Well, summer came this week. It's been hot most of the week, with temperatures in the 90s. Thankfully the humidity is relatively low, and we get some nice breezes. It does cool off at night (into the 60s) so sleeping is fine. Of course, none of the office at the Centre are air conditioned so it gets a little tough to work in the afternoon. Especially after lunch. They should have nap time just like we did in kindergarten. At least the clinic pharmacy is air conditioned, even if it is kept at igloo levels.
We had 12 students from Bethel University (Minneapolis) at the Centre this week. They spent two days learning about our programs and visiting children. The other two days they were out doing service projects, like working in a community garden or spending time at a home for disabled children. They also spent three nights in Gugulethu with people in our congregation. From all reports they had a great experience. It was fun to hear about their experiences and how they will take it home to family and friends.
They did have one difficult visit. Yvonne and I took them to meet and talk with children in three households. The first two, Priscilla's foster home and Noloyulo, went fine, as they usually do. Then we went to see Yolanda. She is the 18 year-old taking care of two siblings and a cousin. After exchanging hellos, I asked her to talk about her challenges. She took a breath and then the tears came. She only lost her mother six months ago and is still figuring out how to cope. Yvonne and I, having been through this a few times, let her cry and regain her composure. The Bethel students, though, didn't know what to do. They ended up sitting quietly, too. Yolanda left the room for a couple minutes to wipe her eyes and collect herself, and when she came back she was back to her old self. (We found out later that she had not passed 10th grade last year and has to repeat it this year. That was adding to her stress, as it is a real possibility that she will not finish high school and be stuck in low-paying jobs, if she can even find one.)
We talked about this when we returned to the Centre. The students said it was very difficult to watch her cry and not know what to do. Their leader, Leon, asked what they would have done if that same scenario had happened at home. They agreed that they would have gotten up and hugged Yolanda and tried to take some of the pain away. When Leon asked why no one did that, people talked about not knowing if it was appropriate. It was interesting, in that we all set aside our normal ways of compassion and empathy even though we felt we should have done something. I think if it were to happen again the students would risk a cultural faux pas and give her a hug. I think I will, too.
I saw another difficult situation play out this week. Marvin, my friend who does the silk screening, has been diagnosed with TB for the third time. He started treatment last week and has been having some problems. Besides being weak from the TB and HIV, the new drugs have been causing him some side effects. He's not eating well and is having difficulty taking care of his house. The fact he has a 10 year-old son staying with him makes it worse, because he can't handle the cooking and washing and schoolwork.
Marvin has a brother in Botswana, a lawyer who has a good job. He has offered to take Marvin's son for an unlimited time so that Marvin can get healthy and try to get his business back on track. The decision has really torn at him – he wants to take care of his son very much but knows that the boy's quality of life will really suffer for the next several months. So, Marvin decided to take his brother's offer. He'll be taking his son to Botswana next week. I haven't asked his son how he feels. Chances are, he won't say too much. Kids get moved around a lot here as people get or lose jobs, get sick or healthy. (I also just found out that Ntombikayise, our technician in the pharmacy, took her 18 month-old boy to live with her sister in the Eastern Cape. She misses him a lot but she didn't have a choice because of the costs and lack of child care if he's sick. She is hoping to bring him back in March but there's no guarantee of that.)
I really feel for Marvin. But, he thinks it's the best decision for his son and I tend to agree. Marvin will need at least a couple months to regain his strength and he'll have a hard enough time caring just for himself. Hopefully they can be reunited again very soon.
More to come. (And five more weeks to go...)