Tuesday, April 24, 2007

...from the other part of the world

One for my Sister ...!

The hospital I worked in during my stay in Swaziland sits atop the beautiful and very steep Lebombo Mountains. In this part of the world people often have to walk 40 kilometers or more in order to see a doctor. As you can imagine there are many people in the community who are simply too sick or too poor to get to a hospital. This is where home-based care comes in. The home-based care team consists of several.nurses who jump into a small truck/van every morning and travel out to the community to tend to the health needs of the truly destitute.

Before I went out with the team I used to buy potatoes and carrots and apples to give to the people we met - because health care in Africa is often just as much about the provision of food as it is about medicine. I would always make sure I also bought a bag of sweets to give to the beautiful children we would meet out in the community. I have learned that sweets are one of the great unifiers in the human world we might look different and speak different languages - but most of us especially the young ones -love sweets!

One day we stopped at one of the 15,000 orphan-led households in Swaziland. Inside the hut we found a beautiful little girl with huge brown eyes. Her name was Tanzile. I gave her a sweet from my bag and she said something back to me in Si-swati, the native language, which the nurse next to me translated:

"She wants another one doctor - to give to her little sister."

I said "of course" and gave her another. After we had tended to a man with tuberculosis a bit further down the road, we passed by Tanzile's house to say goodbye. To our surprise she seemed to be holding on to that extra sweet I had given her. I remember saying to the nurse "this little darling is clever - she has taken two for herself. If I was her I'd probably have asked for the whole bag!" But after the nurse
had asked her some more questions this is what we learned:

Tanzile is 7 now. Two years ago when she was five her mum and dad both died of HIV/AIDS like so many have in this country. At the time of her parents tragic death, she was separated from her baby sister who was three at the time. Tanzile has not laid eyes on her since. But ever since that time, whenever Tanzile receives anything from anyone, including food, - she refuses to accept it, unless they give her two.


Two carrots, two toys, two sweets - one for her and one for her baby sister (who in all likelihood didn't survive.)
In fact, in the little mud hut where she lives, we found a pile of old
things which she has been collecting to give to her sister one day. My friends, people sometimes look at faces of African children or kids in the developing world and think that they are somehow different than our kids - that somehow they don't feel pain or sadness or love. But that is not true. Their pain is deep. And so is their love.

I can still remember the nurse trying to convince her that "if someone gives you food Tanzile, you must accept it - even if it is only one piece and not two - for your own health and safety." And it was so hard for us to keep the tears from our eyes as she shook her head defiantly. Her hope and her love was all that she had. It mattered more than anything else.

When I returned home that day, I was shocked to find that this was not an isolated story but others in the hospital knew of orphans just like Tanzile - waiting with a little pile of things in their hut, for their sibling or their parent who they haven't seen in so long. I think of that old saying - "when we're hungry, love will keep us alive." I pray that for Tanzile's sake and the other beautiful children like her that it will.

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