Friday, October 9, 2009

Fridays ups & downs - Life in Swaziland

The beautiful little birds start singing these days before 5:00 in the morning. It’s not a soft little chirp, chirp either, it’s like there are hundreds of birds outside my window. The plan of the day was to take some nails up to John at Lomngeletjane, stop by and see baby Sipho and visit Nonjabulo in the hospital. None of that should have taken much time so I was going to catch up on some e-mails that are very long overdue. I left my place around 8:30, went by the Post office to mail a letter and found out today is World Post Day and therefore all postage is free. (I’m impressed!) I was mailing a birthday card to my sister-in-law. I’m wondering if she will ever get it. Oh well, it’s the thought that counts. Then I went to the hardware store to get the nails and across the street to the grocery store to get a few things. I was done with these errands in record time and headed up to Lomngeletjane. As I was driving I thought about how quickly I could complete these simple tasks today and how long it took me just to go to the grocery store two years ago.

John and his guys almost have the drop ceiling put in one of the bedrooms of the teacher’s house, which is good. Then I stopped by Sipho’s house. I wanted Thembie to go with me, but I couldn’t reach her on her cell and no one knew where she went. I started walking down towards the little house/shack that Sipho’s family lives in and one of the toddlers saw me coming and got excited. I found the mom, holding Sipho and the two toddlers sitting next to a cooking fire drinking tea. They weren’t 3 ft from the fire and the smoke surrounded Sipho and his mom. Shipo was crying and the mom was shaking him like crazy. It drives me nuts when she does that. I want to scream “haven’t you ever heard of shaken baby syndrome?” I looked in his mouth while he was crying and his little tongue is still full of white sores. I asked the mom if I could hold him for a minute. I held him for a little bit and slowly rocked him while I half sung, have talked to him. He quieted at first but then started squirming. He reminded me of how my youngest son would squirm before we found out he was lactose intolerant. I couldn’t talk much with the mother. She either doesn’t understand or speak English or she was too shy to answer my questions. I think it is the former. So I left after a few minutes. The youngest toddler waved a little when I said bye-bye, but was pretty shy. Then I was about 20 ft away and he yelled out “bye.” It was really cute.

From there I stopped by my place to make myself a cup of tea. When I was finished it was time to go meet Thini at the hospital so we could visit Nonjabulo. We were walking towards the children’s ward and saw Nonjabulo mother walking towards us with Nonjabulo wrapped to her back with a blanket. Nonjabulo looked so cute all tucked in with those big eyes so alert. Nonjabulo is in the malnutrition room of the children’s ward. There were 5 cribs sitting end to end. A child was in each bed. Thini took Nonjabulo off her mother’s back and gave her right to me. Nonjabulo watched me and then started making her little gurgling sounds at me. She took a hold of my finger and started chewing on it. My first thought was that I was glad I washed my hands before coming. And then I realized how bizarre it was to have that thought considered all the dirt, germs, etc. they live with each and every day. It is amazing what a strong grip that little one has. She was admitted to the hospital on Wednesday because when she went in for a follow-up appointment her weight had dropped for 4.7 kgs to 4.3 kgs. This morning it was back up to 4.5 kgs. Her target weight before she can go home is 4.8 kgs. I learned today that she is 7 1/2 months old, not 6 months old. And today is her mom's birthday. We enjoyed talking with her and watching her. She has the cutest smile with two dimples. She really talks a lot and is just the sweetest little baby.

The malnutrition room is just an empty room with cribs along one wall. It’s a pretty small room. The mothers or gogos stay with their children because they need to feed and change them. They sleep sitting on a small bench resting their head on the baby’s mattress or on the floor. There is no privacy. Two of the little ones slept the entire time we were there. The other two were awake. One was crying off and on. I’m guessing he was probably around 2, maybe older. If I looked only at his fat little stomach and ignored the fact that his stomach was bloated, not fat, he looked normal. However, his head was a bit too big for his body and his eyes too big for his head. The sight I won’t ever forget though is how thin his little arms were. They were much too thin for any of his other body parts.

When we left, Thini said she had to go someplace to get some disposable nappies (diapers) for a child near where she lives that is very sick. We went to a government clinic that was supposed to have them but they were out and didn’t expect to get anymore in this year. So I took her to a grocery store to buy some which isn’t as easy as it sounds. Three stores later, we got the best that we could find which were x-large baby diapers that had a stretchable waist. We took them to the child and her family before I dropped Thini off at her house. Thini lives in a peri-urban area outside of Manzini. It’s a rough looking neighborhood. The dirt streets are almost impassable in some areas, most of the houses are nothing more than shacks and there is a lot of garbage on the streets. We drove into the yard of the girl’s house and found a great little garden. The inside of the house was very clean and tidy. The little girl is 10 years old. She was in the hospital, but the hospital sent her home. In Thini’s words, they said she was too sick. I’m translating that to be there is nothing more they can do for the child so they sent her home to be with her family the last days of her life. The little girl was sleeping on the couch under a blanket. She never moved a muscle while we were there. Her breathing was very rapid and shallow. They said she is HIV+ on ARV’s, has TB and has skin cancer. Her gogo was also sitting on the couch. I’m guessing that she is HIV+ as well and may not have a lot more time left based on her looks. We visited for a few minutes and then Thini sang one of the hymns to lead us in prayer. Her family was very grateful that we brought the nappies and that we prayed for them. The child didn't even move a muscle.

Walking through the children's ward and then again at the little girls house I couldn't get out of my mind the stark contrast between our lives and conditions in the US and here. I'm sure the worst of our hospitals is better than the government hospitals, and especially the community clinics here. There are some nice private hospitals, but most of the people can't go to them. The conditions that so many people live in, even near the city where the roads are dirt and almost impassable, many houses nothing more than a worn down block structure or shacks made out of tree limbs, rocks and tin roofs weighted down with more rocks or blocks are scenes that are sometimes hard to shake off.

Friday ended. The day was over and I never did get to my to do list. Oh well, tomorrow is another day and as always God's plan was better than mine even though it was hard to deal with and stay positive. (The Joy of the Lord is my strength. I bow down and worship you now how great and wondrous is He.) I do have the wonderful memory of Nonjabulo chewing on my finger, gurgling, trying to roll over and play with the curtain and her darling sweet smile. I thank God for that blessing.

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