The character of Pili is made up of a number of stories from real women living with HIV in Pwani. There is no one person who represents Pili as ‘Pili is everywhere.’ Pili is the name we gave to the lead character in the film as it was a common name among the women Director Leanne and I met when coming up with the story. However, I was just going over my notes for a book I’m writing about making the film and was reminded about one of the Pilis who struck both me and Leanne.
When we met her, Pili was 38 and living on her own with her four children. In 2008 Pili had been married with two children living in Dar es Salaam. After her husband and his second wife died of AIDS, her husband’s family brought her back to live in Mbwewe with an aunt. She was pregnant with twins at the time. Friends encouraged her to get tested and when her HIV positive status was confirmed she soon began treatment at Chalinze care and treatment centre (CTC) so as to prevent mother to child transmission of the virus. Her twins were subsequently born HIV free.
However, Pili’s HIV status was met with stigma from her family and wider community. Upon learning about her status, her aunt locked her and her children out of where they were staying. Pili then went to live with her sister in law who did the same. When she was chucked out of home for the second time, Pili attempted to kill herself by swallowing rat poison. Her eldest child found her and encouraged her to live. They went to the local police station to see if they could help find her shelter. A local government official told her to get a room anywhere she could and that he would pay for it. After finding assistance, Pili started attending seminars that provided counselling for people living with HIV and guidance on how to start up a small business. It was at this time that, as Pili put it, ‘life became normal again.’ Pili’s children were in school and she was making money selling tea, chapatti and mandazi (an acquired taste, imagine a greasy donut without the sugar).
When Director Leanne, translator Ansity and I sat with Pili it was clear she was in a lot of pain. Her stomach was swollen and the doctors did not know what was wrong. She thought she needed more advanced tests and treatment in Dar es Salaam but did not have the Tsh180,000 (US$90) to pay for it. Leanne and I offered to help, we were travelling to Dar at the end of our trip and she could hitch a lift, we could also pay for the balance of the treatment. However we were unable to get hold of her or news of her health when we tried calling. I am struck that my final notes from our meeting with Pili are ‘thinks something is wrong.’
I asked assistant/translator/expert selfie taker and all round helpful person Ansity to again see if she could find out what happened to her. I’m still waiting to hear.