12 May 2010

Unga and Maharage

Because so many lovely people participated in Rice and Beans month, we received an installment of funds for the purchase of food for families in our program. We decided to spend it as quickly as possible. What good is money for food when people are hungry?

Leah and I sat down to sketch out a budget for the food money, and were quite impressed with ourselves at our ability to discuss the market price of salt and plastic bags and debate the practicalities of buying rice versus maize versus ground maize flour. We decided to take the simplest, most nutrion-packed course we could, buying maize flour (unga) and beans (maharage).

Just like with the Christmas money, we saw God miraculously expand our resources. We had an unprecedentedly high exchange rate, and the pastor made a connection with a new grinding mill who agreed to sell us the maize flour at distributor price, which saved us 450,000 shillings ($345 or so) which we used to buy more unga. Our regular beans supplier gave us a great price and even threw in some extra beans and arranged for delivery. They delivered the 1,875 kilos of flour and the 525+ kilos of beans, and Leah and I wrote each child's name on a bag of flour, then, while we conducted a parents' meeting, Leah and Jeff meticulously measured and weighed 75 bags of beans with 7 kilos in each.

Aside from three parents who were sick and two kids who came without their parents, there were representatives from all of the families, and they were so happy to receive the food. Some of the families have multiple children in the program, so they took their first share of unga and beans, and will get to return when they've used it in order to take their second, or in one case third, share. We have several families on our waiting list, so each of the families donated a bit of their unga to give to the waiting list families and we also gave them some of the extra beans.

After everyone received, we still have about 20 kilos of beans and about 20 kilos of unga left for emergencies in the coming months. We really thank God for this blessing. I could tell you so many stories, 75 in fact, of the difference this will make in these families, but the only words we, the staff, volunteers, kids and parents, have right now are "Asante, Mungu awabariki sana!" Thank you, God bless you all very much.

06 May 2010

Craziness, chaos, and confusion (and crying)...otherwise known as Tuesday

I made a deal with myself that I would update my blog every week, regardless of whether I could think of something to post or not, but I have not posted in three weeks, now, and that last post was a little...boring.

My life, however, is far from boring. Well, that's not entirely true. I was mentioning to Leah (my roommate) the other day that people often say to us "You live in Africa! That's so cool!", but our perspective is more "We live in Africa. Yup." We don't wake up every morning thinking "I am so blessed to have this opportunity", we think "crap, it's my turn to lead devotions". There is a lot of tedium in our lives, but we thank God for the tedium because when chaos strikes here, it's not usually a good thing. It isn't about getting reports in by deadlines, it is more about people dying. Chaos is not pleasant, and we have had a fair share of late.

Last week we took one of our girls, Victoria, to the HIV clinic because for about six months she has been wasting away before our very eyes. Victoria is an orphan living with her middle-class aunt, but the aunt puts no effort into caring for the girl. Victoria had tuberculosis back in March, and every time she has been offered food, she refuses it. Two weeks ago she contracted oral thrush, which is a fungus in the mouth. It covered her teeth, tongue, and down into her throat. We got her the medicine to treat that, and took her for a blood test to check her immunity levels. For a healthy person living with HIV, the count of white blood cells should be upwards of 400, below that you start on hard-core medicines to boost immunity. Victoria's blood tests came back on Tuesday at 10. In two months, her counts had plummeted over two hundred points. The doctor said to admit her right away to their HIV children's ward, but to expect that she might die any day. We spent Tuesday running all over town getting the things she would need in the hospital and finding a caregiver (the HIV+ mother of another girl in our program) to stay at the hospital with Victoria.

When we got to admitting at the Catholic hospital, they had to take Victoria's blood count again, which involves drawing blood, obviously. She cries at the sight of a needle, since she has to have blood drawn every few months to monitor her HIV, so I sat with her on my lap and covered her eyes which she screamed the entire time the needle was in her arm. I had to bite back my own tears. After the blood was drawn, she curled up in my lap and fell asleep. We carried her to her bed, prayed with the sisters who will be caring for her, and left. (Update: our last update is that she's asking for food and smiling!)

We returned to the church, and Mama Askofu immediately asked me to drive her to the house of one of the palliative care clients. Palliative care is for people who are in the last stages of a terminal illness, usually cancer, and is meant to help monitor pain and make the last months as easy as possible. Unfortunately GHMD has the only palliative care program in Dodoma, and it has an extremely small budget, mostly designed to pay a doctor who makes sure that the clients get the appropriate pain management drugs, although there's not much available more intense than Tylenol. We went to the home of a woman named Salome. She lives with her three daughters, aged 18, 11, and 5. She was lying on a bag, the kind that 25 kilos of flour come in, because cervical cancer has made her too weak to sit up for long periods of time. They share that same bag to sleep on each night, with a dirty khanga (cloth) for a bedsheet, on the mud floor of their single room. They'd eaten some porridge earlier in the day, and were not expecting to eat again.

I've seen a lot of desperate situations, but rarely have I seen so little hope in a woman's eyes. None of her girls have every gone to school, meaning that the oldest daughter's $17 per month salary for house cleaning is all she can ever expect to make to care for their family. When Salome dies, probably soon, that daughter will be the primary caregiver for the younger girls. I rarely cry during home visits, even the difficult ones like this one, but I couldn't help myself. I was so close to sobbing as the despair poured out of Salome's mouth, that I had to excuse myself to go lie down in the backseat of the truck. There was so little hope to offer her, and after spending the day mentally preparing for Victoria to die, I had no more strength in reserve.

I had about four more errands to run Tuesday evening after leaving that house, and I had barely enough energy to get through them all. The next day, Wednesday, we were able to take Salome to the hospital for a checkup, we got a mattress donated by Mennonite Central Committee, and used some food money sent by the Main family to buy them a couple of weeks worth of groceries. Hardly a long-term solution, but in such a desperate situation, even short-term solutions help.

I have decided I love monotony. I wish that every week was like last week, when the worst things I faced were a budget meeting and convincing a boy to go back to school. Chaos sucks.