Part 2, Monday, August 6, 2007
One of the outreach programs at Ludzi Parish is to provide medicines to HIV/AIDS patients in surrounding villages. Some of the villages are within walking distance and on this day our group went to visit one of them. Children swarmed around us as we walked though all of the huts. Sister Agnes took us to one of the huts where a mother of three lay on a thin mat barely able to move. Her skin looked like it would tear if touched. The sounds of her children playing seemed to float in through the openings between the sides and roof of the hut- swirling around her ravaged body.
Sister Agnes explained that the mother was HIV-positive but AIDS symptoms had been held off because of medication. All of her children were HIV-negative because she took the proper drugs to ensure she would not pass the virus on to them during pregnancy or delivery. The woman gave a weak smile when Sister Agnes called her a, “Good Mother.” I wondered why she was so sick if she took the drugs to help keep the HIV under control. Sister Agnes let us know that because there has been such a focus on getting HIV-type drugs that many other more common drugs, like penicillin, are in short supply. So now you may not die of HIV or AIDS, but a curable illness like pneumonia. I felt sick. This mother that had loved her children enough to make sure she got the medication to keep them safe from HIV would be taken away from them because she couldn’t get a $10 antibiotic?
Our priest knelt next to the woman and asked if we could pray with her. The woman nodded slowly. The other women in the group gathered around and placed hands on her shoulder or back or held her hand. But I stood motionless in the corner. I could not approach this woman. It was not because I was afraid I would “catch” something from her. In that moment I had this flash of how “filthy” I was and how “clean” she was. I was afraid to touch her for fear I would infect her with my faithlessness. She needed all the faith possible to get better. I continued to watch from the corner of the hut as the women in the group continued to pray over her. Then a faint, “Amen,” drifted up from the woman’s lips.
All week there had been feelings of faith and love and joy and peace in the midst of poverty and death. But in my own life when faced with poverty and death and divorce and disappointment, I had not been faithful to a God I claimed to serve. My hands trembled in front of me and as the women continued to pray I ducked out the front of the hut.