Sometimes just walking through the world will break your heart. Through the cold fog of the morning in Marsabit, Kenya, I went to greet Kabale (pronounced ka-bah-lay), our courageous leader and volunteer at the Tumaini Clinic. Several years ago amidst the cultural stigma and fear surrounding HIV/AIDS, Kabale was the first person to tell her community that she was HIV positive. She normally carries a strength that I envy, a powerful presence that commands your attention and an unconscious smile of a few missing teeth that makes you involuntarily smile back. And yet today, it all seemed to be missing. Kabale held an uncharacteristic stoicism, a heaviness that buried her smile and tempered her charisma.
Her first words to me this morning were, "I am found with cancerous growth in my throat." Cancer is a bad diagnosis for anyone. But for someone who is HIV positive, it is tragic. It's a double whammy of shitty luck.
Kabale has developed a large growth in her neck and she can no longer swallow or speak without severe physical pain. Her viral load used to be at a healthy level due to taking ARVs, but it is plummeting as her immune system struggles to keep up. Kabale needs immediate surgery to have the growth removed, and our clinic cannot perform such operations. She must go to Nairobi (a 20+ hour drive away on dangerous roads) and come up with the 300,000 Kenyan shillings (about $4,000 US) needed for the removal.
"I will be strong with the courage I have," she whispered to me. "What I want most is prayers. With prayer, God comes close to people."
Kabale stopped me from asking more, and changed the subject. "The HIV positive people here are getting the prayers you are sending and we are happily receiving the care through the funds to the clinic. We have 22 support groups now, and even the HIV positive men are joining. We will continue to grow."
Oh, Kabale. What a beautiful and faithful woman.
I found out that this Sunday, Kabale is hosting a harambe, a community fundraiser with her family and friends. They will cook food, and people will come with donations to Kabale. Most of her neighbors are living on less than $2 a day, so this is an unprecedented amount of money for a community such as this. My heart sinks at the enormity of it all. She may very well get the surgery, and find that there is more cancer in her body or that her immune system cannot sustain it.
Kabale has provided life for so many people here, and yet she struggles to save her own. The world so often seems unfair, and it can break your heart. This morning, pledges were already made on behalf of the staff of the Tumaini Clinic, Blood:Water Mission and the HIV/AIDS support group. I am reminded of the call to reciprocate love as often as we are given it.