At last we reached the "pottery house", a homestead of five women who had all been married to one old muslim man who died in August. Mud homes, a well-swept courtyard, two smoldering fires under a tiny poled root-only kitchen, pots-in-the-making lined up under the eaves. The oldest wife recognized Bethany with squeals of delight and called to everyone else as she clapped her hands and hugged Bethany off of her bike. They pulled up the only two low wooden folding chairs for us, and then some stools for others, while the majority sat on mats. Within moments at least twenty kids between the ages of 1 and 10 had materialized to watch us, closely, while we greeted the women. And of course curious neighbors sauntered over to check out the excitement.
This homestead has been an unlikely place of friendship for a series of young women on our team. They asked about their old friends: Carol Logan seemed to be most on their minds, Amina a former secretary for CSB now in school in Kampala, Catherine, Kim, Rachel. We gave news of who was working in Sudan, who was married, who was still in school. Hard to imagine for these women, the way Bethany disappears to another world then returns, with news of all the others. I've only visited a time or two, with one of the others.
But the most fun, for me, was to find one of my patients there. I had forgotten that a daughter of this household came through our PMTCT program and was found to be HIV-infected. She ran into the house to bring her infant Peter out to sit on my lap, an adorable 5-month old with dimples and the thumb-sucking habits of an early-weaner. There by the kitchen hut a Matiti-project goat stood tied. And by the fire was a thermos of recently pasteurized milk. And judging from Peter's cuddliness, not to mention the volume of urine he peed all over my lap, he's getting plenty of goat-milk to drink. We had just sent tests on him from Kwejuna project last week, so I don't yet know his status. But in the evening open-air fireside, holding him, smiling at his young mom, I truly prayed he would turn out to be negative. Sons are the only security for these women, now widows and orphans.
As neighbors enquired, I could hear the women bragging: Bethany is our friend, she slept right there in that house. And Jennifer is the mother of those children, those four. She's the doctor who takes care of the Wednesday patients. She is in charge of the ward for children. If your child is sick she helps you with medicine for free. It is a good place to go. I'm used to being muka-dokta, the doctor's wife. So it was interesting to hear myself talked about by women who knew me as a mom (the thing they were most interested in) and a doctor, at random homestead on a small nowhere road, women of creativity and resilience who were willing to befriend a handful of missionaries, and then found themselves also helped in their time of need. The world is an interesting place.