The road to Chulaimbo is bumpy, twisty, pocked with huge holes
in the blacktop, and rolling up and down in a challenge to even the
most motion-tough stomach. And in the rains, the unpaved portions
become a slippery quicksand challenge.
The road is terrible, but the scenery is gorgeous. Green, green
hills with bright red squares of farm plots. Tea fields of
the unparalleled glossy green.
Along the road, women walk with large woven baskets on their
heads, mostly filled with bunches of bananas or freshly picked tea
leaves. Anything can be carried on the head -- plastic jerry cans
of water, stacks of books. Once, I saw a woman and her daughter,
both carrying large, athletic-style backpacks on their heads.
Beatrice is 12, and every day she walks for almost 30 minutes to
get to the river where she collects water for herself and for her
grandmother. She walks back with the water balanced on her head in
a plastic basin.
Beatrice is a good walker; she walks almost 2 hours to come to
the clinic all by herself each month. Beatrice lost her mother and
her father to the HIV virus. Her grandmother, with whom she lives,
is too frail to make the journey to the clinic with her. Even
though she is very small for a 12-year-old, Beatrice walks those
two hours to the clinic each month, carrying a woven basket with
her boxes of medicines, to see the doctors and to get more
On the days that Beatrice walks to the clinic, she cannot go to
school. She tells me that she loves school; she loves history
and she loves reading. They do not have any books in her
house, but at school she gets to read books. Her eyes light up when
she tells me about the new books her teacher purchased for her
classroom this year.
Beatrice is a smart girl, who quietly takes responsibility for
her medicines, for collecting water, for gathering firewood, for
getting herself to school… for all the big and little tasks that
make up her daily life. In the midst of all of her responsibility,
I was horrified to learn that Beatrice has never been told why she
takes the medicines. She doesn't know what is making her sick. She
does not know why she has to walk to the clinic each month - only
that she needs these medicines to stay alive.
I think Beatrice must know her diagnosis on some level, but no
one has ever explained it to her. No one has ever said, "You have
HIV." For this smart girl, who loves history and loves reading and
who has lost both of her parents, I know we need to talk to her
about her sickness. She has already made so much of the journey
into adulthood on her on; we need to help her with the next big
This week, we have put a counselor into Beatrice's clinic, a
disclosure counselor who can begin to explain her HIV infection to
her - slowly, carefully and over as much time is needed.
I hope it will be a way to support Beatrice in her long