We awoke, soggy and groggy, on the morning after the flood (see Part 2). It was still raining.
We picked up Zandi, our Swazi colleague from the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, and headed out of town.
We were going to see Zanele and her two-year-old daughter, Phiwa. Zanele has HIV, but Phiwa is HIV-negative because Zanele received medicines that prevented her from transmitting HIV to her daughter.
Joe and I visited Zanele at this same time last year as part of a World AIDS Day story we worked on. Zanele has been through a lot since then – her husband died, she was kicked out of her home, and she went to live with her mother in another part of Swaziland. We’d also heard that Zanele had another baby but we didn’t know any details. We were worried.
A quick aside about HIV/AIDS in Swaziland. Swaziland, a tiny country squeezed between South Africa and Mozambique, has the highest HIV prevalence in the world. About 26% of Swazi adults have HIV. There are lots of explanations for this (starting with the king of Swaziland, who has 13 wives), but I won’t go into that here. Suffice to say that the country is suffering from an epidemic of epic proportions, and no one has suffered more than Zanele and her family.
We drove for 90 minutes, much of it on unpaved roads, to get to Zanele’s village. We reached the local health clinic and Zanele was there waiting for us.
We jumped out of the truck to greet her and saw a little bundle in her arms – her two-month-old son, Nkosingphile. His name means “Gift from God.”
We learned later that Zanele, despite all the terrible things that happened, kept up her HIV treatment while she was pregnant. Nkosingphile, born three months after his father died of AIDS, is HIV-negative as a result.
We rode together to Zanele’s home. Zanele’s mother, Alice, was waiting for us at the gate, waving her hands in the air and laughing. Alice exudes strength and beauty and honesty – I took one look at her and knew that Zanele was in a good place. Alice is also HIV-positive and very outspoken about it.
(Zanele and Alice both gave us legal permission to tell their story. They are proudly open about their HIV status and want to do whatever they can to educate the world about HIV/AIDS.)
We spent the day with the family, which also includes Zanele’s teenage sister and three nieces. Joe shot pictures and I conducted interviews. We gave Alice and Zanele the food that we’d bought the night before, which they accepted with gracious enthusiasm. We talked (thanks to Zandile, who translated between English and siSwati), laughed, played, and ate trail mix. Phiwa, who didn’t remember us from last year, cried and ran away at first whenever Joe got too close. But by the end of the afternoon she was dancing for the camera.
One of Alice’s ducks saunters into the kitchen hut, where the family cooks. (They cook over an open fire so they have to have a separate building for it, because of the smoke.) The duck seems unaware that he will someday meet his demise in this hut.
It was hard to say goodbye.
Back to Mantenga, where it was raining again. We went for an early dinner at the lodge’s restaurant. We knew from experience that the food there is not good, but the manager offered us a free meal to compensate for the previous night’s flood. (We’d expected him to comp us a free night, but whatever.)
Except for the staff and two drunk guys in the corner, we were the only ones in the restaurant. As we were finishing, a rat cruised out from under the table. We jumped up. The waitress came over.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
“There was a rat under the table,” I said.
“Oh yes, there is a rat living here. But it is okay. He doesn’t bite.”
We went back to our room and I turned on the tap to brush my teeth. No water came out. Oh, the irony: A deluge of water one night, none the next.
We were too tired to do anything about it so we went to bed. I think we both dreamt of Utopia.
Next up: The journey home.