On May 31st, 2012 the Maxwell family boarded a plane and moved to eSwatini (formerly known as Swaziland) to live at Project Canaan. I hope to update my blog on Saturday mornings and share, as honestly as I can, the highs and lows of our life in Africa. We are living on a farm in a remote part of this tiny Kingdom and are serving the community as well as the orphans and vulnerable children of the nation. Thanks for joining us.
I grew up in Northern Ontario, Canada, where the temperature was often -30F
(-34C) in the month of December.We would have to shovel the snow to get to
our car, brush the snow off the windows and then turn on the car with the heat
on high to warm it up and help melt the ice on the windows so it could be
scraped off, all before driving anywhere.
Now I live in the southern hemisphere and it is summer now.
Yesterday it was 102F (39C) and I was thankful to have air conditioning in my
truck and a reason to be in my truck for a couple of hours in the heat of the
day.That reason was to go to town and
pick up a baby at the hospital who had been dumped in a pit latrine last week
and spent a week on antibiotics to ensure her health and life. I was thankful for
the coolness of my truck, and thankful for the baby’s life, but found myself
shaking my head at how bizarre my life has turned out.
It’s not just the temperatures that have changed to the extreme,
but also my very existence.I was born
to a 15-year-old teenage girl and was very much an unwanted baby to her
family. But I was a very much wanted baby to my adoptive parents who were
unable to conceive.As hard as that must
have been on my parents, the Lord directed me in to their family, and the trajectory
of my life changed.
Ian and I are now guardians for 217 Swazi children, whose
lives have been directed in to our family, and the trajectory of their lives
has changed.We have received three
babies in the past ten days – two of the three were found in pit latrines, and
lived. I am thankful that adoption was an option for my teenage mother back in
1963 and that I wasn’t left in an outhouse, or a snow bank for a stranger to
find me (or not).
Adoption is not an option in the Kindgom of eSwatini, so
these 217 are our children and we are trying to raise them to the best of our
abilities and means (with an incredible team of 80+ caregivers) so that they
can be grow up to be the best that they can be.
With that in mind, we did what any parent would want to do - we bought two pop-up swimming pools for
these extremely hot days and yesterday was their first day in the pools for the
summer season! It brought me such happiness to see the joy in the children's faces and
to watch them all just be silly kids.Many of our big kids also started life in the bottom of a pit latrine (outdoor
toilet), or were abandoned in the forest or the side of the road, but today is
a new day for them and hope has been restored to 217 precious children.
This week I was stuck by a line in the familiar Christmas
carol “Oh Holy night” this week.One of
the verses says, “In His name all oppression shall cease.” What a wonderful day
that will be when all oppression shall cease, and we will see Him again.
Yesterday Ian and I went to see the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody”,
which just opened at the theater in a town called Nelspruit, South Africa, a
full month after it opened in the US.I
couldn’t wait to see the movie and so we made the trek to see it and do some
Queen has always been my favorite band, and I spent my younger
years buying every album, singing every song, knowing every lyric.Freddie Mercury was a “Rock-Idol” to me, and
Brian May his genius side-kick. I recall taking my small (and very new/hip)
cassette player to our local hockey arena in Matheson, Ontario and when our
boys won the last game of the season I grabbed the microphone from the announcer
and held it up to my cassette player and played “We are the Champions” as loud
as I could get it, until they managed to get the microphone away from me J.
As I sat in the theater, I felt as though I was meeting one
of my musical heroes in person, and I got to know him well as the story
unfolded.At one point, he tells his
wife (the true love of his life) that he thinks he is bi-sexual.It’s a turning point in the movie as she pulls
away from him and he soars in to the rock-world stratosphere of drugs, sex and,
of course, rock’n’roll.
My tears started to fall shortly thereafter as Freddie’s loneliness
and desire to be loved was revealed scene by scene to the audience.He wanted a friend. He needed a friend. He
needed to be loved. But friendship and love and acceptance were not easy for
him because of his own insecurities. Isn’t that true for many of us?
So here is some irony that I saw yesterday, and I have been
trying to figure it out in my head so that I could put it in words.
Queen was one of the bands that performed at “LIVE AID” in
1985, raising awareness and money to help the starving children of Africa.Freddie knew that he had AIDS at that time and
was uncertain of his ability to perform and sing well that day. But he was singing to help children in Africa. At that time, pediatric AIDS was unknown in Africa, but starvation was rampant.
But there was a moment before Freddie went to Wembly Stadium
for that performance that he went to visit his parents.He introduced
them to his friend Jim, they had a cup of tea and then I thought for sure he
was going to tell them that he had AIDS. I started to sob. I couldn’t bear to
see their response because I was certain of their judgement and disappointment.
In 1985 AIDS was a death sentence with no hope in sight, and the stigma that
surrounded it was suffocating.He needed
to be loved and he needed to be accepted. But in the end, he didn't tell them.
I couldn’t stop sobbing in the theater. What was wrong with
me, I thought?And then it hit me. Ian
and I have 18 children (under the age of 8-years) who are HIV positive
(untreated HIV turns in to AIDS). Some arrived with full blown AIDS, just like
Freddie Mercury had when he died.All of
our HIV+ children are on life-saving medication that wasn’t around back in the
80’s.But there is still no cure for
them. And Ian and I are the ones who have to sit our childrne down and tell them they are HIV positive, not the other way around.
The Baylor Pediatric AIDS clinics in eSwatini have been our
partners for many years on this journey, and they are helping us navigate
through a fairly new phenomenon called “pediatric AIDS”.New things are being learned, new drug
cocktails tried, new treatment protocols implemented, all to try to keep our
children alive and help them thrive.We have
been told that by the time our children are 8-years-old we need to tell them
that they are HIV positive and explain some of what that means. By the age of
ten, we have to tell them everything – how they got it, that there is no cure,
that they must take their medication twice a day for the rest of their lives,
how it is transmitted etc.
We have buried TWO children at Project Canaan that succumbed
to and HIV related illness and it is an awful death. I have watched two of our
children die in front of my eyes after our team tried for many months to “love
them back to life”, but just love wasn’t enough for them.
But those two children, Solomon (17-months-old) and Megan (23-months-old),
died with dignity, surrounded by people who loved them, respected them and
would have done anything to keep them alive. They were buried on Project Canaan
and I visit their graves from time to time to remind myself how precious life is.
The stigma that surrounded HIV/AIDS in the 1980’s is still
around today.We still live with that same
stigma in Africa every day and NO ONE wants to talk about their HIV
status.NO ONE wants to share their
pain, their suffering, their heartache and put the “HIV/AIDS” label on it.
Daily we see our staff go off “sick” with an unknown illness,
or worse, the dreaded Tuberculosis, which is called “AIDS best friend – and killer”.
Some come back to work, some don’t, and we are simply notified of their
December 1st WORLD AIDS Day. That is today, and that is what
today’s blog is about.Just after Ian
and I married 27 years ago, Freddie Mercury died. He never did tell his family
that he had AIDS nor did he share his sexuality with them. But he was and continues to be a legend, not defined by his illness or his sexuality, but rather by his talent and genius.
We do not share with people which of our 18 children are HIV+,
but it won’t be a secret for long at Project Canaan because they all get their
medication twice a day at 7AM and 7PM, and they all go to town to the clinic once
a month. What we will do, is show unconditional love and acceptance, and lead
our children and community to a place of love and acceptance too.
Jesus said, “Love one another”, and that is what we are all
trying to do.