If Not Now

My general bent is an optimistic one. I tend to think that it's possible to make things better, even in the midst of broken systems and imperfect people. I suspect it is this outlook that allows me to keep doing the work that I do in Kenya.

Despite this bent, there are times when I get tired. Too many sick children in the clinic in need of HIV medicines and food and parents. The crushing poverty of the slums, on a magnitude that I cannot wrap my mind around. A schedule that leaves me with not a moment to breath in between long drives to distant clinics, meetings, visitors to show around, and students to supervise. "When?" I ask. "When will things be better?"

This afternoon, as I drove the hot, dusty, tense two hours back to Eldoret from a busy day at the Webuye clinic, my thoughts kept returning to my last patient. I broke my "rule" about not seeing adult patients for a skeleton of a woman who was collapsed in a wheelchair and begging me for food. The patient looked 80, but her 50-year-old mother said she was only 30. The clinical officer and I agreed that she needed HIV medicines and an intensive program to introduce nutrition back into her body, but I left the clinic with the echo of her pleas for help in my ears.

We returned to the AMPATH center in Eldoret in time for a special concert in the courtyard of the AMPATH building by a visiting folk singer, Carrie Newcomer. Performances by skilled artists are not very common in rural Kenya, and they are precious. A large crowd had gathered, including most of the doctors, nurses and patients from the HIV clinics and the sick children from the hospital wards. A small girl with burn scars contracting the right half of her body danced in the courtyard as Carrie and her husband, Robert Meitus, played their guitars. Carrie's rich voice filled the space with her songs, weaving lyrical stories about life and connection and hope. An hour of respite for AMPATH - melody and reflection and dancing and deep breaths in and out instead of medicine and waiting in line and too many too-sick patients.

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This song got me:

If not now, tell me when
If not now, tell me when.
We may never see this moment
Or place in time again
If not now, if not now, tell me when.

I see sorrow and trouble in this land
I see sorrow and trouble in this land
Although there will be struggle, we'll make the change we can.
If not now, if not now, tell me when.

I may never see the Promised Land.
I may never see the Promised Land.
And yet we'll take the journey
And walk it hand in hand
If not now, if not now, tell me when.

So we'll work it til it's done
Every daughter, every son,
Every soul that ever longed for something better,
Something brighter.

It will take a change of heart for this to mend.
It will take a change of heart for this to mend.

But miracles do happen every shining now and then.
If not now, if not now, tell me when
If not now, if not now, tell me when

The lyrics resonated in my heart. Sorrow and trouble. Struggling for change. Too many who are not able to see the Promised Land, who die too early, far too early. And yet we work and we long for something better, something brighter.  Too often crying "If not now, tell me when." And my tired heart - tired from pouring myself into this work - was reminded that this is a challenge worth pouring myself into, pouring myself out for.

Because miracles do happen every shining now and then.

AMPATH has enrolled over 150,000 people in HIV care. Each of us have seen plenty of miracles here. Even as we long for something better, even as we struggle... we'll make the change we can.

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Posted at 19:25

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