Nomsa is a 25-year old Swazi woman who is smart, funny and has hopes and dreams like us all. She has Multi-drug Resistant Tuberculosis and is HIV positive. Nomsa lives in a hospital where she receives 22 pills each day and an injection in her hip. The treatment is the only way that she might live, but it makes her vomit daily and the side effects include total deafness and psychosis. Her twin baby girls live at the El Roi baby Home. Nomsa represents many young women in Swaziland.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Chapter 2: Once upon a time Nomsa was a little girl
“I am from a big
family.My father had five wives
and my mother was the youngest wife and because of that the other wives hated
her.Even though my father had
five wives he was still was “hot as chillies” and was cheating on his wives
with other women (even married women).Each of his wives had 8-9 children and I have many brothers and sisters
outside of the marriage family unit.I know about 45 of my brothers and sisters, but I know that I have many
When I asked Nomsa to write about her personal background,
that was how her story began. It is not an unfamiliar tale and is common to
many people here in Swaziland.Swaziland is a polygamist society.I am told by my Swazi friends, who remember the “good old days”, that
the polygamist family structure seemed to work back then. Women knew that there would be more than
one wife and they learned to work together in the fields, cooking, cleaning and
raising their collective children.Each child would call each wife “mom” and all of the children belonged
to all of the wives.But in the
past few generations things started to change and the moral fiber of the
country started to decay. Husbands
left the homesteads to find work (sometimes to another country) and they
started to be unfaithful to their wives, often bringing HIV/AIDS in to the
homestead as a result.
Nomsa continued, “My
mother gave birth to eight children.Two boys died before I was born.I have three brothers and two sisters that I know very well.
Unfortunately my older sister died while she was trying to do an abortion. She
was 18-years old and was doing 9th grade.It was a really said moment for the family.Fingers pointed at each other. You
know, family issues.”
Nomsa lived with her mother and siblings in a typical Swazi
Homestead where each wife had their own hut made of mud walls and grass thatch
roof.They shared a common kitchen
and her father had his own home and would visit his wives as he chose.There was no way for her father to
properly care for all of his wives and children so some of the wives were
forced to go and find manual labor.
Nomsa’s mother went and got a job in the sugarcane fields
and life changed for them all.By
working at in those fields Nomsa’s mother was able to move her children to the
farm. They may have lived in one small room all together, but the walls were
made of concrete block, there was electricity and a door that locked!They shared running water, outdoor pit
latrine and a cooking area with the other areas, but the children were clean
and fed and went to a local school that was very good. Nomsa loved her mother
and was so happy to be away from the other wives and her many siblings as they
were very abusive to Nomsa and her family.
In the year 2000, not long after they moved to their new
home, tragedy struck.Nomsa’s
mother was run over by a tractor in the sugarcane field and died.Nomsa’s world came crashing down around
her.She was 12-years old and was
forced to move back to the family Homestead with her brothers and sisters and
hope that someone would help them with food. She told me, “I didn’t know how to
do anything!I didn’t know how to
wash my clothes, how to grow food, how to cook food, nothing! It was terrible
and I was terrified”.
No one helped them, and really the other wives had very
little to give that could help. There were already too many hungry mouths to
feed so the family was split up and it was “every child for themselves”.Nomsa’s brothers and sisters headed off
to find their own way and Nomsa moved in with an “Auntie” (defined as someone
you are related to in some way – often distant).The Auntie was very sick and died only three months later.This happened again when she moved to
the next home – the Auntie died.The
HIV/AIDS pandemic had hits its peak and it was wiping out Nomsa’s family in
front of her own eyes.
Nomsa finally was offered space on the floor of a neighbor
who had three sons (age 30, 24, 18) and four daughters all sleeping in a one
Here is how she described her life at that time, “That was hell.Every time when I was just left alone in the house when they
have gone to fetch water the boys use to sneak in and ask me to sleep with them
or try to force themselves on me until I would shout.I was young and scared that they would say that I was
telling lies.I have kept this to
myself, and Janine you are the first person to know this after 11 years of keeping
it secret.Hey, one day I was to
fetch the water one day for the household when the 24-year old boy followed me
as if he was also going to fetch water.The water was a at a dam where there was tall bushes and while I reached
for water he jumped on me and help me tight forcing his body to me.I tried to shout but no one came to my
rescue.No one would have cared
anyway. I was a young beautiful stranger living in their home.It was painful. I saw blood on my legs
and sat crying while he left me in my pain.It was late and I was scared to go back to that place
because they would scold me and the boy would deny it and bring me more pain so
I decided to to and sleep at another homestead nearby.Hey, you don’t want to know what
troubles I brought on myself. The old lady from the first homestead came after
me with a big stick.She pulled
back the blanket where I was sleeping and beat me very badly, then made me go
back to her house again, back to hell.I stayed there until my older brothers showed up some time later and
took me away with him.That is
another painful memory that I will have to share at another time”.
This young woman is remarkable. She is a testament to the
strength of the human spirit.I
love sitting with her each week and visiting, but I am often thankful for the
TB mask that I wear to cover my face.While it is hot and very hard to breathe init hides the pain my face muscles would surely give away as
I listen to her share her life with me.
Nomsa’s health is getting better and I am so thankful for
that.Patients on this heavy
medication require a lot of protein, and while the hospital does their best
they can’t possibly provide all that is needed.So when I visit I use funds in my “Compassion Purse” (money
given to me by supporters who want me to have cash available to buy food or
other emergency items as necessary without being worried about not having the
money) to buy her food – meat mostly.There is no refrigerator so she gets sausage (she loves pork), fish and
beef to eat over a 24 hour period.Then I bring some combination of cereal (oatmeal/Cornflakes/Wheatabix)
with dried milk powder that she can make in to mild.The hospital doesn’t provide soap or lotion so those are
items that I take her and she always shares with those around her.
Leah and Rachel - Nomsa's second set of twins - they live at the El Roi Baby Home.
Each time I visit Nomsa I go around and visit her friends in
the ward. Phindile was Nomsa’s closest friend and she was the only woman of the
original 10 women who was still alive (not including Nomsa and the 13-year old
girl).Phindile shared her cell
phone with Nomsa and Nomsa shared her lotion with Phindile.They would sit and read the bible
together (Nomsa reading to Phindile as she couldn’t sit up any more).They became good friends even in the
face of death.
Last week I visited Nomsa on her 25th birthday.
She had never had a birthday cake before so I took a slab of chocolate and a
slab of vanilla cake so she could enjoy and share with other patients. I went over to Phindile’s bed, but she did
not look good at all. She was emaciated and you could see all of her bones on
her naked body. As she lay on her back her breasts slid down on both sides of
her chest almost resting on the mattress.She couldn't talk anymore and they had put her on oxygen.Her mother was there, rubbing her arm
and trying to provide her daughter with comfort, but there was little that
could be done.Unfortunately I
have seen too many people whose bodies have been destroyed by HIV/AIDS and you
get to a place where you know they will not return to health.She was happy to see me, but her eyes
darted around the room as she cried out for help. Her legs had swollen up many
times their original size and her belly was started to bulge.That night at 12:04 AM Phindile cried
out, “Jesus take me!” and she was gone.
Nomsa was with Phindile as bloody liquid from her stomach
started to come out of her mouth and nostrils. There were eight new patients in the ward and everyone else
slept through the night.Nomsa was
alone and scared.
Please join me in praying for all of the Nomsa’s in Swaziland
who are scared, in pain and have no options.May we see them one by one and as our Pastor Andy Stanley
says, “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone”.