by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Anthony Adero has found Seattle social life to be very liberal and unique. 'It is a city with its own unique culture and very great mix of hype,' he told Seattle Gay News.
A very extroverted and sociable person, he has come to love Seattle.
'The people are the nicest of any city I've been to in the United States, especially those who I have met at social events in the Seattle area,' said Anthony, adding, 'Another new great life experience for me - a new home.'
Anthony Adero has many things now.
He has a story to tell. But then again, so do you and I.
He has dreams. But who doesn't?
He has HIV, and surely couldn't claim to be the world's sole infection.
But it is through his story - a very personal and at times tragic story - that you will learn of how he was infected, against his will, in Kenya, Africa, thousands of miles away from the city he now calls home.
His story first appeared on the Huffington Post website January 17.
'On the morning of Dec. 11, 2007, Anthony Adero decided to leave his hometown forever and head to the capital, because he wanted to kiss a man for the first time in his life. He packed the few essentials needed for his five-hour trip, little things that carry weight, like family photographs and a pre-recorded cellphone message from his baby sister; he felt soothed whenever he heard her giggles,' Nick Mwaluko and Anthony Adero wrote in the HuffPo piece.
'What he could not stuff into his suitcase he packed in his heart. Then he took two reassuring breaths for courage, allowed himself a measured silence, and then headed straight for the central bus station in Kisumu for his final goodbyes. His grandmother cried. The men cried, too, but rural machismo forbids public displays of emotion among men, so they turned their backs to hide their shame. His older brother was envious, while his baby sister was proud. Anthony was hopeful, but everyone else held serious doubts. Kiss, hug ... those final moments were so tense that he forgot his ticket before boarding.'
Anthony would travel over 165 miles to Nairobi seeking the freedom to explore his sexuality.
He arrived with great hope mixed with deep anxiety. Painful memories began to flash before his mind's eye: the semester when six boys were expelled for wearing earrings - the boys beaten to a pulp by their fathers who had sacrificed nearly everything to educate them, counting on their sons' support in their old age or infirmity. Blood spilling from one boy as he fell to the ground, kneeling as his father pounded him, front teeth knocked clear out of his swollen mouth. Searching the dictionary for 'homosexuality' to find no word in Kiswahili, though the slang for 'faggot,' 'cunt,' and 'bitch boy' lives in multiple incarnations at the tip of every Kenyan's tongue. Televised presidential speeches denouncing Gay love and calling for its prohibition. Sermons preaching eternal hellfire, demonic possession, perversity. And, finally, telling his girlfriend, 'No, sweetheart, I cannot marry you, because I'm Gay' - and then banking on God's protection to pave the way for a planned escape.
THE FIRST ENCOUNTER
Like many of us - probably most of us - Anthony decided that a celebratory drink should precede a phone call home telling his family that he'd arrived safely in the big city. He looked for the rumored Gay bar. He found it.
Anthony stood at the bar, ordered his drink, and was excited by the prospect of exploring his sexuality. He smiled.
Two men sat down beside him. They were tall with deep voices. As the men inched closer, offering to buy his next drink if he cared to stay a little longer and keep them company, he thought he would finally get that kiss he'd traveled all this way for.
But that would not happen. Instead, Anthony Adero would endure a hell that no one should ever experience in their lifetime. Only this hell, even after he would leave it, clawing and climbing his way to uncertain safety, would follow him for the rest of his life - poisoning his blood and weakening his ability to fight off pneumonia and cancer.
'They stole my shoes, my bag, my money. I lay stomach-down on a dirt floor, embraced by darkness. Eyes closed, I heard the rush of cars down a nearby road. Where was I?' recalled Anthony.
He'd been dumped in a semi-completed, abandoned house without a door. The men raping him would come back again and again throughout the night.
NIGHT OF TERROR
The harsh reality of the scene is hard to imagine. Anthony says mosquitoes feasted on blood from his anus, blood was dripping down his legs, and there was blood on the side of his skull, where they'd beaten him with a steel pipe.
'My asshole throbbed with pain,' he said. 'My skull and stomach jerked with pain whenever I moved - even the slightest gesture jolted my suffering to its depths.'
To stay motionless was an invitation for rape.
'Alternatively, I could escape this hell. I closed my eyes and pushed my consciousness into a bird,' he said. 'I flew. I soared. I was free. Eyes open, I tried to push my upper body off the dirt floor but failed.'
'My wings were too fragile,' Anthony said. 'In my stillness I could not gather peace, only rushing thoughts from a counter-narrative in which they parted my legs and penetrated me, stabbing my sexuality as mosquitoes danced joyfully to the rhythm of each greedy thrust. 'No!' I screamed, pushing my upper body off the floor. 'No!' I screamed as I came to my knees. 'No! No! No!'
MEETING AN 'ANGEL'
Finally, he stood alone, naked in the dark.
Realizing that he was naked, he searched for and found plastic sheeting left over from construction work.
'I put the plastic around my body, careful to cover the blood on my legs as best as I could. I worried that I smelled of spunk, blood, sweat, anus,' he said.
When he reached the door, he says, he took one deep breath, then his first step.
'How to describe it, that moment of initial self-rescue? A million birds taking flight from my heart, thanks to release by an inner warrior. The spirit regaining 'Yes' language with each step as affirmation,' said Anthony. 'God of a thousand hands stretching to lift the mountain off my back. Fire dragons plunging headfirst into the ocean, emerging as butterfly love. I was flying. I was soaring. Yes, freedom.'
At the end of the road, Anthony came across a woman who gave him directions. She walked him to the Matatu bus stop and then, slowly reaching into her bra, she brought out 90 Kenyan shillings for his fare back to Nairobi.
'Take,' my angel said. She promised to pray for my protection,' said Anthony.
During the ride back, passengers refused to sit near him. He was called 'monster.'
In Nairobi he called a relative, who came to pick him up. 'They said I looked miserable,' he said. 'They said Nairobi was a cosmopolitan city for sophisticated people, a place where someone as dirt-poor and as rural as I could not survive beyond a week at best. They said I smelled bad and spoke like a stupid, uneducated farmhand. I kept silent, in pain. They said curse words. 'Idiot,' 'ugly,' 'filth,' 'trash,' they said.
'A voice in my head interrupted their dirty, abusive sermon with warrior language for my broken spirit,' he told SGN. 'Anthony Adero, this is not who you are.'
'Who am I?'
Then came the epiphany: 'I. Am. Blessed.'
Anthony Adero had contracted HIV.
Anthony's journey with HIV/AIDS has been a humbling experience - one that he has a personal connection with.
'It makes you experience a rollercoaster health journey, [and] tells you what action, social organizing, and activism can achieve on prevention and control,' he said.
'I've lost friends and colleagues to HIV due to factors beyond comprehension,' said Anthony, adding, 'There is no Disneyland in HIV.'
'I was deeply depressed, very sickly,' he went on, describing how he felt when he returned to Nairobi. 'I could not get out of bed. My youngest aunt suggested, with the utmost compassion, that I get medical attention. My first test was negative, but I knew my body was not my body. My second test was positive.'
Anthony told SGN that an African man who is raped is not an African man by traditional African standards. 'I had no language. Nothing to call forth, not in a village with strict gender stereotypes. Blame is available: 'You're stupid. You're naïve. Nobody will accept you. You deserve nothing.' My first tongue was shame. It came from deep. It was all I could summon from within.
'I am complex. Accept me. Embrace me. Appreciate what I have to offer. I am different. Why fear me? Change the homophobic laws so I can think about a future, marry if I want, have job security,' said Anthony. 'In Africa, patriarchy and heterosexism are huge diseases. They impact my intimacy, my education, my religion, my politics, my personal health, and the way I relate with my culture. How can we strip them away, Africa?'
Anthony says he would like the men who raped him to acknowledge his pain - tell him why they made him live in hell.
He says of the men who raped him, 'They have influenced me, forced me to look closely at my life, to look to life for meaning. My whole experience has given me a new sense of how I see issues. I hear the sound of truth, truth birthed by agony. They forced me to create that sound. They have truly influenced my destiny in a very positive way.'
After all he has been through, Anthony says, he does not fear death. 'I have died. I was in Hell. Then I rose from the dead. I've died many, many times and risen from the dead more times. No, I am not afraid of death, nor what life brings.'
In his U.S. experience, Anthony has found that many people seem to be afraid of Africans. He said, 'A lot of people stereotype the diaspora-based Africans with portrayed misunderstood culture back in Africa based on media reporting, and some perceived cultural differences also raise phobias and also cut social interactions with Africans.'
Anthony Adero wants SGN readers to know that he is a change-maker who's truly passionate to bring difference to the community. Last week, Anthony joined Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea) as the organization's Immigration and Asylum Services Program Director.
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