Walking: that's what I've been doing the past two days.
I walked uphill and downhill. I walked barefoot on smoothly paved roads past manicured lawns, flamboyant trees, a tiny white kid running and chatting with his tiny black friend in Chichewa all alone with no parents in sight, and a number of tall brick walls topped with electrical wiring that protects the foreigners who have chosen these elaborate and expensive homes in this still developing country.
I traipsed around on red dirt paths in my dusty sandals, across wooden bridges with some unhinged slats, stepping over discarded banana peels, skeleton corn cobs and flattened plastic bottles, past homemade signs for fruit stands, tuck shops, more flamboyant trees (my favorite), small homes made of mud or brick or metal scraps, straw walls that would take very little huffing and puffing to blow down, and two tiny Chichewa girls laughing and clapping and singing a little rhyme in English.
This is Malawi--her beauty, her contradictions, her complexities, her roads . . .
Today's walk was with my dear friends of Tiwasunge (Tee-wah-soon-gay). These friends are all HIV+, and they have come together in this community-based organization to care for one another and support each other. These friends are beautiful.
We walked all around Kampala village (the Olivers' neighborhood--they do not live with the other foreigners or "azungus;" they live among Malawians) for home visits, praying with bedridden members of the community and meeting orphaned children whose school fees are paid for by Tiwasunge.
I met Cedric, whose parents both died of HIV. He was fortunate for Tiwasunge to pay his fees through form 4 (secondary school). He applied to university but did not get in. But Lucy says it matters not if he got in or not. "If they don't get into university, we have a problem. If they do get into university, we have a problem," she says. In Malawi, I've met too many young people with dreams and hopes and acceptance letters for their preferred university whose education comes to a screeching halt after form 4 exams. Who will pay for their university fees when they are accepted? For the young people supported by Tiwasunge, Lucy has no answer. The organization just cannot afford the expense. Education is power in Malawi--power over poverty, over disease, power to assist their neighbors, to educate other Africans, to increase the hope on their beautiful continent--and these young people quickly become dis-empowered after secondary school.
I also met a woman who has been bedridden for four months now. We could not mention HIV to her or around her, though that is her diagnosis. She believes she has been bewitched and that she has ways to get rid of it. Which means she's probably not so consistent with her ARV's if she takes them at all when the Tiwasunge friends are not around.
She was lying on a piece of foam placed haphazardly on top of bed springs in a dark, dank room that smelled of mud and smoke and manure. We visited her, prayed with her, gave her fresh bananas. Tiwasunge usually wash their patients, feed them more, take their clothes and wash them, provide medicine. They have used their limited funds wisely on supporting education and food for the orphans, but this means they have not been able to afford all of the materials for home-based care in the last couple of months. The bag I remember them carrying 2 years ago on home visits is now very light. But their spirits and belief in prayer is as strong as ever. And I know they will persevere, that God will provide.
I am tired from all of the walking (literally . . . about to take a nap). But I am also tired from all of the disparity. I am tired of seeing 9-month-old babies who are emaciated and don't look like they've been here a day more than 3 weeks. I am tired of knowing HIV destroys lives daily across the world, especially knowing that it's a disease that people can live with if poverty didn't rear its ugly head.
I am also energized to reorganize Pray With Africa and partner with Tiwasunge. I am energized to see what God will do with Tiwasunge and how I can be a part of their story. I am energized to think more about the way I live and how, without even thinking about it, I contribute to a poverty that kills worldwide.
I am hopeful. God is good. And God is desperately in love with us, God's children. The end of our stories is abundant life, and knowing this gives me hope.