Friday, May 1, 2009

limited time left ladies!!
i received my first marriage proposal, or quasi-proposal today. I started thinking that maybe it wouldn't come, but it did. Sure as the sun rises. It was at the very end of the day; after the dancing and the celebration as the van pulled onto the soccer pitch, we slowly made our way to the van. An elder of the community grabbed my hand and said, 'so, you are not married. You should have a wife. You should choose a wife from the community and bring her to Canada.' My mind was racing for something to say. And what I mustered was "I don't think my mom will be happy if I do that; she will need to approve." Thinking that would stop the questions, I relaxed. It didn't do as designed. "Oh! Is that how you do things in Canada?" he said, not really pejoratively, but with enough paternal gumph that I knew what he meant. I said, "No, not really. But I have to live with my mom, and if she doesn't approve of my wife it is going to be a very, very long life." That effectively stopped the Spanish Inquisition.

This is a country of contrasts, of paradox. The green of the bushes and trees spotting the landscape; the red dirt lining the roads. Bright yellow flowers blooming along the highways, while diesel trucks spew their fumes. Beside the highway there are more pedestrians than cars on the highway, more oxen and goats than cyclists. At one glance, one would be forgiven to see a wasteland, void of hope; and yet, hope survives in the smallest of places, in the unlikeliest of ways.

The morning started out with a mix up of sorts. Instead of seeing the modern family, the village changed plans and asked if we could see the patients first and the 'modern' (their words) family last. I had been in a lowered anxious state, not having met anyone with AIDS before. I didn't know what to expect, honestly. I'm glad that the plans changed before allowing me anytime to think through it and over it.
Her name is Joyce Chimbecrezo; she cannot be more than 20 years old. Her eyes are swollen in a way I haven't seen before; her family is around her; her mother; her grandmother; her children who don't have AIDS, but who are very malnurished even for village standards. She tells us her story.
She was married to a man for a bit. A man who had a first wife two villages over. After a while she suspected that she was sick (the euphemism they use for AIDS/HIV in the village). She asked him about it and he denied it. After a while, she no longer believed him and went to the hospital herself where it was confirmed that she tested postive. Needless to say, the husband skipped town. He returns every so often, but realistically he has been gone for a while. The family is poor. She isn't sick enough to get the free Anti-retroviral drugs from the government, so she needs to buy another drug to deal with the pain. One lady from the NRD Women in Development group helps out as much as she can but it isn't enough. Joyce needs to walk to the hospital anytime she has to go there.
We ask a lot of questions, each with their own interpreter but the reality of the situation is that about half of the people treat her differently because of her AIDS. She farms when she can, she relies on her family; she can't hire a taxi for the ride to the clinic so sometimes she doesn't go. It was sad. It is sad.
The second lady was Mrs. Gideon (I do not have her first name at the moment). She got sick about 2 years ago. After feeling ill for a couple of weeks she went to the clinic to get tested. She was the fourth wife. All married at the same time. She is 'fortunate' enough to be on ARV, mostly because she was anemic when she fell ill. I don't remember much of the questions for her. Her two daughters are helping, as much as they can, whether that is by walking/taking her to the hospital, cooking, cleaning, etc. There was, or rather, there is always the issue of the distance to the clinic, of the mobile clinics not giving out ARVs, or many other things. But what I can't quite shake is that this woman was almost devoid of any hope. There was almost nothing but pain. One could see it in the wrinkles on her forehead, in the way that her mouth never once even intimated that it would like to smile, in the utter sadness of her eyes. there was/is a vacuousness in them that ought to haunt people. it may be the closest thing that I have ever seen to despair, something of which I could go my entire life without seeing more. sadness in the way that she would slowly move her head to whomever was talking. I remember how her eyes had almost entirely lost that 'life' quality that eyes have, that reflective 'being' that shines; babies have it in abundance. Mrs. Gideon's left eye had none of it. I want to believe that I saw a tiny bit of it in her right eye, at about my two o'clock on her iris. There was something there, but I do not know what. And at the point when you think that this is as dark as it gets, some hope; some very, very small morcel of hope. In our piecemeal way, we offered gifts that seemed insignificant but necessary; absolutely quixotic. White bread. sugar. powdered milk. very basic stuff for us. and from her, a half joke: please come again.
And there it is, contrasts. Where there is despair, may there be humour. Where there is the air of death, moments of life.

At the modern house, the women were singing, "Now, I'm going to show you a clean woman". Our translators emphasized, 'this is a clean woman's house'. She was (and I quote) " a model wife" because she kept the house clean. Heather let Jae and I know that this should be on the top of our lists for women. I forgot to ask the elder about it later. Harold and Josephine lived there. She was one of the women in the Women in Development group, learning knowledgeable techniques; keeping clothes off the ground, using bed nets, learning about good cooking. and he, he was a lucky man everyone acknowledged.

at the goodbye ceremony some of the best lines were found in songs from the Women's group: "Get your own goat. I'm not going to give you one of mine. You need to join the women's group to get one." and another: "if your baby's unhealthy don't complain to me. In our group we have healthy babies, we teach our women well." In the elders' speech they made it known, that since we have come, a return is wanted, almost needed. A second part to the equation. And to not forget them. It will be impossible to forget this place.

There is a mountain that rises out of the plains to the south of Kamenzi. it is a beautiful mountain, if for no other reason that it is unique. It is as if God mistakenly put a volcano that would easily fit in Hawaii or Indonesia in the middle of Malawi. The horizon is mostly flat, except for a couple of smaller bumps towards the west, making it seem like there are rumple strips along the western plateau. But this mountain stands by itself, not more than 20 or 30 kms from Kamenzi. I stare often at it. On the way to lunch at the modern couple's house, I asked one of the interpreters the name of this mountian. Kamphambe. It translates as God's Hill.
Looking at the mountain that is actually a hill, which I will still call a mountain made me think of seeing things from two sides. How often do we think we know what the answers are without knowing the landscape, the people, the issues. There are so many layers here to what we are seeing, it is hard to know where to begin. or where to end for that matter. I think though, that it is of upmost importance to see things for what they actually are, whether that is specific problems, or mountains; perspective is important. This trip has done and continues to do that.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you guys had a huge day yesterday. It is amazing to hear about the strength of these women but also heartbreaking to imagine how desperate and hopeless they must feel. Thanks for sharing with us. Enjoy your well-deserved day of rest and relaxation.