Saturday, March 28, 2009


Last week, after a long day of home visits in Lower Molweni, Hanneke and I drove past one of our ex-patients homes. We had visited him the week before, and we were so impressed and thankful that he was on ARV’s, taking them properly and getting to live the life he had been living before he became sick. He had also opened a small store or “tuck shop” in his front yard as a source of income. We drove past and then Hanneke said “wouldn’t it be fun to buy something from Vusi’s shop?” I was excited too. We went back and honked to call him out. We both bought a few bags of chips and a couple of candies and told him to keep the change. He was beaming from ear to ear. It was a sign of hope in a place where hope can sometimes be hard to find. He is an honest man trying to make an honest living. It was awesome to be able to support him in that way. Ironically, the sign across from his shop says Hope Horizon. See below:

My boyyyyyyyyyyyyyyysssssssss...

Here are some fun pictures from St. Therese's!


Busani is one of our newer patients. He is a 34 year old man with a CD4 count of 6. To put that in perspective, a healthy person will have a CD4 count of between 600-1500. HIV attacks the CD4 cells and results in a compromised immune system which is susceptible to all sorts of opportunistic infections. When he arrived last week, he could not move and did not want to speak to anyone. He was very weak and uncomfortable.

I have gotten to know him over the past week and a half and he’s doing remarkably well now. He is up and around on his own and I’ve discovered that his English is perfect. We have just been hanging out talking or watching Zulu soap operas together and he’s little by little opening up to me. He is scheduled to begin ARV training in 2 weeks when he is hopefully stabilized. Yesterday, I took him to get ice cream so he could “escape” for a while. He has told me how bored he is and how badly he wants to get home. He loved taking pictures…here are a few of them:

Veronica is reunited!

Veronica, 27, has been in the respite unit since before I arrived in South Africa. She has been very, very close to death and then, somehow, she bounces back. In fact, she recently started ARV’s and walked by herself for the first time 2 weeks ago. She is soooooooooo frail and quite sore, but she is getting stronger everyday. Everyone she became friends with has gone home or they have died, so she’s kind of alone in the unit.

I knew she must be bored out of her mind just laying around all day, so I began hanging out with her quite a bit. She is the same age as me which is a wake-up call in itself. She and I lead such different lives, yet we’ve created a beautiful friendship and have realized we have more in common than we’d once thought. It is very hard to communicate with her because she does not speak English very well. Many times I’ll catch a few words in English and then she’ll continue in Zulu…thoroughly confusing me. Since she has been in the unit over 3 months, that means she’s eaten the same food for those three months. One day we were talking and she asked if I could bring her in some different food. It’s been fun to cook some American food for her and also to bring her chips, chicken pies and sweets when I can. She loves them.

Vero is still too weak to live at home and she really has no one to care for her. She also has a 2 year old little boy that is quite busy. However, she asked if she could go home for the weekend just to visit and get out for a bit. I brought her home yesterday with two fellow volunteers. We drove up the cliffs in Lower Molweni until we could drive no further. She showed us to a steep, grassy incline leading to her home. We finally got to the top and were greeted by her Mother, Aunt, and some small children. They were happy to have her home, though sad she couldn’t stay. Her family does understand that she is too weak to stay for good at this time and they’re happy she’s under our care.

Here are some pictures from the hike to Veronica’s house and the babies that live there. I also posted a picture of Vero from February so you can see what she looks like.

Home Visit Adventure!

Hanneke and I went on home visits on Thursday…it was an eventful day to say the least. We first visited two ex-patients to check and see how they were managing their ARV’s and life after the Respite Unit. The first patient was a sweet young woman named Nelisiwe. She was telling us how great she was doing and that ARV’s gave her a new life. Our second visit was to see Wiseman, a 28 year old that was a patient last year in the unit. He also was doing very well on ARV’s but is struggling to find employment.

Wiseman lives in a house with his Go Go, Maria (also an ex-patient) and various other cousins and relatives. Maria is an amazing woman whom I’ve come to adore. She has been very active in referring patients to us and helping us track patients down in the valley. She’s an elderly woman but still works at the local nursery and cares for her community immensely. In fact, on Thursday, Maria was taking us to see a sick young woman. In the car, I asked her how many children she had. Maria told me that she had 8 children, but 7 of them have died. She now takes care of 5 of her 6 grandchildren on her own. I am completely in awe of this woman.

When we arrived at the driveway of the woman, Maria pointed up the cliff to the house on top (of course…that’s my luck). We grabbed the medical kit and trudged up the bumpy terrain. We reached the top and walked in to find a young woman laying on a sheet on the concrete floor alone. She could barely move or make eye contact. We asked her if she had ever been tested for HIV and she responded no. Hanneke and the care-worker with us asked her if she’d like us to test her. I could barely comprehend what I was doing at this moment. This girl, 25 years old, was being counselled so she would understand that the rest of her life would change if she was positive; that she’d have to take medicine for the rest of her life so she’d survive. She agreed to be tested. Hanneke needed my help for the testing, so we both put on gloves and got the supplies ready. I have never been so nervous for someone in my life.

For HIV testing, you must use two separate tests and they BOTH must be positive to confirm diagnosis. I have been here long enough to know that this girl was positive, but we still had to test her as protocol. One test resulted as clearly positive, the other was not clear enough to confirm. It didn’t matter, we had to admit this woman. Hanneke and the care-worker carried her down the cliff while I carried the supplies and prepared the car. The young girl had told us that she had a 2 month old baby that stays with his Go Go. She was so scared to be without him, so we went to pick him up and bring him with us.

Nothing in South Africa is easy. This was no different. We had to drive a long distance to find the road that the Go Go lived on. The car could not make it and the woman began vomiting, so we decided to leave her with the care-worker and we’d walk to fetch the baby. After a long walk, we came to a house tucked way back in the grass. We went in to find the baby laying naked in feces and an elderly woman that certainly COULD NOT take care of a baby. There were no clothes, no diapers, nothing. We cleaned him up with some towels and wrapped him in a blanket. Once we got back to the car and showed the baby to his Mommy, she smiled for the first time since we’d met her. I am unsure how long it had been since she’d seen him, but by the distance, her condition and the look on her face when she saw him I’m guessing it had been a while.

We got them both safely to the unit and immediately bathed and changed the baby. The test was re-done yesterday and Mom was positive. She is also being treated for TB. The baby is very sick and will be tested for both HIV and TB on Monday. The good news is that Mom and the baby have a nice, clean bed and they will no longer be ignored. They’re going to get wonderful care.

Here are some pictures of our adventures to get them on Thursday and some of Andile (the baby) once he was settled in at the Respite Unit.

Bhekimuzi and the missing money...

I blogged earlier about Bhekimuzi, the man who has had to stop all treatment due to liver damage and is waiting out the rest of his days at the respite unit. This week was very tough for him. I went to see him first thing Tuesday morning for our daily chat. I could see he was upset and I asked him why. He told me that his younger brother had stolen the only money he has to his name, 180 Rand (approx. $18.00) from his home in the valley. Bhekimuzi had left it there for his children so they would be able to take a taxi to come visit him.

It was clear that he felt upset, angry and sad, but he also feels rejected by his family as he’s in a respite unit waiting to die. Over the course of the week, he became obsessed with this money and my heart broke for him. He is a good man and all he wants is to help his children with the little he has, yet now, he feels he can’t even do that. I tried all week to take his mind off of the money, but with not much else to do, he just stewed over the issue. We went out for coffee and ice cream and we went on a few walks, but no matter how I tried, he kept bringing up the money.

I couldn’t help but think about what he must be going through. He knows he is dying. He knows that he is unable to leave anything for his children. And, now, he knows that he’s being abandoned by his siblings. It makes you realize how little these people truly have. One of the volunteers drove him to his home yesterday to see if they could straighten things out. I hope that he finds peace soon. This is a picture of him and his 13 year old son last week during a visit.

Friday, March 27, 2009

One sick little boy...

Last Monday started out like any other Monday. The girls and I drove to the respite unit to let me off when the phone rang. Alex told us it was the Auntie of one of her students and they were very sick. The boy was Nkululeko and he and his sister Sne are HIV+ and live with their Go Go and Auntie. Their Mother died of AIDS. The kids have been sort of “adopted” by the past Augustinian Volunteers because the Go Go had a stroke and can’t get around very well. Alex has helped a lot this year with transport to clinics to pick up their ARV’s or for various appointments. However, Monday was different. Their Auntie was frantic because Nkululeko (11 years old) had been up all night vomiting and with diarrhea. We quickly grabbed a blanket, a pillow, a plastic bowl and a care-worker from the respite and went to see him. It was determined that he was severely dehydrated and needed an IV and a consultation by a doctor.

Alex and I drove him to St. Mary’s hospital about 45 minutes away. I sat in the back with him and he laid down on my lap. We arrived at a very full hospital and had to register and then WAIT. We sat in the queue (as they call it here) for over an hour just to get his vitals taken. Once we were behind the curtain, he began vomiting again. The nurse told us to take him to Room 4 to see the pediatrician and to make sure we told the staff he needed to be seen quickly because of the vomiting.

We got to Room 4 and I knew this was going to be ugly. I told Alex to sit outside with Nkululeko on a bench and I’d “manuever the system.” There must have been 100 + Mothers or Grannies with babies waiting to be seen. The babies were coughing, crying, and vomiting. I went to speak with the Nurse and told her that my patient was vomiting and that he was really dehydrated…she told me she’d be right over to help…she never came. I then saw the Doctor and decided to talk to him. I stood right outside his office. He came out yelling “Do any of these children have a fever?” No one answered, so I went to him and told him that Nkululeko was vomiting and was dehydrated. His exact words were “Mam, vomiting can wait. Go sit down.”

So I sat…and I sat…and I sat. I watched in terrorized amazement as nurses laid children all around the floor with IV’s in their heads (yes, their heads). I watched as two year old had IV’s in the arms and their mothers had wrapped the cords around their necks and then let them run all around. I watched as tired Grannies felt overwhelmed and helpless. I watched as mothers fought with each other to be seen next because their kid was sicker. I looked on as toddlers ate garbage off the floor and played with dirty needle containers until someone finally stopped them. Every so often I got up and asked another nurse or care worker to help us and each time I was told to sit back down, all the while, Nkululeko is vomiting out on the bench. 6 hours passed and we finally we called in to see the doctor.

He took one look at our poor little guy and exclaimed “THIS BOY IS SO SICK AND DEHYDRATED, WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME HE WAS VOMITTING EARLIER?” I honestly had to hold myself back from punching this jerk in the face. I yelled back at him telling him that I had told 3 nurses and HIM. He was soooooo rude. He said that we had to admit Nkululeko immediately and get him on an IV. There were no beds available, so we stayed in room four. They showed us an exam table that he could lay on. As I looked, I saw an old Grannie changing her baby and leaving feces all over the table. I grabbed gloves and had to clean it myself because I knew no one else in this horrid place was going to. Nkululeko laid down drip hanging from a nail on the wall and fell fast asleep. Alex left to get his Aunt in Molweni while I stayed with him.

I stared at him with a million thoughts racing through my head. How unfair?!!! How unfair that this beautiful, sweet little boy has this horrible disease and will have to battle it for the rest of his life. He did nothing to merit this sickness. I wondered what the rest of his life will be like? Will he understand what he has to do to stay healthy? Will he be safe and cared for? The questions continue today.

Finally, about 9 hours after we first arrived at the hospital, a bed in the children’s ward opened up. We all walked down to get him settled in. I have never been so shocked as I was walking into the ward. It looked like a “Save the Children” commercial. There are cribs lined up with babies, toddlers and older children that are suffering and (some dying) from HIV/AIDS. They are wasting away, they are crying and they are alone. None of the children had diapers, so many of them were laying in their own waste. It seemed to us that no one was paying attention to them at all. All the nurses were chatting in the other room. Luckily, we were able to be advocates for Nkululeko. No one was allowed to stay with him overnight which made us all upset.

He seemed happy to be in a comfortable bed at the very least. It had been a long day and I’m sure he was exhausted. We gave him big hugs and left for the night. Alex and the Auntie visited the next day too. On Wednesday, we were elated when Nkululeko was going to be discharged. We all went to get him at the hospital. He could not wait to leave (and honestly, I don’t blame him). The car ride home was full of laughing and picture taking and my bad jokes. These pictures are priceless…

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Food Parcel Fun...

As usual, we had a great Friday afternoon delivering the food parcels to our favorite families in the valley. Check out these pictures:

Soooooooooooo much need!!!

Hanneke and I went to Molweni last week, as we’ve done many times before, for some traditional home visits. Many of these home visits are in order for Hanneke to complete her graduate research, but some of them are literally “house calls.” Sometimes we get calls from concerned neighbors about patients, sometimes our home based care workers refer patients to us and sometimes, we get calls about ex-patients or their family members. The day started out normally…or at least as “normal” as things get here in South Africa. We interviewed a few patients that Hanneke had on her research list. Next, we were supposed to find one of our ex-patients, Thobile (see pictures below). We had been told that Thobile’s son was bleeding out his nose profusely and that he needed to be seen. Also, we were told to check on Thobile’s recent medical activity to see if she was up to date with her CD4 counts.

We had two Zulu care workers with us to help us locate the patients and to translate. We pulled onto a dirt driveway and I looked up to see where this home was. I saw three houses and knew I was in for quite a hike. We began trudging up the mountain side. We eventually got to and PASSED the three houses. I looked up and saw nothing but grass and trees and wondered if we made a mistake. The care workers told me that we were on the right track and that the house was at the top of the mountain. The hike up was brutal and when we finally reached the top, we were met by her sister who told us she was at the local nursery working. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We then repelled down the mountain and went to find her at the nursery or crèche as they call it here. At the nursery, we met Thobile who told us her son was much better. Good news. She had not followed up on her own medical care, so Hanneke took blood to get a CD4 count done. The blood was taken in the crèche classroom as I guarded the door from all the little rascals that were interested in seeing the visitors.

Hanneke finished up and we all walked out. We were greeted by two women in a row who both needed help. They begged us for information, resources, help of any kind really. The stories, sadly, are so similar and so prevalent here. The women were both HIV+ and did not have money to get to the clinics. They had no food for their families. They needed money to pay the school fees for their children and their childrens’ children. It’s so overwhelming to be surrounded by this constant and terrible poverty. Hanneke and I spoke about it later and both felt completely helpless. It’s very hard to tell someone who is in dire need that you can’t give them the change they need to take a taxi or food so they don’t go hungry. The need is soooooooooo great and we are doing all we can. There is so much more that needs to be done…and that is the sad reality here.

#1: Me on top of the hill!
#2: Hanneke and our care-workers on top of the hill!
#3: Hanneke doing a CD4 count on a patient.

Bhekimuzi and Wimpy!

One of my patients, Bhekimuzi has been with us since about mid January. He was very sick when he arrived, but has gotten a lot better. He was stable enough to begin the ARV training and did so about two weeks ago. He finished the three sessions and was well on his way to begin his first dose. A last minute blood test showed that his liver was severely damaged. He was then admitted to an area hospital for further testing. I did not hear much about him until last week. We were told to clear out a private room for him because he was coming back. After gathering a bit more information, I found out that since his liver was so damaged, he would have to be taken off all medications and he is not able to begin his ARV treatment.

AIDS is so prevalent here that sometimes other diseases or conditions often go ignored or undiagnosed until it’s too late. People here, just like those in America, also die of Cancer, Heart Disease, they have Strokes or liver damage, but these things live in the shadow of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It’s very easy to forget that these other diseases and conditions plague people here because AIDS demands so much attention.

Bhekimuzi will stay with us free of all treatment to live out the rest of his life, however long that may be. He looks very sick and fragile, but he’s still up and around, laughing and talking. He is 46 years old and has 3 children who are living with his Sister. I completely lost it when I heard he was coming back to us and would not be able to start ARV’s. You see, ARV’s were his one piece of hope to cling on to and now, even that is gone. He seems to be in good spirits, but there have been times that I look at him and he looks so incredibly (and understandably) scared.

I have become good friends with him over the past 2 months and I have been blessed to learn from him. Making his remaining time on Earth as special as possible is my new mission. Last week I was asking him what things he’d like to do or where he’d really like to visit. The first thing that came to his mind was that he’d like to eat at “that very expensive restaurant in Durban.” I had no clue what he was talking about. After multiple questions from me, I realized he was speaking of Wimpy which is a fast food chain comparable to Burger King. I arranged a plan with my roommates and this past Friday, Bhekimuzi and his “three hot dates” went to lunch at Wimpy up the road. He could not stop smiling. He also kept saying “this is too expensive.” His face was even brighter when his bubblegum milkshake and double cheeseburger meal was delivered to the table.

We had an awesome time and I can’t wait to do it again soon. This week, we are going to take him home to visit and also on an excursion to the beach. I can’t stop thinking about this wonderful man and what lies ahead for him. All I am able to do at this time is make each of his days happy, comfortable and full of love. Here are some pictures of our outing:

Baby Wanele Goes Home!

Our little lovebug Wanele is now back at home with her GoGo. I was so sad to see her leave but I am happy that her family is back together. Her Mother is still in the TB hospital and will be there for a few more months. Here are some pictures of her last days with us!

Famous in SA.

Talk about embarrassing…

I recently was asked to be interviewed on behalf of the respite unit. I, of course, agreed. I was interviewed very briefly by a local paper about being a volunteer from overseas. The journalist took a few pictures and it was over. The CEO of the AIDS Centre came in the other day with a huge (like 8x10) picture on the front cover of LITTLE OLD ME. I was/am mortified. Just thought you’d all like a laugh…

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Totally by coincidence, the volunteers last year met an American family at the recycling center. This family is not only AMERICAN they are from VERMONT!!! It was towards the end of their year, so they had dinner together once but planned to keep the relationship alive. We made that happen this past Monday. Susie and Mike (and their kids Emma, Alex and Sam) invited us to their home in Kloof. Mike is a geologist and was relocated to Africa last year. We had an awesome dinner and got to know each other a bit better. It was SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO nice to spend time with Americans and talk about our shared experiences here in South Africa. Dinner at their house was definitely a highlight of my time here so far. I can't wait to spend more time with them again soon!

My friend Fatima...

The past few days have been quite rough for me here. I talked in an earlier blog about Fatima (see picture above) and how amazing her story was. She was a beautiful 23 year old girl who had suffered tremendously throughout her life. When she entered the respite, we quickly became friends and talked about everything under the sun. Last Friday, she began going downhill. I spent the afternoon with her on Friday and she was in and out of conciousness. My roommates and I took a special trip to the respite on Saturday so I could be with her some more. She was still responsive (at times) and I feel lucky that I was with her.

I arrived at work on Monday, not knowing if she'd still be around. She was, but she was not responsive at all. I was so thankful that I spent the weekend with her. She passed away on Tuesday morning at 4am. It's still so hard to make any sense of this in my mind. I won't even try to at this time. I thank God that she was a part of my life and I of hers.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Friday Smiles!

We deliver food with Baba Benji every weekend, as I've mentioned before. I've also told you how much I love it. This Friday was no exception. I always bring my camera because the kids LOVE having their pictures taken.

Picture this (no pun intended): Think of the funniest joke you've ever heard. Now think of your reaction. Now, multiply that laughter by 1,000,000 and that is what I saw last Friday. Actually, every Friday. The little boy (in the blue polo) is the sweetest boy I've ever met. The one week he and his buddy didn't run to greet us I was so sad. This week, however, they were so glad to see us. I took the picture, as I've done every week, but this time his reaction was priceless. He looked, smiled the biggest smile I've ever seen, then laughed/screamed so hard that he fell over himself onto the ground with excitement. I couldn't even control myself after I saw him in all his glory. It was the cutest thing I've ever seen. Enjoy the photos of the families on my route:


Meet Baby Wanele! This little princess is my new little obsession at the respite unit. She has been with us for a little over a month now and will be going home shortly. Originally, her Mom was with us as a patient. She is HIV+ and has drug resistant TB. I met Wanele when she was just a few weeks old when she would come with her GoGo to visit her Mommy. We then transferred her Mother to the TB hospital for more intense treatment, but decided to keep the baby to get her tested. We all waited on pins and needles as she was tested for TB AND HIV. Thankfully this adorable child was negative for both!!!!!!!!! WHAT A MIRACLE.

Hanneke (my co-worker) and I have become completely obsessed with this beautiful baby. We feed, change, bath, cuddle and love her so much each day. It's been a blast to have her around. We went shopping for some new clothes for her too! A friend of ours from Church visited the respite last week bringing an entire new wardrobe for Wanele too! I've had blast playing dress-up with her.

I have actually "hogged" the baby so much that now the care-workers say "Jenn, your baby is crying" or "Jenn, go help your baby." One day, I threatened that I was going to take her home. I asked the ladies if they thought the baby could pass as my child. :)

The baby's GoGo lives a ways away and has to take care of 4 AIDS orphans as 3 of her children have died already. She is an older woman with an amazing spirit. I've loved getting to know her and see the love she has for her family. Her life is very difficult. She is taking care of all her grandchildren with no help. She's also dealing with painful loss and sickness all around her. She works 1 day a week and is busily trying to find odd jobs but to no avail. The only thing she wants to do is provide for her family and she's certainly having trouble making ends meet. The respite unit just signed her up for food parcels each week which will hopefully ease her burden a bit. I have met so many older women who are now caring for not only their children who are sick and/or dying but now a new generation of children (some infected as well). It's so unfair.

The baby loves her GoGo and the feeling is definitely mutual. It's adorable to watch the two of them interact. I will miss the baby when she leaves to go home, that is for sure.

#1-Sleepy Baby
#2-My baby :)
#3-Hanneke changing the baby!
#4-Baby with her GoGo, her little brother and her cousin during their visit
#5-Bath Time!

Cottage #3!

I love St. Therese's Home for Boys so much. I was very hesitant to begin there because after long Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Respite Unit, a 2nd gig was not high on my list. However, I have fallen in love with this group of boys and I look forward to our afternoons there. The boys are so loveable and go crazy when we arrive. My cottage (in my opinion) is the BEST. We attempt to work on homework when I arrive...that's always a challenge. Most of the boys are so far behind that they really need to be tutored beginning with the ABC's. It's always a struggle to get them focused and for them NOT to copy other students' work. UNO has been a great incentive, as has my camera. They love getting their pictures taken. See below:

1. The main office building with sign
2. The crazies of cottage 3 :) These are all the boys...9 of them.
3. I told you UNO works wonders
4. The scariest picture ever...because of me not because of Vusi's glass eye!
5. Group shot of the sillies with Fr. Jack too!
6. Two of the boys and Auntie Jenny
7. My favorite (shhh...don't tell) Pebeto.