Dear Editors,
I was born and raised in Addis Ababa. I came to this country in 1985 to achieve higher education and a good job - the American dream. However, I experienced a nightmare six years ago when I was diagnosed as HIV-positive. I had just turned 31. Around the same time, while I was still in grief about my HIVpositive status, one of my brothers died of AIDS. I felt like there was nowhere to go and no one to turn to, but I wouldnít give up my battle to live. I contracted the virus from a woman I was dating. How ironic when a lot of people still think you have to be gay or a drug addict or promiscuous to be infected with HIV/ AIDS. I am none of the above - neither are some unfortunate children, innocent wives and others who have contracted HIV/AIDS.

In any case, you can imagine the reaction I received from my friends and family when I broke the news to them. This was not the Solomon they knew or wanted to know. Every superstition, ignorance and paranoia they harbored came out when they learned of my situation. Surprised? I was not surprised. Were they? Yes. I am healthylooking, having taken more than 40,000 pills in six years with very little side effects. I donít drink or smoke. I exercise and I abstain from sex. Is there life after HIV? I am a LIVING PROOF. Yet, there is still a stigma on HIV/AIDS, which tends to isolate the victims or incite fear of exposure.

So, not just for me but for all my brothers and sisters who live under this fear, I have started an HIV/AIDS Support Group. This group is especially set-up for Ethiopian-Americans who live with the stigma of HIV/AIDS. Since there is a large concentration of Ethiopians in Washington, D.C. area, I have chosen this city as home base for the group. This way, anyone who needs testing, treatment, or simply an opportunity to discuss the physical and/or psychological aspects of the disease with others in same situation can do so in a group or private setting. It is my hope that this will help alleviate some of the depression, isolation, and embarrassment that HIV-positive individuals feel. I dream that one day we will all be able to look HIV/AIDS straight in the face without prejudice - all of us across the world. I can be reached at (206) 243-1448.

Solomon Berhe
Seattle, WA


Solomon Berhe