I find myself back in the wonderful rural village of Mtshabezi. I really wanted to come back down here after visiting with Ryan last week. The first time I came a week ago it was pretty tough. To better explain, the village of Mtshabezi consists of the national Aids Project headquarters, with the Mtshabezi hospital right next door, along with a school system, and local homesteads (people who live in the village). It is an all-together different experience then the city atmosphere of Bulawayo, both very interesting, just very different. Last time Ryan and I, accompanied by new head of operations at the Aids Project, Gordin, and his colleague Obert, went out into the homesteads to see some of the FVI orphans and also some of those on their death bed's living out there final days with their families instead of at the hospital. The first time everyone informed me of what we were going to do, but it doesn't really become real or effecting until you actually experience it all with your own eyes, and smell it with your own nose, and touch it with your own hands. Ryan can attest, it was quite hard for me. I think it would be hard for anyone the first time that one experiences something like that. I mean we can read about it back home, the few little blurbs about the disease at the bottom of BBC.com or in our national newspapers, but when you are there, it is just challenging. A lot of me was confused because I didn't know what to feel. And I certainly felt inadequate finding words to say to someone like Jessica (30 years old, mother of two, living at home in her last days, lacking ARV's, the ground as her bed, the flies and bugs crawling all over her), what could I say other then "God Bless" because how could I relate? How could I even try and find some sympathy for her? It almost felt wrong to do so, because in reality I can't even imagine.
With that said, as hard as it may have been for me the least I could do was show my face again and hopefully they will see in my face that I do some how care, that I do want to help in whatever way that I can, and that I was not just coming once and then leaving forever. So, once again, along with Gordin, Obert, and this time some friends Joel & Julianne Percy and her parents Bruce & Gale, we set out to the homesteads. We once again went to see Jessica and she looked the same but was saying she was feeling better, she seemed a bit more interactive and I also felt more interactive this time. I'm very glad that I went back. Among seeing many others, we also went back to see three orphaned children whom Ryan has written about, Shelton and his sister Consillia and their cousin Margaret. Well, Consillia and Marget were nowhere to be found, but we did find Shelton. What a kid! Cute little guy, I believe 8 years of age (I'm unable to log on the internet and read what Ryan has written on the blog, I can only send to this blog from my email which is what I can sometimes get on to, ever so occasionally) and just full of life and energy. Kids are still kids wherever you are in the world, this is what Shelton has helped prove to me. He was wearing the shoes that you (the donors) helped provide him with (we gave them to him last time we visited here a week ago) and was running around playing with his friends. Joel & Julianne popped him into their car and he seemed to be enamored with the horn (or the hoot as the Zimbo's call it). For a little over and hour we waited for Consillia and Margaret to return, and in that hour I played with Shelton. It was actually tons of fun. He loved playing with my camera, he didn't understand the concept of how the camera works yet, but he did love pressing the button and seeing the digital pictures pop up for the few seconds that it did. I will send the pictures to Ryan and I am sure that he will post them at some point. Consillia eventually came and Joel & Julianne gave them each some presents, which was nice.
A story that I unable to get out of my head these past 24 hours that I think should be told that is a tough write/read but I think a good way to show that the donor dollars are going to something important ( i.e. education). A young girl (5 years old), both parents having died from the disease, lives alone with her grandmother (a.k.a. Go-go). Her grandmother goes out during the day to work in a local house as a maid, and when the grandmother is gone the neighbor comes over. This neighbor, an older man, is infected of course. This 5 year old girl gets the disease. It is now the present day, the neighbor is in custody now, the girl is 10 and she is dying. Because of liver problems and stomach problems she can no longer eat any protein. Protein is important to anyone's body, but to a young girl dying from AIDS it is extremely important. She has been cleared to take ARV's, except this is such a strong drug that one needs tons of protein in the body to even take this drug. So the drug that can help sustain her she is unable to take (unfortunately this is not a stand alone case in regards to ARV taking, many ARV's have become available for patients except they cannot take them due to malnutrition.) The reason that I say this story is a good way to show that the donor dollars goes to something important is that, in regards to the neighbor and also many others who believe in this following misnomer, it is common around uneducated people here that if one is infected with the disease that a way to alleviate it is to sleep with a virgin who does not have the disease. How sad. How misinformed. If children could keep on learning the truth about this disease as they go through school cases like this could be avoided in greater numbers. My apologies for the perversity of the story, but for these people here it is life. It is happening to the person living in the hut next door, it is happening to your friend, it is happening as you walk the 2 hrs to work, it is happening to your family, your brother, sister, father, mother.
But that is the ugly side of Zimbabwe. There is also much more, a happier, lighter, more hopeful side. I feel that a lot of the optimistic side of Zimbabwe is found in the kind and gentle people. Zimbabweans are known for their hospitality, and they have certainly lived up to their billing. Richard Ndlovu, head administrator of the Aids Hospital here at Mtshabezi is a perfect example. Along with his wife Snow and young son Vuyo they have been supporting and helping out FVI for years now, feeding and providing a bed for whomever comes into town. Last night as he strummed his acoustic guitar and we sang old hymns and we sang local songs (Hakuna Waikaita) I was sent to my bed room laughing and smiling and just thankful for these kind people.