World AIDS Day 2008: Brendan Bannon blog - Day Nine

MY LAST DAY - MY PARTING MEMORIES

The mother of Brenda and Quinda is patient number 11,634. She is sick with AIDS and, on October 8, 2008, she began taking antiretroviral drugs.

Brenda is 13 and is taking care of her mother. Day by day she has seen small improvements since the drug therapy began. When her six month old brother died in September, Brenda vowed not to leave her mother to die also.

"I have to fetch food and firewood and be sure that my mother is washed and cleaned every day. I am the one giving my mother the drugs at 7 am and 7 pm.

"As a child, I am taking the responsibility of being a mother to my mother. Some people tell me to leave her alone that she is already a dead person. I have forgiven them for saying this and I continue to care for my mother. I am happy she is taking the medications and improving."

One of the nurses asked if I was glad to be leaving today and I thought for a moment and realized that I wasn't the least bit glad to go. There are many more stories to tell and the ones that I have told are ongoing. After I leave and after you stop reading these pages, these lives will change, evolve and hopefully get better.

In Homa Bay I have seen many tragic stories but in many of them there is also hope and an indomitable spirit at work. Wether it is the care givers who refuse to leave the side of their loved ones, or the doctors who treat patients with love when all else fails or the drivers, nurses, tracers, administrators who participate with compassion in the treatment and recovery of patients , there is something incredible happening here.

Years ago, before treatment became available to the poor, people just wasted away and dreams were extinguished when their lives ended so early.

The epidemic that people warned about in the early 1990s is here. Across africa there are millions of people infected and there are thousands now trying to make their lives better, longer, healthier. It was an honor for a short period to be among them telling their stories.

Even in the houses of the poorest people in Africa, you will find photographs. I am always amazed. There may be very few possessions. I have been in houses where I have seen only a bed, a clock, a table, a chicken, some pills and, pinned to the mud wall, a set of family pictures.

One of the drivers, before I left, asked for a print out of these blog entries- something that he can take home with him and read again. For me, his request was a sort of parting gift. I understood that he didn't find the stories depressing he found them to be real and wanted to remember them.