One of the sad facts of life in America is that I spend much too much time in un-real interaction, by which I mean email, facebook, and blogging rather than singing, dancing, and talking face-to-face with people. But last week on facebook I was overjoyed to receive a message from that same melodyinuganda giving me an update on something I dearly wanted to know.
In August, during the madness of our last few days in Uganda, we all traveled back from Rakai at different times to do different errands. Tim and Jillian visited a school for the deaf on their way back to Kampala; Cassie left early, escorting a group of children who were supposed to go to Kiwanga and a student whose home she wanted to visit; and I stayed at Sabina for another day to make a special visit.
A friend of mine, "Mercy," had been one of the singers in the music and dance group training in 2005. That was when I got to know her well. This year, when we visited her secondary school, I was extremely sorry to find that she wasn't there anymore. When asked, her classmates simply said "she is at home." I found out from the COU staff later that she had dropped out, pregnant.
So after many promises to escort me there, on my last day I finally made a schedule with Grace, our social worker, and he rode me on the back of his motorcycle to her home. We were happy to find her on the road as we drove up, because the first time he tried to visit her, her family lied and said she wasn't around.
"Mercy" was about six months pregnant then, huge, and busy helping her sister take care of her children. The two sisters live together in a small mini-village not too far from the main town Small children were running around everywhere, and a small group of men was loitering around with nothing much to do. Some of the people she introduced as relatives; others were just friends. None of the houses were particularly big, or nice, or clean.
We talked for a while. She was clearly embarrassed and shy, but after a while of awkwardness we picked up with friendly conversation. She spoke with passion on the topic of HIV testing, saying how she needed to be tested and she knew that everyone in her village would also want to know their status. I told her where she could be tested for free and encouraged her to have it done before the baby came. She said she would do it.
I left with a heavy heart knowing there was not very much I could do for Mercy. When I got to town I bought her a baby mosquito net and some diapers for when the baby arrives, and I left them with Sarah. Sarah was away from Rakai for a few weeks while the children were on holidays and training for the US performance tour, and she went back to Rakai two weeks ago with Melody.
[Mercy] asked if Sarah would go with her to the clinic so that she could have some test results interpreted. We went along, and I didn’t really consider the weightiness of the moment as the man explained the codes for testing positive or negative for HIV. They don’t put the results in plain writing in case someone comes across your information booklet. As he showed us that the code on her chart meant she was HIV negative I almost started crying, realizing the huge implications of the news.
And I got this message via facebook -- she wanted me to know -- and all but had to stuff my sweater in my mouth to keep from waking the whole house up with my shout of joy!