Chimwemwe’s Check-up-by Melissa Aberle-Grasse
The Moyo (non-private) HIV/AIDS clinic at Partners in Hope now serves about 500 clients each week.For most clients, it is life-saving treatment, whether it’s testing for HIV, treatment of infections, or antiretroviral medication (ART, the medicine that slows the effect of AIDS in the body).
Yet much of what keeps clients alive occurs outside the clinic door. Each day, a Malawian living with AIDS makes difficult choices in order to stay alive or to maintain a family.
Follow Chimwemwe Disi, age thirteen, on her trip across town to the Moyo clinic.Just a monthly check up… yet there are so many obstacles along the way on her journey.
It’s Thursday, so Chimwemwe keeps her strict school morning routine.Waking before dawn in her two room house, she quietly leaves the bed where her mother and eleven-year-old brother Amos are still sleeping.She grasps one red and one blue plastic basin and trudges to the edge of her yard to fill them at a spigot.
Returning to her front step, she stirs a few smoldering coals on the one-pot grill on the ground.After adding a few fresh pieces of charred wood, she fills a tin pot with water and sets it over the coals.
At age thirteen, she is in charge of the household.Her father died of an unidentified cause five years ago; her mother ‘Amai’ Disi, a school teacher, has been recurringly sick for a year.Amai Disi has refused to get tested for HIV, saying she doesn’t believe medication will help her.
On her monthly clinic visit day, Chimwemwe takes extra care to leave food for her mother.Pouring hot water for tea into plastic cups, she adds ground corn, sugar and groundnuts to the water.Muscular arms rhythmically stir the corn pudding smooth.
She fills one dish for herself and Amos covers another for her mother.
The rest of the routine is always the same:Wake her brother, wash the dishes, and smooth her hair.Gather their notebooks in a plastic bag, and leave at 7:00 with Amos for the ½ hour walk to school.
At about 11:00 a.m., Chimwemwe requests permission to leave early from the headmaster of the school.She walks along rain-rutted dirt roads and paths until she reaches the familiar gate of the Kaggwa Catholic Parish.