Recently, a friend asked me, “What one thing do you think you do the most?” I will answer that now: complain. And I think a lot of it has occurred on this blog, mostly for the sake of being funny, but its definitely indicative of what volunteers do when they are all together. Its indiciative really of what any group of coworkers do together, commiserate about their workplace i.e the snakes, the heat, the frustrations, etc. It makes it easier somehow to get it out of your system once in a while.
That being said, there are some pretty incredible aspects of this job. And I can say “job” now and also now answer the question, “So what kind of work are you doing over there?” Since the beginning of January I have been working at the clinic mainly with clients taking ARV’s for HIV. I shadow the workers at the clinic and watch them do what they do, and help where I needed. I have also enjoyed being in an environment where, by default, people have disclosed their HIV status to me. Whereas it is usually a closely guarded secret, for reasons of stigmatization and on account of it being an intensely personal matter.
I have also been attending a few different support groups, comprised soley of women, who meet every so often and talk about problems they experience with their ARV treatment, side effects are numerous, and various stigma issues they undergo in their lives. Its refreshing and makes the burden of HIV that much more real to sit in these meetings, conducted in siSwati but translated for me, and to hear first hand the types of things people go through. I have so many questions but its more a place to listen, not contribute. Some are interested in varying capacities to have me teach classes about adherence and management of ARV side effects, and all are interested in projects of income generation, but that’s the next step. For now, I am just an appreciative guest of these meetings.
Lastly, I have been going with my counterpart on home visits in the community. Generally, these are people who are very sick, usually with full-blown AIDS and suffering side effects, specifically TB. (Some tangential Public Health-y facts: TB is the leading cause of death in the world for people with AIDS and 1/3 of the world currently has TB. Drug resistant TB is becoming a huge problem in the developing world, and will likely spread to Western nations if left unchecked. It’s times like these I am baffled that the vaccine is 150 years old and ineffective at protecting against all forms of TB, while drug companies work feverishly to produce a new “male enhancement” product or weight loss drug. Only in America would we want our men to be virile well into their older years, our women artificially thin and wrinkle-free, but our people utterly unprotected against potentially huge future health concerns. Just something to think about…)
We visited one woman several weeks ago who had been bed-ridden for quite some time suffering from a bad bout of TB. She lived alone, abandoned and friendless. Being sick, she could not plant maize so she had nothing to eat, and she was not strong enough to fetch water the significant distance away that it was. I felt for this woman in a way I have not ever experienced, utterly helpless and haunted by guilt of the excess that is the world from which I come. I talked to my host family about the situation and they described other people who they have known go through similar things, whose families have deserted them due to fear or shame and who have to fight their battle alone. My counterpart and I talked to the support group in the woman’s part of the community. We said that even though they themselves are struggling with food and water scarcity, just the emotional comfort of someone caring and visiting can make a huge difference. I am happy to say when we visited this woman again, it was a much different scene. She was smiling, getting better, gaining weight and there were neighbors at her homestead helping out and hanging out. It was a beautiful thing to see people come together that way, and I was moved in a very significant way. It’s been great having such a broad sector, “health”, and having the opportunity to work with school children, or really in an endless number of capacities, but I have enjoyed working with openly HIV-positive people so far. It has been humbling and powerful and confirmed my desire to go into a health related field someday. That being said, it has been wearing on me more than I have realized. It's unbelievably sad to see people dealing with chronic illness, no matter how prepared you think you are for it. A
A comforting thought is from a book I recently read, Slaughterhouse Five. Billy Pilgrim travels back in time and has an epiphany: time is not a sequential thing like we are accustomed to understand, but a series of snapshots, like "a bug caught in amber", each inevitable but static. I really liked the book, and the embracing of death as just another one of those moments. As the Tralfamadorians say, "So it goes".
Random Swazi Thought of the Week: A cheese boy or a cheese girl is what they call someone who is “lazy to work”. I’d also describe it as someone who is a townie person and comes home to the rural areas occasionally wearing all their ill-suited tight pants and fitted caps, and has no interest in working the field or milking a cow.