Back to Africa – Timotea

I’m skipping over the better part of my time in Kenya to bring you this story, but I don’t think you’ll mind too much. This story comes from my two-month stay in the little African nation called Lesotho; it is the story of Timotea.

Timotea was abandoned by his mother, who was HIV positive. If memory serves me, he was found by a police officer under a tree, and eventually brought to the orphanage just outside of the capital city. When he came, he was taken to the hospital for an HIV test, where it was found he was positive. Since his mother couldn’t be found, he was drinking formula and receiving medicines and good, loving care. I know many people prayed he would eventually test negative. I arrived in Lesotho and meet Timotea shortly before he was18 months old. I had only known him for a few weeks when I accompanied two other volunteers, a local worker, and four babies to the hospital for some tests and check-ups — it was time for Timotea’s 18-month HIV re-test. For those of you who may not know, if a baby is born to an HIV positive mother, if they are not breast fed, and have a good diet and good care, they can actually become negative.

I ended up holding Timotea as we sat in the hallway waiting for each child to be called back for their tests. I didn’t expect to go back with him, since I was a new volunteer, but he was called while the long-term workers were with other children, and so I back I went into one of the smallest exam rooms I have ever been in. The nurse, thankfully, spoke English, but I still had a difficult time understanding her. She asked me questions about Timotea’s development, like if he was talking. As far as I had heard, he hadn’t said any words I could understand, but he babbled, and I figured a good bit of what I heard as “babbling” could probably be baby talk in Sesotho. I answered yes. She had me hold Timotea tight with one arm, and hold his hand steady with the other while she pricked his finger for the blood test. She squeezed a tiny amount of blood onto a small strip, and stuck it into a small, plastic thing. It reminded me of a very small pregnancy test. Then, she left the room. I sat there, holding a cotton ball to Timotea’s finger, cradling him tight, as I watched a band of pink appear at the end of the strip. We sat there, wedged between the desk and the wall, watching the pink seep up the strip, revealing an answer I could not understand. I wished desperately I could read the test, wished the nurse had not left the room, and I prayed a short prayer that Timotea would not be positive. I prayed the wonderful, smart, curious child I held in my arms would not find out he would live a short life, one where he would be ostracized from society, one that condemned him to a painful death. I didn’t want that for him, for anyone. I couldn’t imagine it.

After what seemed like an eternity, the nurse returned, glanced at the test and said, “Timotea, he is negative.” My heart leaped. Negative! I wanted to rejoice. I wanted her to rejoice with me! Instead, she bent down, scribbled something on a piece of paper, and told me to take him somewhere else so he could have a blood test. I didn’t understand, and she didn’t explain. I walked out and told the volunteer, who had been their nearly two years, and told her Timotea had tested negative, but that he needed to get another blood test. He explained that if a child originally tested positive, and later tested negative in the finger prick test, they had to have another blood test (done with a larger amount of blood) to confirm that they were indeed negative. We took poor little Timotea to yet another room to have more blood drawn, this time from a giant stab in the groin (ouch!). Then, we waited. And waited. And waited some more. In reality, we probably waited about a week for the results, but it felt like an eternity. Finally, we received the news that he was, truly, negative!

It’s been four years since that day, and I have no idea where Timotea is now. I do know though, that wherever he is, he is no doubt happy and healthy. He was 18 months old when I met him, and today he would be over five and a half. Nearly six. He’s in the first grade, going to school, playing with friends, with siblings. Someday, he’ll fall in love with a girl, get married, and start a family. Someday, he’ll do things that might never have happened. I don’t know under what circumstances his mother left him, what she thought or hoped the outcome might be. If it was a difficult decision. If she loved him. If she had cared for him until she simply couldn’t anymore. If she was unmarried and her family would not support her if she had a child. I don’t know. I do know, that in abandoning him, whether she meant to or not, she helped save his life.

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