|Princess Kasune Zulu.|
Written by Jack Zimba
DINE with some of the most powerful and influential people on the planet. Jet around the globe, speak at Bishop TD Jakes’ mega church, share a bench with Senator Barack Obama; get a kiss on both cheeks from President George Bush and a warm hug from Hillary Clinton. Share a platform with Hillary Benn at the House of Commons. Give interviews to the world's leading newspapers and have your face splashed in popular publications like Ebony; talk to students at some famous universities.Turn some heads – many heads – with a voluptuous figure and a gorgeous, childlike face, then make a lasting impression with a charming personality and a witty sense of humour. And then, walk down the aisle with the man of your dreams…What more could a girl ask for? And not just any girl, but one with a past fraught with heart-rending events that would consign the future of any child to a forgotten past.Her story would make Cinderella turn green with envy. I mean, who would have thought a young orphan girl from Chibombo who dropped out of school at 14, got married at 17 and got infected with HIV could one day live up to her name – Princess. I first met Princess Kasune Zulu in August 2005 and listened to her sad story of how, as a little girl, she witnessed the deaths of her mother and father – both to HIV/AIDS. And how she was forced to marry a man 23 years her senior after falling pregnant. She narrated her story, not amidst sobs, but bursts of laughter and if there was any sadness in her, then it never registered on her benign face.In the end, it was not her sad story that struck me, but her courage to live through such a horrid experience and still find something to laugh about.Four years had past since that first meeting and when I met Princess again a week ago, pretty much nothing had changed about her. She still has a glow in her skin and a twinkle in her eyes. What more, she is still a happy-go-lucky girl with a high-pitched girlish laughter and an infectious smile. And she is still immensely good company. Meeting on the eve of her first wedding anniversary last Sunday, Princess, who is visiting the country with her two daughters – appropriately christened Joy and Hope - shared her thoughts on her marriage, faith and hope. And so what has kept her going?"I think for me first of all, I want to come out as a person who has hope because I think, Christian or not, if you don't have hope, you're dead. Hope changes everything. Hope makes you wake up and say, I'm going to face the day. Hope makes you say, I can dream," she says."And I think I was just created a very bubbly person. I'm a very joyful person. I try to find something to laugh about, even to laugh about myself sometimes. And I think that has kept me going. Even when something is so hard, instead of crying... don't get me wrong, I can really cry as well the same way I laugh. I can really cry, especially when things disturb me. Especially things like the poverty levels of Africa and my country, in my own village in Chibombo. Those things make me cry.""But I have found that laughing gives me a healing that I cannot explain, but I also feel that it is just a personality that I've always had, which is full of joy, full of excitement. I always want to find life beyond challenges and hope beyond the difficulties. That has always been my way of looking at life, but ultimately my strength comes from the Lord. I find my strength in living positively, but ultimately I think it is having hope in this unseen God and knowing that, you know what, I may not understand many things, I may not even know what the future holds, but I can thank God for today and be joyful about it and also try to make someone else’s life better. In so doing, I have found that in a way I have reaped back what I have sowed.""Sometimes people used to mistake my joy... They used to say, you're sending a wrong message; you're positive, your parents have died and yet you're still joyful and excited, are you not sending a wrong message about being HIV-positive that all things are rosy?"But that is not true. I think that what I'm trying to say is that we can all rise against our challenges and be the best of what we hav e been given in life.” "And as hard as my life has been, I want to believe that some people have had it rougher than this, and I want to be a source of encouragement, a source of joy to those that have had it the hardest. And also to those that have had it lighter than me, I want them to look up to me and say, ‘if she can do it, I can also do it'," she says. Hand of God A firm believer in God and divine healing and a student of divinity - she is pursuing a masters in theology - Princess still insists on testing and taking the right drugs for those who are positive."Here's the thing, I believe in the Lord that heals all diseases. He says, 'I'm Jehovah Rapha - the Lord that healeth thee'. So I'm a firm believer in divine healing, don't get me wrong. But I believe that when God healed a person, when he was lame, he walked; if he was blind, he saw. So, why not go and do an HIV test if you have been healed? It will come out negative. That is all I'm saying. So if you have been miraculously healed, praise God. You test and come out HIV negative."But for me just to believe and not to go back to do the test, that is not right. I know that many people use the scripture that says 'whose report are you going to believe'. Is it the Lord's or the doctor's?' But God can also work a miracle through these drugs." "And one of the things that I've always tried to be deliberate with, is to try and not to use my Christianity as something that would even put people off. Being Christian is not what comes first out of me, even though it is always my hidden agenda that somehow someone will come to the Lord, but I also don't want that to be a put-off for many people. I think that sometimes you find that as Christians we haven't led a good example and sometimes we have even misled people in one way or the other."I'm on ARVs. Now I take Truvada and Nevirapine. When I started taking my ARVs my CD4 count had dropped to 92. That was a very low CD4 count and I could have experienced some kind of disease at least to show, but nothing to this day. The ARVs have worked so well,” she says."For me I feel like there is an unseen hand of God in my situation. I want to say that a combination of your faith plus medication and positive living, having a positive attitude, like the prayer of serenity which the Catholics use so much, 'Lord help me to change the things that I can change and to accept the things that I cannot change'. This to me has worked. It has to be holistic. I can't just be positive and not take my medication and I can't just take my medication and forget God.” She encourages people - not only those who are positive - to have a positive attitude about life."I think sometimes we reduce it to only people living with HIV/AIDS, but I think positive living is something that everyone should embrace on a daily basis - with or without HIV/AIDS. And for me I think positive living means that I will take the opportunities that come every day and use them to the maximum. And I will also take the challenges that come my day and say this is what has happened. What do I do?" she says. But how does she feel when she sees someone dying of AIDS? "I will tell you what, and God is my witness. At no time have I felt pity for myself. Because it is very human to feel like oh, that is where I'm headed to as well. "But if that situation ever happened,” she hesitates, and for the first time during the interview she wears a pensive look. “I pray that I will be the most joyous person. I pray that people who will come to my bed will say, 'there's something different about this lady.’ Something supernatural that they will want to know the living God that I know. That is my prayer.” If I had meant that question to dampen her spirits, then I don't think I succeeded. And so I drop another 'bombshell' - or so I thought. How long do you think you have to live? "Ninety-two!” she says excitedly without hesitation. “I'm 33. I want to reach ninety-two years. That is my golden number. I've told myself that ninety-two years, Lord. I want to see my children finish school. I want to be there on their graduation. I want to see them start dating and walk them through that delicate part of life. I want their boyfriends to come home so I can check them out, you know."She is a doting mother to her daughters, now 14 and 15. She also takes care of eight adopted children. Marriage Princess met her husband, David Schoefrnacker, 35, in December 2005 at Moody Bible School in the US, and started dating right away.“I didn't know he was going to be my husband then, but for him I think it was love at first sight."That first day we went out for tea and we came back and he said, ‘wi ll I see you again?’, and he never stopped coming to see me, and I knew that this man was serious. "Then I said, wait a minute, I think this guy doesn't know that I'm a mother of two biological children and I'm on my way adopting four children, and I'm going to adopt another one, cause I've always wanted ten children. And, I don't think he knew my HIV status," she says."He had been proposing for a long time. That very year he proposed and I said 'no'. But he kept on proposing."And so she removed the 'veil' with the hope of discouraging her date from making further advances."So I gave him the magazines that had my story and let him alone. I didn't know how to break it to him. It is very easy for me to tell other people - I meet people on the plane and I easily tell them my status. What I thought was that when I told him I was HIV-positive, he would just go. Then I just heard someone crying and he was red everywhere," she recalls.His response was not what she expected.He said to me: "Princess, this breaks my heart. But I also know that you're trying to say something to me that... 'goodbye'. But I want to tell you that if you had asked me two days ago if I would fall in love with someone who is HIV-positive, my answer would be no. But I didn't fall in love with you because of your status. I fell in love with you, with your personality." And so began their love story. "He never pushed me beyond our barriers, he is a man and I dated him for about two years six months and every time he told me, 'Princess I pray that one day we will be together'.On July 19, 2008, the couple were married by Bishop Horace E Smith of the Apostolic Faith Church in Chicago."I love my husband so much. In a way, I have grown to even love him more because of his love for me and just how he has shown his commitment. "He has just proved to be the most precious gift I could ever have, and I'm excited. Our love keeps blossoming," she says.Although she did not face opposition to her marriage in her community in the US, she did not know what to expect from David's mother, who only knew about her status a few days before the wedding.“David decided not to tell his mother about my status and so I prayed that one day she would somehow just Google my name and discover on her own,” she says. Well, she did, but her response was not what the bride-princess expected. “Well, if she can take care of herself, she can live long. I see people who die of obesity in the US,” she said.Princess now speaks highly of her mother-in-law. Beauty that opens doors. Apart from possessing a lovable character, Princess has mastered her beauty like the biblical Esther, and has used it to stand in places others can only imagine or dream.She is beautiful, and she knows it. "I'm fearfully made in the image of God," she says."I believe there is nothing wrong with one acknowledging their beauty. You can be beautiful and not know it and you will not look as beautiful. But if you are beautiful and you know it, use it to benefit others, not to destroy yourself... When I didn't know the Lord, I made wrong decisions which ended up affecting my body and that is what happens with many young people,” she says.“Fathers need to emphasise to their children, 'you're beautiful, you're wonderful...’ Hug them, take them out and spend time with them so that they can know that their beauty is not for other guys to touch, but that it's beautiful for them to beautiful.” "True beauty opens doors for you. It is so true. We see it in the Bible; I see it when I enter a room,” she says. Ordinary girl But despite now living a life befitting a real princess, Princess has chosen to still be ordinary."I try to live as ordinary as possible, even with all the opportunities the Lord has brought my way, and it blesses my heart when people say, 'w ow Princess, you haven’t changed’. Well, of course most of the things that I needed to change on, I have changed. But I'm sure what they're trying to say is that I haven't become sophisticated for nothing," she says. And, well, you can take a girl out of Chibombo, but you can't take Chibombo out of a girl. “I want to be remembered as a village girl,” she says with certitude. "A village girl to whom extraordinary opportunities happened, but who never forgot who she was and where she came from.”“And for my children, that they may know that they had a woman of God; a woman of faith; a woman who would find her strength in prayer and worship and who was concerned about the plight of those around her."And of course a woman of joy and laughter," she adds and bursts into her characteristic laughter."I have lived this life, made a mark, made an impression on someone - even if it just meant one person, I know that I will have made a difference in this world when I'm gone.""I love my life. Life's good,” she says as she prepares to leave the table.Ninety-two years is a long, long way off for both of us, and if we both live that long I would like to meet the Warrior Princess, again.
This article was first published in 2007