Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Still an outrage

Zimbabwe Family Mourns AIDS Death
Cousin’s illness gave the author an insight into the desperate state of Zimbabwe’s healthcare system.

By J.J. Zhou in Harare (Africa Reports)

He called me on my mobile two days after the police had flattened his home in the Harare suburb of Mbare during President Robert Mugabe's now notorious Operation Murambatsvina [Drive Out The Rubbish].

He had nowhere to go, he said, and had spent the previous two wintry nights on the side of the road with his four-year old son. His wife had deserted him earlier when the ravages of Zimbabwe's urban poverty became worse than unbearable.

I told him he could come to my place. He was my first cousin and in our Shona society that meant he was family, and there was no way I could refuse to help him in his hour of need.

A four square metre wooden shack had been his home for a long time, so its destruction by the government was deeply traumatic - as it was for at least 700,000 other Zimbabweans made homeless by Drive Out The Rubbish. He had been orphaned when he was a schoolboy back in the mid-Eighties and did not have a rural home to go back to, which is what the ruling ZANU PF government suggested to those whose homes it wrecked.

Unfortunately, I did not have much space so I could only offer him the use of my garage, which had a small cooking stove and a door with access to our house and the bathroom. Down the phone, I sensed his relief. The garage was a much more comfortable and spacious dwelling than any he had lived in since he lost his full-time job 15 years earlier.

Once he settled in with his son, he tried his best to live a normal life. He would cycle every morning to the market where he touted for odd jobs. Initially, he took his son with him, but that became impractical. So we said our maid would look after the boy, a frolicsome, cheerful child who enjoyed playing in the street with the other kids.

Then my cousin's life changed dramatically. One morning he woke up with half his face covered in a rash of ugly blisters and purple splodges. After my doctor had conducted tests came the shocking news: my cousin had herpes but was also HIV-positive. The sores were symptoms of Karposi’s sarcoma, a skin cancer that is one of the most insidious opportunistic infections associated with the HIV virus.

We were all completely shattered. To make things worse, my cousin was soon completely immobilised as immense pain developed in his spine. He now spent his days lying on his back, and could not sit up at all. His meagre market earnings were no more. This badly dented his pride since he wanted to work and contribute to his upkeep and that of his son, no matter how menial the task he found at the market.

More and more frequently, he called me in the middle of the night to take him to the toilet because he had severe diarrhoea. He lost his appetite and went for days without eating.

The hospital did a CD4 cell count, an indicator of the strength of an individual's immune system which goes down as HIV progresses. His was 83, way under the benchmark 200, the point at which doctors put people with AIDS on anti-retroviral drug.

The hospital said they would get the drugs, but he would first have to undergo weeks of counselling before they would administer the first dose. This was so difficult for me to understand, because you did not need to be a medical expert to see that if he was to be saved at all he needed them immediately.

I soon discovered that the hospital had in fact run out of anti-retroviral drugs and that because of the pariah status of my country, 500 per cent inflation and a dire shortage of foreign exchange they could not be procured easily.

As my cousin waited, we could see him slowly losing his zest for life. Often he talked about the hopelessness he felt for his son’s future. He was literally surviving on water. He did not even have appetite for fruit. The doctor gave him stronger and stronger painkillers.

When the anti-retrovirals finally came he lit up with hope. We all thought, given our lack of expertise about HIV/AIDS, that the effect would be immediate, but 14 days after his first dose there was no improvement. He had not responded positively to medication. The doctor put him on morphine, because his Kaposi’s sarcoma had advanced badly. His back pain had become worse.

The hospital refused to admit him, saying he was terminally ill. We did not have enough money to hire a private nurse. He asked for crutches to help him get to the toilet.

My cousin talked more and more about his son’s future and began cursing Robert Mugabe. He had been a staunch supporter of Mugabe and the ruling ZANU-PF party, so much so that even when the majority of people living in Zimbabwe's towns and cities swung to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change he remained firmly behind Mugabe.

No one knows exactly what he had got up to in Mbare during the ugly events preceding the violent March 2005 general elections. I think it is possible he was a member of one of Mugabe’s vigilante groups who terrorised the ordinary people of Mbare who showed open support for the opposition.

When he moved in, it struck me that he had never imagined in his wildest dreams that Mugabe could be so cruel as to destroy people’s houses. It was not my cousin of old. He had seen the bulldozers for himself and military men beating up old women who could not understand why their homes were being razed.

Eventually he began messing his bed, an eventuality we had anticipated but dreaded. I thought there were limits to what I, his cousin, should be obliged to do. However, I could not ask our maid to clean him up and for cultural reasons my wife could never go anywhere near him.

Care fatigue was setting in. We asked other family members for help, but they were too busy with their lives to spare the time. I desperately sought someone to share the task of cleaning him regularly. I found his nephew, his sister’s son. He was duty bound to sit through what were now clearly his uncle’s death throes.

At the end, my cousin literally died in my arms as we were cleaning him, still hoping the hospital would be merciful enough to admit him and give him expert care in his last hours.

At the moment he died, his son was playing, as usual, with other kids on the street. It has not yet registered in his young mind what had happened to his father. We have taken on my cousin's boy as our own second son. I now have to prepare mentally and spiritually for the day when my new son will ask me what caused his real father to leave this earth.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Blood:Water Mission Christmas

From an email going out today...

As Christmas approaches and the end of the year follows, we’d like to share some opportunities with you:
First, we invite you to view our Christmas card...an opportunity to reflect on the incredible year that is coming to a close. http://www.bloodwatermission.com/ecard

From this card you will have the opportunity to share it with friends and family, as well as continue to support the work ahead. Every contribution given in the month of December will be matched by a corporate donor up to $25,000! Please consider making Blood:Water Mission a recipient of your end-of-the-year giving.

Also, many of you have asked about giving to Blood:Water Mission as Christmas gifts for friends and family. We’ve provided a gift card and some pictures on our website to help facilitate this: http://www.bloodwatermission.com/christmas.

Thank you for joining us on this journey. We wish you a warm and blessed Christmas season.

Your friends at Blood:Water Mission

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

new material

Last week and this week I've been working with Jars on new material...it is the most focused time I've had with them all year, and it is very refreshing to spend so much time with them. We're basically giving acoustic/stripped down demos life as a band, seeing how they translate with more instruments involved. The actual recording starts in early January, and the goal is to get songs to a good place so that everyone is on the same page when we get in the studio. I've already been asked, "What is the next record going to sound like?", and I honestly don't know yet. There are songs all across the roadmap, and more songs than will actually be on the record. We're just seeing where they go at this point.

Tonight our neighborhood group is going caroling at a nursing home in our area, and will get together afterwards for a little Christmas party. I haven't gone caroling in such a long time, and Sam has never been. I'm sure the kids will bring some excitement to things, as always! I'll give a report in the coming days.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

children in an upside down world

I love the writings of G.K. Chesterton. The second-most quoted person in the English language other than Shakespeare, he had the ability to speak and write eloquently and pointedly. He was not afraid to hit the debate table, even with the toughest challengers of his day (arguably with the greatest thinkers of the past 2-300 years). I often ponder why I enjoy his perspective of the world--and his ability to bring it to life through words. Each time I come to the same conclusion. He saw the upside-down nature of the world, the presence of paradox, and instead of running from it or pretending it wasn't there, he brought it to life and peace. True faith in Christ leaves me sitting in a place that isn't always comfortable and demands more than I can understand or do. And the greatest gift is that I am not alone, for God has provided His Spirit and His Word...and I should have the greatest confidence in these things, particularly His promises.

A child has the ability to sit in paradox and mystery a little longer than an adult. It seems the older you get, the more you think you've figured it out--yet the more you pursue to further understand. Ahhh, the irony. When Christ validates the presence--better yet the importance--of children, He says this: "Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." Children are able to trust without knowing, love without understanding, and believe without seeing more than me. Chesterton helps me sit in these words a little deeper. When I read his essays, stories, letters, and poetry, I feel like I'm looking at the world through the eyes of a child. And I begin to trust without knowing, love without understanding, and believe without seeing just a little bit more.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

almost there

I've almost completed Robert Murray M'Cheyne's design for reading through the Bible in one year...something I've never accomplished, and in the process I've found some pages and passages I'd never before read throughout my life. Why the M'Cheyne schedule? Who is he?

Robert Murray M'Cheyne was born in Edinburgh in 1813, living a short 30 years before his death. He was a passionate preacher of the word, with a beautiful approach to loving and serving his parish...some of the same things I've grown to love from Thomas Chalmers (one of his teachers and mentors). Early in his pastoral ministry, a heart difficulty was discovered, preventing him from preaching because his body simply could not handle it. He resolved to continue to serve his congregation and the community in the midst of such trials.

One of his priorities was to encourage his people--and himself--to read the Bible. In his words to a young man, "You read your Bible regularly, of course; but do try and understand it, and still more to fell it. Read more parts than one at a time. For example, if you are reading Genesis, read a Psalm also; or if you are reading Matthew, read a small bit of an epistle also. Turn the Bible into prayer...this is the best way of knowing the meaning of the Bible, and of learning to pray." He developed a scheme for daily reading that takes readers through the New Testament and Psalms twice each year, and the rest of the Bible once. In many instances I have been found myself reading the same words in different places in the Bible at the same time...an intentionality of M'Cheyne's to connect the Gospel story from Genesis to Revelation...to have ongoing context in whatever passage you are reading.

A helpful tool has been For the Love of God by D.A. Carson. It is a 2 volume collection stemming from M'Cheyne's chart of daily readings. He ties together the reading material from each day with a big-picture, contextual summary...giving more life to the words. I highly recommend this, and plan to start over again January 1st, this time stretching it out over the next 2 years to continue along the path but gain more focus on the passages (the one-year approach is great, but moves very fast!).

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