"What have I done to deserve this?"

What most people do not see

Mpume was a beautiful sixteen year old girl; she was living with her mother, three siblings and three cousins, (the children of her deceased aunt) in the remote hills of kwaZulu/Natal. Her father was working in Durban and her mother worked in the village 15 kilometres away from their kraal, as a maid. Her father seldom came home and infrequently sent money, so there was little to live on. But because they lived in the rural area, they could grow their own vegetables and maize, they had some hens and a goat. Life was quite good and the family was happy. They each went about their daily routine. Her mother, Lindeni, usually wakes up at 4.30 in the morning; she makes some porridge for the children so that they would not go to school hungry, she washes the dishes, sweeps the floor and puts out the uniforms for the little ones to wear to school. There were no shoes to go with the uniforms because they had no money for shoes. Food was more essential. She sighed quietly to herself as she looked at the seven children all sleeping on the grass mats. They looked so peaceful.

She woke Mpume up, the oldest child. “Come and help me” she said. “We need to fetch some water for the family, before I leave for work”. Mpume got out of bed, dressed in the only clothes she had, a little cotton dress and a light jersey. It was cold at that time of the morning. Mpume and her mother left for the river. Down, down, down they went. It was slippery in the morning dew. Finally they reached the river. Lindeni was late for work and asked Mpume to carry the water back to the hut while she walked the 2 kilometres to where the busses stop, which would take her to work.

Mpume was alone. The sun was just about to come up. Ah, the beautiful African dawn! She was not afraid. She had done this so often before. Mpume dipped the last 25 litre container into the river to fill it. Suddenly there were footsteps behind. Before she could turn around, Mpume was on the ground, shouting and screaming for help. A hand over her mouth, a voice in her ear, so close she could smell the stale breath of the drunken man, “Keep quiet or I’ll cut your throat”. Mpume was petrified. The man tore at her thin cotton dress and holding the knife to her throat continued to violently rape her. It was all over so quickly, but for Mpume time stood still. She lay on the bank of the river for an endless period, in shock, bleeding and afraid. She felt dirty. She felt guilty. “Why me?” “What have I done to deserve this?”

It was this day that changed the life of Mpume’s whole family. Her father had been home to visit six months ago. Her mother was pregnant again with the fourth child and on her way home from work she called in at the clinic for her regular check up. She was constantly sick. This was not how her previous pregnancies had progressed. What was wrong? While she was at the clinic, the nurse did the obligatory HIV test. The nurse was quite nice when she told Lindeni that she was HIV positive and this was why she was always sick. The fear in her heart was not evident to anyone else. She put her head down and slowly made her way home. Wrapped up in her own worries and anxieties she did not notice that Mpume was very quiet and had blue marks on her face, neck and arms and that her little cotton dress was torn. Later that night she was restless and afraid and could not sleep.

During the dark hours as she lay thinking about the future of her children and what would happen to them and trying to overcome her anger directed at her husband, she heard the soft sobbing of Mpume. Selflessly, she rose from her bed and went to Mpume. “What is it, my child?” she asked. Mpume broke down and between the sobs she told her mother what had happened at the river that morning. Lindeni did not know what to do. She held Mpume in her arms and together they cried. They cried about the fact that Mpume was wounded as much in her heart as in her body. They cried about the myth that a man could be cured of AIDS by raping a virgin. They cried until there were no more tears left.

In the morning the two left the little children with Mpume’s twelve year old sister, instructing them to stay inside the hut and not let anyone in. In pain, their bodies sore and tired, they walked hand in hand to the police station many kilometres away. There they were told the procedure for dealing with a rape case. But what worried Mpume and her mother more was whether she was pregnant from the rape and if she had possibly contracted HIV. The legal proceedings were a blur, Mpume was still in shock.

Six weeks later in the local clinic Mpume’s worst fears were confirmed. The nurse told her, that she was pregnant and that she had contracted HIV. The anger that she felt in her heart was almost unbearable. One morning, she sat on the river bank watching the water flow by, not talking to anyone, completely absorbed in her thoughts. The river looked so welcoming. If she walked into the deep water, she could just float away and never come back and all her troubles would be over. She got up slowly, walked to the water and just kept walking.

“Mpume, come and help me carry”, her mother’s request came just in time. Mpume turned round, tears rolling down her cheeks. It was then that her mother realised what her daughter had planned. “She needs help”, she thought, “but where do we go? The police will not help, the clinic sisters are too busy, and the social workers are 80 kilometres away”. Lindeni tried to phone her husband to tell him all the bad news. His employer told her that her husband had been admitted to a hospital in Durban with severe symptoms of tuberculosis three months before. Lindeni was devastated: "What do I do? Who will help me? Where do I go? I have no money! The children are hungry! Mpume and I are both pregnant and both of us are HIV positive. What a state of affairs!"

Lindeni was at the river doing the washing one Sunday afternoon. All the women from the hills around were there too. There was lots of talk. Much of it was about sick children, husbands who did not come home, boyfriends who had other women in the towns and AIDS. One of the ladies was very brave and even though she knew that she risked her life and her status in the community, she admitted that she was HIV positive. She had heard about a place in Mandeni where one could go for help. Lindeni listened attentively. She knew she could not afford to die, she knew that she had to be there for her children. She worried about her husband although he had brought this on his family. But she did not have the time nor the energy to go and see him. So she pushed all thoughts of him to the back of her mind. Mpume’s health and that of her unborn baby, her own unborn baby and that of the other five children, were foremost in her mind. “This place” the lady was saying “is in the village of Mandeni. It is called Blessed Gérard’s Care Centre. There you can get help if you have AIDS or anything else.” Lindeni decided to go and see for herself. But she was scared. She used her last cent to get transport to Mandeni.

As Lindeni entered the Care Centre she looked into the glass doors. She was shocked at what she saw mirrored in the glass: She saw an emaciated woman whose clothes hung on her, although she was in the last stages of her pregnancy, with dark blotches on her skin and a skin rash. She saw someone who was weak and lacking in energy. She saw herself.

But she was surprised. The building was so nice and bright and clean. The people were laughing. There were some white people and lots of Africans and they were all so happy.

A nice lady took Lindeni into a little room where they could talk privately. Lindeni could not believe this because she had never been treated like this before. Everyone was so nice. The lady talking to her spoke in a soft, understanding voice, she did not seem to be in a hurry. The nurse took her time. Lindeni felt confident and told the nurse everything that had happened. The nurse from Blessed Gérard’s Care Centre assured her that she would get all the help she needed. First she explained about the treatment called antiretroviral therapy, which will help Mpume and Lindeni to become healthy again and to live. There was no question that they would accept this help which was being so kindly offered. Lindeni asked how much she had to pay and was astounded when she was told it would not cost her anything, because there are good people who donate money to the Care Centre, so that they can provide their help without charging the patient.

Secondly, the nurse called another nice lady and she explained to her that she could get a grant from the government and gave her all the information she needed to apply for it. She then asked Lindeni how many children she had and what their ages were. She advised Lindeni to apply for a child care grant for them too. It would take her about three months before she might receive the grants from the government. She asked Lindeni if she had enough food at home. Lindeni was embarrassed but told the truth and said no. She was too sick to go to work and her husband was in hospital. There was no food at all. “Do not worry, we will help you. We will give you food parcels, which will sustain you and your children until you receive your grants”, said the nice lady. The nurse then asked Lindeni to bring Mpume to the Care Centre as well, so that both of them could consult the doctor in Blessed Gérard’s Care Centre.

Lindeni and Mpume came to Blessed Gérard’s Care Centre. They are being monitored by the medical professionals in Blessed Gérard’s HAART Programme. Lindeni has had her baby, a wonderful little girl who, we hope and pray, may not have contracted HIV from her mother. Mpume underwent some intense counselling and is now happy about the baby which she is carrying, but she is determined to go back to school after the baby has been born. The man who raped her has since died from tuberculosis and meningitis, both of which are opportunistic infections related to AIDS. Lindeni and Mpume still get all the help they need and continue to progress.

A most sincere "Thank you!" to all the donors who enable us to help Lindeni, Mpume and hundreds of others!

This page is part of the Newsletter No. 25 of the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard

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This page was last updated on Tuesday, 15 January 2013 12:50:20