Life is good

Life is good

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! For the last several years, whenever he would butcher an animal (once or twice a month), we always got the choicest cuts of meat delivered to the house. Our price was always highly discounted, the meat was always the best from the animal, and he always said thank you. It was a constant reminder of what Susan had done, and somehow it always meant that the meat tasted better.

And then it stopped.

We felt awkward. You would never want to ask someone who has been generous to you why he had stopped, because after all who has a right to someone else’s generosity. And, in truth, the meat was so good we’d pay for it even if it weren’t so heavily discounted. It turned out that his wife had gotten very sick and he had used up the capital he had to take care of her and now he was out of business. That’s what happens here, and these kind of things happen particularly often in villages if HIV causes people to get sick all the time.

Friday night something made me decide that I would intervene. I’d like to think that I was motivated by more than just the desire to eat something other than beans and rice. In truth, I liked Bahati and I knew that he was generous to people. In normal times he made enough profit that he could help support his pastor – and his business truly did meet a need and its demise left a hole in the fabric of life here. If there ever were a case where helping someone out of a hole would help a lot of other people, this was it. But I struggled. How do you loan that much money to one person? In the end, I figured out my whole speech. I would just tell him that I had heard why he had no more capital, that he had done the right and good thing, and that I thought that I would help him get his business started again. I’d tell him I knew God would be pleased because he always used his profits to help others in need and to be generous at his church. And I’d tell him that my wife would love to buy meat from him again and he wouldn’t even have to discount the price for her like he always used to! We’d make out a repayment plan that would be realistic – and instead of interest on my loan I would prefer that he just give a bit of money each time to the AIDS clinic to help buy the medicines everyone needs. The more I thought about it the more I liked the whole idea.

Susan was thrilled. We have our sons here for the summer and she’d love to have meat to feed the two of them. But Saturday came and went, and Bahati didn’t show. So she sent someone else with word for him to come after church on Sunday. But still no Bahati. Tuesday was a big day at the clinic and I knew he would have to come to get his medicines, so I was sure that he would come by the house afterwards. He got his medicines, but he left without coming to see me.

This morning he came though. And Josh came to get me. I had my speech all worked out in my mind. Bahati, as usual for him, was all smiles. He had a bag full of avocados as a gift for Mama. He gave me condolences for my foot (I broke my ankle). And then he wanted to know how many kilos of meat Mama would like. He was back in business and he wanted us to know it! He was going to be butchering a pig on Sunday afternoon. I’m so glad I didn’t have to use my carefully planned out speech. What he had to tell me was so very much better that what I was planning to tell him! His eyes just twinkled.

With situations like this, the struggle always is “how to help without hurting”, or as my grandfather always used to say to me, “how to help without robbing a person’s dignity.” Bahati is back in business. Bahati has all of his dignity. We’ll be having delicious pork roast on Monday and the boys will be cooking ribs out on the back porch later on in the week. Life is good.

* * * *

My other visitor today was Old Man Lunyali. He’s the man who back in 2005 gave the corn fields here at Madisi where our very first school is built and where Village Schools got its start – and he’s the man who gave the land for the HIV/AIDS Clinic. He came to tell me that he too had heard about my ankle and he just wanted to say “pole”. We laughed together – he’s older than I am and he said that for those of us who didn’t break our legs playing football as kids that we get to slip and fall when we’re old and break our bones. And then he told me how thankful he was for all of his sons and nephews and grandkids who had studied, gone off to college, who had jobs, and he started listing all of the names. Festo, Baraka, Eric … And then there’s Moody, my grandson.

Moody is the little kid in the village with very rare disease. It’s called brittle bone syndrome and his bones break all the time. His head is also oddly shaped and a lot bigger than other kids’. And so he never couldn’t stay in school at the government primary school in the village. But last year we got special government permission to open a primary school that teaches in English rather than Swahili. All of the rich and well connected send their kids to very expensive, English-language primary schools in the big cities, and people here dreamed of having a school like that. Except it would be in the village and it would be for those who neither had money, nor were well connected. This school isn’t for everyone – after all, parents really have to have a vision for the future to spend money to pay to send their kid when there’s a free government school right here in the village. But it is there for those who have that vision, and it’s there for all the kids who fall through the cracks – those who missed a year or two (and therefore lost their places), those who are HIV positive and have been sick and missed years at school before we started them on the medicines, or those who have really special physical needs. Like Moody.

Old Man Lunyali was just beaming. He was telling me how the teachers say that Moody is really bright. And then he handed me an envelope of money. He told me that Susan had said she would help Moody go to school and that’s when they decided to send him. But, he went on to say, I know she has so many kids she’s helping. I just sold my pig. So I can help.

I got a lump in my throat. And I didn’t quite know what to say. You’re a good man was all I could get to come out of my mouth; I was so stunned.

I walked him to the door and then hobbled a bit with him (there’s no good excuse in Africa for not “walking the person half way to the next village.”) What I wanted to say to him, what I should have said to him, was that Moody is so blessed to have you as his grandfather. That the whole village is so blessed by your great generosity. Do you know how many lives you have changed by giving the land for this school? How many people are alive because you gave the land for the clinic? How many kids have come from way down in the valley and from villages far away because there are no schools in their villages, but there’s one here because you gave all of this land? I wanted to say to him that no one even knows what you’ve done because you are always so quiet about your generosity. And for good measure, I should have thrown in how much I’ve personally appreciated over the years all of the gifts of food that he has brought us from his fields. Today wasn’t the right day to say all of that. I’ll wait for the right day …

And to think income statistics would mark that man to be poor.