Brace yourself and grab a beer – this is going to be a long one!
We start out by picking up our volunteer nurse who comes monthly to Malindza to offer free care (thanks to the generosity of Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach and donors who allow us to purchase the medication) to all of the children and their caretakers in Malindza Village. We make a pit stop to pick up one of our high school sponsored children – Nomalungelo – who has been complaining of stomach pains and today they are so bad she cannot walk. I’m trying to be careful on the bumpy dirt roads to the school because I see Nomalungelo wincing in pain over each bump from my rearview mirror.
As soon as we get to the school, the nurse checks her out and suspects that Nomalungelo was pregnant and did something to induce an abortion; but the abortion failed. She said I must take her to the hospital immediately as she’s lost a lot of blood and the pain in her abdomen may be a severe infection. The teachers pull me aside and tell me that taking her to the hospital will do no good. I ask why and they replied that abortion in Swaziland is illegal and if they suspect that someone has tried to induce an abortion they will turn you away and leave you to die. I asked the nurse to confirm this and she said it is indeed true unless the pregnancy was caused by rape. So I asked how the doctor would know it’s rape and she said they demand to see a police report. Immediately my brain is on overdrive – I am trying to think of a way to create a fraudulent police report without turning into an international fugitive. As I glance around the classroom and see only lined paper and crayons, I decide my feeble attempt at a colorful police report will do no good. The only other thing I can think of is to create an enormous scene if they try to turn us away. I decide that I won’t leave without screaming and crying – which are both possible for an emotional almost 7 month pregnant Annie.
With that, we all get in the car. We drive almost an hour to the Siteki Good Shepherd Hospital. It’s a Saturday. We are told that doctors don’t work on weekends. I ask to see a nurse. The male nurse takes Nomalungelo into a back room and comes out 5 minutes later with a prescription for Panadol. Tylenol. That’s it?! I ask. “Yes, it is only a minor stomach pain, if she still has it by Monday, she can come back” $8 later with 6 Swazi Tylenol in a little baggie, we are on our way back home. I don’t know whether the nurse just didn’t know how to help or if we were getting turned away because of their suspicion.
The rest of the clinic went well. The nurse saw 65 children today and mostly treated stomach illnesses caused by intestinal parasites and skin conditions caused by both bacteria and fungus. Many children were treated with oral rehydration salts due to their severe diarrhea from eating spoiled foods. As we drove home, we saw boys trying to wave flies away from a decaying cow who had been hit by a car. I hope the cow was still fresh or they will soon be needing the salts as well.
Yesterday we had a meeting with the ministry of education. It didn’t go well but rather than write about it yesterday, I wanted to wait until we met with the Chief of our community today. After 3 years of being strung along by the Regional Education Office about our school (you must get more land, you must fence the land, you must deposit money, you must build 3 classrooms, you must clear all of the land of trees and shrubs, you must deposit even more money, etc) we decided to go to the head office in Mbabane and get to the bottom of why the school has not been taken over by the Swazi government yet. At the meeting, the man we’ve been working with decided to deny everything. He claims that he told us all along that our school site was not approved due to a “stream” nearby that could drown the children. He said we’ve disregarded his clear advice and the school is operating illegally. The Ministry decided to “pause” the school while further investigating.
“Stream” is in quotations because there is a small dip in the dirt road about 2 city blocks from the school that is filled with sand. The teachers assured me that there has never been water in the dip and in the last 3 years, I can confirm that I have never seen any. No water. Not a drop; let alone a stream. If anything, they should be excited that water is so close to the school – Malindza is a desert. Water is scarce. No crops grow and people die of dehydration. Regardless, now they are requiring me to build a bridge over this sand so that the children “do not drown”. I tried not to laugh when they said that…. And then I tried not to cry as I think of the children during this “pause”. “Pause” is in quotations because nothing in Swaziland happens quickly. I suspect “pause” means close permanently.
Pausing or closing is just not an option. The school educates orphans who were previously sitting around at home. We have children who are 13 years old in grade one because there was no place for them to go before they found their home in our Malindza New Hope Primary School. These children are not just students – they are family – and this mama bear is sick of being strung along with crazy demands. So today, Maseko and I went to the Chief. We had to speak to the Chief’s headman. This required me to bow while walking toward him, sit on the ground while they all sat on logs, and then pay $15 USD for the meeting time. The chief’s headman was just as shocked about the supposed stream. He said that I should pay 3 cows and one goat to register the school. Supposedly from this meeting, the headman will go to the ministry of education and demand that they bless the school and keep it open. I am praying that he actually follows through with his offer because if the demand is coming from the chief, the ministry of education will have to oblige and all of the ridiculous demands will cease. Anyone know where I can buy some cows and a goat? www.ifightpoverty.org