In the midst of the rains, it is a rough, muddy drive along a
treacherous series of rutted roads to get to Lilian's house. Every
road is an adventure. (I think you'll agree with me when you look
at this photo from today's drive. So thankful for 4-wheel
But our big adventure for the day was Lilian. Lilian stands in
the doorway of her one-room house. Inside the mud walls, it is cool
and dark, and the rain is loud on the corrugated tin roof. But
Lilian welcomes us graciously into her house, with its two chairs
and its floor of dirt, and she makes the space warm and bright.
Lilian makes her home in this single room with her two young
daughters, a 5-year-old and 7-month-old, and her 18-year-old
orphaned niece. Lilian's husband died several months ago, only a
few days after the birth of the baby. He never got to see his
second daughter grow into the dimpled baby who is drooling smiles
Although this mother and her young family have very, very little
by any standard of measurement, she was a ray of light. "So
strong!" my research assistant said.
For the first 3 years after she knew that she and her older
daughter and husband were infected with HIV, Lilian kept the
diagnosis a secret. Then, she started to share this big
secret. First with a close friend, then with a few other close
neighbors, and finally with her husband's family. All too
often, we hear stories about how mothers are rejected and forced to
leave their family homes when people learn they are HIV positive.
All too often, they are shunned by their extended family and
community. They may lose their children. They may lose everything.
Sharing this secret is often too risky to consider.
But Lilian shared. Bravely. And she was shocked by their
response. Lilian's family and friend's embraced her with support.
They encouraged her to continue taking the medicines for HIV and
giving them to her children. They tell her that they want to help
her take care of herself and her children. "Be strong," they tell
What a difference that makes! The circles of people around
this woman - friends, neighbors, family, church, and tribe - form
an enabling, encouraging, empowering network. Despite her
widowhood, despite the long long walk she has to make to clinic
(with a 5-year-old and a baby), despite how little she has, she is
taking her own medicines faithfully. She makes sure that her
5-year-old, Mercy, gets the HIV medicines twice a day, every
day. She has seen that we could prevent her 7-month-old baby from
being infected through the medicines we gave Lilian and the
baby. Now, Lilian encourages other mothers to "be free", to
tell even one other close friend about the HIV, to come together
and to support one another.
Lilian dreams that Mercy will grow up to be a musician, a
singer. She delights in how Mercy loves to sing in church. After
much prompting from her mother, Mercy sent us off from the little
mud house with a song about how much Jesus loves her -- and how
much her mama loves her.
I drive away from some homes and from some clinics with a sad or
weary heart. I left this little house encouraged by the forms this
love has taken and the ways that the community around this family
nurture and support that love. I write about this visit to remember
one of the good days, the hopeful examples of how families can
survive and thrive.