Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it – Kevyn Aucoin
Every so often, in the course of ordinary life, we are privileged enough to encounter extraordinary beings. On an ordinary Saturday, a few months ago, I went to the laundromat and, while I waited for my load to complete its cycle, I decided to get tea from a nearby offeeshop. It’s in that coffee shop that I met a complete stranger who was so full of life and confidence and talked so much that he gave those of us around him no choice but to engage with him or at the very least, listen. I listened.
That was the mundane beginning of my extraordinary encounter with Ntimbwe Mpamba. Ntimbwe, of Zambian origin, was born HIV positive and, at 34, he is oldest person in Africa and the 2nd oldest in the world, only by a few months, born with the virus. You would think that that is what makes him extraordinary.
It isn’t. What is it then you wonder?
It might be the fact that his mother managed to keep his condition a secret from him for the first 23 years of his life. There were no ARVs or speacial treatment drugs or specialist doctors. There was only an extremely strict diet and herbal supplements prepared, administered and monitored by his mother, a nutritionist by profession. To put this into perspective, the oldest person in the world born with HIV started taking ARVs at the age of 8. By the time the first ever case of HIV was recorded in South Africa, Ntimbwe had already been born.
It might be that when he eventually wandered away from the nest, and repeated illness resulted in him finding out about his diagnosis, his viral load was overwhelming and his CD4 count was 36. A normal CD4 cell count in an HIV-negative man is between 400 and 1600 per cubic millimetre of blood.
It might be that, notwithstanding the fact that his doctor recomended that he start going to a public hospital rather than his practice, as there was nothing more to be done except to make him comfortable while he waited to die, he walked into that public hospital with music blaring from his earphones while his head bopped to the beat. That he could even walk unassisted was a miracle. It defied logic.
It might be the fact he is the most defiantly cheerful person I have ever met despite the experience of the brutally trying years immediately following his diagnosis. The years in which his lungs nearly gave in; he lost his eyesight in one eye to herpes; he discovered the hard way that skipping meds, once you start your ARVs, leads to dramatic deterioration of the body; and his family bore the crushing weight of the costs associated with his illness.
It may even be the fact that he is in a relationship that trascends the physical with a remarkable young woman whom he wooed with his wit and charm. On her first birthday with him in 2010, he gifted her with roses and a can of coke with the tag that read “Don’t open me because I want to spend more birthdays with you.” The can remains unopened.
For me, it is that he has somehow managed to focus on the positive lessons of seemingly insurmountable difficulties he has faced in this life. He is on the casp of publishing a book called “Crushed But Not Dis-Troyed” in which he explains how so often we seek external solutions to our problems when, infact, we could be the solution. How you are responsible for your own happiness. It’s a choice that you make each day of your life. How you can always choose to start living your best life. If a man whose own doctor told him it was ok to go home, lie down and die chose not to and lived, then ask yourself this, “what’s my excuse?” If not you, then who? Who should be in charge of saving you?
How you must never hide behind the reason for your problems or blame others for your situation. It has no effect on the situation but paralyses your ability to handle it. Instead, ask what your part is in creating the solution.
He believes that his part is to use his story to inspire others to live. I believe that, unike Harry Potter, he is the real-life boy who lived.