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 more.”

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 room hut. 

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 in  it 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”.  


1 comment:

  1. I love the top picture with you and Nomsa because you can see her eyes smiling despite the mask that covers her face. Such joy despite the hardships she faces.