May 25, 2009

Memorable Encounters at Ngangalizwe

It seems that I spend at least a bit of each day at the Ngangalizwe Health Centre, the government-run clinic about a fifteen-minute walk up a hill from Itipini. It is our “mother ship,” so to speak. We get some medicines from there and refer people there for preparation for anti-retrovirals or ante-natal care. I am often up there to get pills, because I’ve given a sick patient a ride, or to check results from the lab, among many other reasons.

Here’s one of the clinic buildings, though the whole complex is currently undergoing a dramatic face-lift.
I frequently bump into people I know, whether it be the (formerly) fearsome nurses who run the place, the pharmacist I have to sweet-talk every time I want something, or people from Itipini we’ve sent up for something. I am the only white person I have EVER seen in that clinic so I attract a lot of attention even from patients who don’t know me, who often think I am a doctor.

The other day I bumped into Noncedo, formerly a student in my after-school English class. She was in grade 12 last year and failed the high-stakes test at the end of the year that determines if the student gets a diploma or not. But she didn’t fail by much and in January I strongly encouraged her to go to the supplementary education to prepare to re-write the test. She initially seemed interested but then disappeared and I hadn’t seen or heard from her since about mid-February.
So I was happy to see her on Thursday and asked how she was and commented that I hadn’t seen her in a while. As I was asking why she was at the clinic I glanced down from her face and noticed a tell-tale bump in her abdomen. I switched to my standard set of questions for women when I learn they are pregnant - are you going to the ante-natal clinic? have you had an HIV test? when are you due?

It’s not unusual for me to learn about a new pregnant teenager but as I walked away I couldn’t help but remember a sentence Noncedo had written in a letter to our pen pals in South Carolina last year. I don’t remember it word for word but it was something like, “Some girls think it is OK to sleep with men but that is not our culture and I don’t do that.” (How that worked its way into a letter that was supposed to be about what her favourite subject is is beyond me.)

The pregnancy explains why she lost interest in school and disappeared. There’s this belief around here that pregnant women can’t go to school, which is dumb. Noncedo isn’t due for another month or two. She could have gone to the extra education and already re-written the test by this point.

On another trip on Thursday to Ngangalizwe, I stopped in the Infectious Diseases (read: HIV) part of the clinic. There were five women from Itipini, all getting the results of their most recent CD4 count. They all wanted a ride back, which I was happy to provide. As I watched the women standing by the truck, staring at their results, it reminded me of what it was like to get a test back in middle school. Everyone looked at their results and then started peeking over at their neighbour to see what he or she got. The same thing unfolded in the parking lot. I didn’t catch the whole conversation but it went something like, “What’d you get?” “753” “Oh, that’s good.” “No, not really. Last time it was 943. What’d you get?” “504” and so on. It was heartening to me that they would all be talking so openly about their CD4 counts.

When we returned to Itipini, I marched them all into the clinic so I could record their results. Nothemba, in the middle, didn’t want to have her picture taken.
And so that’s Ngangalizwe. Maybe someday I’ll convince some of the nurses there to let me take their pictures and can write a bit about them.


pamela grace said...

hey. i just wanted to ask what do i to be a volunteer? are there any specific requirements?

Anonymous said...

hey,thats true pamela how can one volunteer to try and help our community.