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South Africa

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The Aftermath – South Africa

Thursday, May 1, 2008 |
Posted by admin
Categories: AIDS, HIV, South Africa
HIV/AIDS is changing the landscape of nations. This panorama is what local communities throughout many nations in Africa and Asia live with on a daily basis. Week after week a steady stream of loved ones, family members, neighbors, and friends are laid to rest because of AIDS. Fresh graves... these are fresh graves. The HIV infection rate in this province of South Africa is above 33% of the population. If these are the reported statistics, then certainly the actual numbers are much higher. One must understand that many of the rural poor do not get tested. They cannot afford to get tested, have limited access to health care systems, and face alienation if identified as having HIV. Better not to know...Often people die of complications due to AIDS, so their HIV status is never reported to the statisticians. A death certificate names the cause of death as something other than HIV/AIDS: pneumonia, TB, or any number of other opportunistic diseases that piggyback on top of the HIV virus. While surveying the graveyard, a guide explains that the mounds of dirt at the edge of the hill are in anticipation of the mass burials that will take place on the following Saturday. So many people in the community die of AIDS and AIDS related illnesses that the gravediggers need the week to dig enough graves to accommodate the bodies needing burial. Additionally, the economic survival of the community is in jeopardy - too many workers need time off during the work week to bury their loved ones. Saturday has become the designated burial day. All day, every Saturday, the local pastors and priests pay their final respects and their tributes to the deceased. All day, every Saturday, streams of people from the local villages repeat the grieving, the heart wrenching good-byes. The very fabric of community and family is ripped apart over and over again. Every Saturday in the burial rites these dear ones have to readdress the enemy head on. Murderer, robber, liar, and thief, Satan is disguised in the form of a virus. And just think: this is only one graveyard, in one village, in one province, in only one of the countries that is being ravaged by the monster, HIV/AIDS.
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Wounded Female – Masai Mara, Kenya

Tuesday, April 29, 2008 |
Posted by admin
Categories: South Africa
It was an early morning safari. Our group came upon a cluster of bushes out in the middle of the grassland. There asleep in the shade was a male lion and several lionesses. The male and one of the lionesses gave great photographic opportunities. Another lioness, however, was clearly agitated. She awakened, emitted a few guttural growls, stood up and panted. She slowly moved out of the shade cover into the tall adjoining grasses. Our safari team was captivated by the remaining animals. Cameras clicking, we recorded the encounter with the pride until our guide decided to move on. On a mission, he cruised rapidly across the grassland. He was tracking something with his trained, professional eyes. Using binoculars, I could see a form camouflaged against the grassland. As we got closer, I could tell that it was the lioness from earlier and that she was walking with a limp. When the lioness walked by our van, I could see the cause of her compromise. She was wounded: the top of her head had a large puncture, its center oozing with fresh fluids. Poor thing, limping, obviously in pain, and she could not find a place of solitude to rest and recuperate. She had to keep moving. This female lion roared to me from her position of pain. I surmised that she had been simply doing what her instinct told her to do: care for her young, hunt and provide food for herself and her offspring, work as her nature dictated she work. But in the daily mess of living, she had been wounded. She had been gored; she had been gashed. Now she had the extra complication of the injury impairing her ability to function. This female lioness reminded me of me, my sister, my girlfriends, and so many of us. How many of us live our lives as wounded females? The daily battles of life leave us wounded and compromised. The list of traumas is endless: an alcoholic spouse, work, a disabled child, cancer, death of a loved one, an abusive tongue or an abusive hand, financial pressure, a brood of children, aged or dying parents... Any one of these life issues gores and maims. I looked at the lioness and saw the human condition. Panting, injury oozing, we must lumber forward in order to survive. Recalling my own injuries, my mind flashed to the source of my strength and ability to carry on. "For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.'" (Isaiah 41:13, NIV). Pain? Yes. Wounds? Yes? Fear? No. Alone? No. No other source has provided the healing. No other source has helped me carry on. No other source has brought hope to the hopeless situation. I looked at the pain on the lioness' face and prayed for the animal. The Master cares about her as much as He cares about me. There in the presence of pain and brokenness, I began to hum a song. "Hail, hail Lion of Judah. How wonderful you are." Move forward. Carry on.
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Boy with a Net Hat – Mgona Slum Area, Malawi

He came to be a part of the event of the day. Great excitement filled the air. The pastors and chiefs had set up some handmade chairs on the parking area. Women sang songs of welcome. The boys used their makeshift musical instruments to keep time with the singing. Throngs of children darted here and there trying to get close to one of the honored guests. It is not everyday that white visitors come into Mgona. Outside Lilongwe, Malawi is the slum area known as Mgona. It is home to some 30,000 people. The community is a collection of ratty cardboard, tin scrap, or brick huts. The roofs of the houses generally are a combination of skimpy patches of thatch and scraps of plastic sheeting. The roofs are held in place by bricks, or tin, or an old tire, or a chunk of log. One does not wear sandals while touring Mgona. There are small streams of open sewerage, or garbage heaps throughout the narrow alleyways within the community. The meeting was held on the outskirts of the slum adjacent to the set of railroad tracks and the garbage dump that divide Mgona from the outside. White and blue plastic remnants stick partially exposed amongst the heaps of rotting garbage. There is no way around it. One has to walk over the garbage and over the railroad tracks to enter into the rabbit warren spaces of Mgona. I have seen both adults and children stop on their travels on their way out of or into the settlement. An occasional treasure might be lurking under the decomposing matter. This day the chiefs gave their official greetings. The pastors came one by one to tell of their delight in having the visitors come to their part of the world. The Mgona dignitaries were dressed in their clean and finest clothing. More songs. More clapping and laughter and dancing occurred. I tried to stay as present as possible but was completely distracted by one fellow. He had come over the railroad tracks and across the mounds of garbage just as the program had begun. He was barefooted and in dirty clothes. Seeing the festivities, hearing the sounds, he paused momentarily. He assessed the crowd and then sensing the importance of the occasion, he bent down to sift through the garbage at his feet. A smile of discovery illuminated his face. He pulled out a treasure perfect for this important gathering. Skipping now towards the strangers, he wormed his way through the other children and came to present himself as much an honored guest as any of the foreigners. With all of the pride and confidence that comes from being suitably attired for a party, he saddled up next to me. There on the top of his head was his new-found hat, the ticket of admission to the celebration: the plastic remnants of an old vegetable sack. I gave him a smile of admiration. Reaching out to touch his hat and his head I commented, “Oh, how handsome you are!” He beamed at the acknowledgment.
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Coffin Makers

The grip of death through HIV/AIDS strangles Africa and other undeveloped parts of the world. Statistics for sub-Saharan Africa alone report a pandemic that caused over 2 million deaths in 2006. That is 5,479 deaths per day. That is 228 per hour. Or, that is AIDS and AIDS related illnesses claiming the lives of four Africans per minute. All across Africa the local coffin makers report being over-worked. One could say that the coffin making business is in a boom phase. Coffins of all sizes, for infants, for toddlers, for elementary aged kids, for teens, and of course for adults are needed to bury the dead. To visit the coffin maker’s site reminds the observer of a distorted similarity to sets of Russian nesting dolls. Starting with the largest size and narrowing down to the infant size, the boxes nest one in the other. It is not a “one size fits all” pandemic. No one is immune. There are stacks of the nesting caskets along the sides of the workshop, back behind it, and lying in the front. The businessman knows that it is important to keep a high inventory. The question is never, “Will it be sold?” It is only, “When, where, and to whom?”