Monday, June 7, 2010
Once again, like horrible mistimed clockwork, I was jarred awake at 3:30am sharp by our rooster friends outside. In college, my apartment was located directly alongside a set of train tracks and every morning at two and four o’clock, a train would go roaring by at full speed. I was eventually able to tune it out and hardly noticed it, but these roosters are devious. Instead of a single consistent noise, they coordinate with each other and take breaks just long enough for the humans to fall back asleep before screaming again. Fortunately, with limited electricity and entertainment options, we all went to bed at around 9pm each night, so waking up at 3:30am each morning was not as tough as it could have been.
Breakfast this morning consisted of boiled eggs and slices of bread. For me, and several others, breakfast included a protein bar as well. Like yesterday, we engaged in a friendly game of dirt parking lot football while we waited to begin the events of the day.
Today was a special day for Hoops of Hope and the people of Twachiyanda. We were dedicating the clinic that was built with money raised by Austin Gutwein and thousands of kids through Hoops of Hope. The clinic will serve as an AIDS testing center as well as a distribution center for the ARV medications that help those already diagnosed with AIDS to improve their quality of life. Prior to the dedication of this clinic, people in this area would have to WALK over 30 kilometers (almost 19 miles) to the nearest facility to get tested and/or receive treatment. Imagine walking for an entire day one way to go to the hospital. This clinic will improve the lives of thousands of people and literally save an entire generation from being wiped out by AIDS.
We climbed in the Land Cruisers and headed out to the clinic. After we had been driving for about 30 minutes, I made the mistake of asking how much farther we had to drive. The driver said, “Twenty to forty minutes.” Apparently Zambians don’t judge time in the same manner us Americans do because this would serve as the answer any time any of us asked, “how much farther?” Whether we had 10 minutes or an hour, the answer was always, “Twenty to forty minutes.”
When we arrived at the clinic, there were already hundreds of people surrounding the dedication site. They had erected a makeshift tent for us to sit in the shade while the majority of the people attending either sat or stood in the sun. We were each handed a schedule of events for the dedication that included each speaker/performer and how much time they were allotted. We would soon realize that these times were in “Zambian time” because 5 minutes of designated time on the sheet for a speaker might actually translate into 40 minutes of actual speaking time.
The ceremony was delayed because we were waiting on the Chief and some members of Parliament to arrive. So, there were some people there who entertained the crowd to kill some time. After being mercilessly prodded, I got up and sang a song. I was always reluctant because these people are such great singers. I would rather hear them sing any day of the week than go up there and play.
Finally, all the dignitaries arrived and the ceremony began. We sat in the tent for hours as several speakers got up and gave their speeches. Some were simple, but many were using this platform as a way to lobby the government officials to get more involved in this community. I appreciated their vision as they applauded the efforts of Hoops of Hope and World Vision, and at the same time implored the government officials to offer assistance in the future with issues such as property maintenance and improving the roads leading to the facility.
The ceremony concluded with a tour of the facility, including the brand new staff housing located adjacent to the property. After the tour, we had lunch in one of the staff houses. To my surprise, we had the same meal for lunch here at the clinic that we had at the base camp for lunch and dinner yesterday. Fortunately, they had some bottled Sprite and Coke that may have saved my life right then and there.
Later that afternoon, we did something that may have been the most memorable two hours of the entire trip. We met the Caregivers. The Caregivers are ladies that ride around on old, worn out bicycles to different people’s homes in order to provide care to those in need. These ladies take medical supplies to families in need and are often there in the last hours to care for people who have nothing. We all split into small groups and went with the Caregivers to various homes in the surrounding area. The home we visited was a small clay brick building (about 10 feet x 20 feet) with no windows, and a small hut out back for the kitchen. Just beyond the kitchen was a small garden with sweet potatoes and a few other vegetables. We met the matriarch of the house, a grandmother whose name I cannot pronounce and her grandson Orlando. We learned that a total of ten people lived in this tiny house. Orlando’s father had been killed by AIDS and Orlando had tested positive as well. I helped sweep out their one room house, dug up some sweet potatoes in the garden, played soccer with Orlando and some other boys, but mostly just soaked up every second I had with these amazing people.
During this Caregiver visit was when my world perspective changed. I had always heard about people in need, especially in Africa, but I had never felt it. I had never seen it with my own eyes. These people have nothing. In fact, they have less than nothing. Some of them are born into the world with a disease that will slowly destroy their life and inevitably lead to a premature death. Their life is hard. Their quality of life is awful. For the most part, they are an uneducated people who should have no reason for hope. Yet, I learned more about hope from this family than I have in 25 years of sitting in church. We asked Orlando how he was doing and he said the last word I ever thought I’d hear come out of his mouth. Thankful. He was thankful that he had his medication that eased the symptoms of his AIDS virus. He was thankful that he could get out of bed in the morning and not be in extreme pain. He was thankful for his life, regardless of the hand he had been dealt. He blew me away with his optimism.
As we walked away and left the family behind, my brain was racing to try and understand what had just happened. I thought about my own situation at home and all the stress I create in my life. We have so much stuff in our lives. So many things we cling to as if we could not live without them. In those moments, I realized the futility of stress and how absurd it is to worry. My worst-case scenario is better than anything these people will experience in their entire life. There are so many more thoughts about this going on in my head, but I’ll save those for another time, as they would fill another dozen pages.
We got back to the base camp with about 30 minutes of daylight, so Dan and I went for a ride on a couple of motorcycles that the staffers had. This was also one of my favorite moments of the trip, flying down the dirt road (70kph) with the cool African night air in my face. I felt as alone, and somehow at the same exact time, as complete as I ever had in my life.
When I returned for dinner, for the first time I began to understand my fate as far as the dining was concerned. We stared at the same EXACT meal that we had for lunch AND dinner AND lunch AND dinner AND…well, you get it. LITERALLY, the same exact food. Ok. This was the one aspect of the trip that I was not prepared for. Malaria mosquitoes, yellow fever, exhausting travel hours, horrible bathrooms. I had prepared for all things except eating the same thing at every meal. Don’t tell the cooks, but that night my friend Michael and I ate protein bars and a slice of bread with peanut butter. I went to bed slightly hungry, but mostly exhausted and fell immediately to sleep.