Tuesday, November 15, 2005



I am going to open with a poem that I like a lot:
(this is a shot of the sunsets here taken while I was climbing a local mountain, Legogote)

I thought
I would like
To go to Africa
Yes, I will go to Kenya
And see if time
Has stood still
Where at least
The walk
Is on the ground
And all comes
To a sudden halt
At Dusk
And sounds
Come from the voice
And travel a mile or two
And strength comes from the family
Near to you
Yes, Today
I thought
I would like to go to Africa

Sallie Lanier, 1995

I enjoy that poem because you can almost hear the author patiently pondering her thoughts. Read it really slowly, and you will begin to feel Africa. The words illustrate life here. Life does come to a halt at dusk in the rural community, and strength and meaning is drawn from family, from those in relationship with you. People greet EVERYBODY. Not just your best friend who you happen to see on a subway. I was speaking with my good friend Gugu about life in Canada, and I told her that we don’t greet in Canada (this is a picture of Gugu and her son). Like I mentioned last time, you greet EVERYONE in Africa. Unless they are sketchy men who are trying to get you to marry them. It can take you 20 minutes to walk down the street, simply because you cannot pass a person with out saying hello, how are you? How is your family?, and waiting for the appropriate response. In Canada, you walk to work or class or car in silence, not making eye contact, untilyou get to your destination. When I shared this with Gugu, she sat there, mouth open, aghast. She said to me, don’t people get lonely in your country with no one to speak to them? Don’t they get sad? She makes me think…

So I have begun to work with the orphan programs here over the past little while. In South Africa alone, there are 1000 children orphaned every week by the AIDS virus. MHBC began to look at orphan care just 4 years ago, and since then, we have taken over the care of over 1700 children. How it works is when a patient becomes ill and near death, MHBC (Masoyi Home Based Care) speaks with them about where they would like their child to go when they pass away. The social workers begin to prepare the child for the death of their parent, and we take pictures of the family all together so the child can have a physical memory of their parents. After the parent passes away, the child is designated to a volunteer from the community who becomes like an auntie to the child. In Africa, there is a huge extended family structure, and part of that structure is aunties. These are women who are like mentors and big sisters and protectors to the kids. So each child has a volunteer who they know personally, who lives near their home, that checks in on them regularly and who they can go to in the case of physical abuse, poor living conditions, and such. For the most part, the orphaned children live with grannies or close family members, but if the child has no home to go to, MHBC also has little foster homes set up. These are houses with 6 kids and one auntie who cares for them, providing good food and parenting. We always keep children from the same parents together as much as possible…

I was able to visit the daycares run by MHBC and work with the kids for a few days. Many of the kids are touch-starved, meaning that they don’t get physical affection at home. There was this beautiful little girl, Specicio, which means gift from God, that I met at the daycare. I placed my hand on her head while the daycare instructor was telling the kids how to do the craft for the day. She slowly molded into my hand, starved of touch, and sat on my lap for over 2 hours that afternoon. I definitely fell in love with at least 5 children over this past week, one of them is pictured here. He was too young to ask his name, and I couldn’t figure out where his caregivers where, but I would guess he is about 2 or 3.

The daycares are run to give the grannies and caregivers a break for a few hours each day, because many grandmas are caring for as many as 7 to 12 kids. Which brings another concern for groups who are trying to help – many of these grandmothers are not healthy themselves, and the orphans face the chance of being orphaned again when they pass away.

A large part of what I have been dealing with is how to look at the social tidal waves that are left in the wake of AIDS…that poem spoke of how strength comes from the family. AIDS has taken away an entire generation of parents and aunties who are the people that teach these kids about life…how to farm, how to pick a good husband or wife…how to plait your hair or how to dance…whole cultures in Africa face an identity crisis as these kids are growing up.

My work is starting to take me away from the people side of things, and into the background, which I had anticipated. As a non-governmental organization (NGO) we receive funding to run programs from USAID, Visionledd, and other international groups. There is a lot of bookkeeping and logistical coordination that has to happen in order for the funds to be available…My days are now going to be divided between helping with the annual report preparations and the hands-on work in the community.

I wish that I knew how to share everything that I feel and see…I don’t want my postings to be negative but I want to be honest about what I see. Many of the situations I walk into make me uncomfortable, and they make me long for a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks and a good book to escape into. But I feel this incredible burden to bear witness to what is happening here – to tell of the endurance and the beauty of the human spirit. To tell of the faith and love and hope that I have seen and do see amongst the people of Africa who have been largely forgotten by CNN and by the Western world. To tell people that we have much to learn from this way of life, from the simplicity of value systems, from the value of tradition and family and relationships. But to communicate as well that this way of life is in danger…in many communities, it is in crisis. I pray that you don’t read my message and go away feeling guilty for your blessings, but rather go away wanting to learn more about what happens here. Maybe even come to visit me…but please keep reading. Keep journeying alongside me…

Grace and peace,

Friday, November 11, 2005

My dream

 Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

the beautiful struggle


That means good morning in siswayti, which is the language spoken in this region. Siswayti is also the language of Mozambique, which is just to the east of where I live.

I am unsure of how to express the depths of joy and stuggle that I have gone through over this past week, so I will try to speak about what I am learning, those I have met, and what I am doing.

I have begun to travel in the community with the home-based care (HBC) workers, and the social workers. These individuals are mostly women from the community who volunteer their time 6 days a week to care for thier neighbors who are dying of AIDS, and to coordinate the care of the children who are orphaned from AIDS. I have been so humbled by these women and men. They serve selflessly for years, putting their lives on the line.

we begin our days at around 8:30, travelling to the clinic for prayer and singing. spirituality is very different in africa. Everyone prays, regardless of their faith background. the hospitals open each day with the head nurse leading all of the patients in the waiting area in prayer, asking God to bring healing for them. Although people may not believe in God, they still believe in spirituality and in a higher power, so these activities are not offensive.

After prayer, we receive a list of patients to visit. Because of the nature of the AIDS virus, and how it weakens the patients, it is most effective to visit them in the home rather than waiting for them to come to you. patients may be strong and well one week, and near death the next. also, African culture revolves around relationships. relationships are more important than time, money or possessions. when people become sick, they are often times ostracized from the community. people stop visiting them for fear of contracting the virus. often times, this is more painful for the victim of AIDS than the disease itself. as we visit these patients, we are offering them love and support and relationship. it is amazing to see the patients transform even as you speak with them, asking about their health and the weather and such. thier eyes gain glints of light, their speech becomes more clear, and they sit up straighter. the power of love has overwhelmed me here...and the need for it.

masoyi HBC (home based care) also makes patient referrals to a local clinic that administers advanced patient care, such as anti-retroviral drugs (the drugs that fight the spread of the AIDS virus) and tuberculosis treatment.

so now i will tell you of my most powerful patient experience...they have all overwhelmed me on some level. the patients range from very very ill, to entirely healthy. with each one, i find myself trying not to cry. i know that everyone i meet will die. they are all young, in their 20's and 30's, with families and dreams and favorite foods. if i think too much, i begin to liken them to my family, my mom, my brother, my closest friends...

this past thursday, we walked into a small brick house. say the size of a large walk-in closet. i could hear the laughter bouncing off of the walls as we entered. there was a young girl of about 12 on the floor, doubled over in laughter, a man and a teenage girl seated against the wall. they all stood when we entered, because it is customary for a guest to be seated in the best chairs. i was with emily, a nurse who works with Masoyi Home Based Care. she is incredible. she has a great mass of braids atop her head, and she is from zimbabwe. the patient was a woman named josephine, who was quite emaciated. so much so that i almost lost my breath. josephine weighed probably around 70 pounds, and she wore a dress with a vibrant African floral print. her hair was neatly braided, and her smile was so wide that it overtook her face each time she smiled. she was 34 years old, and the mother of the two girls in the room. emily began to greet her (which takes around 10 minutes - greeting is an artform in Africa. if you ever plan on coming, learn to greet in the local language!), and to ask about her health and such. josephine smiled the whole time. she laughed and told jokes and just breathed joy into me. i could tell that she was at peace with her life, gained joy in all of her days, and had overcome much. we began to speak with her as well about plans for her daughters when she passes away, where they will live and who will care for them. i was able to hold her hand and pray for thier little family, for God to protect and provide for them. I began to cry while praying, overwelmed by the situation.

why do i tell you this story? i struggled over which story to share, which life to bring to your minds...josephine brought me such hope. her little home, clean and full of joy, reminded me that although this disease is terrible, that life continues. there is a generation of children who are living on, who are in need of security and direction and love and healing. I know that the work that i am part of offers that, and it brings me great joy to see this program at work. i know that i am here for a purpose, and for such a time as this. so thank you for all of your prayers....

we are also starting the orphan Christmas parties these next few weeks. all of the orphans who are in the care of Masoyi (there are around 1700 total) take part in parties with cake and traditional dancing and gifts and skits...we do around 2 each week before Christmas, and around 200 children attend each event. i will write about those next week, and have a few pictures to share with you as well. unfortunately, i have arrived at the internet cafe with a camera and no batteries. i took them out for recharging and forgot to replace them...

so thank you all for your prayers, and notes, and encouragement. i welcome and need them here. heather, the poem was great. i am doing really well. there are tons of fresh veggies here, so my diet is good, and i have felt embraced by both the international volunteers and the volunteers from the community. i feel it is such an extreme privalege to be a part of this work, and to share what i am learning and what i am seeing with all of you. it is my prayer to be able to connect my friends at home with the lives here, so that we can grow in understanding and compassion.

humba kathye, which means go well. God bless....

grace and peace,