She was just my age. Her name was Cynthia. She had a beautiful smile! Her loving mother was by her side. She had dreams and hopes for the future, just like every teen girl. Already married, she was carrying her unborn child, five months along. She was 19. And Cynthia was dying.
This brave girl wasn't the only one who's body could no longer fight off diseases due to the HIV/AIDS virus killing their immune system. There was Abby, a mom of four young children, who was admitted to this ward yesterday. She was scared and you could see the fear in her eyes as they darted around the ward, seeing the other patients who were all in a worse condition, knowing that this soon too was her fate.
And then there was the Elderly Lady. The thing that stood out to me was her smile, which filled up her whole face! She recognized the bright blue Logos Hope team T-shirts as the same as a previous team wore, and tried to make a violin motion as she lay on her bed. So she loves music! And she wanted us to sing!
I looked down and there was dried blood and vomit on the floor. Horrible coughs racked the patients' whole bodies, and they were constantly spitting out phlegm. They were so thin; just skin stretched over skeletons really, so thin I had thought Cynthia's bloated belly to be malnourishment and had never imagined the possibility she was pregnant. The ward was drab, plain cement walls and floor, broken beds and makeshift side tables. The open windows had big heavy grates on them - I wasn't sure why because no one in their right mind would ever want to come in there, and it would have been physically impossible for any of the patients to be able to climb out. There was nothing to steal from this cold, simple room anyway. The only bright spots in the otherwise colorless room were the patterned African cloths that were the cover on each patient's bed. It was hard not to concentrate on the blood on the floor... and who knew what else my flip-flops were stepping in. I closed my eyes and turned my head away. I wanted to run, run away from there. Run out into the bright sunshine and fresh air, where everything was pretty and nice. Even the dusty African roads and scorching sun was appealing compared to facing this... this dying.
But we could not just leave. We had to be there. I had to face this. Shoes could be washed - feet even, if necessary - but time for these patients was trickling away... drip, drip, dripping away like the liquid in their IV bottles. What did you say to someone who was so close to facing eternity? The only thing I could do was read. And pray. And sing, I guess, since it made the Elderly Lady so happy. I tentatively sat down on the edge of Cynthia's bed, unsure if this action was appropriate, but feeling it broke down a barrier showing that I was not afraid to get close, and reached out and took her hand. Before I had always wondered, what it would be like, to knowingly touch someone you KNEW had AIDS. But it was not different than touching anyone else. She was a girl, just like me. It seemed cliche to realize, that HIV/AIDS patients? - they are normal people just like you and me. God helped me to see not a disease, but to see PEOPLE, people who desperately needed love and touch. Outcasts, the kind of people you would find Jesus with if He were on earth today.
I opened my Bible to Psalms and read the 23rd chapter; the most comforting one I could think of. Cynthia didn't understand English (people in Ghana also have their own language), but she got the message. And through her mother we found out that she does know Jesus, hopefully as her personal Savior.
And then another girl and I, we sat by her bed and braided her hair. The matted, gross mess that probably hadn't been washed in weeks and was starting to fall out; we did our best to smooth it out and braid it onto her head African style. When we held the tiny mirror for her to see she smiled! She liked have her hair done. Because she wanted to look pretty, just like every other girl. And that's who she is - a girl, just like me.
It was only after we left that I found out from some of the other team members that it wasn't a swollen stomach from malnourishment as I had thought, but that Cynthia was actually pregnant. Five months along actually. And that started a whole string of questions in my mind. Will the baby have HIV? Will she even live long enough for the baby to be born...? If you get to heaven before I do, and at the gate welcoming you there's a smiling old lady playing the violin, a mother waiting for her children, and a little black African boy holding the hand of and looking up at a tall slim girl... you'll know her name is Cynthia.