If you ask a woman all she needs from a man, I guess “undivided attention” could be the answer. In what seemed a dramatic turn of events, emerged a life time story of hope and love worth telling. Once beaten twice shy as the saying goes, both of them agreed never to take a second chance. While people saw end of the once ever happy and cool living family, in the absence of the once caring and loving husband, she saw a new beginning and a milestone for change at the end of the tunnel, indeed brevity, perseverance and endurance had to take the day. Today, sitting on their veranda, clad in typical village attire, in a jovial mood I tell a tale for James Zimba and Mercy Longwe (not real names) a couple in Ndomo fishing community in Nkhotakota district- Malawi.

James Zimba and Mercy Longwe of Khonde village T/A Mphonde in Nkhotakota district got married in 2000. The couple has 6 children with the eldest aged 16 years while the youngest is 7 years old. Despite living together as a couple, James had many other girl friends that occupied his life and consumed his meager and hard earned resources from fishing. As culture in rural Malawi expects, Mercy persevered despite living in fear of contracting HIV. She couldn’t leave her home as she was not divorced hence family members couldn’t support the vice, so was a terrible situation perpetrated by cultural beliefs, expectations for a real woman and gender imbalances. To show Mercy that the war was not over, life became tougher when in 2009 James married a second wife on top of the other girl friends.

“Mercy failed to satisfy me sexually, there were things she couldn’t change and do in bed” James was quoted as saying without elaborating how he wanted Mercy to perform in bed despite being probed.

“Despite living in fear I couldn’t live my matrimonial home as I had nowhere to get support for the six children” this is all Mercy could say when asked why she kept living with a man whose behavior was risky and never gave her chance to make decisions and choices to access SRHR services. While life was quite different from the time James married a second wife, Mercy was as strong as ever. According to her, children slept on an empty stomach most of the times and depended highly on neighbors as James stopped providing for the family, considering that his attention was greatly divided between the two wives and other sexual partners. Chifundo Banda is a peer educator, CBDA and Expert provider in Ndomo fishing community, for FOCCADs and a neighbor to the Zimba family. As a well trained peer educator, Chikondi saw the danger in James’s behavior and way of conduct and decided to reach the couple with SRHR and family planning related talks to influence behavior change in James.

Coupled with HIV messages from the peer educator and stories within the village about her fellow woman in marriage, Mercy had no peace of mind until she made a decision to get tested for cervical cancer and HIV and start family planning to avoid conceiving further. During his second visit to the couple Useni introduced a topic on HIV testing and counseling to motivate them and bring hope back to Mercy who lived in fear and stress on suspicion. Foundation for Community and Capacity Development (FOCCAD) is implementing door to door HIV testing, access to family planning and condoms in an effort to increasing access to SRHR in fishing communities far from health facilities. Chikondi knew the dates for the next visit for SRHR counselors and providers and communicated the same to the couple. While Mercy was ready to test for HIV, the case was different for James.

“I always made sure to know the dates for the next visit of the counselors. I would go fishing as quickly as possible so that the counselors would not find me home” this was James’s tactic in running away from Knowing his status or to allow Mercy access family planning.

James family and counselor.

Another light of change came to Mercy when she had an HIV test and the result was negative. Mercy couldn’t believe this result and vowed to maintain her stand of no sex without HIV testing. The message that she was negative was a huge relief and a milestone in convincing her husband to take a test during the next visit of counselors. In a clever manner Mercy coaxed her husband to invite a counselor and have an HIV test as a couple which they did and tested negative.

The power for an HIV negative result was enough to change life for the Zimba’s. James was convinced to stay faithful and maintain one love as introduced during the sessions with the peer educator and ensure family planning. Mercy and James are living a happy and healthy pattern of life as witnessed during a visit to their home. The happy couple can now afford meals, children are going to school and James started making savings on the resources from fishing. Today, James and Mercy have joined fishing community group of peer educators in promoting SRHR and family planning. They conduct talks with fellow couples, James targets fellow fishermen at the lake while Mercy is a role model to other women and can explain her turn over in a compelling manner. James and Mercy, a song worth singing.