10 January 2012
Title: service and learning.
This morning we began, as we often do, at Afrika
Tikkun. We split into two groups and
headed into Delft and Blekkesdorp to do patient visits. JLB, the Bean, Shira, Ky, Daisy, Jessica,
Marika, Alexa, Shauna and I chose to stay in Delft. We first went with a nurse who works at Afrika Tikkun to visit one
of her clients. As we arrived at the
house, she was explaining to us that the family she works with has a 21 year
old son, two older sons, and a younger daughter and son. The 21-year-old suffers from both mental and
physical handicaps and is confined to a bed at this point. He also suffered from epilepsy, but hasn't
had a seizure for two months. As she
went to ask the family if it was okay that we came to visit, most of us were
nervous. The nurse returned and ushered
us inside. The mother was so welcoming
and we were shown to a small bedroom off of the living room.
Her son was just laying there, so skinny. None of us had expected this. But, when the mother grabbed his hand, he lit up. The nurse and the mother explained to us that a social worker had tried to take him and place him in a home, but she couldn't give him up. He was her son, she could care for him in the proper way and give him all the love and attention that he needs. She gives him physio (physical therapy) everyday and the nurse attends three times a week. The nurse gave the family her phone number, so she can come and relieve the mother at any point--even in the middle of the night. At one point, the nurse had asked the mother if we could take photos. This is when we became uncomfortable. This is something our group has struggled with continuously throughout our time spent in the townships. Some of us feel as though taking photos of the conditions in the townships is like taking photos of zoo animals. 110% of the time, according to Anthea, people will allow you to take photos of them, of their homes, families. These people want you to remember them, in the least in a photo. But this situation felt different. It was so close, so real. No one else wanted to take photos, but the nurse had already asked the mother. Not taking a photo of her son, home, family would be perceived as rude. So, I took one of the most uncomfortable photos of my life adnd the mother made a comment to her son about how sexy we looked in our shorts. I then asked if it would be possible to take a photo of the mother with her three children, the child with the handicaps as well as the two younger siblings that were playing with their brother while we were there. It was one of the most touching moments of my life. Another thing I really struggled with was that the mother had said that he had been waiting for a new buggy (wheelchair) for two months because his old buggy was ten years old. She can't even bring him to the hospital by herself, so she needs to call a transport for the both of them every time he goes into physio or for an appointment. A few things from this visit really have resonated with me:
1. The love of the mother for her son. Watching the son know the difference between the touch of my hand versus his mothers, and his face light up when his mother held his hand was just amazing. There's no other word for it.
2. It was really hard for me not to take money and go try and buy a new buggy for him. I know that we had talked about making promises and how not being able to fulfill those promises has the ability to be mire harmful than if we had not come at all.
3. I was also reminded of IHS (Indian Health Service) back home. Indian people can go into IHS and get "free" healthcare. It is definitely not private health care by any means, where you are treated quickly and the facilities are state of the art. Delft Community Health Center actually reminded me of IHS and I'm not sure why it took me this long to realize it.
The next patient we visited was a HIV positive woman. While we were waiting for her to agree to talk to us, one of the women she lived with came out and hugged each of us and wished us a happy new year. Instead of going into her home, the woman came out to speak to us with a beautiful baby on her hip. Everyone was paying attention to the baby and saying how cute she was in awkward silences. We learned that she had been on ARV's for the past five years. She found out she was HIV positive when she had TB twelve years ago. I can't imagine this. One thing I was very mindful of while hearing her story is that life isn't all doom and gloom in the townships. This woman may be living with HIV and has had TB, but it isn't a death sentence. She still is fully functioning, able to live a full life despite disease. Some days are worse than others, but she's still here. Thank God she's still here.