276 HIV-positive women, plus several hundred more children, aunts, neighbors, husbands. 122 children evaluated, weighed, reviewed: 16 newly confirmed to be NOT infected, two newly diagnosed HIV-positive. 5 tons of beans. 300 kg of salt. 4 prayer warriors interceding on the side. A couple of dozen volunteers, missionaries and Ugandans, registering, weighing, carrying, testing. 600 cups of porridge, to bide the crowd through the long day. Untold angels enjoying the spectacle of the happy terminally ill meeting together. Pat shared with us the testimony of two of the women: they thanked God for their HIV-infection, because it was the reason they came to know Him. Scott with his check-lists and organization moving the whole process along. Two supporters in New York who never see the blessing they bestow by funding this effort.
This is Dieu-Merci. Her mother quipped that she did not become infected through an HIV-positive husband: she became infected through SOMEONE ELSE"S HIV-positive husband. Hmmmm. When this baby was born, she looked like she needed God's mercy in more than just her name. She was tiny, and hospitalized with a serious infection of her miniscule leg and knee joint. Though her mother had never settled down much before, she took seriously the responsibility of this baby that she never expected to have. She was persistent and aggressive in seeking care. Because of her life-threatening early infection, I had little hope that the baby would turn out to be HIV-negative. But today she had her third and final negative test. She escaped. God's mercy.
Biira Latifa's mother sat at my station looking confused. She did not know the child's birthdate, or even age, and seemed confused on the name. She could not come up with any paperwork to show any previous care or testing. Her vagueness came across as deceit to me, and my quick-to-judge heart suspected fraud (we do get people lying about who they are or their kids are, to try to get food .. . ). I spied an immunization card in her bag and made her pull it out, expecting to prove mistaken identity. But it was the right kid, and the mom seemed embarrassed that she was so flustered. She did not look so well herself, and other women began to tell her what to do. Perhaps she was anxious, or perhaps the HIV has affected her mentally. We sent Biira for testing. An hour later they were back, waiting for the result. I told her that Biira was negative, not infected. She clapped her hands above her head, loudly, praising God and attracting attention. But then she bent down, covered her face with her hands, crying. It made me get tears, too. Here was this mom that I thought was deceitful and incompetent, but she was trembling with relief about her daughter, thankful.
These are two small snapshots of a day full of noise, bustle, facts, figures. Real people with real stories, too numerous to tell: Byaruhanga with his mom Luci, back from months of disappearance. Mumbere with his faithful grandmother, feisty as ever, infected but thriving on ARV's. Another careful mom who begged for yet one more test on her child, too scared to believe the good news until she had it in triplicate over the course of two years. Broken-hearted women asking for prayer for their children left with grandmothers and fathers, because they've been chased away from the family, stigmatized with their infection. Women smiling at each other's children, greeting old friends. Women who have been with us for five years, pressing on. Small struggles in a continent-wide battle against AIDS.