I am holed up inside my hut, sheltering from the gusting winds outside. Every surface in my house is covered in a fine layer of dust. This is dry season, the half of the year I spend dreaming of anything green that grows. My poor little herb garden I planted last month is suffering terribly, battered and beaten down by the wind and the heat. My poor husband lies nearby, sleeping off his unreasonably high fever.
In spite of the blustery day and the sick one I am attending to, I am thankful. Thankful for an excuse to sit, thankful for the respite from visitors, thankful for peace and quiet.
These past weeks have brought an onslaught of emergencies to our doorstep. First came a young boy with a hard mass on his liver. We sent him to the best excuse for a hospital that we have in Karamoja three hours away, but we lost him not too much later anyway. Then came a concerned mother with her mal-nourished baby, and Andrew and our teammate Jeremy made the three-hour journey to the hospital themselves this time. Two days later an older man came looking for help with transport to go to that same hospital for some severe liver problems. I knew it was very likely his own drinking that had led him to this point, but we helped him get transport nonetheless. The next morning we received a quick visit from a girl we had sent to the very same hospital for treatment a few months back. No longer emaciated from the combination of HIV and Tuberculosis, we barely recognized her with all that healthy weight in her cheeks. But her visit reminded us that she wouldn’t stay that way for long without more food, which she needed from us. As Andrew dropped me off for my Akiru meeting that afternoon, a distraught old woman carrying a bundle of blankets came up to our car gesturing and asking for help. I went to inspect her bundle and found an impossibly small baby girl just barely two days old (we would later find out she weighed less than 2 pounds). The mother had died after giving birth two months early and this baby had no chance of survival without outside help. Once again, we loaded them up in the car and our teammates left for the three-hour trip within the hour. I made it through my meeting and left for home, exhausted by the last 24 hours. Little did I know that another old woman with another bundle of blankets came looking for me moments after I had gone. She found me later on that week, and once again I laid eyes on an impossibly small baby, a boy this time, who surely had been born premature as well. His skin was saggy and loose, his frame tiny for all of his two months. His mother had not breast-fed him because of her HIV and so he had survived so far on a cup or two of cow’s milk a day, if that. I went to the old woman’s home to take them some formula for the baby and found the mother suffering from her own debilitating mal-nourishment and some kind of cough that I feared was TB. Hours later after health center waits and tests and run-arounds that stretched over two days, I still didn’t have a diagnosis or a solution. Still don’t for that matter. I still don’t know if that mother even wants to help herself get better. I still don’t know if the grandmother can really be trusted to care about that baby or care for that baby.
But for now, I am a little bit thankful to have to care for my own sick husband so that I have an excuse to hide inside, away from the wind, away from the world for a little while. I will worry about today, because tomorrow has enough worries of its own.
***Often people ask what a day in our lives looks like. What is a normal day for us, they want to know. Though every day is not always how these past few weeks have been, weeks and days like these are still very common.