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Hope is the Spark that Changes Lives

Representative John Lewis tweeted last Monday about HIV/AIDS and the impact of the epidemic. Rep. Lewis has said that “HIV/AIDS is not a disease that discriminates. It affects all of us—our friends, our family, our neighbors. We must fight this together.” In this global community, the American Foundation for Children with AIDS (AFCA) tirelessly works to support those hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic: the children who are infected and/or affected. Our blog relays countless stories of lives impacted through our work at hospitals, schools, and with community programs.

I listen to the sounds of children playing soccer, arguing about rules, and celebrating goals. Paper crinkling under ladders and the smell of fresh paint and turpentine accost me from the other side, interrupted by the sound of a stiff broom being used on the wooden floor. Singing from the kitchen, in N’debele. The stirring of pots with lunch in them. Chirping of an occasional bird. The soccer ball rolling past outside the window. A door creaking open as someone enters the farmhouse to find out if it is time to collect eggs. The snapping of a sheet before it is tucked under a mattress as someone makes beds.

I love it.

I wake up at 2:00am and listen.  I hear a sound I’ve never heard in Zimbabwe, in all the years I’ve been coming to this amazing country and I am confused. Then, I realize I am hearing raindrops -slow, steady, refreshing.  I step outside the hut and smell the rain. The floor is wet, the dirt is wet and the grass is wet as far as I can see in the light of the moon.  I can’t help feeling overjoyed and one must share joy, so I wake Eric up with, “It’s raining” and I can hear him smile in the darkness.

I drag my body through the Kisumu airport, through the Nairobi airport, and through the Johannesburg airport. I find myself telling me (in my head) to stand up tall, to make my backpack look light, to pat my cheeks to make them look like I have color in them, and to not look sick.  The last thing I need is to get quarantined somewhere!  So, even though I really, really want to lean on every counter I approach, I hold it together and make it through customs and flights and airports just fine.  I do find myself running to the bathrooms in each airport and there comes a point where I don’t even bother dragging my backpack with me – I just ask a kind soul to please watch it.  He nods for the 10th time when I ask him AGAIN to watch the pack and he finally asks if all is ok.  I tell him it is and we continue waiting for our flight, as though nothing is out of the ordinary. He must think I am a nut.

Class 7 students join us in the warm breeze as we garden. We dig holes, throw in manure/compost, and plant tomatoes, peppers, carrots, kale, and spinach. They are amazed by my insistence of adding mulch and more mulch to protect the roots from the sun and to keep the moisture in the earth. 10 centimeters of mulch? Yep, that would be about right, I say. We work together and all our hands are muddy, but I see that we are all smiling and having a good time, knowing that good food will come out of our labors. I pray that this will be a successful garden, as it hasn’t rained as much as is needed and everyone fears for their produce.

The sky is orange and purple at 6:05am in this part of Kenya and the birds start their frantic cries, as though looking for a lost one. They bring in the day with a racket and I realize how little I know about birds. I don’t recognize a specific type of cry they make, which leaves me with a bit of a sad feeling. It is almost as though I can’t greet them properly if I don’t know who they are.

I hear what sounds like thousands of birds tweeting and I find myself drawn to them. I walk towards the sound and can’t believe the cacophony! I ask the hospital administrator if these are birds and he says, “yes, they are bahds”, in his beautiful Ugandan accent.  I ask him what sort of birds they are and he says he doesn’t really know their name, but that these birds are thought to sometimes pass on ebola or rabies to people.

She walks alone for a long time, for a very long time.  Finally, she arrives, exhausted, at the clinic, where her real work begins. Hours later, the babe arrives. Twin screams are heard – one leaving this world and one entering it. 

No father is known and no one visits the clinic, asking for his wife or baby. Staff are left with this little one and they agree to raise her as their own, to love her, to care for her, and to give her a home.

I have been given a new name. 

We start the day early, heading out of Kampala towards the east of the country.  We pass by the town of Jinja, where the Nile starts. We drive through gorgeous views, boasting 100 colors of green.  Plantain trees, tea farms, corn fields, newly planted potato plants, cassava, rice paddies, and all sorts of vegetation fly by as we make good time towards a hospital called Holy Innocents.  When we think we are close, we find out we are not.  We turn off the main road onto a road made of red. Red dirt is everywhere, breaking up the green and I enter into that feeling of nodding off but not being asleep, feeling the breeze coming through the open window.

It’s hard to believe that the Centers for Disease Control doesn’t pay for third line anti-retroviral medicine here in Uganda.  They are the CDC, for crying out loud!  They have quite a bit of money at their disposal and while I understand that third line is super expensive, THEY ARE THE CDC!

Kibito Hospital is the exact opposite of when I saw it last. 

Betsy, Fred, Karina, and I visited the hospital two years ago and it was a thing of beauty.  Brand new construction, gorgeous floors, nice sized hallways, a large surgery room, etc.  Problem?  It was empty.  All this room and all these dreams stood empty.

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