Sante Mungu its the weekendi! This morning we are slated to visit an AIDS patient working with a counterpart with GSC, Dr. Mollel. He is a visiting care practitioner that works with many HIV/AIDS patients in Arusha and we were invited to come along for about an hour to visit a woman living HIV positive and ask her any questions about her condition. It's been on the table for a long time, since we've been here actually and I'm really excited about it.
However, I woke up extreeeemely scared since I'd been sick with pretty bad dehydration and ended up fainting for a good hour and waking pretty much dissuaded from leaving my house. At around 1 p.m. I changed my mind and was feeling a lot better, so with Glucose cookies (that's actually a brand here) and a liter and half of maji baridi (cold water) I walked over to the GSC office. We took a taxi with some gifts (standard kitched items) and made our way to the woman's home. She lived right along the main road here in Arusha but in a compund of small mud houses behind some dukas (shops) that a passersby would never see. She looked about to be in her late 30's or so living by herself in this one room shack. We asked her some questions about how long she'd known her HIV status, how did she find out and what her life has been like since. Her story was incredibly moving--my ailments this morning are no issue compared to what this woman has been through. She had known of her HIV status since 2000 through regular testing in the community. She had a feeling there was something wrong through a series of miscarriages and infant mortalities, and had contracted the illness through her husband. And while she knew of her HIV status she was not taking any immunotherapy or IVs and had complications like shingles and other rashes. Perhaps very interesting about her efforts to combat the illness was the fact that the government pays for most of her treatment. She takes several pills a day, and refills at a local duka or dispensary at a hospital and it is paid for at government expenses. As an American, to see how this woman lives and is able to pay for this treatment I have to admire healthcare even in Tanzania! Its amazing that she is able to put food on her table, and it gives her so much optimism that she can continue living despite her disease.
She also had some questions for us. She was curious if there were many HIV patients in the US and we told her there were many, common when people have unprotected sex but its more of a worry in the world of intravenous drugs. I could tell from her face she looked a bit surprised, perhaps she thought HIV AIDS is a issue only in the developing world, something I've been told has been asked in our HIV AIDS prevention program in communities.
She told us her husband died in 2004 from complications from HIV, he was not taking any medication. It surprised us listening to her speak, when she said she wasn't stigmatized in her community for her HIV status. In fact, she says its common to know of someone's status because it's better to know in case of possible transmission when someone bleeds from an injury etc. She is a member of a community group of women that share their experiences and spend time together. This collective, in her neighborhood is made up of about 90 women! She says many of her close friends are also HIV positive, and its not unusual. What I got from this whole visit that was very difficult to accept, was the common practice of men spreading this disease unknowingly to their wives. It puts a greater emphasis on testing teens and young people, which is what is so great about educating students in primary school about sex education and HIV/AIDs prevention education. The age of marriage in Tanzania is rising, but in rural communities like places we've worked with Maasai girls are married as young as 16 and 17. Maybe younger in really remote places in the south. I was so affected by this visit, I can't imagine having someone you love and trust make your life so difficult in this way. I think I would be so angry and depressed if I had been transmitted this disease by a husband, to the extent I'd be infertile. Her optimism really inspired me, and what she does to share her experience is really amazing. Before we left, we asked if she got lonely being in that shack alone and she said no, that she has many visitors and friends. She said that God is her best friend, that was very inspiring. I think that Faith has to be one of the reasons why she is so strong. I was too shy to take a photo with her, I felt we'd imposed enough. But I have a much clearer erspective on what living with this disease is like, its not miserable and it's not the end of the world. This had to be one of the best aspects of coming to Tanzania doing work like this, you really get a look at what living here is like, from all aspects.
Tomorrow I will be making a visit to the Catholic church, if I can find it! And do some errands. This week we will be in Arusha, so I don't have to do much basking in creature comforts of American food but I think I want a burger!