salary after for months in April of 1983 and straight away took advantage of the April/May holidays of 1983 to do a short course with Speciss College which landed me a job at the Department of Taxes as an accounts clerk in May 1983 though my ambition had been to join the legal profession as a lawyer.

Working at the Collector of Taxes in the Department of Taxes was so good but my days there were greatly and negatively  affected after I had declared myself HIV+ without any medical testing having been done on me .

There is a kind of very dangerous and reckless  behavior we go through when we feel that all odds are now piled very high against us and that there is no way out.

That’s how I felt after reading the story on HIV/AIDs in the Parade Magazine of the late 1985s and was very convinced that I was now a victim of the dreaded disease.

I felt like a cornered animal just waiting for the final blow from the predator. I didn’t have any visible signs that I was HIV+ but I was fully convinced that any day and time I would be bedridden and waiting for my doomsday.

I took to beer drinking in such a big and reckless way that my work began to suffer greatly. I would go out on daily beer drinking sprees and return home in the wee hours usually with a lady of the night to try and snatch an hour or so of sleep before going to work.

At work my immediate supervisor noticed the change and tried her best to counsel me but it was too late because I had told and convinced myself myself that I was already a moving grave and there was no way I could be saved so I had to make the most out of my remaining days.

One Thursday  morning when I had been coming to work  late for four consecutive days in one week Mrs Mathews’ my immediate white  supervisor  invited me to her office on the second floor at Development House which housed our offices then and as a man who no longer cared very much about his life I went to her office absent mindedly and knocked loudly on her door once and entered uninvited into her office. Mrs Mathews looked me from top to bottom and I could see her dismay at my unkempt appearance especially my bloodshot bleary eyes and my unironed clothes.

I had known Mrs Mathews as a very strict and no nonsense lady whose presence noone wanted to be invited into and she always talked in a very sharp piercing  voice each time one was invited into her presence but today she appeared so calm and motherly to me that I felt so disempowered as she began to talk.

“Piason you’ve been such a nice youngman to work with ever since you joined this department and we have been so proud of you but these days you have drastically changed into someone so careless and your performance has greatly detriorated why is this are you having any problems?”

I looked hard at her with my bloodshot bleary eyes and opened my mouth to say something but nothing came out.

I swallowed hard as I struggled to say something but still no words came out. Mrs Mathews tried hard to encourage me to say if there was any problem affecting me .When eventually I found my voice I mumbled something to the effect that there was no problem affecting me.

She tried hard to make me see how genuine she was to try and help me but with no success. After trying unsuccessfully to make me see sence Mrs Mathwes allowed me to leave her office with these motherly words which I had never expected to hear from a lady as strict as Mrs Lilian Mathews.

 “Piason my son if ever you decide to come and tell me what’s making you behave the way you are doing please don’t hesitate to come to my office.

 ” I could hear quite clearly the sincerity in Mrs Mathews’s motherly voice but the die had been cast and I just felt I was beyond redemption and as I got into my office and sat on my chair I felt so bad  and useless that I just sat there staring ahead but seeing nothing and began to sob tears of hopelessness flowing down my cheeks.

I don’t know how long I sat there but soon someone called to inform me that lunch was ready but on that day I felt that I had no appetite for food of any kind .

A month after my encounter with Mrs Mathews in her office and having failed to improve in my attitude towards work I found myself in the Collector of Taxes’s office having been summoned there via an office memo .I had always been very close to Mr Nyoka the Collector of Taxes for Gweru office and had been a regular visitor in his office.

On this day things were different as I saw that Mr Nyoka was wearing a stern and businesslike appearance as he ushered me into his office.

I sat uncomfortably in the chair that I had all along taken for granted. Mr Nyoka looked at me from bottom upwards and was very disappointed by what he saw .He went straight to the point.

 “Piason what are you doing to yourself my son ?” You have been such a promising young man and we all had a high regard for you, what is this you are doing to yourself and the whole department?”

 I was really touched by Mr Nyoka’s utterances which showed great concern for me but I just felt I was beyond all redemption and nothing could save me from the imminent death I was facing from HIV/AIDs.

I was not paying much attention to Mr Nyoka’s words as I felt he was wasting his time talking to a grave case .After much deliberation and much reading from a statutory instrument paper Mr Nyoka told me to sign a dismissal form.

He went on to explain that I was being dismissed due to incompetents and behaviour likely to bring the Public Service into disrepute.

As I set there the truth of the matter and the reality that I was being fired from a job I had loved so much began to sink in and I asked Mr Nyoka about my salary for that month and if there were any terminal benefits to which he replied.

“Yes Piason you will get your salary for this month and you’ll also get some termination benefits for the years you have worked here,”

 He went further to tell me that he was very sorry to see me go but there was nothing he could since I was now more of a liability to the department and to myself and everyone else.

There was nothing he could do except to wish the best in my future life.

I collected a few things that I had in my drawers and gave them to Mr Basira our office orderly and cook .As I left Development House I bid farewell to all my now former workmates and left for home in Ivene where I was lodging.

That is how I left my job at the Collector of Taxes’s office just because I suspected that I was HIV+ and truth is I am not alone who felt like this then and now.

I still believe that a lot of people past and present died not because they were HIV+ but by merely suspecting that they were HIV+.

Those given the task of breaking news on new epidemics should act responsibly and announce these in a calm and responsible manner which does not cause alarm to people.

Piason Maringwa is a teacher at Batanai High School near Manoti in Gokwe South District.

He has been living with HIV for more than 30 years and has been talking about his HIV+ status since 2004.

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