Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Overwhelmed by Africa

I am re-publishing this post from last month as some people couldn't find it and I thought it was easy enough to just put it back on top. I wrote it while we were in Tanzania and it talks about a strong reaction I had to the things I was seeing...

This afternoon Tammy and I went to visit a small home here in Arusha for children with AIDS. The children we just waking up from their afternoon naps as we began our visit. I guess the home is not ONLY for kids, though it is primarily for little ones. There are 14 children in residence and three women.

Saida, the first nurse we met, had a smiling, giggling 13 month old in her arms. The baby girl arrived at the home in August, eight months old and already orpahaned by of AIDS. She was a tiny baby without hope when she arrived but now she is grinning and walking.

I felt a little emotional as we walked through the house greeting kids, but I wasn't losing it (yet).

The last room housed the three women. Tammy stood there calm and collected in her gentle, dignity-giving way. I, however, was beginning to cave.

The room had that hospital smell that can sometimes make you feel not so good and it was also fairly warm in there. But that wasn't it. Three factors were working on me hard.

This was my first encounter with AIDS. I've read about AIDS forever. I've been aware of the statistics in Africa and I was in Africa when AIDS was first becoming a word we knew. In 1990 we were caring for a baby whose mother had passed away just after giving birth. I was breast feeding the baby because I was already breastfeeding Trevor. But after a few days it dawned on me that maybe I shouldn't do this because this disease AIDS, which had not been seen yet in our area, was beginning to alarm people in the cities.

But all these years later, after all the early years of trying to teach people what it was, and then being gone when it really began to ravage the Maasai in our area, this today was now my first time to be meeting women I knew for certain were in advanced stages of AIDS.

I have to admit, it brought an unexpected fear up in me.

The second factor playing against me was the strong urine smell coming from Julianna's bed. It was hard to handle in the warm air that already carried that hospital smell.

But it was Julianna's story that was wiping me out. Julianna is epileptic and she is physically limited and cannot speak. For her to have contracted AIDS means that someone violated a handicapped girl who could do nothing about it. Who could do that?

The room was starting to spin.

I haven't fainted about anything in 20 years but I knew what was coming.

"Tammy," I said as she and the nurses were just about to pray with these ladies, "I just need to step outside for a little... I'm feeling a little faint."

Major understatement. The hot blackness was moving over me and I swayed down the hall and out onto the porch. I collapsed onto a bench but the afternoon sun was low and the porch was far too hot to give me relief. I saw a shaded strip of grass across the yard and I asked God to please help me get there. The earth took a hard tilt as I stood up and I bobbed and weaved my way across the gravel to the little lawn then threw myself down onto the cool moist grass.

It took about ten minutes for the earth and my brain to both settle. I got up and we finished the tour of the outside. We saw the chicken coop and the kitchen, the laundry area and the counseling room where people in the community can have their blood tested. We heard about how they try to make fresh juices for the residence to bolster their immunity. Tammy and I ended by circling up with the two lovely African nurses and praying for God's blessings in, through and around them.

Africa is overwhelming. How well I know it.

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