Author’s Note: this article was written while Lisa was working in Zambia with Health-Ed Connect, a community-based organization committed to empowering women and children through Health, education, and advocacy.
Her house was surprisingly large for the neighborhood. It featured a fenced-in patch of lush grass, something very uncommon for the neighborhood in Kasompe, Zambia. The cement walls were painted a once-lively yellow, now faded and peeling with weather and wear. The front door was open; the white lace curtain was pulled back in invitation. And the area was teeming: enough children to fill a soccer team played on the dirt path just outside the gate, a momma and baby girl sat on the front stoop snapping okra. It was clear that life was difficult for these women; but in spite of this– the home glowed with happiness, lightness.
It was a Friday afternoon and I was visiting this particular home with my friends the Kafwa, a group of women trained by HealthEd Connect with home health care and first aid practices on the outskirts of Chingola, Zambia. The Kafwa women are truly the hands of God. They volunteer faithfully– two days a week– seeking out the elderly, the sick, the hurting in their community and spend time in the homes of these people, bringing healing in the any possible way. We were at this particular home to see Amiyah.
Amiyah, I was told, was born in 1912. Which meant, at the time of my visit, her one hundred years of age had thwarted the average expected life span in Zambia by more than six decades. On the way into the home, we were met with a warm welcome from Priscilla, Amiyah’s widowed daughter-in-law. Priscilla, who runs the household, apologized profusely for not having time to sweep the stone floors of her sitting room for a second time that day, explaining that her morning was instead spent walking to the clinic for her ARV (anti- HIV) medication. You see, even Priscilla was sick.
We took seats on the small couch, careful not to disturb the hand-crocheted doilies covering the cushions, and waited. Occasionally, a child would filter in to the room to be introduced as a great- grandchild of Amiyah. Several women, dressed in T-shirts and the traditional ishtenge skirt also snuck in a greeting: gingerly extending their hands to me, bowing with hushed respect. These were not fellow “visitors”; in fact, all fourteen people lived in this humble home. From behind a Power Rangers bed sheet hung as a door, Priscilla and her niece carried Amiyah out into the sitting room, gently settling her frail body on a sofa across from me. This had been rehearsed many times: Amiyah had lost the ability to walk. Amiyah came to be a patient of the Kafwa seven months prior, just after she took a fall in the marketplace, breaking her hip. Because of her extraordinarily old age and the condition of her bones the doctors at the clinic were unable to help her: she was sent home to “recover” on her own—without treatment. Amiyah is invalid, in pain, and mostly blind.
Despite this, her faith is strong. She enjoys the regular visits from the Kafwa women and is humbled to receive guests in her home. “Amiyah,” I said, “You have a lovely home and a beautiful family. You must be very proud to have your great- grandchildren playing happily in the same home.” She beamed with pride, her cataract eyes tracking the face of the Kafwa interpreter searchingly. Amiyah replied, “Oh yes, I am so very proud to be alive. I am proud of my family.”
Often, the Kafwa women are able to bring a small gift to the family on their home visits. These small gifts in the form of charcoal, cooking oil, or corn meal are purchased from a small emergency fund budget and are the physical effects of healing ministry. They are the necessities for life. Today, we had nothing to give Amiyah or her large family. As the head of the household, taking care of a 100 year old mother-in-law and seven grandchildren, Priscilla was obviously disappointed that our hands were empty.
Amiyah was the official patient of the Kafwa– her name was the one entered diligently in to their record keeping book; but Priscilla was just as much a patient. The ministry of presence extended to the entire family struggling to survive and keep hope alive in the midst of strenuous circumstances. As our visit drew to a close, gratitude was passed around in both English and in iciBemba. I wondered what we could give to Amiyah, what we could give to Priscilla, what we could give to the rest of the family–the moms and the children? I looked down at my lap, embarrassed and humbled. The beautiful words from the mystic poet Rabia came to mind:
“Our hands imbibe like roots,
So I place them on what is beautiful in this world.
And I fold them in prayer, and they draw from the heavens
A prayer for hope, for healing, for strength, and for thanksgiving: that is what we had to give. I held the hand of Priscilla, my Kafwa friend Doris held the hand of Amiyah, and together we “drew from the heavens light.”
As I prayed for healing to light the life of this family, I knew that full recovery of Amiyah’s mobility was not realistic, but I also knew that this was not what mattered most. What mattered was that we were growing the roots of hope deeper into the soil of this home. We were drawing light into our hearts, and together offering thanks for that light which sustains life, even in the midst of loss.
From the heavens, draw light today.