KHOPOTSO: At age 54, Pinky Tiro has almost reached her twilight years. But she’€™s not yet thinking about retirement. Nor is she thinking about dying. Her focus is on helping those who, just like her, are HIV-positive as well as those who are not infected to remain uninfected. We were just leaving her HOPE Worldwide offices at Soweto’€™s Jabavu public clinic in her dark-green car when she began talking about her work. Our destination is the Moroka clinic, a few turns from her offices, where she’€™s going to talk to the locals about safe relationships.          

PINKY TIRO: This is what usually happens. You’€™re in and out every morning.

KHOPOTSO: You’€™re on the road all the time?

PINKY TIRO: All the time. You hardly have time for your own family’€¦ which causes a lot of havoc, I can say. You know men are so possessive, especially when the man is negative and you are HIV-positive. It’€™s like you don’€™t have time for him, meanwhile I do have time for him. It’€™s just that I’€™m busy and I’€™m committed’€¦

KHOPOTSO: Your husband doesn’€™t understand the type of work that you’€™re doing ‘€“ is that what you’€™re saying?

PINKY TIRO: He does, but he thinks people are taking too much advantage of me because I’€™m that kind of woman who has to tell people that ‘€˜listen ha ke bereke ko ntlong’€™ (I don’€™t work at home) I only work at the clinic, but people will always come.      

KHOPOTSO: Just as we get to the clinic, Pinky is distracted by her cell-phone crowing.

Sfx ‘€“ CELL-PHONE RINGS

PINKY TIRO: Hello’€¦ Ah? Who’€™s that? Teddy! Can you phone me’€¦? Please, my darling. Love you. Sure, bye’€¦

KHOPOTSO: Is this where we’€™re coming?

PINKY TIRO: Ja, this is Moroka Clinic’€¦

KHOPOTSO: Inside the clinic Pinky Tiro finds her audience waiting.

Sfx ‘€“ PEOPLE TALKING

PINKY TIRO: Ba sa ntsebeng ke nna Pinky. Ke a tla mo tleniking now and then. Ke bua feela ka HIV. How we get infected. What HIV is’€¦ (Those that don’€™t know me my name is Pinky. Now and then I come to the clinic. I come to talk about HIV’€¦)

KHOPOTSO: There are more than 50 people in the room ‘€“ male and female. The age range is vast ‘€“ from the pre-pubescent to pensioners. The session is inter-active. Pinky’€™s got a boxful of brick soaps. At various intervals she holds up a picture. The audience has to give a description of the image. The most correct answer gets rewarded with a bar of soap.  

PINKY TIRO: As we see this picture, neh? What do we see? This is the picture I’€™m going to offer someone soap. Just pick up your hand’€¦ Wena o bona eng? (What do you see?)

RESPONDENT 1: People who are in love.

PINKY TIRO: People who are in love. Maybe. Wena o bona eng? (What do you see?)

RESPONDENT 2: People who are couples.

PINKY TIRO: Couples. Wena o bona eng? (What do you see?)

RESPONDENT 3: One man with different ladies.

PINKY TIRO: Ja, one man with different girls. Shebang feela’€¦ (Just have a look).

KHOPOTSO: And the mystery was unravelled. The chart depicted four pictures. Each showed a romantic setting of one man, a charmer, with a different woman on every occasion. The first is in a bar. The second is in the office. The third is in a park. And the last is when he is in bed with another.    

PINKY TIRO: This is exactly what men are doing to us. And we allow it. Not that we allow it, we don’€™t know’€¦

KHOPOTSO: The message was clear. To the women: they must stop being helpless. To the men: they should change their behaviour patterns. And then it was time for Pinky Tiro to leave.

PINKY TIRO: Salang hantle. (Stay well.)

AUDIENCE: By-bye Ousie Pinky.

PINKY TIRO: Ntsheng ka sefela’€¦ (Send me off with a hymn). AND THEY SING ‘€œKe nna oo Morena’€.

KHOPOTSO: She is a well of positive energies which others draw from, yet she also has her own health problems. For 16 years she has had cancer of the marrow. And she’€™s been living with HIV for the last 15 years after she contracted the virus through a blood transfusion. When we get back to her offices, HOPE Worldwide, where she’€™s employed as a Voluntary Counselling and Testing educator, it begins to make sense why she joined HOPE in January this year.

PINKY TIRO: You know what it means?

KHOPOTSO: No.

PINKY TIRO: Help Other People Everyday.

KHOPOTSO: HOPE.

KHOPOTSO: Fikile Ntuli is manager of the HOPE Worldwide centre at the Jabavu clinic. Pinky Tiro’€™s employment in January was authorised by her.

FIKILE NTULI: She’€™s such an enthusiastic woman. I think she’€™s a very dedicated person. She does not do this just for money. She has passion. She loves working with people. She loves seeing people making a difference in their lives because she is definitely making a difference even in her own life and the lives of other people around her.

KHOPOTSO: Before she joined HOPE, Pinky worked for Wits University’€™s Peri-natal HIV Research Unit as a Prevention-of-Mother-To-Child-HIV-Transmission facilitator. She says out of every 25 ‘€“ 30 pregnant women she tested per day no less than 7 and 11 were HIV positive. As a result she decided to switch from the PMTCT programme to do Voluntary Counselling and HIV Testing education.

PINKY TIRO: It’€™s a bit difficult to get people to test, as you see I usually give soap out’€¦ just trying to encourage people to test. Some people do test. We test around 7 ‘€“ 8 people a day, then 3 or 5 are positive, or sometimes none, I must say. When nobody’€™s positive and everybody’€™s negative, hey, they make my day. But it usually happens, maybe, one day in a month. Most of the time people are positive, as I don’€™t do one clinic only. I do Diepkloof clinic, Phomolong clinic, Prime-cares in Soweto, quite a lot of clinics’€¦

KHOPOTSO: How does it make you feel that so many people are testing positive almost every time you test?

PINKY TIRO: It makes me feel like I’€™m doing nothing because I talk HIV. And I get shocked to see people still getting pregnant, people still not condomising, people still not abstaining. It’€™s like I’€™m saying nothing. But I’€™ll continue doing the job because it makes me feel not guilty at the end of the day because I try my best.

KHOPOTSO: Try her best she does. But honestly, would Pinky Tiro be doing this type of work had she not been HIV-positive herself?

PINKY TIRO: I doubt. Really, I must say it. I doubt, because I was quite comfortable. I was working for Home Affairs. I had my own office and I was quite comfortable there’€¦ The only thing I can say I love doing is working with people, working with the community. But I don’€™t think I was going to like this because people die in my hands, people come and tell me that they are sick. I have to look after that person till their dying days. Let me say, I wouldn’€™t (she gives a small chuckle).  

E-mail Khopotso Bodibe