Spent the last week in KwaZulu-Natal doing research for a UN funding report, piggy-backed onto a media travel trip.
Pouring rain, the Tugela river valley a red, grey, black sea of mud, stranded buses, old trucks, mini-bus taxis with suitcases strpped to the roof, landrovers. Sat in crowded clinics, garages and post offices, doing interviews, listening, working with the gentle, patient interpreters; and fought despondency about what I was hearing and seeing. The absence of retrovirals. The exhausted Aids workers. The stoic mothers holding their ominously quiet dying children. The smell of shit. A nurse talking about the maggots in the bedsores. The loneliness of young men and women dying all alone in these sweeping brown hills, family too sick or frightened to come near them. The ancestors silent. The makeshift graves everywhere.
I hate this fucking plague so much I could break apart just writing about it. The report is very calm and careful, it needs to be. There is so much to be done and so much goodwill, but it is too late. Thousands of orphans, millions dying and the complications everywhere of tuberculosis, cholera, malaria, poor nutrition, endemic poverty.
To stay sober is to to begin to be of some kind of use in this world. And the courage I met with everywhere was infectious, the kindness, the understanding that I was seeing this for the first time and in shock, needed to go slowly and have hot sweet tea.
But I was shaking like a leaf inside. When I found a Postnet I sat an emailed a very kind man, a stranger in the UK, politically likeminded, just tried to connect without saying I was falling apart inside. Couldn’t speak to friends yet. I couldn’t ask for help because it wasn’t about me and it wasn’t about picking up a drink. Such a kind man, emailing me back, just keeping the lifeline open. Thanks Sean.
Towed out of the mud, the rain pelting down. Everyone laughing and waving. Funeral-goers laughing, shoeless and spattered with black river mud. Old grumbling buses, dented taxis, the long-distance haulage trucks. The journey continuing, the future unknown, the destinations uncertain.
Africa punches the shit out of us. That is why I live here. It keeps me Third World, it keeps me human. Fighting to stay alive and help others stay alive.