February 24, 2009

Moving Day

I wrote in my last monthly e-mail about Nolizwi, a high-school student in my after-school English class, who was robbed of all her school supplies on her way home a few weeks back. She had to take a dangerous route home because she had been booted out of her aunt’s home, her mother is sick and lives in the villages, and the only person she had to turn to was a distant relation who lived five (dangerous) miles from school.

Last week, it was moving day. I drove out to the home of the distant relation with Nolizwi so we could get her things and move her into the new home we had arranged for her in town and closer to school. Here she is, with all her worldly possessions.
(Incidentally, the day before we moved, as Nolizwi walked across the dangerous bridge again, she met the same guy who robbed her the week before. He asked her to be his girlfriend. When she declined, he demanded her cellphone. “You took it last week!” she yelled and walked away.)

The distant relation is wheelchair-bound and very friendly. I didn’t recognize her but she evidentially knew me because she called out to me from the kitchen. I wandered over to the window. “Jesse,” she said. “I need a new wheelchair. How do I get one?” I have been known to procure new wheelchairs from time to time (in stories I have not told on this blog for fear of opening myself to prosecution) so I told her how she would have to go to the hospital and request one. She nodded and said she’d go do that, which was a relief because I have pushed my luck with wheelchairs too far to try again for someone I don’t know.

When I had poked my head in the window, directly under my nose was a bed and in that bed was an obviously sick man, with all the classic symptoms of advanced AIDS. He was practically comatose and could barely respond to my greeting.

I was pretty torn about the whole situation. My job on this particular trip was to get Nolizwi and her belongings from point A to point B. It was late afternoon at the end of a long day, the sun was setting, and I hadn’t had lunch yet. I did not need another sick person to occupy my time, especially one who had an at best tangential connection to Itipini and whom I had never seen before. But he was really sick and he was right under my nose and the Gospel reading for the week was about Jesus healing the paralytic who was dropped in from the roof by his friends. Healing that person probably wasn’t on Jesus’ list of things to do either.

I asked the woman in the wheelchair what was wrong: “Oh, that one. He is sick.”

“Thank you for that statement of the obvious,” I thought.

I asked to see his medical records and see what - if anything - they had been doing for him. It turns out they had been taking him to the clinic and were waiting for results of a blood test, whether the initial test or a CD4 count I couldn’t tell, but they were on the right path. I didn’t have much hope that a person this sick would be able to last all the way through the anti-retroviral preparatory process but the patient was “in the system” and that was all I would have been able to do for him anyway.

As we said our goodbyes, the woman in the wheelchair was effusive in her praise of me and said something like, “You have been blessed by Jesus with powers like his.” Ha! If only she knew how helpless I feel.

Nolizwi got a warm welcome at her new home, which give me a smidgen more of hope for her future.


Claire Bergen said...

Seeing her 2 bags makes me feel that much more guilty about the dozens of boxes I'm packing up to move to a new apartment this weekend. Sure puts things back in perspective.