Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Measuring Cups - September 28, 2010
These past weeks, as summer has spread into fall, I find myself thinking of some of the homes I visited while in Africa. As Canadians begin to "nest" and ready themselves for winter, particularly here in the Prairies, I am aware once again of how luxurious my life is simply because of the superiority in housing and clothing and foods that we take for granted.I've been thinking particularly about one of the home visits I went on in Mulenga with Cynthia, Loveness and Sukai. These are the women that I've spent the most time with, learned the most about and had the greatest affinity with. Being able to spend an entire day with these women was literally one of the best days of my life, simply because I was with those I love, being challenged and humbled and honored. Some days just stand out. While walking through the pathways of Mulenga with these women, there is much laughter and conversation. There is much I don't understand simply because of the language barrier but I always feel included as there is a level of understanding between friends in daily conversations. Many times I laugh along and one of them would ask if I understood and I would say what I thought they were talking about and we'd all be surprised to realize that I did know what the conversation entailed. There is one part of this particular day that I feel incredibly sheepish to share and yet, it has become a huge leap in my understanding of myself as well as of the way I view others and the world.One of the homes we went to visit was the home of a man named Abuday. As we approached the home, we were greeted at the doorstep by two little girls who were just beginning to eat their midday meal. We were invited into the home and I was surprised to see a well laid out little living area with couches and chairs, a curtained kitchen area where the meal was prepared and a doorway leading to what I assumed was a small sleeping area. I remember being particularly surprised by the meal that was being served as it included vegetables, beans and nshima - quite a well balanced nutritional meal. The young woman of the home cleared the dishes off the small table as we sat down and she sat herself with her back to us, behind the curtain in front of the cooking area. I could see that she had a well equipped little cooking area with pots and pans and a small charcoal cook stove, a small bucket for washing dishes, even a measuring cup. She continued to eat her meal off her lap and took care of the little ones as they finished their meals and sat back down on the step.Abuday was a young man, probably in his 30's. He was very soft spoken and greeted each of us quietly. He was particularly interested in where I was from and why I was there and we talked for a few minutes before I realized that he was speaking English beautifully. I asked him where he had learned to speak so well and he said that he had had an education and was taught English but rarely used it. His accent was barely detectable although at times, his voice was so quiet that I had to strain to hear him although the home was very quiet. I began to wonder why we were there. He revealed to the care workers that he was having difficulty getting a diagnosis for the extreme fatigue and breathlessness that he was experiencing. He had spent the past few months losing strength and missing work because he was unable to muster the energy to walk to work, much less spend the day working. He said that his wife was as understanding as she could be but that she was also very worried because they were losing income and that she couldn't understand why he could not gather energy to work. As the care workers asked questions, Abuday revealed that he had been to the local clinic several times but could not produce any sputum to be analyzed for the testing processes. The clinic workers encouraged him to jog to the clinic so that he would be able to produce the sample they needed when he arrived. He was turned away from the clinic, twice, until he was able to have this test done. He felt that the clinic was treating him unfairly for not giving him a blood test. As the care workers discussed the possibility of taking Abuday to another clinic the next day, my mind began to wonder why this family was considered vulnerable enough to receive these visits. They were living better than most of their neighbours, they had things that others didn't have - pots, pans and even measuring cups. I looked at the way they lived and thought that perhaps this family wasn't as vulnerable as most. We stayed a while longer as the care workers arranged to get Abuday to another clinic the following day. As we left, Abuday and I had a short conversation, again in English, and I encouraged him to continue to seek the best care possible so that he could take care of his beautiful wife and girls. No sooner were the words out of my mouth than did the vulnerability of this family hit me...this family was on the precipice of a life changing diagnosis. If Abuday was unable to work or provide an income for his family, there would be no food to fill those pots, pans or the stomachs of those small daughters sitting in the sun on the step. I'm embarrassed to admit that I allowed myself to judge them as living well for a small luxury like a measuring cup. I am reminded of a verse that says that by the measure which we judge, so will we be measured. Ugh. I got it then. I get it now. I hope I don't forget.The next day, Abuday went to a second clinic with one of the care workers and received a blood test and a diagnosis. A day earlier, I didn't fully understand the vulnerability of this family. The diagnosis confirmed that Abuday was HIV positive and his breathlessness and lack of energy were because of the secondary diagnosis of tuberculosis. Abuday now has AIDS. Being there in that short window between the hope of a simple infection versus a life changing diagnosis - well the lives it changed were not only of those that live in that small, cement home in Mulenga. Mine has been changed as well. Their lives are considerably more vulnerable these days. I'm trying to remember that each of us are vulnerable in our own ways, regardless of the things we have and that we measure each other by. I pulled out a measuring cup this morning, one of three that I own, and realized that I would never have counted myself rich because of them...but I do now.