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.

Langa Langa – Africa, Part One

The church at Langa-LangaWhen I first thought about starting a series reflecting on the time I have spent in Africa, I thought I would kick it off talking about how I decided to go, my first few days on my first trip, but after looking through some scrapbooks and old journals, I’ve decided to just jump right into the middle of a trip. First, let me apologize for the quality of these photos. I took this trip before I had a digital camera, and have no scanner to scan them either. So these are photos I took of the original photos with my digital camera.

My first trip to Africa took me to Kenya, where our group was based in a small village about 50 miles from Nairobi called Gil-Gil. We visited a lot of other small, outlying villages as well as few other, larger, towns. For me, the most memorable moment of the trip came as we journeyed to another small village called Langa-Langa.

Towards the end of our trip, we were sent out in teams of two to talk to and worship with various village churches. I was paired with a man from the church I didn’t know very well, Ron. I was quite worried about this particular part of the trip because I had never spoken to a large(ish) group of people, preached, or really talked in depth about why I believed what I did and what it personally meant to me. Plus, I’d never had to speak using an interpreter before! Even though I didn’t know Ron well, I was glad he was going because I knew he would be good at this particular aspect of our visit. As it turns out, talking through an interpreter was a lot easier than I thought it would be, and actually nicer than just having to talk on your own. I had long, justified pauses, where I could really think about what I wanted to say next (in fact, I should probably consider talking through an interpreter on a daily basis — I would think much more about what came out of my mouth, and Lord knows I often need to do that!).

Ron ended up sharing his testimony, and I decided to talk briefly about Psalm 18. I honestly can’t remember anything I said about it, but I expect I talked a little about what it meant to me. Psalm 18 has been one of my favorite Psalms since I first read it not long after I was saved. For me, it has really embodied what Christ means to me, and what He has saved me from.

And although these things helped me feel stronger about going on mission and about sharing my faith, they didn’t make me feel connected to the people of Kenya. And yet Langa-Langa single handedly gave me a heart for those people — one that I will never, ever forget. I know that a very small part of me will be in Langa-Langa forever. It just so happened the deacon’s wife was named Mary, just like me (Mary is to my right in the very last photo). Because of this, the church declared me to be her namesake. I’m not really sure what happened after this, due to translation problems mostly, but I’m pretty sure the couple “adopted” me. I was sooo touched that they wanted me to be a part of their lives in such a way, and that they would always be happy to see me and to have me stay with them, even though we didn’t speak the same language. Then, Mary challenged me, on behalf of the church to never forget them and to take Africa back to America.

The Langa-Langa church membersTheir love and acceptance of me touched me so profoundly I know it one of the primary reasons I was inspired to return to Africa a year later. Until my trip to Langa-Langa, I felt out of place, like my trip had been a mistake. Somehow, I felt like I just didn’t belong there. The welcome of this small church family made me realize that these people halfway around the world cared for me, and if they cared so much for me to want to make me a permanent part of their lives, should I care just as much about them? Shouldn’t I find a way to better understand them, to identify with them and become an even great part of their lives? What stood out me most though, was that they listened to me. I had, and still have not, experience what their lives are like, what kinds of hardships they endure, and yet they listened to me talk about how Jesus saved me and sustains me though the trouble and pain in my life. They listend and respected me when I had no idea what their lives were really like.

The women of Langa-Langa. I\'m the white girl in purple (duh), and Mary is to my right.Now, four years later, I feel like I have some small idea of what they live on a daily basis, and my respect for them has grown tremendously. I’d like those ladies would be proud of how I’ve brought Africa back to America with me, of how I have carried it in my heart. I wish I could tell them what they have done in my life. They have inspired me to return on a journey that would impact the lives of children, and make an even bigger and longer lasting impact on my heart. I wish they knew how they have changed me. I can only rest in the knowledge that one day, they will…

No Africa Post Yet

Yes, I recently declared I would soon start a series of posts reflection on my time in Africa. I promised I would post the first yesterday, and yet, it is not here. Sorry! I have a couple of semi-good excuses of why its not here yet. The first is simply that it is HARD to pick where to start! But, I think I have finally found a good place to start looking back, and I’m excited to share it with you. The second reason is that I want to post pictures, but have no digital version of photos of the events I want to start off with. I’m trying to find a way to work with this, so get ready! The third wonderful excuse I have is that I seriously underestimated the amount of time I already had committed this weekend. Today is our church’s annual Celebrate America presentation, and both Hubby and I have roles to play in this (he’s running the lights, I’m doing some awesome flag waving), which required a good bit of the day for rehearsal yesterday, and will, quite possibly, claim all of today. Not to mention we leave early Thursday morning for my brother-in-law’s wedding festivities. But I’m really hoping I’ll have something posted by then!