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 ‘Ke 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?
PINKY TIRO: Help Other People Everyday.
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