It’s strange to think, and easy to forget, how diverse the world is. One thing might be a necessity to one country and unknown to another. I have been realizing and pondering this many times throughout this trip. It can be sad and puzzling that some countries don’t have essential things that get many people through the day, however, it can also be very incredible how unique different cultures can be.
Yesterday I was able to hear about a situation that was unlike anything I have ever heard of. Noella, an eleven-year-old girl who attends LOAMO as a 3rd grader, was nice enough to invite us into her house to learn about her story.
After a very bumpy ride down a dirt road that lead through a village, crammed into a minivan, we ended up in a peaceful area with tall trees, green landscape, and a small, tucked away, cabin-like house. As we were walking down towards the house, a little old woman with brightly colored, traditional African apparel swiftly walked towards us with a smile on her face that stretched from ear to ear and hugged each and every one of us. We were invited into the small, two bedroom house, and she insisted that we all sit down in the living room. The house consisted of a living room with about three chairs, a couple of benches, and two small bedrooms in the back. The family would cook all of the food outside over the fire since there was no kitchen. The house had wires and electrical outlets throughout it, but we later learned that there has never been electricity there because of the cost.
As soon as we were seated we started asking questions with the assistance of Ms. Flora, one of the teachers at LOAMO, to help translate. We noticed that the mother of Noella was not there, only her grandmother and father, so the first question we asked was where her mother is. We learned that her mother died from HIV when Noella was only three months old. The family never talks about Noella’s mom because it is not culturally acceptable to grieve over someone for long. The family gets three days to grieve after a loved one has passed, and then they must go on with their daily lives. After asking more questions we also learned that Noella’s father, as well as Noella, are both HIV positive. One thing that shocked me the most is that Noella did not know, but we are assuming so now, after our visit; her father thinks that she is too young. They both take medicine every morning; however, Noella is still constantly getting sick because her immune system is so weak. On top of Noella’s sickness, she also has a skin disease. It looks like a spotted birthmark that is covering her body. It does not itch nor hurt her, but I can tell that she is very self-conscious about it because she is constantly covering her face with her hand and wearing a hat. Noella and her father both get free medicine at the clinic for their HIV, but her father said that he can no longer afford medicine for her skin.
We all left Noella’s house feeling sad and curious about why her father wouldn’t tell Noella about her sickness. We feel that it can affect her life in years to come and she deserves to know. However Jodie, the owner of the house that we are staying in, said that hearing that you are HIV positive in Africa is equivalent to going to the doctor in the US and hearing that you have the flu.
The way of life here is very different to life as we know it. Families in the US will grieve a death for years and years, and if someone were to be HIV positive it would almost feel like your life was over. No culture is right or wrong, they are just different and that is what makes the world so unique.