It's been a while since my last entry, mostly because I've been away playing tourist this week. My wife, Cindy, arrived last week and we've been driving around the countryside to places we never went when we lived in Johannesburg. So far, we've:
- been to the penguin colony in Simon's Town
- gone on a 2-day "safari" at a private game reserve in Albertinia, a 4-hour drive from Cape Town
- driven through the West Coast National Park, a huge wildlife and wildflower area on the Atlantic ocean about an hour's drive from here
- hiked through Kirstenbosch Gardens, a 575-hectare (1450-acre) protected park on the east side of Table Mountain that's full of flora (and some fauna) from southern Africa, including many endangered plant species
- walked through the local craft market (twice) doing our best to support the local economy
We've also been out to eat 6 nights in a row, something really unusual for me. It's been fun though, as some places just aren't fun if you're alone. It's meant a little extra work at the gym, however.
This coming week, I'm going to taking Cindy to work with me. We'll spend at least Tuesday at the clinic (maybe Thursday, too) and Wednesday and Friday at the Centre. She should have a better sense of the challenges in the townships and what people are doing to overcome them.
Before I picked Cindy up from the airport last week, I had another interesting experience. I went to see Rosie at Tygerberg Hospital. She was transferred about 10 days ago because GF Jooste needed her bed for more acute cases (it's unusual for people to be admitted there for more than a few days, and Rosie had been there for three weeks). She's in a rehab unit where they are trying to restart her TB medications. They had to be stopped for a short time because she developed drug-induced hepatitis, a form of liver damage brought on by medications. I'll stop and see her this week, and I really hope she's doing better so she can get back home soon. (No one ever thought she'd be in the hospital for one week, let alone five).
When I was getting home from the visit, I got a call from a friend of Rosie's. Somehow I had promised to drive Rosie's daughter Amanda to Kraaifontein to pick up her aunt, who was going to stay with her for a few days and help with the kids. There was a little confusion about this trip, as I never talked to her about it. But, they had made up their minds and we were going. So, I picked up Amanda and her friend's daughter, Precious, and off we went.
First stop: Phillipi to get the aunt's address. Well, no one seemed to have it, so I was "given" a navigator who knew the way. Now, Kraaifontein is about 30 minutes from Guguletu, if you have good directions. Unfortunately, my navigator had been drinking all afternoon and didn't exactly have a keen sense of direction. We took a lot of shortcuts, so many that it took over an hour to finally find the shack. It was now dusk, and I was only a little worried about being in an unfamiliar place and finding my way back. I needn't have worried: Everyone I met was very friendly and happy to see a white man helping someone in need. One person told me I was the first white man they had ever seen in their neighborhood, which I don't doubt (it's a bit rural, and there's nothing there except homes and shacks).
While we were waiting for Amanda to collect her aunt, I had a nice chat with Precious. (I'm not using her real name, for reasons that will become obvious.)
- She gave me some background on Amanda and Rosie and why their situation is so precarious. Apparently, Rosie inherited her house from her father. As I understand it, government houses can be passed down only one generation. However, if Rosie were to die, the house would be reclaimed by the municipality and Amanda and her two siblings would be on the street. Needless to say, everyone in the neighborhood are concerned about what's going to happen if Rosie doesn't come home.
- Some people are looking at Rosie as an example of how tenuous life with TB and HIV can be. Rosie had been a very strong woman with a good job before she became sick from her TB. Others around the neighborhood watched her go downhill quickly, and people started examining their own lives. I hadn't thought about this until last week, when I thought about Rosie and Tozama, the woman who recently passed away (more on her a little later). It must be very difficult for members of the HIV support group, or just people living with HIV in general, to go to funerals and memorial services. They have to confront their own possible futures with every death, and those of their families, just like Scrooge had to do with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. They have to see the impact it has on their families and loved ones, emotionally and economically. Yet they still come to pay tribute and thank God that they are still living.
- Precious then shared with me that she's HIV positive. She found out earlier this year when she was pregnant. She was treated with medications during her pregnancy, so her baby was born without HIV (although he still has to be tested for a few more months to be sure). Precious has not told her mother, though. She is very afraid her mother will be disappointed in her, as she was when Precious fell pregnant. She said she thinks her mother knows, though, because her mother saw Precious taking her medication one day and said it looked like what people take for HIV. Precious told her they were just vitamins for the baby and her mother didn't push it. While I understand the hesitancy to disclose her status, I still don't understand why Precious felt comfortable telling me, someone she had just met a couple hours earlier, and not the woman who loves her more than anyone on Earth. I hope she can find the courage to tell her mother when the time is right.
After about 30 minutes of waiting, we got everyone back in the car and headed back to Guguletu. Amanda and her aunt talked the whole way back – well, the aunt talked and Amanda sobbed. Amanda's had it very tough over the past few months, caring for her mother, brother and sister, keeping up the house and cooking, while still going to school and trying to be a teenage girl. I don't think she's had anyone to confide in and talk to for weeks and had a lot of emotion to get out. It will be good for her to have someone in the house for a while.
On Sunday, while Cindy slept in, I attended Tozama's funeral. It was on Sunday to avoid a conflict with a nearby funeral that was held Saturday. It was a very nice service, all held at the house. We started at about 8:00 with a small prayer service. The casket was in the small bedroom, with about 10 family members crowded in the room as well. About 10 of us sat in the lounge and listened to the prayers being said. At about 9:00, the casket was moved outside to the front yard and the funeral began. I was asked to help carry the casket, which seemed to weigh almost nothing. Of course, Tozama only weighed about 60 pounds, and the casket was wood and simple adornments. Very different than other pallbearer experiences I've had, where six guys struggled to carry the casket. This one could have been easily carried by two men.
Tozama's mother, Thomi, asked me to say a few words during the ceremony. I made some observations about Tozama, that she was a strong woman who wanted to live for her family, but for whom God had a different plan. I also offered a short prayer for the family. I'm getting much more comfortable with these, even though I hope I don't have to do too many more.
After a short burial service at the cemetery, we were served a nice lunch at the house. I was the only man at the “umfundisi table,” completely the opposite of other funeral lunches where there might be one woman at a table full of men. Then it was home to start my vacation.One last thing: This week I heard a great quote from Herman Melville: "Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed." I know this has applied to me in the past. I won't comment on anyone else, except to say that everyone here seems to have an opinion on what the problems are. Now, if someone would just ask the people living with the problems...
More to come.