Spiritual wisdom; a blessing; a "breath of life"; luck -- Baraka -- my student. I scanned the class of excited eyes each day when I came in and saw Baraka always looking down... empty. I knew he was smart; I could see this as I taught, but he always seemed terrified to speak; not in a shy way; he was just empty with the look of an old man who'd experienced Lord knows what at home. "Any thoughts on Baraka?" I asked Zuma. "Perhaps he is sick," he said. HIV, I thought. I can't even go there; he's only 5. But Zuma had suspicions of the mother's illness and knew Baraka's father was positive. It is very possible a child can extract HIV living in those kinds of conditions with parents who are infected, Zuma explained. Many children are ill. "Does he have siblings?" I asked Zuma. "A little brother."
..."Can we get them tested?" I asked Zuma.
"This means we will have to go into the child's home. We will have to ask the mother." Not because we had to have her permission, oddly enough, but because he thought it'd be worse if she found out through others that we took him to the hospital without her knowledge.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked. Of course. "Let's test the mother as well if she's willing."
Zuma and I woke early on a Saturday, his day off from school, to take Mary, Baraka's mother, he and his little brother to a clinic (if I can even call it that). I don't know what the situation is with his father. I never met him nor even saw him, but had suspicions he was not around much and also not well; physically or mentally.
Mary was quiet yet I could see an excitement in her eyes to have some attention and treatment, which I'm sure she so desperately needed. She crawled out of her one room dirt filled home and wrapped her little one over her back in a muddy ripped up cloth. Baraka trailed closely behind her. He did not know where we were going and we chose to keep it that way. I played music for him trying to keep his focus and attention as we walked for miles. Still, he never laughed nor cracked a smile.
Zuma escorted us to a clinic in Arusha and asked that I wait outside with the family as he bargained with a doctor to let us get tested. It's strange; Zuma and the doctor spoke Swahili too quickly for me to understand, yet, I got the sense that even the doctor didn't really want to know the outcome of their testing. But the family was so brave. I plopped Baraka on my lap as his mother and baby brother were tested and he showed no single sign of fear. "He will only fear if he sees your fear; and there is no fear in you," Zuma said with encouragement. Baraka stepped forward, took the needle to his finger and sat right back down like nothing. ;) That's my boy. Fascinating that the doctor wore no gloves as this whole thing took place in a dirty old office.
We waited ten minutes for results as I tried to distract Mary's thoughts with pictures of my own family. Who am I kidding? My beautiful siblings could distract anyone ;) I thought of them often.
The doctor called us in and bargained for more money. Oh, smart one he is, who could turn away now that the tests had already been done? I handed him more shillings as we walked down a dark dusty hall. We entered a crammed little room and were all lined up against one wall as there was no space.
... "The baby is"
God, please be with us. I took a deep breath.
... "The boy..."
I gave Mary reassuring eyes though I had no clue at all.
Thank you, God.
"She is positive," he said with an indifferent voice toward Mary.
...."Okay," I said with strength and acceptance, though I've no idea why. Mary nodded as if she knew all along, yet still... that sense of pleasure in being attended to was still in her eyes. "Okay, what can we do?" I asked. "What are her options?"
"She can go to another clinic and take medications," he explained. Zuma turned to me and explained that this is, indeed, possible if she chooses to try, yet it is also possible that the supplies are not there. And she can prolong her life by the foods she eats. "Find fruit, Madame," he said to her. I watched Mary closely. It seemed as though it was the first time she was open to admitting her illness and wanting to seek help for it. Thank you, God, for that! Many are eager to ignore their illness because it is seen as a stigma. They don't want to be viewed poorly by others, but if they don't address it, they move at all costs to avoid it and that is a big problem.
Mary and the doctor spoke briefly in Swahili as we gathered our things. Though we could not fluidly communicate, I walked close to her as we headed back home. "Asante sana." "Thank you," she said with peaceful eyes.
It's funny how sometimes you need no words at all.
With one single look, I knew what was in her heart. She understood her illness for the first time, and knew the difficulties she would continue to face, yet I knew at that moment, she saw it as an opportunity for us to find her boys some help and assistance. Selflessness.
They need education. Will it be difficult for Mary to take care of herself and there in turn the children? Yes. Yes, it will. I've no interest here in dolling up reality. But, educating the children; educating families on preventative care is critical and yes, YES, you better believe I think it will. make. a. difference. It matters. And the more of us that help educate them, the better. I spent enough time with the children there to know that they WANT to better their lives and WILL if they understand how to do so.
We can contribute to medications. We can educate. And call me crazy, but we can give love and kindness to those who just might not last another day. Pointless? No. Isn't it possible that an accident could happen to any one of us any time, any day? An illness? So wouldn't we want the best of our lives? Don't we want that from others? Why shouldn't we give that? Why shouldn't we give love and kindness to someone who is "hopeless"? In fact, they're not hopeless at all. Mary's heart is strong and beautiful. We must learn to see one another as our own; our own friends; our own family; our own struggles.
Appreciate your life, please. Love your body. Love your family. It's not hopeless for them, for us, and it never will be as long as we seek betterment. I am aware of the situation there and am very realistic, and I know, in my gut, there is still hope and there are ways to progress. We have to work together. And I'll be the first to admit, it's another topic I need to know more about, but I will certainly dive deeper upon my next return.
As for Baraka ;) Our lucky one? A child who still maintains a "breath of life" - if you're interested in sponsoring him - please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
His emptiness? I get it now. It's the responsibility of being five years old and being "the man of the house" taking care of his mother and younger brother.
I walked home with him one day, many miles. He does this alone every day. Watch the little baby in front running with no shoes - he followed us forever and no one even noticed or cared.
Chatting with the kids:
Let us not complain as much as we do. Let us step back from the quick frustrations we see in life and realize the number of miracles we all have. Why is the term miracle often deemed as something so fantastical? Why can't it be something as simple as our daily health? Is that not a miracle? And the ability to wake each morning? To have family, friends, or the OPPORTUNITY for those? They are, indeed, miracles and they are everywhere. Open your eyes. ;)
A VERY special thank you to the following people who have recently so graciously contributed to feeding the children at CHETI. You are changing their lives EVERY DAY.
We are feeding TWO entire school centers for the next THREE months. Thank you:
Next post - uplifting, I promise ;) Funny classroom shenanigans! Thank you for being here! God bless and check back soon! SO much more to come. GREAT things are happening!
Zuma's son, Ryan. Looks like someone has a wet bottom?? ;)