Three weeks ago, a note folded many times over and squeezed in a sweaty hand was passed along to me sometime during a long, hectic day at our HIV/AIDS clinic. It was only in the evening that I had time to carefully unfold it and give it some thought. It started out with the usual, ever so polite Tanzanian greetings that are such a part of life here. First of all, I begin with greeting you – Shikamoo!
Every time I have heard people talk about celebrities from America coming to Africa, I have found myself strangely relieved that we live in such a remote village. I figured it would mean I would never have to worry about any celebrities choosing to come here.
A totally great day! With my boot cast finally off and my broken ankle clearly on the mend, this is the second day that Susan and I have been able to take an early evening walk out to the forest together. And Jonathan, after ripping apart a lot of dead computers with his students out at the college, performed “brain surgery” on my laptop -- and although I was sweating bullets during the whole delicate half-hour operation, eventually he pressed the button and I held my breath and my laptop came back to life again.
By Friday night I had pretty much made up my mind, enough at least, to ask Susan on Saturday if she could send someone to find her friend Bahati and ask him to come see me. He had been the butcher in the village for years and years until he got very sick with AIDS. It was nearly nine years ago when Susan helped out their family, and everyone got tested and she got him started on the ARVs. That was when he “came back to life” – and he started butchering meat again for the whole village!
As the years have gone by and our lives have changed and everything here has grown, Susan and I have acquired a lot of names. I remember the years when I was known as Mkongo (“the man from Congo”), Fundula Mtonto (“the one who reveals all that was hidden”) and then Mr Vinton morphed into Mzee Vinton and then just simply Mzee (“the old man”) or Msee by those of the Hehe people who can’t pronounce z’s. Susan went from being Mrs Vinton to Mama Joshua and Mama Yona and then Mama Vinton, Mama wa Wingi (“the mother of many”) and then just Mama to everyone.
If I could have favorites in this world, one of my favorites would be Godi. He’s one of the miracles around here – one of the very first of the children in this whole region to be enrolled in the HIV/AIDS children’s AIDS program 10 years ago when the whole program was just in its infancy stages. I didn’t know Godi way back then when he first started on the medications, as he lived far away from me, but very close to one of the first AIDS clinics in our region of Iringa.
The day starts off well!
Our hearts are full of thanksgiving as we look back over the past ten years.
One of the things I love doing is speaking to the huge crowds of people who come to the town meetings we have in villages whenever we are invited to begin working with them to build a new school. These meetings go on for hours. And I relish every moment of them. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people seated on grassy hillsides. A few words of introduction and customary greetings. Sometimes a few speeches by village leaders or elders.
Last week was such an incredible week! It began with Susan and I (and Jonathan!) spending two very long, very rainy days in the car traveling across the country to return home to our village. We had been in the far east of the country, at the top of the Lushoto Irente cliffs, leading a 72-hour retreat for a dozen Whitworth University students and their professors. It was a time to help those students think some new thoughts about the people who live on this continent. It was an opportunity to share with them both the joy and the heartache of being here.