Saturday, September 27, 2008

LOSSES - Sept. 13th, 2008


I heard some beautiful singing near my house and followed the song. I found the Primary school children outside practicing for an upcoming mass. The Basotho, as most outsiders will testify, are gorgeous harmonizers and it seems to be bred into their every note. I was told that they were practicing for the funeral of one of their classmates – a 5th grader. Her story is that she came here from S.Africa some years ago. She had extreme and terrible symptoms of TB with bursting and draining lymph nodes. She was tested for HIV but came-out negative. She improved, them became worse. She was tested again, again was negative but was sent for more sophisticated test. From there the story is fuzzy, but it is believed that the hospital did not test her because it costs more money. It turns out that she had been HIV positive all those years but it wasn’t confirmed until it was too late.

The service was held outside next to the school. The casket was driven in on the back of a pick-up truck. Relatives sat in the middle of a circle of children and teachers. After the singing and memorials, the cover was lifted and the adults filed by to see her face. (the children were spared this). None of us were without tears. No death goes unnoticed here and families openly mourn for months, shaving their heads as a symbol of their grief.

The denial through the country of the AIDS epidemic is astonishing. I spoke to a HIV positive woman at the clinic. She had come into the clinic with a CD4 count of 03 (at 350 one is put on ARV drugs). She was very ill and had been for sometime. She knew about AIDS and knew people who were dying from it. But she said it never crossed her mind that she could have it. She now works in the clinic as a counselor and is doing a great job. Statistics in developing countries indicate that life expectancy for someone on ARV’s is only 10 years. This is due to poor nutrition, vulnerability and exposure to secondary infections, and lack of consistent adherence.

PEPFAR (Presidents Emergency Plan for Aids Relief) is expected to put 28-40 million/year into Lesotho in the upcoming years. The focus will be on preention and outreach to the most remote areas. Peace Corps Lesotho monies will increase from $89,000/yr to $500,000. Some will go to increasing the number of volunteers here – currently there are about 85 of us. Statistics indicated that 40% of the population between 15-40yrs are HIV positive.

People here die of things besides AIDS , TB and car accidents. A clinic nurse had just returned from the graduation party of his best friend. He received a frantic phone call from the friend (John). John’s brother, a policeman, had shot and killed his father, brother #1, injured brother #2, and shot at John. Apparently, he was jealous that he hadn’t been given such a celebration at his own police graduation. A Congolese friend’s comment to me seems apt. I had said to him, “I find the Basotho people very patient, they sit and wait for so many things so often.” He said “Until they aren’t.” As an African but not Basotho, he has a unique perspective. He has found that the people are slow to burn, but once they ignite, there is no stamping out the flame.

On the lighter side (Whew!), I attended a Peace Corps September Birthdays Party at the Irish Ambassador’s home. A PC couple have been “adopted” by the ambassador so a big birthday bash was held at their home. Nice big house, gorgeous grounds, and lots and lots of drinking by the youngsters. I was hoping to meet a bunch of NGOers but no such luck. I did meet many fine volunteers who I hadn’t seen before – many who are finishing their assignments in the next couple months. The following day I was a guest at the very upscale athletic club in Maseru. It was a bizarre experience to be on an exercise machine in a gorgeous building with tennis courts and a full indoor swimming pool, in the heart of impoverished Lesotho.