Last night I had more to write about, except that here at the agricultural training institute our electricity cuts out at ten o’clock. The lights went out and Marianne, fighting hard with a book—a life of Maimonides—which she has declared her intention to enjoy, called shotgun for our single hand-crank flashlight. In my exhaustion I never thought to challenge the logic of shotgun by proposing something more rational, like rock/scissors/paper, so she won.
Our visits to HIV patients had exhausted me mentally as well as physically. While the villagers collected their mosquito nets from the institute, Marianne and I and four other volunteers accompanied the local doctor, who has simplified his name to Sadock Wilson for our sake, on a slog up steep hills through rising afternoon heat to deliver nets to some especially vulnerable patients.
Sadock’s relentless cheer and energy—he kept his coat and tie on throughout our slog since, as he put it, “One must die like an officer”—make him hard to recognize as the same discouraged man we had talked to last year in the Dareda Kati Town public clinic and whom I described in my July 25 post as perhaps “around thirty although the dark circles under his eyes made him seem older.” How did he manage to qualify as a doctor only a year after telling me that he had, as I wrote in that post, “neither a doctor’s nor a nurse’s training”?
His smile, always there, got a little wider. “Maybe you ask me some questions about myself and I say nothing, just shake my head, because I am so tired. But now I have some help at the clinic and, because now I am a doctor, the government raise my salary.”
Breathing hard, on one of the taller hills, I asked him again whether he wanted to take off his coat and tie, but he waved off the idea. “I think it reduces your obesity.”
Sadock is a stout man and may have meant his own obesity, but the “your” hits a soft spot. When Joas greeted me at the airport last week he asked if I was pregnant, so I try to suck in my stomach as we near the crest of the hill. Just beyond, Sadock promises, we can stop where one of his HIV patients lives.
Marianne and I know her, though I won’t give her name, because she cooked in the agricultural institute’s kitchen last year and works there again now. Just like last year, she cries not for herself but for her eight-year-old son, also HIV-positive. The woman has no man who will stay with her and her son refuses to attend school, assuring his mother that the other children will not accept him. The woman begs us to pay for her son to go to a boarding school for HIV-positive children where nobody will taunt him, but Sadock speaks calmly and firmly to her and to her son in Swahili while she stares at the ground and the boy stares at the doctor.
“He say,” our young translator for the day, Ezekiel, tells us, “that it is not true, that the other children will accept him and he will make many friends and learn from good teachers at Ufani School. He say he don’t know about any boarding school for HIV-positive children but that nobody can take good care of him like his mother can because nobody love him like his mother.”
Ezekiel pauses to listen. He smiles as Sadock talks on and on, still calmly and firmly. “He just say the same thing more, but in different ways.” Two years ago Ezekiel spent all ten days in the village with us, translating and also doing construction work at Ufani School. Many of us keep up e-mail or Facebook contact with him, including me. He had arrived in the morning, after riding his brother’s motorcycle all the way from Arusha, and immediately paid me for the digital camera I brought him from the United States, which would have cost much more in Tanzania. Ezekiel knows we love and trust him, so he offers his own opinion about the woman and her son: “I think what the doctor say is true.”
Whether the woman and the boy believe the doctor, we don’t know. But she smiles brightly for her photograph with Marianne and the mosquito net before we leave in order to deliver a net to a second HIV patient, another woman whose husband left years ago. She tells her neighbors that her husband must work far away, in Kenya, and he visits her from time to time to help maintain the pretense. This woman, who also smiles for her picture, is the last HIV patient we find despite all our hiking through the heat of the afternoon.
Every one of Dr. Wilson’s HIV patients receives antiretroviral medicines without charge. However, the two patients we visited and some of the others must walk several miles to get to the clinic, so I tell Sadock that Karimu might want to supply the village with a four-by-four. He says the Tanzanian government would maintain a vehicle donated to a public clinic like his and would also subsidize free transportation of emergency patients there. I’ll remember this.—Don Stoll