Even as we sit for a chat some minutes to 1pm, she is thinking aloud of what she should have for lunch.
“I cannot have ugali. It will take a lot of time to prepare. I am thinking of githeri, well fried with avocado,” she says and we both burst into laughter.
It is her love for food that led the 26-year-old to discover her HIV status ten years ago. She was 16 years old then, and a Form Two student at Asumbi Girls High School.
First, a certain organisation visited her school in second term to rally students to donate blood. Those who donated were given biscuit and soda.
For Phenny, the snack was enough motivation. She could not wait to get off the donation couch and grab her biscuit and soda. She says it was a basic school survival instinct.
The exercise went well, and she even got to know her blood type.
The next school term, another organisation came calling. This time it asked volunteers to undergo free HIV tests.
“This time round they were giving a full loaf of bread. I did not really want to be tested, but I did not want to miss the bread,” she says choking with laughter.
After going through the routine preceding the test, Phenny grew impatient. And the questions made her nervous.
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
Have you ever tested for HIV?”
At the back of her mind, she says, she just wanted the attendant to get over with it so that she could get her loaf of bread.
Five minutes later, she was asked to interpret the HIV testing kit results in front of her. By then, she had learnt how to read the test: ‘One red stripe means I do not have HIV, Two stripes means I have HIV, then I can go have my bread and soda!’
But when she looked down in front of her, it was not one red stripe that she saw but two. The test was positive.
She never got to finish her bread and soda.
“I was stunned. I do not even know how they fell from my hands,” she says.
That marked the turning point of her life. First came denial.
“I even thought the results were fake because the test was done once,” she says “May be if I take another one it might turn out different”, she reasoned out.
Then anger followed. The bubbly girl who loved cracking jokes and found it hard to keep a straight face on serious matters, suddenly became withdrawn and disinterested in everything, including her studies.
The first person she confided in was her best friend. The two used to share everything and Phenny thought she could trust her.
To be continued…