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Moments in South Africa

Updated: Dec 6, 2017

I recommend getting your heart grabbed by as many people as you can fit into your schedule.

Before I left America, I was volunteering for a hospice in Arizona. In America, HIV is manageable and people are living very long lives because of proper medication. In turn there are not many AIDS infected individuals in hospice care.

I told them if they come across anyone with AIDS that I was their person.

They called me up one day and said that they had a young woman with full-blown AIDS for me but that she lived far away. I didn't care and went to see her a couple dyas later at her father's home.

-Her name is Traci.

She was quite thin and was recently blinded by the disease. I walked in and said, "Hi" expecting a small voice if any voice at all. This beautiful and full voice came out of this 32-year-old woman. She talked and talked. So happy and alive despite not being able to get out of bed and/or see.

She mentioned that she would love to work with beads.

After she was finished talking for the day, she asked me about myself. I told her that I was leaving for South Africa soon and that I would be volunteering at adult and children hospices. I told her that in a couple days I would come again and bring beads to work on.

She piped up and said, "Do you know what would be great? If we made bracelets and you took them to South Africa and gave them to the children with AIDS." "They would like that wouldn't they?"

A life came across her and you could see that she saw more reasons to live until the next time I saw her.

My best friend and I found great beads and string and I brough them the next week. She was quite weak and because she couldn't see well, she would work on the bracelets the best she could, then I would take overr.

We made a nice bag of colorful bracelets.

I have those bracelets.

I can't wait to give them away.

Moments present themselves. Every moment. No matter what.

In South Africa (1)

I just went to the grocery store to get some food and maybe about four blocks away from my home there was a huge family of baboons just hanging out on the side of the road.

Anybody who knows me well knows I love monkeys. Love them!

I pulled over and sat on the side of the road and the baboons and I ate my dinner… a bag of carrots.

What a thrill for me!

In South Africa (2)

I am counseling the African nurses and I have had to put in a lot of extra hours just earning trust from them. It's a small struggle but the payoff is great. I am learning more and more and feel strangely at home. We talk in groups and one-on-one.

Self-support and self-love and coping skills.

How to fall in love with yourself.

Giving to yourself first so you have unlimited supply to give to others.

Things they have never heard of. The bravest person is the person who looks to discover his/her own self. It's true. The only person you have been with since birth is sometimes the very person avoided at all costs.

In South Africa (3)

Her name is Anna Nzama.

She was at the hospice for 2 1/2 weeks. She was beginning on 40 years old.

Something about her stood out. She had something special in her. It wasn't just me who noticed it. Strings of people were constantly visiting.

Transportation is very difficult here so folks had to go to a lot of trouble coming out here. Her beautiful daughter would come often. I would always encourage the staff to get to know Anna. Every moment with her was a treat for me.

She would speak with me in very good English. Her eye contact pierced mine and I could feel her always searching my eyes to see if I was OK, unconcerned about herself. Anna’s HIV was taking over her body and she knew it. I would ask her how she was doing every day and I would get a very honest answer of "not well".

Such a brave honest answer to what is going on inside is quite rare. She would then often wet her lips to keep them moist and smile and we would laugh together.

A week ago I stayed at work late into the evening and a group of Anna’s family and friends came in to visit her. They gathered around her bed and began to sing. Now, I don't know if you have ever personally heard black women sing, but it shakes you.

They sang in Zulu and invited me to join in the singing.

As I stood there mouthing the words the best I could, Anna fixed her eyes on mine while she sang. That will be 2 minutes I won't forget. It is powerful to me when the patients sing. The other night a woman who is going through pains I can't even conceive of, broke out in song so passionately that all the patients joined her.


Anna and I shared a lot of moments but my favorite times were holding her hands.

Not only would she receive my hands so graciously but she would treat me like I was holding her heart.

When in reality, she was holding mine.

The day before last our hands had a very hard time letting go of each other. We let go very slowly and strongly, finger by finger as I walked away. Yesterday I came into work and she was over in the "out of view" area we keep patients when they are coming close to death.

The nurse said that she was fine minutes earlier, talking and such. Anna even told the nurse to come and sit with her when she had the chance.

The next minute she slipped into a coma state.

I sat with her and held her hand. But now it was just I holding hers. I rubbed her head and checked for signs of conscious activity. I stayed with her all morning and sang and loved her the way I imagined she would want me too.

When someone goes into this state it is common for him or her to pass away quickly. It is also rare to come out of such a state. Suddenly, she coughed. She stirred the tiniest bit. I pushed on her arm and she responded and her eyes flinched when I touched her eyelashes.

She was conscious!

I laughed a bit and knew this woman knew things I didn't and had this one more trick up her sleeve. I got up and walked toward the outside only to find her daughter and two other relatives coming in. The head nurse told her that her mom wasn't well.

I greeted her. We had become friends from her visits here. I went over with her to her mom and told her that she was suddenly conscious, could hear her and was with her. And I walked away.

Ten minutes later I came back and Anna had died.

Anna’s daughter had held strong long enough and proclaimed she couldn't do this anymore. She cried a great deal while I held her tightly to my chest. I felt the need to hold her like I imagined her mom would hold her. When it seemed like it was time to let go I could almost hear Anna saying, "Not yet. Squeeze."

After a while, I let them be and went about other things until they were satisfied with their goodbyes. The nurses wrapped Anna’s body up and I asked her daughter if she wanted to go to the mortuary with me. She said yes. The nurses placed her in the van and her daughter and me, and a nurse drove Anna to the mortuary.

The van is a stick shift but at one stoplight, I did get the chance to hold her daughter's hand for a moment. I think going along for the drive was very good for her.

A final goodbye.

When we arrived, she said goodbye to me and we had a hug and she walked away. The nurse and I then attended to the body then continued back to the hospice.

Anna grabbed hearts.

People flocked to her because of this.

Unconsciously others may have kept a clear distance from her to avoid all that heart grabbing business. I'm glad I didn't. She was an incredible human being that made an unconditional impression on me.

I recommend getting your heart grabbed by as many people as you can fit into your schedule.

Better yet, make your schedule secondary.

In South Africa (4)

A beautiful bright blue bird flew into the house the other day and got trapped.

He was trying very hard to get out of a closed window. I'm sure he thought that all the dozens of times slamming his face against the window paid off when I opened it and he

got back outside.

The other pesky animals that I am ‘HEAD’ landlord to are lice.

There is nothing sexy about 3 weeks of lice.

I have given them their eviction notice several times and they are not complying.

In South Africa (5)

I am not a fan of walking uphill.

Halfway up is a gate that is watched and opened by a young woman. By the time I get my booty to her I'm ready for a nap.

The first day I moved in I asked her what her name is.

"My name is Perseverance."

The damn woman's name is Perseverance! How could I give up? So halfway up the hill when I want to give up, Perseverance opens the gate for me and I continue.

I say hi to Perseverance every morning and carry my lazy ass up the rest of the way.

In South Africa (6)

We have twin baby boys.

One was born with AIDS and one was not.

The one not infected is twice the size of the infected one.

On Friday, we took the healthy child to his father to live because he wanted the healthy boy back. So we split the twins up and the HIV infected boy twin stayed with us. I worried about the health strains of splitting them up.

On Sunday, the AIDS infected twin was not well. He was gasping and coughing. We took him to the hospital. He seemed to not be too sick.

As we admitted him and said goodbye he gave us an angry face and would not look us in the eye. We figured we would pick him up the next day.

Monday morning we got a call from the hospital saying he had died.

He was a beautiful beautiful baby.

I am very glad I got to meet him.

In South Africa (7)


Came back from the hospital after saying goodbyes.

Our 5-month-old girl was in a near coma. I gave her some glucose and rushed back to the hospital. I kept her moving to keep her awake on the way there. They got her on an IV drip and she recovered a bit.

Came back from the hospital and gave oxygen to a 4 year old with the physical body of a 1 year old and held her as she sweated herself to sleep in my arms.

Went back to the hospital and picked up a new beautiful little baby boy. His parents both died of AIDS and he has no one. We brought him back here.

I am grief counseling staff.

I ended my day dancing wildly with some of the children to African music.

Yesterday, we went to visit the 5-month-old baby girl and she didn't look well. We loved on her and held her and talked to her.

This morning she died.

The smile and the eyes on this girl would have blown you away. She will be very very missed. Humbling deep days.

-Her name is Traci.

The kids love their bracelets. I emailed Traci to let her know that the kids got them. Her mother emailed me to tell me she passed away the day after receiving my email.

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1 Comment

Mar 26, 2022

You woman have the biggest Heart. God bless you.

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