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‘I was raped by soldiers. The holy water and the drugs will cure me’

ETHIOPIA: Michot Sebresilassei, 20, an HIV-positive woman from Eritrea, drinks holy water every morning to wash down the antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) provided by the U.S. government through the local hospital.


Michot Sebresilassei, 20, is an HIV-positive woman from Eritrea. She now lives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, near the holy water site of St. Mary’s Church in Mount Entoto. Every morning, she drinks holy water to wash down the antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) provided by the U.S. government through the local hospital. She hopes one of the two, or both, will help her feel stronger and get a job.

Where do you live?

I live in this room. This is a shelter they give to people with HIV. The house is owned by the local administration, the kebele. They also give us food but it’s not good. They collect money on our behalf from the worshipers, but they don’t give us good care.

How long have you lived here?

One year.

When did you find out that you were HIV positive?

Four years ago.

How did you contract the virus?

I lived with my family in Assab, Eritrea, but in 1998 after the secession of Eritrea we had to relocate. We came to Addis. I came with my younger sister. In our way to Addis, I was raped by soldiers. Many young girls were raped.

Did anyone help you?

It was in the middle of the forests. There was no one to help.

How long was your trip from Assab to Addis?

We traveled a week, mostly by truck.

What did you do in Addis?

I used to be a house maid. My employers wanted to send me to Beirut; they pay better there. To go there I had to be tested for HIV. That’s when I found out about my status.

Did you know about HIV at that time?

Yes, I knew.

What did you do when you found out about your status?

I wanted to kill myself.

Are you taking ARVs?

I started six months ago at St. Paul’s hospital. I found out [about the free President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program] through the clinic where I was tested.

How many people live in this room?

Four people, and two of us are HIV positive.

How do you feel these days?

I get sick because I don’t have enough food. I eat injera and stew. I don’t like the food they give us, so sometimes I can’t eat. I am starving.

Do you have money?

I don’t have anything.

Can you do any work?

I can’t work because I am not healthy and I don’t have a proper diet.

Do you drink holy water?

Yes, every morning. It gives me relief; I feel better after drinking it.

What do you think helps you most?

The holy water and the drugs will cure me.

Will you continue taking the drugs?

Yes, I will.

What do you expect from life?

I would like to be self-reliant. Get a job, anything I can find.

Do you know that the drugs are funded by President Bush?

No, I [didn’t] know.

Ethiopian reporter Kaleyesus Bekele was the Amharic-speaking translator for this interview.


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