Tuesday, November 11, 2008


One aspect of life that is very important in Africa, and under-valued in more fast-paced places, is visiting. Visits establish contact, share perspectives and show we care about one another. It works here where life is more deliberate, everything takes longer anyway, and you often bump into someone you know on the sidewalk and can "make a plan" to get together. I'm still American enough that I don't spontaneously visit at random. I like to be sure someone is going to be home. Going to someone's home certainly suits this social set-up where we are all geographically rather condensed. Don't try this in a sprawling US suburb!

Yesterday I called on Sabina, an Indian friend living in an apt less than a km from us. Hadn't seen her in months, then she drove by me walking on the sidewalk last week, stopped her car in the middle of the road, called out to me, and we had a conversation right there, with traffic going around us. That's how we do things here. She admonished me for not visiting her, so I made amends.

Sabina is working for an NGO focusing exclusively on hiv/aids patients. She is a counselor, having graduated from the local arm of Mozambique's university. Sabina comes from a Muslim family, is of Indian descent, and is very articulate and vivacious. First she interrogated me about a false cult she has visited occasionally, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. What she described confirmed what I had heard that it is a scam to manipulate hurting and confused people out of their money. Great chance for me to distinguish between that and the True Church. She heard me.

I asked her about her work. Many foreign governments allocate huge budgets for the aids epidemic: they counsel, educate, and hand out ARVs, going so far as to send people to collect the remote patients on bikes to come in and take their medication. She confirmed that fewer than 10% actually take their required medication.

She told me a story which made my heart ache. She assured me that this was a frequent type of occurence.

Last week she counselled a young couple with a one year old child. They are both hiv negative. The wife's mother is positive, and was pregnant at the same time as her daughter. They gave birth at roughly the same time, the mother's child being positive. Both mother and child are receiving treatment.

The young woman needed to work in the family garden in order to provide food for them during the lean months. The gardens are some distance from the city, and require being away long days or sometimes several days. She taught her mother how to prepare millk/water/juice bottles for her son. The mother is informed about the means of transmitting aids. She stayed home and watched the two babies together so her daughter could work the farm.

By the end of the season, the daughter's son became very ill with diarrhea, his legs were paralyzed and he was taken to the clinic. The father asked for aids testing (though both parents are negative) and their son is positive. The grandmother, knowing what she was doing, breastfed her only grandson and infected him with aids.

Sabina mourned the difficulty of counselling people who have such complicated lives and problems. Her own religion does not bring the forgiveness issue into the equation at all. What can she say to these people? Only what she was taught in the government university. And her colleagues continue to dispense ARVs to extend the lives of those who would deliberately infect others. It is more common than not.

It grieves me to see those without hope trying to counsel the hopeless. I tried, too, to express that we change human conditions in vain if we do not change the heart. But the pragmatic thing seems to be to 'fix the problem" then worry about their hearts.

The Body of Christ has the answer. How I wish we would focus on sharing it rather than our own petty agendas.

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