Carmel Lawry: A moment of sadness in South Africa

Well it has not been a good week – we had a tiny baby die last Sunday and it has been pretty horrible. She was just 12 weeks old but born 4 weeks premature. She was a twin, the other baby died at birth and her mother died 6 weeks after the birth. The baby had grandparents but they did not feel able to cope looking after her full time. The baby girl was born positive HIV/AIDS and had already commenced on minute amounts of anti-retroviral treatment. She had been at Holy Family for 3 weeks and was doing well but she got an infection and she went down really quickly.

Poor little baby just thinking that she has gone breaks my heart more than anything. She was so small and fragile so reliant on us to keep her safe and well. She had been doing so well even though so small.

Helen, the other nurse, attended to her on Saturday – gave her a drink and said she was ok. Sunday morning the staff reported she had a 2 feeds overnight and vomited at 2am. I gave her a small feed and her AIDS medication but she vomited it all. I took her straight into the hospital because I knew she wasn’t ok – left by about 6.30am – she was breathing normal and temperature was good.

The doctor in casualty put in a drip. They placed her on oxygen. The nurses called the grandma to come in to look after her and I also called to notify her. Her grandparents were with her when she died.

I question everything – rational or not – I should have checked the baby Saturday as well as Helen – maybe taken her in earlier etc. I am sure the others are going through the similar “should haves” – as well.

My time here so far had been one of seeing kid’s health and lives improve but this is the sad reality of the AIDS virus. I would hate to think what it was like when the virus first took hold in South Africa – the cemeteries are full – funerals a big business and whole families were wiped out. The care and treatment has really improved but for the young an infection can kill them so quickly.

Sorry to be so grim but this is what I signed up for and I am sure you know that there will be good and bad times

Some good news…

children dancing at dusk
Peturnia came running up to me last night very happy and giggly. I started to tickle her and she laughed and tried to get away but always came back for more. I have started to tickle her on the palm of her hand – like the old “round and round the garden” and she is very amused. She gives me lovely kisses too. Of course the others join in as well because we don’t like favouritism!

I started to do little roars for pretend scares – they all run away and of course run back for me to do it again. My throat was a bit sore after that big session.

Holy Family has been established for 10 years this year – from a very small home initially for mothers dying from AIDS and their children to a fully established registered children’s home for 70 children. There is a celebration to mark the occasion on the 3rd December. Fran (the teacher) is organising a concert, the children providing the entertainment – singing, dancing, gymnastics, ball skills etc. I have started to teach a group of kids to juggle – I knew my juggling skills and talent would eventually go international. Ha Ha. The kids get a kick out of seeing and doing something new and we have lots of laughs too. I think I may be roped into some cooking for the arvo tea as well.

Mopane Worms
Fran has been experimenting with the local food – some is very nice while others I would be happy to leave. They have a type of wild spinach (morogo ) that grows everywhere which they boil and put with tomatoes – its ok but they tend to put heaps of salt in everything so too salty for me. Fran has just cooked up a batch of worms (Mopani worms) – which have been dried and salted (they sort of look like hard fat caterpillars – you boil the dried worms, drain and then add fried onion and tomatoes and of course lots of salt. She got one of the local women to test it out and with a few tips managed to get the recipe right. Just tasted one – taste ok but don’t look great. And of course there is the deep fried grasshoppers which taste ok – just crunchy and salty. I do like the Kordu which is a sweetened mash pumpkin with pap (maize meal). They eat a lot of chicken – fried or stewed and all the parts of the chicken – nothing is wasted. The favourite drink – equivalent to our Big M type drinks is made from maize and sweetened and flavoured – banana, strawberry and passionfruit flavours. It is a bit like a thickened cornflour consistency – a watery base – I think I will stick with milkshakes myself. Of course Fran has tried a few out with vegemite and they think it is disgusting so I guess it is just what you are used to.

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The future of every community lies in capturing the passion, the imagination and the resources of its people. - Ernesto Sirolli