"Salamu-alaikum" is the Islamic greeting used in the Middle East and in almost every country that is predominantly Muslim. It's in Arabic and it means in English: Peace be upon you!
And peace is what I am seeking, by writing this blog -- peace in my soul and mind -- so here we go. This is my first time writing about me and my Poz experience as a proud Middle Eastern, Muslim man -- and recently trying to be a proud Poz as well.
My screen name is Ibrahim, since I can't use my real name; I promise you that after reading a few of my blogs, you will understand why I use a different name. I am a 35-year-old student and a professional who lives in New York City. By sharing my "thousand and one nights of Poz" story, I am hoping to give you an idea about what it means to be HIV positive from that part of the world, and to give a voice to the missing Poz tribe of the Middle East's Arabs and Muslims!
I was diagnosed a year ago. When I was first diagnosed, no one at the hospital could understand why with me it was more than the usual dramatic scene they are used -- somehow -- to witnessing when someone is given his HIV-positive results. I guess it's my rugged manly appearance that made them exclude the theory of "he is just a drama queen!"
Hearing that it was confirmed and I've got the Virus in my blood FOREVER, I became seriously and aggressively suicidal immediately, searching for anything to end my life. (Now that was scary -- a Middle Eastern man getting suicidal! :) )
Well, to their credit, the doctor and social workers were worried about me and concerned that if I were to be left alone, I would seriously kill myself at the same moment. They admitted me to a psychiatric ER that same day, and I was kept under heavy sedation to prevent me from hurting myself.
And before you start preaching to me: Trust me, my friend, that by now I've memorized the whole poem of "It's not the end of life, and it's not a death sentence anymore, and it's a manageable disease ... and that I am entitled to free MetroCards* every week as an HIV positive, which will make all the difference in my life!" but this cliché was not working with me by then.
Until this moment my life is not normalizing as it should be -- even though I have come such a long way in accepting my new identity and trying to learn to be proud of it and help it grow, which is my Poz identity.
Together, you and I will walk through my blogs to discover the desert of Arabia that I must walk through, hoping to reach the oasis where I can rest as a Poz man. Sounds too poetic? What else did you expect from a Middle Eastern man? A hip-hop song?
What I am trying to address here in my blog is not related to only the HIV-positive crisis thing. The issues that I have to deal with are somehow different issues, and are mostly related to the fact that I am Middle Eastern and HIV positive.
Now someone might raise a smart question: But you live in the US now, so why blog and bother us with all the nonsense of the Middle East? As if it's not enough what we hear in the TV about this crazy part of the world!
Well let me start by correcting this smart question: In reality, I still live in the Middle East within the US. I am talking about being an HIV-positive person in a Middle Eastern community inside the US -- which by itself could give you an idea about being Poz in the Middle East, or the Muslim world in general.
Here, we live in our Middle Eastern neighborhoods surrounded by our Halal restaurants, hookah places, Middle Eastern schools, grocery shops, our mosques -- and we even watch satellite channels broadcasting from the Middle East! But most important, we still live the Middle Eastern culture and mentality.
Back to my early Poz days: When I was first diagnosed, part of what came to my mind was so similar to what an American person would feel if he was diagnosed with AIDS in the early 80s. It is simply because my community is decades back when it comes to the issue of HIV. Talking about being Middle Eastern, you should know that almost every other issue that I have to deal with is somehow related to my cultural background. So if you don't like Hummus, you better get ready, 'cause my blog will certainly be tarnished a lot with it!
I understand that my experience could be intense. I do confess that I have met some other guys who came along with their Poz identity and chose it over their Middle Eastern one, but for me, I am trying to hold to both at the same time.
In my coming blogs, I will be focused on addressing HIV from a Middle Eastern eye -- what does it mean, what are the challenges and how do I deal with such challenges.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog -- and get ready for my next blog, which will give you an introduction to HIV in the Middle Eastern encyclopedia! Salam! ("Peace")
* Editor's note: MetroCards are fare passes for New York City public transit -- often offered free of charge to clients of New York's HIV/AIDS service organizations.
Send Ibrahim an e-mail.