Category Archives: AIDS

World AIDS Day: Kefilwe’s Story

“My momma’s got AIDS” the little girl whispered. It was one of those whispers that is so quiet that it knocks your breath away, like a sonic boom. Her skin was like copper, hardened, darkened, but smoother than silk. She had a pock-mark on the corner of her forehead, near where her coarse, black hair began to embrace her head. I couldn’t help but think that she looked beautiful. Her dirty “Adiddas” shirt had questionable smears on it, which made my stomach turn. Pathetic and beautiful.

“I’ve never met someone with AIDS until now,” I whispered back. She nodded, knowingly. “Neither did I until my daddy got sick. He’s gone. My momma was mad at him when she found out. She told me that he shouldn’t have done it, that it was wrong for him to do that to her. I don’t know what she meant, but I guessed it meant that if you have AIDS it means you’re a bad person.” I listened to her as we bumped our way over the dry, lumpy grass road.  I glanced around to see if I could find my water bottle. I wasn’t used to the feeling of dust continually clinging to my skin. We were driving to a medical compound, which according to my uneducated guess, must be even closer to the Kalahari Desert than we already were. It seemed surreal. I vaguely tried to connect the string of events that got me here, but I quickly gave up doing so. However I got here, I was here. Just for this week. But I was in a different world.

But Kefilwe, my copper-skinned companion, actually probably had known many people with AIDS before her dad.  At least one-fourth of the people in her little African Village were HIV positive, which is actually normal in Botswana (and much of Southern Africa). I shook my head.  I knew Kefilwe’s mom was dying. Maybe if we could get the drugs to her sooner, but she had an advanced case of Tuberculous, as well. I guessed she had less than a month to live. This poor little girl worked so hard. From sunrise, to sunset she would do what little she could to make her mom’s life less miserable. I marveled that my neighbor’s kid back in the States, the same age as Kefilwe, ate Lucky Charms, went to school, Karate, and then after dinner would watch TV, or maybe go outside to catch fireflies.  All the while this girl would be mushing who-knows-what, and then cooking it over a fire for her and her mom to eat. Or maybe she would be fetching water from that stinky mud-hole three miles away to cool off her mom’s forehead. The only reason I actually believed this nonsense, that Kefilwe’s drastically different life was actually real, was because I had watched her live it for a few days now. And she didn’t complain about it. Which must mean that its normal, because if it was my neighbor kid living Kefilwe’s place, there would be hell to hear.

“Do you think only bad people have AIDS?” she questioned. “I don’t think my momma’s bad. She doesn’t look pretty, but she’s not bad. The witch-doctor said that my momma has an evil spirit. But the church-people say that God is punishing her.” My mind wandered. I knew that in Botswana, although a large portion of its people consider themselves Christian, many practice a traditional African religion as well, referred to here as Badimo. Although I considered witch-doctors something of story books, I couldn’t help but wonder if we were not so different in America, practicing multiple beliefs at the same time while only claiming one.

“Kefilwe, have you gone to school?” I asked. Kefilwe just looked at me confused and then turned back to admiringly study the new stuffed polar bear someone with us had given her. I wondered if she even had a clue of what a polar bear was.  Another passenger took advantage of her distraction, leaned over, and proceeded to explain to me that the small school which had serviced Kefilwe’s village shut down five years ago when both the teachers had passed away because of AIDS. The passenger, who worked for Peace Corps, continued by telling me that if a country who was a major world-player, like India, China, or Russia had the same AIDS infection rate as this area in Africa, their economies would also falter. Yet, because of their global influence, it would create a domino effect in the economies of the world.  I looked at the Peace Corp with skepticism. She explained that a huge portion of Africa’s labor force had already succumbed to AIDS, creating gaps all over society and overwhelming barriers to growth. I knew that India already had a high rate of AIDS infection. I had never considered the effect of such a disease on a whole country before, let alone its effect on a continent, or the world at large.

Kefilwe eventually looked up from her polar bear, picking up our conversation again: “My momma says she won’t come back soon, and it will happen just like when my daddy died. She said she will look even skinner, and not talk much before that happens. She told me I don’t have to cry when she won’t let me feed her.” I smiled sadly. It’s not everyday I hear such a young child talk about sickness and death. She will soon be added to the fourteen million children who have been orphaned in Southern Africa because of AIDS. “My momma says I need to get that medicine for myself so I don’t end up like her and daddy. Momma says you have that medicine. She said you could get it for me. She said that the nice people in your village will hear about how we need their help, and they will bring us back the medicine.” And then she looked up at me with such big eyes full of hope.

Kefilwe wasn’t aware that she was already HIV positive. She never had a choice- she was born with it. A little knowledge, basic medical assistance, and access to antiretroviral drugs could have easily kept her from this fate. Instead Kefilwe is a statistic, one of the 400,000 babies born with HIV yearly. But on a positive note, she had made it this far. Half of the children born with HIV don’t even live past age two. I began to wonder about Kefilwe’s future: “Do you have any brothers or sisters, Kefilwe?” “I have a sister who is almost five, and we had a baby brother. He died last year.” I began to panic. Kefilwe was the oldest of two HIV positive girls. Would Kefilwe have someone to take her in, and regularly give her the antiretroviral drugs? Or would she become the head of her household? I shuttered. Kefilwe was six-and-a-half.

As if she knew what I was thinking, Kefilwe scooted across the ripped-seats, shyly grabbed my arm, and began to sing. Her tiny voice was shaky and off-pitch. But as I smiled down at her, she sang beautifully louder. Soon everyone else riding with us either joined with her song, or was grinning at her. We soon arrived at the clinic, and I begin to help the medical workers process their new clients. Because of the antiretroviral drugs (AVRs) we were able to deliver, these individuals would not only survive, but probably would even thrive for years. At least as long as they had access to them.

After helping distributing the AVRs with me, Kefilwe tugged at my pant leg and asked me for a drink. I stooped to her level, took her little hands, and closed that first forty-cent pill within her fingers. I hoped my family would not mind the ramifications of what I was about to say. I took a deep breath, locked Kefilwe eyes with mine and then promised her that it would all be okay, that I would make sure of it.  Kefilwe glanced down at that life-giving pill and then gazed in wonder back at me. She is my hero, even though she looks at me as if I am hers.

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These are the brutal facts of the AIDS pandemic, the doomsday virus that I sometimes call the greatest humanitarian crisis of all time. But once again I want to stress that there is reason for hope. . . Between 2001 and 2005, prevalence rates fell in Botswana from 38.8 to 24.1 percent . . .” (p.150).

Stearns, Richard. 2010. The Hole in Our Gospel.  World Vision, Inc. Thomas Nelson: Nashville.

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This is a fictitious story based on facts. Kefilwe’s story is meant to give an accurate example of the current situation in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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Oh, the Many Opinions We All Sing: Truth, AIDS, & Worldviews

We all already have so many opinions. What becomes slightly more difficult is having truth. Sometimes I doubt. In fact, I often do. I live in an American Dream, where science influences culture, and people do whatever is right in their own eyes. Sometimes, it just seems like whatever is right to us, just might actually be right. I get tired of convincing people that divorce is not good, that letting your kids do whatever they want is fine, or, mainly, that we are falling short of what is best for us when we just working for our own happiness. It feels like I’m always hitting my head against a brick wall. As I am somewhat rational on occasion, it seems a valid question to ask, “heck, do I have to hit my head against this wall all the time?” or “Do I have to always think backwards of popular culture?” Sometimes there seems to be truth beyond what I claim is truth. I wonder if I really just take what tickles my ears, calling that alone truth. If it fits into my worldview, great. If not, do I just discard all the rest, rather than change my worldview to fit what is truth?

I don’t think these are abnormal questions. In fact, they seem healthy. Once, a long time ago, I decided I would follow truth whatever truth was. Because otherwise I would just believe something that was easy for me to believe, what I want to believe. And, especially, if I am going to raise my kids under a certain belief, or I am going to encourage others to believe what I believe, then dude, I better be only espousing truth!

I watched a video of a conference last night concerning AIDS and public policy. Although it was a topic I am interested in, it was a view point I probably wouldn’t have preferred. I’m not the type of person who likes to hand out clean needles and condoms, even if every study on the subject does show that public policy based on promoting these keeps AIDS and HIV prevalence down. Of course, they are obviously not always the only way to keep AIDS down. Therefore I prefer to focus on things that I am more morally comfortable with, like putting an end to HIV spread through mother-to-child. Yet, what should I value more? My Christian worldview might say that passing out clean needles and condoms encourages sin. Yet, on the other hand, why should I expect moral behavior from people who don’t follow God? Or, even more so, doesn’t God care more about people living long enough to find God, than obeying rules which are only in place to show us a need for God, and helping us live a life in the best way (with lasting relationships, and being free of addiction, in the case of these rules). 

And, as we go through life, questions or challenges to our worldview are normal, unless we are super skilled at avoiding them. We all have choices in belief like this. Especially if you are already advocating something. I care about hurting people around the globe. So, of course, I am ever being faced with trying to figure out the best way to help them. You might care about your kids learning valuable lessons at soccer practice. I don’t know what you care about. But when you discover something irking you, its probably because you care about something and/or your worldview is being challenged. There are somethings we like to avoid because we don’t feel comfortable with really grappling with what we believe on a subject.

Personally, not only do I want to avoid the work to figure out what I should believe, being too lazy, yet, I am annoyed with discovering what truth is.  Oh, the internet is wonderful. And, the internet can back up whatever we want to believe. Even scholarly sources are often biased, although most of what I research comes from those. There is always the ever so slight possibly there is a conspiracy going on. Heck, if you want to, you can go join the “Society of the World is Flat,” or whatever this group is called which still choose to believe that the globe, indeed, is not a globe. Is that ignorance, arrogance, or bliss?

After attempting to sort through whatever information is available on whatever topic, its easy to cop-out and declare everything as truth or conveniently stick with whatever we already believed (i.e., worldview we grew up within). Then we all go around either being annoyed someone is trying to tell us something different, or we laugh at people who sincerely believe something is true which is an abnormal belief in popular cultural. All while getting mad when someone attacks our own abnormal beliefs. But, I got news for you, though: NOT EVERYTHING IS TRUE! Not everything can be true. And, not everything that is obvious to me, will be as obvious to you. No wonder God calls for those who share His truth to be humble as well as confident. Why should anyone listen to you if you are not humble and respectful? Beliefs do not like to be trampled upon and worldviews do not change in a moment.  

And hence, I get tired. There are so many opinions being sung, while the choir is chanting a cultural American march and the choir of the Southeast Asia is chanting their chant, and even the Russian Mob choir has their own special tune. My point is, there are so many cultural, and subcultural frameworks. Within these, there are so many personal opinions, as well. I guess that means we are all trying to figure something out. It would be a little discouraging to believe that this searching is just entirely meaningless.

And I, Elisa is over here, singing her own tune. But really, she is trying to be in tune with what she believes is the meaningful melody. She isn’t always sure if it is. She is open to truth, yet skeptical when truth is claimed and opinions are offered to her. I don’t know right from wrong. I don’t know life from death. I can’t promise what I will believe tomorrow is the same.  Yet today, I will sing about God’s love, Jesus life, and hope for the suffering. Today I choose to believe that is truth; I believe that makes our world a better place.

ABWE, Inc. (2007-2010). Overview. Good Soil: Evangelism and Discipleship. Retrieved May 15, 2010 from http://www.goodsoil.com/overview/