I started a blog entry a couple of times last week, but was so busy and then tired at the end of the day I never got it uploaded and now we are into a new week. I keep saying one day I will catch up on my entries, but I’m not sure that will actually happen.
Today three volunteers, the community rural health motivator and I visited seven, yes, seven homesteads to do initial assessment of needs for the National Children’s Home grant we are working on. We left downtown Manzini at 8:00 am this morning which means some of the ladies left their house by 6:30 am. I dropped them off at the bus stop a few minutes after 5:00 this evening which means at least one of the ladies won’t make it home until probably 7:00 this evening. I drove over 100 km, at least half of it on dirt roads and paths in the community of Luve. I drank little, had one green orange to eat and didn’t go to the toilet from 7:30 am until 5:15 pm which is shear torture. But I’m not Swazi enough to take a squat wherever I am yet. As always, it was quite an experience. I had to ford two creeks. The water wasn’t bad, but the road leading into and out of them was horrific. The ladies are so impressed with my driving. I told them I’d like to say it is girl power, but in reality it is God power because I always stop, shift into first gear and say “OK God. Get me through this!” They just laugh at me. Oh, we also had two chickens in the car with us that were given to two of the volunteers. Both were confined to a plastic bag, but I was so worried they would suffocate.
The first homestead was of a gogo (grandmother) and her orphaned 11 year old granddaughter who is HIV +. There are also two other granddaughters and a grandson living with the gogo. The gogo struggles but does a good job of helping her grandchildren.
The second homestead is a 15 year old girl in the fourth grade and her sister who is in high school that are living with the gogo and the uncle. The girls have lost both parents. The uncle is doing a good job taking care of the girls and the gogo, but has a difficult time buying uniforms and paying for their school fees, etc. Look at the precious face on this gogo. She was very hard of hearing and had an extremely hard time walking. I would love to know how old she is but it is too rude to ask. But what a beautiful, almost ageless face she has.
The third homestead was a 11 year old girl living with her gogo and auntie. Her father deserted the mother and child years ago and the mother lives away trying to get casual employment. The child has trouble hearing, seeing, has severe open sores on her legs and looks about 6 or 7 years old. Her little arms were probably less than 2 inches in diameter. She hasn’t been tested for HIV, but just by the look of her, I’ve come to know it’s a pretty good bet that she is positive. We left money for the aunt to take her to Baylor Children’s clinic in
The fourth homestead was a 10 year old HIV + child, her 5 year old sister and older brother living with her mother and gogo. The father deserted them. The mother doesn’t work. The gogo makes curtains out of the reeds in the field to earn a little money to buy what she can.
The fifth homestead was of 15 year old boy in fourth grade living with his aunt and her children. Both parents are deceased. The boy is HIV + but on medication and seems to be doing well. The aunt is also “sickly.” The auntie has two small children and two older children. The youngest is probably 18 months old and the second youngest is maybe 3 years old. Both of the young ones have no diapers (nappies) or panties on which is pretty typical in the rural areas. The young one was sitting in the dirt playing with a stick and urinated and then stirred the stick in it. Then a little later he was walking around, squatted and had a bowel movement. The mother got up, swept some dirt over it and moved the child around behind one of the houses. Pretty soon the child wandered back over and sat on his mother's leg. His bottom never was cleaned so now it was on the mother's leg. When I see things like this all I can do is say a quiet prayer and not freak out or cry over what I am watching.
The sixth homestead was of a girl age 10 and her brother age 7, who had been taken in by church members after their parents died last year. The family that took them in was much better off than any of the families we have seen, but it is still difficult to pay for school fees and buy shoes and school uniforms for two extra children in the family. The “adopted” father has a transport business, but with the rising costs, it isn’t doing very well.
The last homestead was of a boy aged 13 who is staying with a “auntie” who is not related to him other than they have the same last name. This child was abandoned by his parents when he was very young because the first two teeth the child got were the top two front teeth instead of the bottom two front teeth. According to culture, this is bad luck and many years ago the child would have been killed. Culture still says the family does not have to raise the child but that it must go to an unrelated family with the same last name. Bizarre. The auntie makes money to support the child by making home brew and selling it to her neighbors. Before we left there were four neighbors watching us and waiting for beer. Two had obviously had way too much to drink already - so had the auntie. The auntie said she couldn’t grow a garden for the child because the river was very, very far away. Yet it wasn’t so far that she couldn’t haul water to her homestead to make moonshine! The next picture is of the boy sitting next to his aunties and then two of his auntie’s customers! And then there’s one of the volunteers, the rural health motivator (who was in all of the pictures) and me for change!
We had a little adventure getting to this last homestead. We turned off the tarred road onto a small dirt path that went right through a field that was on fire. Some of the field had already burnt itself out, but in other spots the flames were between 1 and 3 feet high. Children were walking home from school down this path and cows were looking for some place to graze. The ladies told me to be careful because there was petrol in my car. I thanked them for that news bulletin. However, they didn’t want me not to go down the path. So I said my prayer for guidance took a big swallow and drove very carefully trying to stay in the middle of the path. Oh, at one point, there was a small fire in the middle of the path and I no choice but to keep moving right over it. We got to the homestead and while we were sitting and talking a fairly strong wind came up. I quietly said “God, I hope this wind is putting out the flame and not stirring it up more.” When we left, the wind had indeed blown out the fires next to the path! Now, that is an answered prayer!
Hopefully this lengthy blog has given you a bit of a look into the HIV/AIDS pandemic in this country and a little look at the living conditions and culture. But in the mist of the poverty and sickness, there are such rays of hope – the gogo’s, the family that took in two unrelated children, the beautiful faces and smiles and of course God’s presence every step of the way.
Please keep your prayers coming, because I know they are what is helping me get through some challenging moments. Have a blessed day. I did.