Two admonishments were bestowed upon me today.
This morning, I was half-baked and by this evening I was crazy.
Let me start with this evening when Burkhart and I appropriated the nearby golf course into our own private track. We raced from green to green nearly passing out before we took a breather on each hole. Once we were done, we jogged back on the road past the locals walking home, all the while listening to them shouting at us saying…. “those “crazy Muzungus”.
Perhaps we are crazy. I guess that is what is required to undertake life in Kabwe. Part of the crazy here are the dizzying rides down the “roads”. The potholes are so deep and large that it makes it difficult to see straight when traversing them on a set of wheels. This morning, in the midst of our roller-coaster ride, I sat in the backseat and started slathering sunscreen all over my exposed skin. I didn’t want to be rude and so I asked Eric if he wanted to use some of my lotion.
Looking back, I guess it was a pretty funny question to ask a weathered African man. It isn’t likely that he had ever been asked that before.
My question received an even funnier answer. Eric told me that he didn’t need any lotion because he was ‘fully baked’. Then he asserted that I needed lotion because I am only ‘half-baked’.
Yes friends… My African’s colleagues identify as fully baked chocolate cakes. Muzungu’s are half-baked and the Chinese are ‘just right’ (despite this, the sun is still trying its best to bake me).
Needless to say, consequent hilarity ensued and our Trail Blazer erupted in laughter, carrying us all the way to Jasmine Public School. The school is situated in the community of Shamabanse, a peri-urban slum of Kabwe.
At the Jasmine school, I felt like a celebrity. Eight hundred children attend school here and mass crowds were shoving and pushing wanting to touch my half-baked skin and catch a smile from my face.
The children wear their uniforms with great pride and their faces shine with joyous furry. The only thing to betray their poverty stricken origin is their filthy feet, which are caked in mud.
The promise of these children and their light and life was juxtaposed against what came next.
In Shmabanse, approximately sixteen in every one hundred people are infected with HIV/Aids. There is no medical care available for the people in this community who are dying (other than drugs donated by charities). There is no social support and little food to share.
A beacon of hope to these people is offered through a local NGO called Impact Community Outreach (“ICO”). ICO coordinates a series of volunteers from within the community to provide much needed home-based care.
Through ICO, I met “Dickens”. Dickens is 37 years old, lying on his sick bed – alone. His body is withered and starving. His legs are in pain. His eyes bulge and rashes cover his body. He can barely move. He is depressed and despondent. He is dying.
My time with Dickens was brief. Our schedule was fully packed. After meeting Dickens, I was off to serve in a local restaurant, which had been established as a revenue-generating business and from there to another community to spend time with widows trying to sustain themselves through sewing and bead-work. There is simply so much work to be done here.
Why is it that so often the briefest moments are the ones to impact you for a lifetime? Special people have a way of doing that.
Dickens is special. Dickens is unable to help himself. All of my heart wants to wrap him up and envelop him in the reassurance that it will all be ok, and I can’t.
I can’t do anything for Dickens. I’m helpless to help him in the same way he is helpless to help himself. I want to but I can’t.
The only thing I could give Dickens was the warmth of my hand upon his shoulder. Despite his weakness and with much effort Dickens gave back to me and put his clammy cold hand upon mine.
Even in the deepest darkest pain, there can be love; there can be hope. But first we must give. And sometimes all we can give is the warmth or chill of our hand upon another.