Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"What justice would there be to take this life?" - A Lesson Before Dying

I fell in love with this family and particularly this little boy.

When we walked up to their house, he was the smiling face who greeted us. His little jeans were falling off and I realized it was because they were on backwards. But no matter to him, he was a little sweet angel who loved to be hugged. Sadly, he is inflicted with the AIDS virus and tragically so is his baby brother.

When I walked in their home, I saw in one room a very sickly woman lying in bed under a mosquito net. This is their mother and she, too, is dying of AIDS. (Their father has already died.)

The ten year daughter has emerged as the primary care-giver to the children. She was so beyond her years and but for her diminutive size, I would not have known she was only 10. She doted on her two younger brothers; she does the cooking and the duties of the household that her mother can no longer provide. There are five kids total - four boys and one girl.

The house that they were previously living in fell down in inclement weather. It was a reed hut and ultimately could not survive the elements. The 16 year old son, who was not home today, built this new home "brick by brick". He would gather a tiny bit of material here and there and eventually, on his own and without any help or formal training, built this structure. Even before I heard that, I was struck by how relatively big their house was. The rooms were nice sized and around back they had a little kitchen area and a detached latrine (which is rare.) I am so sorry I did not meet this boy who heroically and despite so many odds provided his family much needed shelter. It was like he had no other option but to do it. So he did.

Visiting so many homes today, I heard so many tragic stories about these children who are being orphaned by the AIDS virus. But this family seemed to be the poster child for this community and continent being ravished by poverty and AIDS.

I had a lump in my throat all day. And, particularly when I was standing with Christine, the 10 year old, with her baby brother strapped to her back. I stood next to them gently rubbing the baby's back and so wishing I had something to say to give them hope. The only hope I could give them was to not break down and cry. It took every ounce of my being not to. But I did not want show them how upset I was for that might make them feel hopeless. I wanted to give them a smiling face and comfort to try and provide them some hope in that gesture.

I happened to read "A Lesson Before Dying" by Ernest J. Gaines this past weekend. It's as though there was a reason I happened to pick that book before I arrived in Maputo and specifically before I was brought to this family. As I stood while the group of Reencontro women gathered around the mother's bed and sang a song of prayer, I was reminded of that novel. A sense of injustice permeates the novel. I was struck by the moral and social injustice of this horrible disease which is breaking up families and leaving children without parents. Children raising children. There is no justice here.

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