November 7, 2007

Unnecessary Death

The mood has been a bit glum at Itipini this week because one of the Community Project’s staff members died on Sunday. Tandeka was in her mid-40s and was the heart and soul of the community area. About a month ago, she spilled boiling water on herself and severely burned about a third of her body surface area. She was hospitalized but was so disappointed and frustrated with the care she was getting there that after a week she checked herself out and came home. We tried to treat her at the clinic, where it took two nurses at least an hour to dress her wounds. Even as she grimaced in pain, she still danced a little jig when we asked her if everything was all right. It was a miracle she didn’t get infected with such serious wounds in a shantytown. She became worried we were going to force her to go back to the hospital (we pleaded with her to do so but we weren’t going to make her do anything) so she went to stay with some family in the rural areas where they treated her with – I wish I was making this up – red floor polish. Late last week, she came back to Itipini, dehydrated and very worn. We tried to help her but she died two days later.

I only her knew for a few weeks and she only spoke Xhosa so it’s not like I can saw we were very close. But I do remember a very stirring talk she gave on the importance of condoms at a community meeting in my first few weeks. (All I could understand was the word “condom” but the feeling with which she delivered the talk was amazing.) And I remember how she capably handled the crush of people who wanted the food we hand out and how she ran the kitchen and made sure things went smoothly. She was truly a superwoman – there are so many family members who depended on her and many people in the community looked to her as a leader and mentor.

We had a prayer service in her home yesterday (picture below) that was a fascinating cross-cultural experience. I didn’t understand a word of it but it was still clear how saddened people felt by her loss and how they planned to rally around her family members. (And I learned cell phone calls can interrupt a funeral even in a shantytown in South Africa.)
We try very hard at Itipini but unfortunately we can’t just snap our fingers and make all things well. This kind of experience makes me wish we could.


Anonymous said...

No, you can't fix things very often - but you can stand side by side in prayer. And you did. Bless you - Jane G

Anonymous said...

I keep a magic wand in my office--a stick with a bright pink and green star with "jewels"--because I want to be able to wave it and make everything better. Every once in a while I pull it out and try. But the real magic of it is the love with which we try, and the prayer and heartbreak we acknowledge. Meredyth

Caminante said...

Alas, that sort of horrible thing happens all too often in El Salvador when people have to use gasoline or oil for their cooking and things get out of control. Prayers for your community as you grieve and try to move on, while remembering her.