Anastazia became ill last year around this time. We’d just finished doing a fundraiser for getting her roof up. She’d had several difficulties – a relative dying, and a tough landlord selling her rental from underneath her before she could finish her house. We were super happy that so many people jumped in to help and we got the roof up. We thought.
Ana really wanted to move and underestimated the cost of the roof in her hurry and anxiety. When Gertrude went to visit her and take some follow up photos of the completed roof, she found Ana sleeping on the ground under the section of the roof that was done, shivering in the cold June weather. Not good for someone HIV positive whose body is also beginning to resist the drugs. We finished the roof.
A very long sick year ensued. Her father died. Ana became more and more ill. A big lump began to swell on her neck. She was moved to a relative’s home closer to Chikumbuso so the ladies could keep check on her and help. She started having heart palpitations. Doctors recommended first Gas-X and then scans, then surgery – which didn’t happen, thank God! Midnight phone calls and taxi rides to the hospital became frequent. She could hardly eat and lay in bed. Children were dispersed to others to be cared for. We became quite despondent.
“At least!” people say when they’ve been sick for some time and they come back. It means “At least I didn’t die.” One lady was telling her story of a prolonged illess. “The grave opened before me, and tried to draw me in, but I cried out, ‘Grave you can’t have me yet!’” There were many amens from ladies who had experienced similar close calls.
At least! Ana came to visit, though she was very worn out from the walk. Even though she was closer, it was still quite a distance for a woman who’d been lying in bed for nearly a year. But we encouraged her, keep coming, even one day a week so the muscles can get even a small bit of exercise, and so the stomach can get filled up with a yummy, nutritious Chikumbuso lunch.
She is now coming three days a week and looking more and more alive. I don’t quite know how beautiful, black skin can look grey, but it is frightening when it happens. Ana’s skin has lost that grey look and the rich chocolaty hue has come back to her cheeks. It’s a delight to see. She was sitting on the carpet on Wednesday with a couple of the women, helping them with color choices for some beach bags we’re sending to Linda. She’s our best designer and to see her taking a renewed interest lets us know she’s really come back to us.
But now the family that has been keeping her is also seeing her progress and they are quite ready for her to move on. We chatted about this as a community because when someone miraculously survives like Ana has, we all feel that we have a stake in keeping it up. Rather than go back to the house that is so far away in Kabanana, it was suggested that she rent a small place close by and rent out the house. But the house needs some other things completed before it can be rented out.
Pangono, pangono. A bit, a bit. Some of the ladies have built houses this way. A few blocks and a couple bags of concrete. A roofing sheet. A section of cement flooring. The pit latrine is always last, if you can imagine. Often folks without latrines move into the house anyway, hoping to use a neighbor’s until they can get their own built. It is a tortoise race that one must endure to have freedom from a landlord’s whim of selling or increased rent.
We bought a bunch of bracelets from Ana on Friday; she isn’t quite up to bags again yet. It will give her some money to get through the month, settle into a rental just behind Chikumbuso so she will remain close and not fall right back into the cycle of illness the cold weather inevitably brings. This is a short term fix as we contemplate different long term solutions. But, “At least!”