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Women and mothers care for their children and their families — we are the caretakers of the world. When someone is dying of AIDS in Africa, it is a woman who is by the bedside; a mother, a sister, an aunt, a grandmother, a daughter.
Princess Kasune Zulu
The social justice tradition (the compassionate life) is not a set of pious exercises for the devout, but a trumpet call to a freely gathered people who seek the total transformation of persons, institutions, and societies. We are to combine suffering love with courageous action.... We are to become the voice of the voiceless, pleading their causes in the halls of power and privilege.
Richard Foster, Devotional Classics
Litien, Kenya, 2005
The relentless rain pours down. Nothing here is built on level ground. Brown, dirty foam forms where the water is pooling in the waiting area outside the hospital. If the building was once level, perhaps over time this assault of rain has eaten away at the dilapidated hospital and surrounding compounds.
Today I am observing a Kenyan nurse named Nettie, fluent in English, Swahili, and Kipsigis. I attentively stay one step behind, hoping to learn, yet self-consciously trying to stay out of her way. Nettie moves slowly around the waiting area with her clipboard, writing down names and speaking to the many people who braved the storm. She helps an elderly woman find a seat, answering endless questions and laughing with the Kipsigis grandmothers and their grandchildren.
I am not a health-care worker, a missionary, or a government agent. I am fluent in exactly one language. I am a stay-at-home mother with three young children who is in Africa with my church. The African Inland Mission is building a new hospital in rural Kenya, and a team of us from my church are here to do some light carpentry, paint, and learn about the local HIV and AIDS programs.
It has been three years since I first heard of the devastating effects of the HIV and AIDS global pandemic. It has been three years since I first grappled with the statistics: 5,000 children die every day from severe diarrhea; 72 million children (56 percent of whom are girls) remain out of school around the world; every day in Africa 4,400 people die from AIDS; and more than 12 million African children have lost one or both parents to AIDS.
Now the statistics have faces and names.
I silently follow Nettie as I marvel at the earlobes on the Kipsigis grandmothers. Nettie catches me mid-gawk. She explains that the tradition of stretching out women's earlobes was abandoned several generations ago, but can still be seen on older women. Some of the women are dressed in traditional Kipsigis tribal attire, and their ears are so stretched that the circle of flesh reaches down to their shoulders. Nettie chats with them, and I greet them the best I can. We grab hands and smile.
The people look to be on the verge of falling apart, with their rotting and missing teeth, the growths on their faces, the discolorations of the whites of their eyes, and tattered scarves wrapped around alarmingly thin bodies. The absence of consistent medical care is evident at a glance.
Most have traveled a long way to this rural hospital. Cars are scarce and bicycles can be found on the difficult roads, but most people walk everywhere. They come with a variety of ailments — a four-year-old boy with a donkey bite, a five-year-old with a snake bite, a little girl named Daisy with a horrible case of malaria.
Some have come to the Volunteer Counseling and Testing Center (VCT) to be tested for the HIV virus. These clinics are supported by the Kenyan government to encourage people to find out their HIV status. This hospital is staffed by nine counselors, all women, who serve this community.
Nettie explains, "Knowing your status is the first step in arresting the spread of HIV and AIDS. Most of my patients are men, as women fear finding out their status because they will be turned out and shunned by their husbands and families and separated from their children."
She tells me this without emotion, but my brain and heart are having a hard time processing it. This is not the first time I have heard the immensely troubling double standard for men and women regarding HIV and AIDS.
I am a woman from America, and my paradigm for the role of women in society is Western, modernized, and egalitarian. I am trying very hard not to be ethnocentric as I reflect on what I am being told about women, HIV, AIDS, and extreme poverty in Africa. I want to respect the culture and traditions of other people, but this doesn't feel right.
If knowing your status is the first step to arresting the spread of HIV, and women aren't tested, how will the disease be stopped? If a man brings HIV into his home due to infidelity (brothels are common in rural Africa, and men often contract HIV from sleeping with prostitutes), then gives it to his wife and children, how is it okay in any culture for that man to throw out his HIV-positive wife?
From Nettie I learned that in this part of rural Kenya, girls are often sexually active at the age of twelve and boys at eighteen. Within the VCT's client base, more men come in for testing, yet more women are HIV positive. Partly this is a result of how a woman is made; she is physiologically more susceptible to contracting the HIV virus.
Nettie also confirms the horrible stories of rape on very young girls, telling me that in western Kasum, an area outside of where we are in Litien, the nurses and home-based caregivers report frequent cases of rape because men believe that sleeping with a virgin will heal them of HIV.
I had traveled the day before with Nettie to Cheborgei, a village forty-five minutes away, where the hospital and community have a home-care group. We are in Kenya during the rainy season, and although the sky is clear, the roads are outrageously bumpy from earlier downpours. The red clay roads seem more like drainage ditches, and we are jostled and jerked in the back of the truck as we wind around the tea fields to the old mission church where the villagers gather.
Upon arrival, my body feels bruised, and I untangle myself from the cramped rear of a 1950s enclosed pickup truck. Nettie and I are greeted by a group of men. The chief of the village is contagiously exuberant. His loud voice booms across the lawn of the church, "God is great! There is no one like our God. We! Are! Happy!"
Tears prick my eyes at the unexpected joyful greeting — and this for an AIDS education meeting. The happy handshakes, greetings, and smiles are extended all around.
An old mission church stands at the center of the small village. The homes have dirt floors, and the walls and roofs are made of sticks lashed together with rope. The church is the only modern structure, and it looks frozen in the 1940s. I half expect to see a white missionary come around the corner dressed up like that lady in the movie Out of Africa. It appears the missionaries who built the church and educated this small community have since moved on, but they left behind yellowed posters of Jesus and his disciples, a pile of mildewed hymnals, and an old wooden cross.
Yet this place is alive. Newly planted flowers color the path to the front door. The floor is swept, and the smell of fresh chai tea fills the sanctuary. A bright, clean tablecloth is on the altar. The villagers smile and chat together. The women are talking about something with great passion, and I wish I could understand what one woman seems to be explaining to the others.
About fifty men and women have gathered to hear Nettie teach about HIV and AIDS: how it is transmitted, how to avoid infection, how to practice family planning, and how to avoid infecting children. Once inside the church, the men and women separate themselves, with the men seated on the right and the women on the left.
As a former junior high teacher, I observe that Nettie is a skilled teacher. She has an easy, yet authoritative, rapport with the villagers. She is stern, direct, gentle, and subtle all at the same time. Nettie flows effortlessly between three languages of English, Swahili, and Kipsigis, and as she speaks, her eyes glow with tangible warmth and power. Nettie is a mother of four, and her community calls her "the mother of all." She and I are both thirty-five.
Standing at the pulpit, Nettie asks, "We talked of this last time. Can someone tell me how HIV is spread?"
"HIV is spread through sexual intercourse and needles," a man volunteers from the male side of the church.
As Nettie continues her questioning, most people seem to know the textbook answers. I do wonder about the probability of needles being a problem, as it seems just finding a container to carry water is difficult in this far-flung place.
"I have another question for you," Nettie says. "What do you do if your wife is HIV positive and you are not?"
The church is quiet while people shift uncomfortably in their pews. Nettie looks to the women with hopes of engaging a response from the female side of the church.
No one speaks.
Finally a man says matter-of-factly in broken English, "If your woman, your wife, has got the HIV, you leave that wife behind and marry another."
Nettie is very composed — this answer does not surprise her. But me? It takes everything in me not to fly out of my pew and tackle this man. I want to stand on the altar and scream, "No! No! No!" Instead, I hold back burning tears and try to control my breathing.
At the pulpit, Nettie is composed and, without missing a beat, she directs the same question to the women. "What do you do if your husband is HIV positive and you are not?" Several women indicate a willingness to abstain from sex. I wait, confidently hopeful one of the ladies will push back on what the man said.
Instead, the room is painfully silent. An older woman finally speaks. "If you are married and you cannot ..." She giggles as she cannot seem to say the word sex in mixed company. Several uncomfortable chuckles follow. "I mean, if you don't have that, what do you have? All you have is cooking and eating."
Everyone laughs as the painful truth is solidified through the safety of comic relief and shared experience. I watch Nettie, who persists, "What do you do if both of you are HIV positive? Do you have a baby?"
With the nodding of heads and murmurs, the room unanimously seems to say, "Of course."
Nettie sensitively points out, "I'm not telling you not to have a baby, but the baby will be infected, and now you have more trouble in your house."
This sad exchange is pushing down on my shoulders and my soul. I drop my head to hide my tears and notice a tattered Bible being held tightly by the woman sitting next to me. I glance up at her to see an ancient and lovely face. The wrinkles etched into her ebony skin tell a tale of a long and beautiful life—how old she is. Her beauty catches me mid-breath, and I almost make a noise trying to breathe again. How old is her Bible? Was it her mother's? Her grandmother's? The cover is ragged and the pages are crumpled and yellow.
I am surprised by how much her act — bringing her Bible to this meeting — moves me. She is far past childbearing years. This strange new virus has brought death to her village and new reasons to gather in her place of worship. A lifetime ago, had she watched this church being built, when strangers brought a new message to her people? Did she once walk to church holding her mother's hand while clutching this treasured Bible in the other?
I do not dare lift my head again as I try to hold in my tears. I keep staring at the Bible and at the ancient feminine hands holding it. They are my lifeline to sanity, or at least cultural appropriateness. Her hands — strong, callused, feminine hands — are keeping me from collapsing on the floor or jumping up to organize the women into some kind of rebellion.
At this church, in this village, the statistics have names and faces.
* * *
Today at the VTC, we have moved under the lean-to waiting area, and Nettie is shouting to be heard over the rain. I position my feet between two puddles, hoping to stay dry as I listen to the deafening noise of the rain on the tin roof. The woman Nettie is helping seems to be about my age, and a small boy clings to her side. I look down at him, making eye contact, and smile. He looks at me with huge brown eyes, unsmiling, before looking away and pushing into his mother.
Nettie hands the mother a piece of paper. Taking her son by the hand, she walks over to the cutout hole in the plywood wall, to the hospital pharmacy. I see her get some medication and hurry into the rain. I watch her leave, clutching the medication to her chest.
"Nettie, what did you give her?" I ask. "Medication for HIV?"
"Yes." Nettie nods. "She got her ARVs today. She has enough now for this month."
Antiretrovirals (ARVs) are used to treat retroviruses like HIV. Only 3 percent of Africans have access to these lifesaving medications, and their availability in rural Kenya surprises me.
I am excited and hopeful. "Where did they come from?"
"The medications came from the government. Every VCT is allotted a certain amount of ARVs, depending on their need and if they meet the set criteria," Nettie patiently explains.
"They came from the government? Where did the government get them?" I am still fascinated because I have been told not even governments have good access to these medications.
"The government and the pharmaceutical companies they work with recently received a large grant from America. PEPFAR money. Do you know what that is?" Nettie asks.
I let out a quick, surprised sigh. I know about PEPFAR because I lobbied for it. I joined the ONE Campaign, the Campaign to Make Poverty History, in 2003, as Congress and President George W. Bush created the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The ONE Campaign and its members called Congress and the White House to urge the passage of this bill, which was signed into law in 2005.
I freeze as I watch the mother and her son disappear down the road. How can I feel such a sense of solidarity and difference at the same time? We are both mothers, but I have rights and options in my culture that she may never have. I have access to medications and a pharmacy around the corner. Without PEPFAR money to provide her lifesaving medications, this mother might live only another year and die while her child is still young. With medications, she might live twenty years. She might raise her child. Work. Go to church. Have a life.
Before urging my government to pass PEPFAR, I had never lobbied my elected leaders about anything. Lobbying was what special-interest groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) did, not the job of soccer moms.
Now it rains down on me.
In the muddy yard outside the hospital, all the dots are connecting. Stunned, I take in the breathtaking reality that my advocacy efforts, my lobbying, did something. Me, a stay-at-home American mother, lobbied for the interests of a Kenyan mother struggling to survive. From the other side of the world, I helped her. My few actions are giving this mother a chance to stay alive and care for her child.
Voice for the voiceless.
As of 2008, Americans have supported AIDS treatment for more than 2.1 million men, women, and children living with HIV/AIDS through PEPFAR. Before PEPFAR, only 50,000 people were receiving treatment for HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. Two pills a day, that cost about 40 cents, can keep someone with HIV and AIDS alive and healthy. In sub-Saharan Africa, 4,100 people die daily from preventable, treatable diseases.
Excerpted from Global Soccer Mom by Shayne Moore Copyright © 2011 by Shayne Moore. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Foreword Elisa Morgan 7
A Prayer 10
Who Am I to Make a Difference? 11
1 Caretakers of the World 17
2 Shaking the Foundation 29
3 Voices 39
4 What Is a Nice Soccer Mom Doing in a Place Like This? 51
5 We Don't Know What We're Doing, but We Know We're Doing Something 61
6 A Dialogue Led by Love 75
7 Suddenly Too Real 87
8 Jesus at the G8 97
9 A Hope-Shaped Ache 117
10 What If Love Ruled the World? 127
11 A Mother's Heart 141
12 The Way the World Is 153
13 A New Kind of Full-Time Mom 165
Reflection Questions 181
Go Deeper: Some Resources 209
Posted April 7, 2011
No text was provided for this review.
Posted April 7, 2011
No text was provided for this review.
Posted April 7, 2011
No text was provided for this review.