Wednesday, February 25, 2009

zimmmm! (days 1 and 2)

the first word that came out of my mouth as we crossed the border:
zimbabwe is a beautiful country. it almost reminds me of switzerland. well, what i imagine switzerland to be like. villages and towns are surrounded by vast mountain ranges overlooking valleys of green.
zimbabwe is also completely different from mozambique. most people know how to speak english and know how to speak it well. in the past, zimbabwe boasted of its high standards in education compared to those in other african countries. villages, houses, and roads are also very structured; rows of identical living compartments are ordered as "court 1," "court 2," etc. in the past, people in mozambique who had severe illnesses or injuries would cross the border into zimbabwe to receive medical help.
all that has changed. zimbabwe now faces economic and political disaster. inflation has done so much damage to the currency that zimbabwean dollars are worthless. the most recent bill printed out was marked "one trillion zimbabwean dollars." you can't even buy a mango with that. only south african rands and us dollars are accepted as valid form of currency. "forex" -- they call it. schools are closing down everywhere, and children are seen loitering in the streets or are stuck in an even sadder case -- they're in their uniforms walking from town to town in search of a school that would accept them. teachers are getting paid, but in zimbabwean dollars, so teachers are quitting. those who stay demand that parents pay hundreds of dollars for a term's tuition; might as well make it a million. hospitals are also closing down everywhere even though cholera is spreading. the government has also stopped giving out arv's for new cases of patients with hiv. people are crossing the border into mozambique because there is no food in zimbabwe. people are starving. people are dying.
it is so hard to imagine that such a beautiful place can have so many problems underneath.
i had a chance to briefly visit a few places in zim with a group of visitors from hands hub in south africa who came to see the projects in mozambique and those starting up in zim.
day 1 [2.15.09] : good bye, mozambique!


herman and marc, the troublemakers of our party.

kept on pulling pranks!

day 2 [2.16.09]: home-based care in mutare


julia greeted by school girls.

this vovo (granny). she is blind but takes care of 8-10 children in her home (some shown two photos down); most of them are children of neighbors who passed away. everyday, the kids go out to beg for food or money. while begging, one of them got bitten by a dog and has an infection that is being left untreated.


daughter and mother.

emily, one of the hands staff, showed us around her childhood home in zimbabwe.

home-based care volunteers in mutare.

billion zimbabwean dollar bills found in the trash.

money, money, money.

"we had to carry bags of billion dollar bills to buy one piece of bread!"

we all came back trillionaires!

overlooking our "catchment" area.

this guy. i thought he was a security guard, but as emily talked to him, we discovered he just came up to the hills to get some fresh air, to get away from all the troubles down there. as emily simply put it --"to get away from staring at the four corners of his wall."

Friday, February 13, 2009


last friday was my first experience in encountering something so real but so…


tuesdays and fridays, i go on home-based care in a community called nhembia. the people in this community live relatively far from each other and grow their own maize on their mashambas (gardens). if they don’t have a bicycle or money to catch a shapa (local taxi), people must walk tens of kilometers to visit a market to obtain anything else.

a home-based care visit in nhembia with a volunteer named marcelino led us to the home of a thin and gaunt middle-aged lady. she greeted us, bringing us a mat for us to sit down on. she talked a little, but didn’t say much; it was apparent that she was very sick. every word was interrupted by what seemed like a chronic cough.

“is she positive?” i asked.

we don’t know, marcelino said. she didn’t get tested.

“did you go to the hospital?” marcelino asked her.

no, she said. no money for transport. a ride to the hospital costs 12 meticais. less than 50 cents.

i wanted to give her something, but realized i didn’t have the change on me. we decided to take her to the hospital after marcelino and i finished our visits to the other homes.

in the afternoon, we drove her to the hospital in gondola, another community that is somewhat more developed. she was immediately tested for hiv. positive. the doctor also conjectured that her cough was most likely tuberculosis – not surprising seeing that she was hiv-positive.

the doctor was about to give her arv’s and the protocol to test for tuberculosis until the lady told marcelino and the doctor that she will not take arv’s.

there was no way that she could be positive. her husband didn’t die of hiv/aids. how could she have hiv? she refused to take the medication even though the results clearly showed that she was positive, even though the medication was free.

we sat her down and told her that her cough won’t heal properly if she doesn’t take the hiv medication. we told her she would remain sick and eventually die of illness caused by aids. we told her we can’t help her if she doesn’t try to help herself. nothing worked. she wouldn’t listen. she went home only with the tuberculosis-testing kit.

‘so, are you just going to… die?’ i couldn’t help thinking to myself.

another patient died the same way, marcelino said. marcelino had been visiting this patient regularly, but he passed away last tuesday. i remembered i had also seen this patient a couple of times; i had driven him to the hospital once only a couple of weeks before. he’s dead.

coming back from this trip, i couldn’t help but feel a little saddened, helpless, and confused. what can we do to make her understand that she will die quickly and painfully if she doesn’t take this medication? what can we do to change her mind?

as these thoughts rushed through my mind, another volunteer simply said,

“it’s just like the gospel.”

we can try to prove and persuade that this gospel we hold is truth, but at the end, it is up to the people to decide to believe it or not.

"...Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Make their heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."
-Isaiah 6:9-10