Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sundays in Swaziland

Noah is not doing well.
After I posted my last blog entry, I checked my email and the people at the orphanage had written to me to tell me that Noah was having cyanotic episodes (ie going blue). This is certainly not a good sign given that he was born prematurely and in a latrine.
I had mentally braced myself for the possibility that Noah has HIV, but I had not braced myself for the possibility that Noah may die before I see him again.

I was very sombre when I returned to my flat. The Pons called to ask me to a braai (BBQ) at their place, but I politely declined. The last thing I felt capable of doing was socialising. I will have dinner with them tomorrow night instead. It’s often difficult for my family and friends to understand, but when I am really upset, I need to be alone. I need time to reflect, I need to reach for my own inner peace. Anyway, Dr Pons then told me that he had spoken to the local Anglican minister in town and mentioned that I was around. Dr Pons asked me if he could pick me up in the morning so that I could attend mass. This was an awfully sweet gesture as Dr Pons does not even attend this church. I think he just thought that I needed some divine intervention in my life.

I don’t normally attend church. As I have mentioned previously, whilst being brought up an Anglican and receiving an excellent education in a Catholic school, I find that my thoughts on God and spirituality do not fit in with these mainstream religions. My spirituality tends to be reflected in nature, the kindness of fellow human beings and the belief that religion is more the way we choose to live our lives rather than the rituals and symbols presented in formalised religion.
Anyway, I decided to accept the invitation and I went along to St Christopher’s this morning. A very small, simple church ministered by a local Swazi called Father Peter. As always, I stood out with my white skin and the recognition that I was the dokatella from Good Shepherd. The people there were incredibly friendly and delighted to have me as part of their congregation. The service was exactly the same as what I have paid witness to in Australia and I am afraid I did not find the enlightenment or comfort I was desperately hoping to seek. Half way during the service, the minister asked me to get up and address the congregation. I was certainly not warned that this would happen, but very little phases me now and I got up to the pulpit. I explained where I was from and what I was doing here and then I started to cry. This is a curse that has afflicted me since childhood. My inability to control my tears in public. I spoke of the burden of HIV in this country and my feelings of helplessness in trying to relieve the suffering. I told them that I had lost my faith. The congregation responded with rapturous applause and I just stood there a little embarrassed at my public display of emotion, but the people obviously appreciated my frank honesty. One of the congregation members then said a prayer on behalf of everyone and she openly and passionately prayed for me. It was really very touching. We then prayed that the recent political turmoil here would resolve peacefully and then we prayed for rain. Water is scarce here and as one parishioner eloquently explained- people are drinking the same water as the cattle.

I then walked back to Good Shepherd. It was 9am and the weather was beautiful. There was almost no one else in sight and the only sounds I could hear were the songs of birds and the occasional groan from the cattle. It is spring here and the Jacaranda trees are in full bloom. It seems like the whole of Swaziland is coated in a carpet of purple blossoms.
It is these moments that give me peace, comfort and a sense of God.

The rest of my day has been spent resting. I am having dinner with the Peace Corp people tonight. Jenny returned to Scotland on Friday and Julia is leaving next week. I know I will feel a deep void when she leaves. We have a new member of our “family”. Her name is Susan. She is originally from Ohio, but a few years ago, she married a British man and she has been living in England for the past 6 years. She is here for 12 months as a public health consultant and she will be working on a project to try and co-ordinate care in those co-infected with HIV and TB. We get along really well and I have spent the week settling her into Good Shepherd. The irony is- I’m now the “local” showing people all around and explaining all the bizarre things here that only a local could ever understand.