Sometimes Florence is self-conscious: She did not attend school and cannot read, so on some ABATAKA Collection jewelry tags she writes different spellings for her name — Syachibe, Shachibe, or Siachibe.
But when Florence needs to be, she’s strong – as when she finally resolved what to do about being HIV-positive.
Their two daughters were ages one and four when Florence’s husband became very ill, despite the tuberculosis medicines she got for him at the clinic. One day as she picked up medicines, she talked with a counselor about HIV testing. Her husband refused, but she got tested – and then would not believe the diagnosis “positive.” She went to a second clinic, then a third, each time disbelieving the test results. Finally she agreed to get treatment, took home the antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) and showed them to her husband. He told her there was danger in taking them – and because he was more educated, she believed him. When Florence skipped her follow-up appointment, clinic counselors came to her home. She chased them away and the next day, she went to the clinic, dumped her unused medicines on the table and fled.
As Florence’s husband’s health declined, one of her daughters also became ill. Fearing she would get sick and be unable to care for family, Florence went to the clinic and pleaded: “I have come to get my drugs back.” Though her husband again objected, Florence started on the drugs. Her husband finally agreed to get tested and was scheduled to begin HIV treatment, but died before his appointment. As soon as Florence completed the traditional days of homebound mourning, she took her daughters to be tested; both had TB, and the elder girl also is HIV-positive.
Florence says that when she went to the HIV-positive support group and saw all the people living openly with HIV, “that’s where I started my happiness.” When her husband died, the family had very little. But with the money she earns making jewelry, she has repaired the family’s broken furniture, can pay the rent, and even is helping support her widowed mother.