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Dossier : Face au VIH/sida

The Story of Naoufel

L’Histoire de Naoufel
Abderrahim El Habachi
p. 144-148

Résumés

Cette œuvre originale littéraire non-fictionnelle, The Story of Naoufel explore les difficultés surmontées par un jeune Marocain gay en quête de soutien et de soins après l’annonce de sa séropositivité.

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1The place didn’t look like a laboratory. I saw a receptionist, and women wearing high heels and makeup. I didn’t know what I had imagined, but it was not this. Hospitals and laboratories are frequently the brunt of unkind jokes in Morocco: comedians fat-shame nurses, and they describe the staff as uneducated and rude, stealing food from patients. But this was a private lab, and the tests cost me 1000 dirhams and seven hours of travel. “It will all be worth it,” I told myself. “Soon I’ll be in Dubai, the hottest city in the world – and I am not talking about the weather,” I smirked to myself. I approached the receptionist. “Hi. I came to get results for some tests I did last week.” “What kind of tests?’’ she asked. “For the Emirates Visa,” I replied. “What’s your name, and date of birth?” “Naoufel Sahaq, 23 August 1998.” She nodded and pointed me to a waiting area.

2I thought she would give me an envelope or maybe just tell me the results herself, and then I could leave. “Should I be worried?” I wondered as I waited. I reassured myself that I had nothing to worry about. I was ‘clean’ and only had partners who were safe. Besides, I was too young to have something serious. I picked up my phone and started scrolling through Instagram to distract myself. But all I saw were figures, shapes, colours, but no clarity. I can’t remember where my mind was.

3It had been thirty minutes and I was still waiting. My knees started shaking. Soon after, my name got called. “Mr. Sahaq. The doctor will see you now.” “The doctor?” I asked, surprised. I had not known there was going to be a doctor. Why did he need to speak with me? I entered his office and he had a look on his face.

“Si Naoufel, we have your results...’’
“And? Is everything okay?”
“I’m afraid your HIV test came back positive.’’
“I’m sorry...What did you say?!’’
“You’re HIV positive, but there is nothing to worry about....’’

4I couldn’t understand anything he said after that. I became deaf all of a sudden. All I could hear was a whistling in my ears. Everything stopped for a moment.

“... there are a lot of medications to help you…”
“How?”
“The medications work to...’’
“No. I mean, how I am HIV positive?’’
“There are different ways to contract the virus, through unprotected sex...’’

5I didn’t understand how this could have happened. People like me don’t get HIV. I always played by the rules and made sure to have sex only with healthy, educated people, people with who came from wealth – people who shouldn’t have HIV! And what about Dubai? What would happen now? What would my mother think? A million thoughts raced through my mind at once.

6The doctor handed me an envelope with my results and asked me to take it to the Hassan II hospital in Agadir to begin my treatment and case management.

7I got home late at night, but I couldn’t find sleep. I thought about what would happen if my mother found out. It would be the death of her. She always said, “I can handle anything except something happening to my children.” I tried to make her proud. I tried to avoid trouble, and here I was, doing exactly the opposite.

8The next morning, I woke up feeling tired, weak, nauseous – like a hangover without a night of drinking. Seated in my room, I started Googling HIV and AIDS. Oh my god, I thought. This is terrifying. I read story after story of people whose lives were ruined, and bodies tattered by AIDS. I was scared now. Is my life over? I thought.

9But the doctor had told me there was hope. I had once gone with a friend to an organization that does HIV testing and support. But this organization had a reputation for being only for loubiat and sex workers, and I worried someone might see me and start rumours. I couldn’t go there now. Instead, the next morning, I woke up early and took a taxi directly to the hospital, the envelope heavy in my pocket. I felt scared to ask people for directions, afraid they’d know that I was HIV-positive from where I was headed. Following the signs, I finally found my way to the infectious disease wing.

10A large rooster sat in front of a closed metal door. Here, a nurse stood and handed numbers to patients. She blocked the entrance and asked us to stay outside. Most of the people hid their faces as they waited. I wondered if I had made a mistake by showing my own face. Some of the people in line began to talk to one another. “They treat us like animals here,” one woman said, nodding to the nurse who blocked our entrance to the interior of the hospital. “They told us it’s because it gets too loud inside,’’ a man replied. Another chimed in, “People travel all the way from Laayoun to come here and be treated like this. No chairs, no reception and whomever you talk to in this hospital says it’s not their responsibility to help you.’’

11I sat in the dirt and listened. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My mind raced, “I will not be able to handle this. I can’t handle this. What have I done to deserve this? Why are they treating us this way?”

12When my number finally got called, the nurse at reception inspected my identification card. She saw my birthdate and said, ‘’oh my god, you are still young.’’ As if I didn’t know. I could feel my face get hot and I wanted to cry. This proved that my future was ruined. If this was the nurse’s reaction, what would my mother and my friends think about me now?

13The doctor’s office was somewhat dark and cold. “I am not surprised anymore when we get people as young as you are,” he said. “Your generation is very reckless…until you bring us the letter.’’ He waved the envelope containing my test results. This was the first thing he said to me.

14Then he started asking me questions: “Do you smoke?” “Do you drink?” I nodded in response, feeling dazed. “How many regular sexual partners do you have?” Alarm bells went off in my head. “Why does he want to know how many people I’m having sex with?” I wondered, nervous. ‘’Three...’’ I replied. He proceeded to ask me about my education and family status, and if I lived alone – all with a dismissive tone. He never once looked me in the eyes. Now he asked a more intimate question: ‘’Do you sleep with men, or women, or both?’’

15I was hesitant to answer. A man having sex with a man is a criminal act in Morocco, so this question got my heart racing. Would the doctor call the police? Would he refuse to give me my treatment if I told him I am gay? I reminded myself that lots of gay people frequent the HIV organizations and the police don’t get involved. I myself had gone to an HIV organization with a friend, but I vowed not to go back. The doctor there had asked me to “repent” and stop being gay. When I reported this to a staff member, he told me to just ignore him: “Don’t worry about the doctor. He’s just like that.” But I couldn’t ignore it, and I didn’t want to be treated that way. At the same time, I didn’t feel like I fit in at the AIDS organization. The people who went there were so over the top; boys referred to themselves as girls and even gave each other girls’ names. I may be gay, but I’m still a man, and men shouldn’t be like that. All this raced through my head as the doctor asked his questions, but I braced myself and finally said:

“Je suis gay.’’

16The doctor’s face turned into a smirk, but he didn’t stop his interrogation. He asked, “how many sexual relationships have you had this past year?” Still reeling, I told him I couldn’t remember. “How many do you think?” he pushed. I said “10” to appease him.

17When he was done with his questions, he asked me to go get blood drawn next door. The lady who took my blood didn’t say a word to me. She opened her mouth only to ask me to get up and wait in the reception. I did as I was told. Another woman called my name, handed me a bottle of medication, told me to take one every night at 11 pm, and instructed me to come back to the hospital after 15 days to collect my blood results.

18As I gathered my things to leave, suddenly I heard shouting outside. Someone was yelling at a nurse. “I can’t travel all the way from Dakhla to collect this medication every single month!” The nurse told him there was a shortage of medication; it was being addressed, but she could give him no more than a one-month supply. I saw the man’s face and my heart sank. Dakhla was over 1000 km away and it was expensive to travel. “We have been abandoned,” I thought. I wondered if things would ever get easier. Only time would tell. This virus will follow me forever, ‘til death do us part.’

19When I got back from the hospital, I went directly to my room. No one could know I was HIV positive, I vowed. If my friends found out about it, it would truly be the end of me. I would take this secret with me to the grave. I thought that maybe now that I had HIV, my life would be nothing but hospitals and faceless people. Laying on my bed, tears started rolling down my face.

20Fifteen days later, when the day came for my follow-up appointment with the doctor, I woke early in the morning, before my alarm. I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. The memories of my last visit to the hospital came flooding back. I thought, “I can’t go through that again. I can’t face the way they look at me, or their comments, reminding me how reckless I was for not using a condom, how my life is ruined.” My alarm went off, but I turned over and went back to sleep. “I am not going back to the hospital,” I had decided.

21In the days that passed, I tried to forget that I was HIV positive, but I couldn’t. Every time I met someone for a hook-up, I felt anxious and scared. It was hard to sleep, and I became like the living dead, not knowing what I was doing or where I was going. One day, I was in my room and I felt as if my world started crumbling and the tears started rolling. The ugly cry. My mother entered and asked me why I was crying. I couldn’t hold it in. I told her I was a gay and HIV positive. She started crying and blamed herself. I shouldn’t have told her. After that confession, she changed. I didn’t recognise her anymore. Every time I used the toilet or showered, she would use bleach and detergent to clean it. She gave me my own set of kitchen utensils to use.

22One day I came home, and she handed me my clothes in a bag along with 2000 dirhams. Then she told me to get out before I infected my brothers. She said that everyone is responsible for their own actions, and I had done this to myself. She honestly believed that I had gotten HIV simply because I was gay. I couldn’t bring myself to speak. I just took my things and left. I felt numb. My mother’s voice still echoes in my head, telling me not come back.

23With the 2000 dirhams my mother had given me, I managed to rent a room and eventually found a job at a beauty salon. I didn’t keep my relationships with my old friends, and I didn’t need anyone else to know about my HIV status. I had learned from my last mistake. But over time, my relationship with the salon owner, Souad, grew stronger. She started treating me like her son. I didn’t mention being HIV positive, but I told her I had been kicked out by my family because I was gay. After I told her this, the beauty salon became my sanctuary. I felt a sense of belonging. It was a place where I could be myself with no filters, even the clients did not judge me. Souad had become my chosen family.

24Being busy at the beauty salon made me forget everything: my family, HIV and even Dubai. I was happy. I was at peace. And then, one month ago, as I was working at the salon, I felt the place start spinning and my vision became blurry. I lost consciousness. I woke up in the hospital attached to tubes and buzzing machines, with Souad’s kind face watching over me. That’s when I had to tell her that I was HIV positive. I was scared. I didn’t want to lose her, too.

25But when I told her this, she hugged me and said, ‘’Don’t be silly. You are my family now. What is heavy for you is easy to lift for me.” She asked me to stop crying and with a big grin she said, “We need to get you back in shape, because I can’t report all the gossip back to you, and I don’t want you to miss a thing!’’ Without Souad, I don’t know what would have become of me.

26I have come to see that getting HIV has held me back so much. I sacrificed my social life out of fear and shame. But when Souad accepted me, just as I am, I thought that perhaps others could accept me too. I have started to take hold of my life again. I am reaching out to old friends, and Souad is helping me reconnect with my mother. Now the smile on my face is real. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I am excited to find out. I know it won’t always be easy, but now I have my chosen family by my side.

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Référence papier

Abderrahim El Habachi, « The Story of Naoufel », L’Année du Maghreb, 25 | 2021, 144-148.

Référence électronique

Abderrahim El Habachi, « The Story of Naoufel », L’Année du Maghreb [En ligne], 25 | 2021, mis en ligne le 10 juin 2021, consulté le 30 juillet 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/anneemaghreb/8218 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/anneemaghreb.8218

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Auteur

Abderrahim El Habachi

Committee Member and Arts Outreach Officer, Glitter Cymru.

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