Remembering Alice and Mary (World AIDS Day 2010)

This post is a day late.  However, this post is also timeless.  Let us never forget those we have lost, and those still hoping for a cure.  May we never forget our promise and the fight yet to be won.

Alice.

As we pulled up to the mud hut, my wife and I grabbed each others hand.  Never had we been this close to poverty – and to AIDS.  We stepped out onto the dry ground, underneath the blazing sun.  The only shade was from the shadows of the hut and the tobacco plants growing around the property.  It was as if the family had walked into the middle of the tobacco fields, cleared out a small area, and built a hut.

The first to come out was the Grandfather.  The AIDS doctor we were assigned to, and our translator, asked for Alice.  The grandfather smiled and called for the grandmother, who came out from a dark room in the hut, wailing her arms and yelling at us.  We could tell what she was saying – though her words were not clear: “Leave us.  Go away.”  As the doctor and grandparents argued over our coming, I walked over to the darkened doorway.  It was then that I saw our patient sitting on a pair of pink pj’s, which were covered by the dirt they laid upon.  She was dressed in a faded and worn green dress.  She stared into the light, though it was a blank stare … as if she was lost in thought … in life.  I was speechless.

Once the grandmother found out that my wife and I were there to pray for her and her family, she finally allowed us to enter the room.  Apparently, though she wasn’t a believer, she did believe that a “preacher” was a good-luck charm for one’s house and family.  She approached me, hugged me, and asked me to bless them – to bring favor upon her family – as she rubbed my arms and hands.  Again, she saw me more as a good-luck charm then anything else.

Alice barely spoke.  She barely looked up when the doctor spoke to her.  It was like she wasn’t really even there.  As the doctor began to exam her and take her vitals, we quickly realized Alice was in bad shape.  She had, yet, another infection spreading throughout her body.  While she had full-blown AIDS, this new infection was killing her at a much quicker rate.  Her issue: malnourishment.  Her body was covered in sores, which came from not taking her meds.  She couldn’t take her meds because she wasn’t eating.  Alice was also starting to go blind and develop a mouth infection – she had gone without food for that long.  The tragedy of it all was this: it was not that Alice didn’t have the meds or the food – her family did, rather it was that her grandparents thought it was best Alice die, then for her to live.  They kept her from eating and taking meds that were working to save her life.  A month or so before, Alice was healthy and running around with her brothers.  Now, she was barely able to sit up, let a lone stand up, as any 12-year-old girl should be able to do.

That’s right.  Alice was 12.  And, that day, she weighed 15 kg – about 33 lbs.

As my wife and I gave Alice some food, her meds, and applied a cream to her body (sores), the doctor informed the grandparents that if they continued to “kill” their granddaughter, the AIDS organization was going to take her to another family that would care and support her.  They would have taken her that day, but the grandparents wouldn’t consent for them to do so – which by law needed to be done.  Apparently, the grandmother, who was behind starving Alice, thought she was the only one who could care for her granddaughter.

The doctor asked me to pray over the family.  It was one of the hardest prayer times I ever experienced.  Since I was praying out loud – with the doctor translating for me – I had to watch what I prayed.  I was filled with bitter anger and deep sorrow.  I stumbled through my prayer, passing the rest of the time off to my wife, who was also struggling to find words to put to what we were experiencing.  Our team gave Alice’s family some money for food, with final instructions on giving her the meds, and headed back to our truck.  The doctor, again, warned the grandparents that if Alice wasn’t improving when he returned – in three weeks – they would take her to another house.  They agreed that they would start feeding and helping her.  Of course they were lying.

By the time the doctor returned to the family, Alice was dead.

_____________________________________________

Mary.

It took us three hours to find her, but we were determined to do so.  Mary was dying, and most likely she was out of food, meds, and money.  Upon finally finding her, our suspicions were right.  As her kids ran around chasing the animals, Mary laid on the ground outside of her hut, moaning softly.  She looked dead.  The only sign of life was the fact that her eyes blinked – though they stared into space.

Mary’s mother-in-law greeted us when we arrived.  She was so thankful that we finally came.  The doctor and her discussed Mary’s frail condition.  The family had no meds or food to give to Mary, because of this, her body was just shutting down.  After giving her food, the doctor decided to change Mary’s meds and upped the dose.  Sitting up was a chore, as Mary was very weak and winced in pain.  She spoke softly, and kept her eyes closed most of the time.  She was grateful that we came to bring her things, and that we came to pray for her.  Although Mary was a believer in Jesus, her mother-in-law was a devout Muslim.  Normally this type of relationship wouldn’t exist – in Uganda – but the mother-in-law loved Mary as her own daughter … a love that moved beyond religious barriers.  Besides, she was the only family Mary had left.  They both needed each other.

See, Mary’s father had kicked her out to the streets, when it was discovered that Mary had AIDS.  Her kids were negative (Praise God), and her husband had already died from AIDS by then.  So Mary went to her mother-in-law, who graciously took her and her kids in.

Our team gave the family the rest of our money, food, and other necessities.  As we prayed over her, my heart poured out upon this young mother and family.  When we finished, and stood up, Mary began blessing us with thanks and God’s favor.  How humbling it was for a dying woman to ask God’s blessing upon us – strangers.  That was the last time the doctor would see Mary alive.  She died three weeks later, leaving behind four kids with an aging mother-in-law.

_____________________________________________

These stories, though seemingly tragic to us, are common in Uganda.  In fact, they are common world-wide.  The battle on AIDS is far from over, though we are gaining ground in defeating this epidemic.  More than money and meds, people with AIDS need our voices and our compassion.  They need us to see them as people, and not as a disease-stricken cause to pity.

May our hearts begin to break for people with AIDS.  May God’s Love and Passion flow from our hearts to theirs.  May they see Jesus within us; and may we show / give them Hope (and not just our wallets).

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.

(Isaiah 61:1-3 ESV)

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