I kept my status a secret for four years. No one knew. A friend of mine used to ask, “Why are you involved in all these organizations dealing with AIDS?” One day I said, “Because I’ve got HIV,” jokingly, not knowing that she would take it seriously.

Then she told one of the ladies, “You know, Phindi has got AIDS.” On that very day, I decided to tell my mom. I said to her, “You know what? I’m going to sue my friend.” My mom said, “For what?” I said, “She’s busy telling people that I’ve got AIDS, and I don’t. I have HIV.” My mom cried. I said to her, “You know what, Mom, you don’t have to cry. I’ve been living with this disease for four years now, and look at me, I’m healthy.”

Then she said to me, “Why did you keep it a secret for so long?” And I said, “I was afraid you were going to chase me away from your house. I wanted to tell you, but I didn’t know how.” Then she hugged me and said, “I love you. You are still my daughter.” You see?

I was raped when I was sixteen, by somebody I knew. I had kept this secret for twenty years. After both the rape and the HIV, I wanted to start a new life, to do something challenging. I wanted to heal. I thought, “I want to climb Kilimanjaro.” So I went to one of the churches and told them, “If I can climb Kilimanjaro, even if I die after that, it will be OK with me.” That was December. In January I got a call that the church had raised 15,000 rand for me to fulfill my dream.

When I reached the top, oh, I cried—tears of joy. I’m here, in Tanzania, and I’ve reached the peak. And I am healed. When I came back, I went straight to the guy who raped me and forgave him. After that, my mom read the story in the newspapers, including about the rape. Even today we haven’t spoken about it.