AIDS Walk Africa 2008: Day 3
July 2, 2008
AIDS Walk Africa 2008: Virtual Walk
Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5
By Heather Mason Kiefer
Photos by Jon Hrusa
Two things made this morning different from yesterday morning: The temperature was higher and we left the lodge 30 minutes earlier. Translation: Today’s walk would be hotter and longer than yesterday’s.
We took a long drive into the mountains, and there was an audience waiting for us when we reached the walk’s drop-off point. Several children were outside their nursery school across the road, laughing and waving to us. We flocked over to shake hands and take photos, and we gave the children some donated toys, causing them to squeal with delight. It was a great way to start the day.
Liam Dall blows bubbles with children at a preschool along the walk to the Mkhulamini Clinic.
The walk started out fairly level, with a stunning view of the sacred Mdzimba Mountains to our left. We then turned off the main road and started one of the steepest downhill climbs of the week. Downhills are dangerous – it’s easy to slip and fall on loose stones. Luckily we had just one minor stumble.
We took our time throughout the morning, stopping multiple times to rest and take photos. We had one more surprise when we rounded a corner and came upon another nursery school, with the children outside lined up shortest to tallest. We spoke with the teacher, who told us that several of the children are orphans. We had a wonderful time interacting with the kids and gave them some AIDS Walk T-shirts before setting off.
Sarah duPont looks out over the hills along the walk to the Mkhulamini Clinic.
Casey Anderson (L), Pam Barnes (C) and Bill Belfiore (R) walk to the Mkhulamini Clinic.
After what seemed like an eternity of walking, we reached our major destination of the day – the Mkhulamini Clinic. The clinic is a small cement building at the top of a hill, surrounded by several houses where the clinic staff lives. The nurses were still busy seeing patients so we settled ourselves in the grass and had a picnic lunch while we waited.
After we finished eating, we filed into the waiting room and listened to a presentation about the clinic’s services. Mumsy, the staff nurse in charge of PMTCT at the clinic, proudly told us that they recently began conducting PCR testing for newborns – an advanced type of HIV testing unavailable in much of the developing world – and that all the infants tested so far have been HIV-negative. But Mumsy also told us a sadly familiar refrain: The clinic is dreadfully short-staffed and women often give up waiting before they receive their HIV test results. The clinic also has a severe shortage of running water – they sometimes run out of water an hour after the clinic opens and must rely on bottled water.
Chief Elliot Dlamini welcomes the walkers to the Mkhulamini Clinic.
Pam Barnes thanked the clinic staff for the huge impact they are making. “All children should be born free of HIV,” Pam said. “You’ve shown us that is possible.” The community chief, a spry elderly man named Elliott Dlamini, got up to say a few words in siSwati. We couldn’t understand what he was saying but the Swazi people in the room laughed heartily. I think we were left out of the joke.
Swazi schoolgirls perform a traditional dance at the Mphembekati Primary School.
We left the clinic and walked next door to the Mphembekati Primary School, where we found 600 children waiting for us in the school yard. We were treated to an amazing show. A group of girls came out in Swazi dancing costumes – complete with bright-colored yarn and rattles around their ankles – and performed a traditional Swazi dance as the school children, and even some of the walkers, clapped and ululated.
It almost felt as if the day should be over after leaving the school, but we had a full afternoon of walking ahead. We climbed hill after hill, walking past farms and homesteads and holding hands with children going home from school. We were exhausted when we reached the vans, but the good news is that the most strenuous walk of the week is over. We’ve since been revived by a huge buffet dinner and we’re ready to walk again tomorrow.
Walkers make their way up a steep hill.