The Wake

We quietly enter the living room, its small maybe 3 1/2 m by 2 1/2 m, as my eyes get accustomed to the darkness I see that there are about 10 women inside a few seated on chairs most on the floor.What little furniture the family owns has been set outside.My eyes find what they have looked for since coming in, Mama Marta. Her eyes have a forlorn, vacant look, her girl is gone the silver cord of life snapped. The women quietly make small talk among themselves and as more arrive a deathly silence engulfs us all. There is no respect for time, its difficult to calculate how long we sit in this haunting silence. There are two kittens by Mama Martas feet, oblivious to the fact that he came calling and took her, somehow time ran out…how is that possible?
I watch the kittens playfully attack what I can only imagine are invisible butterflies, how happy they are.

We now number about 25 women, somehow we have found room for all to squeeze in and sit in absolute silence. Mama Marta lies down, her oldest daughter says a few words to her but she is unresponsive…I wonder what she is thinking. Safira starts to sing, we all join, beautiful melodies and harmony to soulful songs of eternal hope, sadness and the realities of how hard life is here. Again there is no respect for time, we just sing, I cannot tell you for how long we go, we just sing. Some ladies begin to quietly cry, mama Marta is still lying on the floor, I wonder what she is thinking. If you are watching this from a distance you would think there was a schedule to everything that is being done. As if on cue the men who were quietly sitted outside walk in, we women shuffle around to make room for them we now number about 35 people, we continue to sing, it’s getting darker, more women crying, I wonder what Mama Marta is thinking.

The kittens are playing outside now near a small garden of bright beautiful flowers. I hear the happy sound of children playing outside and cheerful chirping of crickets announcing that night has come, the neighbours are outside cooking supper for Mama Marta and her family.Life goes on.

We keep on singing, the men join us.Then my father speaks a few words…I cant remember most of what he said, I think it went along the lines of standing beside a hurting mother and holding on to the hope, we as christians shall see her daughter one day. We continue sitting in silence until it starts to rain then we slowly shuffle out of the house, mama Marta does not seat up to say bye…I wonder if she will ever be the same again…I wonder if she will die from a broken heart.

How does one run out of time?

Aulina (pronounced Awwlina) was my friend, she was 22 years old married and 7 months pregnant with her first child. Four days ago her mother received a call that she was dead and so was her baby, there had not been any warning of her sudden departure. Doctors wont explain what went wrong. In two hours time, I shall be attending her burial … how does one run out of time?

THE BABY.

These last days death has been on my mind a lot.  Friend, can you believe that he even has the audacity to visit me in my dreams? I wish he would leave me alone! I know it is strange to talk this way about him but you have to understand, in my line of work(I deal mainly with HIV/AIDS orphans) I am  surrounded by the effects of death. He is never too far away, always lurking behind the memories of the children I help, he is the very reason their lives are so difficult and at times abusive.

I have wanted to share this story for years but each time I read what I had written I did not feel like it did any justice to the short life of the baby boy who made such an impact on my life.

THE BABY.

In Africa it is common practise to give a baby a name that has a meaning. I was first introduced to the baby when he was still in his mother’s womb.  His mother visited my house often and always told me when he was born I would name the baby. I always thought she was pulling my leg as no one had ever asked me to do this before. A day after he was born, his mom was at our house asking for the baby’s name. Only then did I realize that she was serious.

I spent a week thinking over various names and asking my family what they thought and finally came to the name “Tendai.” It means “give thanks” in Shona a Zimbabwean language.

Tendai and his mother visited us often, he was a little charmer. At six months Tendai got sick, at first we thought it was just the normal diarrhea that little babies in this part of the world occasionally suffer from. Nevertheless my mother encouraged his mom to take him to a local clinic. That was on a Friday.

On Monday, Tendai’s condition had worsened, the clinic had done nothing to help him. When his mom brought him home Monday afternoon he looked like he was dead… its amazing how fast a baby can lose so much weight in just two days, gone where the chubby ebony cheeks. As my mother held his weak frame she wept deeply, I realise now what she knew then;  when you often deal with death you can sense him in the room, patiently bidding his time till he robs life from us once again.

My friends and I were not willing to give up on the little boy and decided to rush him to a hospital 30 mins away. I remember Tendai made no noise, he was too weak to do anything but give out very shallow breaths. The car was in silence except for the occasional cries of a mother loosing her baby and the desperate prayers for a miracle that we quietly shouted to the one who understands suffering more than anyone else, Jesus.

When we arrived at the hospital I took Tendai from his mothers hands and as I held him, he released the rest of the water that was in his body, a sure sign that he had just died. With my clothes covered in liquid I held the baby in my arms, my two friends and I did not have the heart to tell Tendais’ mom that her pride and joy had just gone. . . at that moment she was running towards the hospital looking for anyone who could help them.

Many African government hospitals are often places where people go to die than recover, when we entered the hospital all we could see where rows of people holding someone who was dying or in great pain. We called for a doctor or a nurse but all we got were vacant stares from others who had been waiting hours for help that was taking its time to arrive.

I ran out of the E.R and entered another section of the hospital. The pediatric ward to my knowledge should be filled with nurses, doctors and children of all ages recovering. I hope to never enter a pediatric ward like the one I walked into, it was deathly quiet, no children, no doctors, no help. As we stood helplessly not knowing what to do next, a man came towards us took one look at the baby and referred me to a room.

Inside the room where two doctors engrossed in a lively conversation. They took one look at me and the baby and continued talking as if I did not exist. I stood there for what felt like an eternity doing my best not  to crumble into a heap of tears. I finally asked them, “whats wrong with the baby?” Irritated to find I was still in the room with them they flippantly responded, “this baby is not our responsibility it died before we got it, there is nothing we can do.”and immediatly continued with their personal conversation.

No one wanted to tell the mother the truth so I told her. . . no one should tell a mother she has lost her love. . .  babies are not meant to die.

The man from the mortuary quickly decided he didn’t want to deal with a grieving mother and so chose me to take Tendai to the mortuary. We entered a small van that had seen better days and whose inside floor had traces of blood of another who death had taken. Had I known they would take me to the back entrance of the mortuary maybe I would have declined to go, I just wanted to make sure Tendai would be OK. What I saw will haunt me for the rest of my life.

The last memory I have of Tendai is when a half drunk mortuary man grabbed Tendai like a sack of potatoes opened the door to a cold room that was lined with wooden shelves on which lay at least 40 uncovered human bodies…he found a little corner and shoved him there.

The whole time I was at the hospital I was like a stone, I knew the only way I could handle the situation and be strong for Tendai’s mom was to switch off emotionally. It was only when my friends and I got home that I broke down and wept.

Some memories are hard to revisit but still they come, clamoring to be remembered, refusing to be ignored. Today the memories and the pain of Tendai’s story feel as if it all happened yesterday and yet its now going onto 4 years.

babies are not meant die but sometimes . . . they do.

gilda’s mother died last week

gilda.

gildas mother died last thursday. she hadnt been sick for long. gilda is 13 years old and i have known her for close to 7 years.she has been part of a small group of girls i have been discipling for about 5 years now. broke my heart to see her cry. i did not know her mother had died till sunday, couldnt get to see her till today wednesday cause i have been sick.low income families cannot afford a mortuary so it is customary to keep the body at home for a day before it is buried but when her mama died the landlady demanded that her body be buried immediatly because she didnt want a dead body in her house(extremely disrespectful of her!) and so a couple hours later she was buried.
. . . . . . .  just-like-that, she was gone!
how could a person be so callous that they dont give children time to say goodbye to their mother?

they dont allow children to cry at funerals here . . . some traditions are not meant to be honored! if  i had been there i would have made sure that gilda and her younger brother been given the right to cry.  i dont know what will happen to gilda, she has now lost both parents and her life will depend on the good will of close relatives. maybe they will be good to her, maybe they wont. at the end of the day life is going to be difficult.

as i left her house, i heard news about another child of mine, marieta. she is 11 years old i was told she has become a streetkid, she ran away from home where she lives with her grandmother and uncle both who are very abusive towards her. i dont know how i will find her because she just roams the streets of our community. our community is large and has a population of around 50 000 people . . . not a safe place for a little girl to roam at night. sometimes people have seen her sleeping in trees other times at the steps of our church other times at different peoples homes.

at times my work feels like a plumber almost done fixing a leak only to find 3 other places that are leaking worse than the first one. it can be rather discouraging to be honest.

you know what i think friend? what we need is a home for children like gilda and marieta . . . maybe thats what we need to start my friend, a home.  will start praying about it.

this is my dad…the legend

 its been nearly a week since my dad got back from south africa. the last time i had seen him was nearly three months ago when my brother rushed him on a sunday night to the hospital after he had vomited a couple litres of blood. for those who didnt exactly know what was going on, this is the very short version of a very long story:

on the day of my graduation from bible school, April 30th my dad got sick from bells palsy and ramsey hunt syndrome, sicknesses that make a person look like he had a stroke but its not actually a stroke. three weeks later when i got home he looked like he was recovering well then a couple days later things took a turn for the worst. at that time we didnt know that some of the medication he had been taking had reacted to a dormant ulcer in his stomach causing him to bleed internally. in one week he almost died twice, when he tells the story he says he could feel he was leaving his body and was at peace. on both occasions he vomitted a lot of blood, when it happened the second time it was on a sunday night we decided that he should be taken to the hospital although we really didnt want to take him there because we knew that the only hospital that could possibly help him is notorious for having bad service delivery.

the treatment that my father received at the hospital was beyond terrible,evil. i still find it very hard to talk about that terrible week. maybe oneday over a good cup of tea i will explain it well to you. what i can say is this because of his ulcer my dad had 4 pints of blood left in his body, an adult should have 15 pints. the nurses refused to give him blood even though 6 people donated 1 pint each specifically for him until one doctor forced them to give him 2 pints. for reasons only known to those nurses they where determined not to help him recover at all, they wanted him dead. in the three days he was in hospital he received no food or any types of liquids and at one point a number of nurses and a doctor stood around his bed waiting for him to die. but he did not die!

its a miracle that my mom managed to pull him out of there and fly him straight to south africa where he got special care. its a miracle that by the time he got to south africa he did not need any blood transfusion even though he had lost so much blood.its a miracle that he survived three nights in that hospital.

People always wonder where i get my tenacious faith and passion to pray. whenever i share my life story i always start of with my parents, their devotion to God and passion to serve him even in the most trying circumstances has always encouraged me to step out and do things that i think are way beyond my capability. my dad is my hero, and a legend to many:) oneday a book should be written about his crazy life, after all if God is your boss He has promised that your life will never be status quo.

on death and prayer.

In these last few weeks, my dads illness has caused me to ponder a lot on how God works in the area of giving and taking life, I am left with more questions than answers concerning how this works. On three occasions in one week we pleaded to God for Him to give more life to my dad. The memories of that week are still so hard to deal with, to be honest I would rather not even talk or write about them. In my line of work I have always had many questions concerning death and prayer. When death came so close to home the questions in my heart intensified their demands for answers, answers I may never get this side of life.

For example; did our prayers change anything? Did we need to pray as much if  it was not his time to go? Can prayer change Gods plans?…if we had not spent ourselves praying for his recovery would he have died?

I have read and heard stories of people being unable to die because family was not letting them go. I guess some people are skeptical of such stories because there is no theological backing for such events. in that week, we as a family experienced this very situation, he was ready to go but we held on to him. We begged, pleaded and cried to our Father and so many friends and family around the world joined us in our plea and he came back to us. I don’t care what you may think I know for a fact it was not my dads will that kept him alive it was a pure miracle from God, it cannot be explained.

I am not one to act as if i have all the answers to being a christian. This entry does not want answers, this is me sharing my thoughts on how confusing prayer can be to me. Sometimes things are just not black and white.

…they say when you pray never demand from God cause who are we to tell the Creator what to do…in that week we demanded of God and he heard us…

I am thankful that heaven is for an eternity, there is so much my human mind does not understand  now. I am looking forward to long conversations not just with Jesus but with all the others that have gone before me concerning His sovereignty.

I wonder even then will i be able to fully comprehend it?