My treasures

My treasures

Sitting on the side of the bed of gentle, tiny Jeni. Her four year old daughter Queeni sat on my lap playing with my hair, touching my nose, face and ears, seemingly oblivious to the fact that her mother was dying. Jeni -- truly a lovely lady in life, and also as she lay dying. As she asked Jesus to ease her pain, I could only feel regret. Not sure what went wrong when, but it did. At 65 pounds, all that was left was her kind, soft eyes. Gracious even in these circumstances, she wanted to thank me for those most wonderful lotions that I gave her (you know the ones from fancy hotels that people collect for me), claiming that she had never smelled anything so lovely. Then she also thanked me for the bread and avocados, as that too was beyond delicious. Never had bread tasted so good. There comes a time when sending a sick person to the hospital is useless and at that point, we just try to be kind as we wait and see. In between the pains that made her gasp, she talked with me about her family and her kids. A woman and a mother – with few choices allotted to her in her short life. Her husband who gave her the virus died leaving her to his brother. They then had adorable Queeni. Little Queeni -- miraculously surviving both the virus given to her at birth and then infant meningitis.

In this arena of human suffering, glimpses of beauty do shine through, and these are my treasures. Who brought Jeni to my house two weeks ago? Not the brother-in-law who had inherited her, but her neighbor Dismas. Just last year, Dismas had lost his wife, and then it was TB and AIDS that took his own health. Now recovered, he is looking after others. And there Jeni was, sandwiched between Dismas and her younger sister on the back of a motorcycle coming to my house to ask for help. It is so beautiful seeing my now healthy friends helping those lagging behind or dying. And in Jeni’s case, dying. She died last week, leaving behind little Queeni, a 10 year old son and her 15 year old daughter.

These days, I fear we are starting to see a new wave of loss. Nothing like it was in the beginning nine years ago when I first came here. Back then we could lose three people in a day. But still death is here. Some of the anti-AIDS drugs are losing their effectiveness. Some of my friends have returned to the denial stage, pretending to be well and very unfortunately choosing to stop treatment. Others who have traveled to different parts of Tanzania for work have returned in terrible states, and they re-enter our lives and we pick them up and try to help. At least we can make them comfortable with a mattress and blankets (it is so cold here!), and lotions, and whatever else they may need.

I marvel that even in their pain and suffering, my friends living with HIV/AIDS remain kind, polite and hospitable. I almost always arrive unannounced, but quickly chairs are pulled together so that as visitors we can sit down and visit. Often it is the one who is so ill who seems to summon up the energy to command all the forces in the house to go about and find some chairs. They might be ill and they might be dying, but they won’t be robbed of being hospitable in their wonderful way. One of my favorite glimpses of this humanity was when Emmanueli who has been quite ill, (along with his wife and child), asked while he was looking down at my feet if I happened to know of anyone in need of a shoemaker, because he in fact was one. As I joined him in looking down at my feet and at my shoes, I realized in horror that I had put on my pair of shoes that had a huge split between the sole and the shoe showing off my hot pink socks! Recognizing that he was indirectly asking to repair my shoes, I gave them to him and the next day they were returned sewn together and even polished. Oh these friends of mine are beautiful in every way! I’m thankful that the journey with them doesn’t end here, but we will have a whole eternity together.

Please do pray for a cure!