I slept with the heaviness of Susan’s AIDS sentence on me. I was so happy to hear that she finally agreed to go for testing; now she’ll have access to the ARV drugs that will save her life. But hearing that final ‘positive’ was still hard.
Susan’s husband died about eight years ago. Pastor Jessy and his wife Loveness suspected it was AIDS. Why didn’t they speak with Susan then? It’s doubtful Susan would have appreciated them talking to her, as she wasn’t sick herself. AIDS is still a very delicate subject and it’s easier to deny facts than deal with them.
More than a year ago Susan became ill. Loveness has been visiting her regularly. Susan thought she was sick because her late husband’s family was bewitching her. Over time Loveness was able to convince her that she wasn’t bewitched; that she should go for AIDS testing and get the medication to become healthy again. So yesterday they went together.
Susan’s story is so common it makes me cry. Pastor Jessy tells us few of his people make it past the age of 40 anymore. The prevailing culture and high illiteracy rates make it hard for people to really understand how AIDS is spread. Superstitions are rampant. And people continue to die.
We were in Mpongwe for the Easter conference of the Mpongwe district ACOP churches. Over 500 people attended the weekend, from Thursday night to Easter Sunday. We were teaching the Foundations of Farming on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. Looking out over that sea of faces, most of them under 35, I felt such a mix of emotions.
There is so much potential there, so much energy and life in the youth. But what a challenge to give them tools to become adults that will beat the grasp of poverty and disease.
And who are we to talk to them about hunger and poverty? We have everything; we drive away in our air conditioned car to a house with running water and a fridge full of food. We were able to put our kids through university.
And yet we have to talk. We have the knowledge to help them grow better crops so they can beat hunger. We have knowledge about AIDS – both prevention and treatment, so they don’t die before they need to. We’ve built up a relationship over the last five years so they listen to us.
It’s not easy. It takes time and cultural sensitivity. It takes strength and courage on their side, and on ours. But together we are working towards a better tomorrow for Susan and for her children. We have to take up the challenge.