Sunday, December 9, 2012

It's Better to Spread a Smile than a Scowl


The other day, a woman came into the clinic on her last leg of strength.  The doctor even said he wasn’t sure she was going to make her next appointment.  It was so disheartening seeing how, by not adhering to her medication, this beautiful twenty-seven year old woman was allowing the vicious virus infesting her body to take over.  I’ve seen her vivacity and vigor diminish over the past few weeks, and am at a loss at trying to understand why she won’t simply take her medication. 

HIV is truly a brutal virus that, if left untreated, will consume every last healthy cell in your body.  Though I have lived amongst and interacted with people who have been affected directly by this virus for the past eight months, I still feel as if I am a novice to understanding the influence it has upon its victims.  Deaths are a common sadness that occur, and funerals are just about as normal to attend here as weddings.

I wonder why some women are so hesitant about discovering the status of their newly born children, or why they resist taking the PMTCT (Prevention of Mother to Child) ARV (Anti-RetroViral) treatment.  I’m stunned at how many people choose to feel sick rather than suffer the side effects of the ARVS, and I’m troubled more than anything when I hear there has been a death and that a once-smiling face that I greeted in the morning has been taken away forever.

In the past month we have lost at least 5 people in Gobojango that I knew and interacted with.  One of them was a two year-old baby.   My purpose here becomes much more poignant than I ever thought, and though it’s great I’m doing all these things for the community, I feel insignificant and useless when I hear that there’s been a death due to defaulting on medication. 

I knew joining the Peace Corps didn’t mean I was going to change the world in a day, but days become much shallower when I realize that every power that I possess will not save these people. I need to hold onto the fact that I have the ability to inspire change in someone else’s world.  Though the vastness of the universe seems to have some deep, dark holes, it’s much more important to stay smiling through the tears than to allow it to consume you; essentially it’s better to spread a smile than a scowl. 

It’s just so hard sometimes.

I don’t usually pray, but if anyone reads this that does, please send your positive thoughts to the people who are infected and affected by this vicious killer.  It’s so much more powerful and ferocious than I could ever fathom.

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So let me keep you abreast of everything that has been going on (because, trust me, it’s A LOT).

The Gobojango Women’s Soccer Team (Big Sister’s Football Club) has turned out to be a great success.  We have had the great fortune of getting a donation of uniforms from the King’s Foundation as well as HIV/AIDS Prevention Curricula and a soccer ball from another organization called Grassroot Soccer. Word is spreading like wildfire throughout the village, and each practice seems like it has more and more enthusiastic girls. This coming Tuesday, a representative from King’s Foundation will be here to donate the uniforms and to take pictures of the girls.  In the future, I hope to correlate with some other PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) to create a soccer tournament.  This is such a huge project, since gender roles are extremely stark in the small villages.  The Big Sister’s Football Club gives young ladies a chance to have something to call their own, and also allows them an opportunity to engage in activities that encourage them to make healthy choices.
 

Next, I got extremely ill this previous week.  With so much to do, and so much on my mind, I kept ignoring the warning signs.  Fever? Take some Ibuprofen. Painful ears? Take some non-Aspirin. Tummy ache? Take some tums.  Diharrea? Anti-diharreal, wham bam thank you ma’am.  When I finally fainted, I realized it was time for me to call the doctor.  I spent the night in agonizing discomfort, and was taken to the clinic the next morning.  After my counterpart Topo realized that perhaps I was a bit sicker than he had originally thought, I was transferred to the larger clinic in Semolale.  There, I discovered that I had not one, but TWO pretty severe ear infections (hence the fainting) as well as a gastro-intestinal infection. 

Just in time.  I was supposed to travel with the World AIDS Day Fundraising Committee to the Tuli Block to collect donations both Tuesday and Wednesday, about 6 people were coming to stay at my house on Thursday, and the Celebration that I had been planning since September was to take place on Friday.

Needless to say, I stayed in bed both Tuesday and Wednesday, and was graced with the presence of my neighbor Lorato.  She came with me to both clinics, and slept out on my tiny couch the night I was running a fever.  Her niece came over and cleaned my house for me, and made me some tea when I refused to eat anything. Even Caesar could tell that something was wrong and wouldn’t leave my side.  It’s so amazing to me that even though I’m thousands of miles from my home and family, I still have people looking out for my wellbeing here in Botswana.

Thursday rolled around, and I attended an early morning, extremely frustrating meeting in the village of Mabolwe in which nothing was accomplished.  Then, my day improved entirely when I was greeted with four fellow volunteers at my house back in Gobojango.  We spent the night preparing for the next day, gossiping, cooking and eating (a deliciously home-made minestrone soup), and being normal for a bit.  Then, we went to bed early in preparation for what was to come.

What I thought would be a stress-filled, chaotic Ceremony turned out to be a great success.  Though stress levels were high throughout the entire day, everything that my team had put on resulted to be triumphant.  We had a community art table where participants were asked to sign pledges against Gender Based Violence, as well as write down how they choose to live positive, healthy lives.  The pledges were woven into a hand-made frame that stated I AM AGAINST GENDER BASED VIOLENCE in the shape of the Botswana flag, and the positive living phrases were made into a long, colorful paper chain.  We had a “get to know your PCV” table with information about each one of us, and we displayed free condoms.  We conducted aerobics twice throughout the ceremony, once will the Wellness Committee of Bobirwa, and distracted the children with the King’s Foundation BASE Packs.  When the touring of the stalls had commenced, and the last vote of thanks had been read, I felt an immense weight be lifted off my shoulders and I immediately felt the knot in my stomach loosen.  By golly, we had pulled it off.


I spent the rest of the weekend relaxing.  Both yesterday and today I think I only left my home once, to walk a friend to the bus stop.  The rest of the time I’ve been catching up on my sleep, and nursing myself back to health.  Now, after I get through these next nine days, I’ll be leaving Botswana to head HOME TO THE UNITED STATES!!!!!!!!


I think that’s everything for now.  I just spoke to my family and it brightened my entire room to hear their voices.  My mom informed me that it was a balmy 14 degrees (Fahrenheit) and snow and ice were stifling the ground outside.  I cannot WAIT to not sweat for a couple minutes. But what I’m most excited for is seeing everyone again.  I’ve played and replayed it in my mind, seeing the family at the airport, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years…it’ll be nice to have a bit of old-school normalcy for a couple weeks.

OH! MY COUSIN NATASHA IS ENGAGED!!! And to a wonderful guy too! I’m so ecstatic for her, I actually cried when I saw the pictures.  In fact, Andre sent me an email the day he was to propose to her, letting me be the first to know.  I can’t wait to start helping Tasha plan out the perfect wedding. 

Ok, well it’s almost nine pm now, and I have to wake up early tomorrow to hang my laundry. 

Until next time!
Positive Vibes!

~Nina

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