Erjan: Fighting HIV for his son

November 29, 2021



There’s only one reason why Erjan* keeps fighting HIV, despite all the difficulties he’s faced in life: he’s determined to give wings to his son. Not only metaphorically, but also literally, since his 14-year-old son has always dreamed of becoming a pilot.

Erjan’s love for his son has no limits, and it is this love that saved him in the darkest moments of his life. “When I learned I had HIV, I fell into depression. I really hadn’t expected this. It took me more than a year to cope with this news,” says Erjan, who is becoming stronger with each new dawn. 

Thanks to his son, Erjan was able to fight his emotions and keep going: “One day, when I was in hospital, my son came to visit me. He was living with my relatives then and, somehow, he found out where I was. He was in the first grade. He came to see me, and he gave me a banana and a mandarin that he had bought on the money I gave him from time to time. And he asked me if I would ever come home.” Those fruits, and the dirty turtleneck the boy was wearing, got Erjan back on his feet: “Nobody was cleaning my son’s clothes. And I cried so much that day… But that’s the day when I promised myself that I would do everything to get better. That I would take treatment. And that even if I had nothing to eat, even if my legs failed me, I would still work and I would never abandon my son.”

Since, Erjan has had to face a lot of ups and downs in his life, but he’s never given up.



The light at the end of the tunnel

Erjan, who is now 40 years old, has been living with HIV for around seven years. He found out he had HIV when his second wife was pregnant: “I definitely wasn’t expecting the test to come out positive…” This diagnosis turned Erjan’s life upside down, and he’s had to go through a lot of tragedies since.

Erjan was married twice, both times not by his own will. The first time, he didn’t stay long with his wife, who moved abroad just a few months after their son was born. But when his second wife learned about his HIV status, her family made her have an abortion: “I begged her to keep the baby, I told her I would raise it myself. Doctors said that the baby may be healthy – and even if it had HIV, what difference does it make? It’s possible to live with HIV…” Erjan remembers this loss with tears rolling down his cheeks, but he’s still friends with his wife: “I call her regularly to check on her, and ask her how her health is. I thank God every day that I didn’t give her HIV. I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself.”

Erjan immediately started taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) when he found out about his HIV status, but handling his emotions turned out to be much harder. After being diagnosed with HIV, Erjan was left on the streets with his son, who he had raised on his own since his first birthday. “I was so scared when I learned I had HIV. And nobody let me in. My relatives were afraid of me and of my son because of HIV. We had nowhere to go. We lived in a shelter. And I thought that I had little time left, no more than a year. How would my son live without me?” In this state of despair and panic, Erjan also lost his father, who died of a stroke shortly after finding out about the diagnosis. Erjan was homeless, terrified, and could not count on his relatives’ help – on top of stigmatizing him due to his HIV status, they also blamed him for the father’s death.

Erjan, however, was able to find the strength out of depression and got a job as an outreach worker in an HIV project. Things were going fine for him and his son, until a video shattered their lives.

“The second time I collapsed was three years ago. Some journalists had filmed a short movie with me, but they had promised it would remain anonymous and unpublished,” says Erjan. To his surprise and horror, he discovered that the video was online, widely spread and commented on with hatred. Because of this video, Erjan had to part with his son and send him abroad to his mother, after ten years of tight relations.

“Everyone saw the video. My son started having problems here at school. They pointed their finger at him, laughed at him, and were scared of him because his father has HIV. It was really hard for me to see him cry. Now, he’s abroad, he’s better there. I don’t want him to suffer,” says Erjan.

Erjan’s eyes are full of love and pride when he shows pictures and videos of his son. His phone is like a virtual photo album filled with his dearest memories: a birthday, a first day at school, a cozy evening home or his son’s first flight. Now, Erjan wakes up before sunrise every day to call his son by video – a moment he cherishes like no other.



His dream: ending HIV

Despite the scars on his heart, Erjan has decided to dedicate his life to fighting HIV. If it weren’t for his son, he would even become an activist and disclose his status, but he doesn’t want to put him through stigma a second time.

“I hope that one day, they’ll find a vaccine against HIV. I’ll pray for that,” says Erjan. Meanwhile, he works in an NGO funded by the UNDP / Global Fund project to support those living with HIV.  “Many people don’t believe in treatment. They don’t trust anyone. So I tell them about myself, about how I got HIV, about what I’ve been through, about ART and how my viral load has decreased. About how much better I feel now.”

“Recently, I met a girl I know, who has had HIV for three years. This whole time, she hasn’t been taking treatment. She didn’t believe in it. She has two children, but she doesn’t want to take ART. She was in hospital with tuberculosis and meningitis during eight months. I feel so sorry for her. She’s lost so much weight. I was accompanying clients to the AIDS Center when we came across her. One of them also didn’t believe in ART, but seeing her, he immediately changed his mind and started taking ART.”

“I convince them to take treatment; I tell them that it’s possible to live with HIV, and even to get married and have a family,” he says. He’s so dedicated to his job that he even calls some of his clients every day at the same time to remind them to take their pills. Erjan would like to make a movie about HIV, about people living with HIV who have families and a normal life, and show it in schools and universities. “Children, young people need to learn more about HIV. About how it’s transmitted and how it isn’t. About how people live with HIV.”

If Erjan has kept his ship on course all this time, it’s only thanks to his son. Even when he had no roof on his head and nothing to put in his plate, Erjan found the money to send his son to language classes and make his dreams come true. “He’s always dreamed of becoming a pilot. As far as I remember, he’s always been interested in planes. And I promised that I would help him fly,” says Erjan. Meanwhile, it’s his son who is giving him the strength to pull through.

*The name was changed.