Beatrice's Walk


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 medicines.

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 steps.

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 walk.


Posted at 07:27


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