More than a Statistic

(To keep this dear friend and CiH woman anonymous, we’ll use the name Sarah as a replacement for her real name) Sarah has been shyly asking to talk to me after each training class. We’ve missed each other with timing the past few times we’ve tried to chat.  I asked Sarah if she wanted to meet today after class because I could tell that the topic of discussion was really getting at her. Perhaps it was an issue with another woman in the community or a question about our products. Little did I know just what conversation I was going to step into.

Sarah has been coming to class much later than the other women. She comes in quietly, shakes everyone’s hand as customary, takes her seat and gives no excuse for her tardiness. To be grossly honest, I was getting a bit frustrated that she didn’t place the group as a priority like the rest of the women.

So she starts off our conversation with “I’m sorry I have been coming late.” As a group we have an openness policy where any offenses we make to the group must be covered with an apology to every group member. So this seemed like protocol. I forgave her and got ready to leave.

But wait. Sarah shares that her husband has been ill. Malaria, my first thought? Before I ask she shares, “and it’s not malaria.” The local clinic in Ng’ombe, serving over 80,000 people, has stopped doing many of the necessary tests to determine life-threatening diseases, most likely due to cut funding and understaffing. So Sarah and her husband have been to 4 different hospitals and clinics seeking answers.

Her eyes glassy, her voice soft and shaky, “He has HIV.” My heart falls out of my chest, my mind racing. Before I can think of any questions to ask, Sarah’s face lights up for a fleeting moment when she shares the great news that her 2 young children tested negative, and she too. But I could see the devastation remaining in her eyes. The heartbreak. The death sentence. The love of her life slipping through her fingers.

Sarah’s husband has been “sick” for over a month, bed ridden, losing weight rapidly. He can’t walk for more than 5-10 minutes without becoming extremely exhausted. His body is deteriorating. So what does this have to do with Sarah being late? Sarah is pouring out all of her love for this man. She comes late because she’s with him, taking care of him every second of the day, but prepares a big meal, serves it to him and instructs him to rest for the one hour she can get away to come to class for encouragement and training. Sacrifice at the deepest level. Sarah fears that her husband won’t keep enough weight to return to work. She looks at their money, dwindling rapidly without his paychecks to rely on.

Just months ago Sarah saw Clothed in Hope as a hobby since her husband was a successful bread-winner for their family. Now she clings to the group for community, for love, for income, though no other group members know about her husband yet. To us she’s seemed irresponsibly late. But now to me she seems like a hero. A woman facing the unimaginable, watching her young husband fade before her eyes to the disease of which no one knows much of anything. Choosing love, clinging to hope.

As of 2011, 13% of Zambian adults are living with HIV/AIDS. That’s 800,000 people. And 31,000 people died from this monster in 2011. And Zambia ranks 6 in world for Adult Prevalence Rates according to the CIA Factbook.

But all of this seems to change when it’s our best friend’s husband. When the pain expressed through her eyes shatters me to the core. When we try to conjure up hopeful solutions, but know deep down what’s ahead.

Sarah didn’t ask for money for those expensive pills to keep symptoms down. She didn’t say she’s quitting the group. She just said that she’s more dedicated to this group than ever before. And that her only wish for her husband is to somehow provide him with enough protein to have strength to endure the day.

Sarah’s husband is dying to HIV/AIDS. Sarah’s husband hasn’t told anyone because he’s waiting to find out how long he has to live, a test that will come back tomorrow. He’s afraid. She’s heartbroken. We’re heartbroken.

Sarah, her husband, and her 2 young children would greatly appreciate your thoughts and prayers. And if you feel so inclined, we would gladly accept any donations to provide her husband with the protein he needs to keep muscle on his body. 100% of donations in the next week will go to her husband for food and medical bills. We believe in development, but we also believe in loving those in need. Sarah’s husband needs our help.

With Chikondi, Amy