Jennipher and her story
Jennipher was one of the first people in Monze to be put on ARVs. I have come to know Jennipher over the past couple of years and she is keen that her story is told. So I will do my best to recall her story.
Jennipher was born in Zimbabwe, her mother brought her up. Her mother died while Jennipher was still quite young and she moved to Zambia to stay with an uncle. It was on the death of her uncle, while she was still a teenager, that Jennipher first found herself having to look after herself. During this time she met a man and had two children with him – one of the children was stillborn. Unfortunately he decided to return to South Africa, leaving Jennipher once more to fend for herself. This was a terrible blow for her and, finding herself destitute, she took to the bars and streets not really caring any longer about her life and doing anything to get a little money.
During this period Jennipher had contact with a Catholic priest and a nun who gave her some support. She started suffering from various illnesses and early in the 1990s was persuaded to have an HIV test and found that she was positive. This of course was a devastating blow. At the time there was no treatment on offer and, because of the stigma, Jennipher didn’t tell anyone about her status. So she lived for about 10 years with the knowledge, but without having anyone with whom to share it. In 2004 she was one of the first to be offered ARVs from Monze Mission Hospital. She was also persuaded to tell others about her status.
It was in 2004 that I first met Jennipher. She looked very much older than her years and was very weak and dispirited. She came to the hospital guesthouse where I was staying. She showed me a letter asking for me to have pity on her and to provide her with some money. My response was to read the letter but explain that I wouldn’t give money. (It is very difficult to refuse people who obviously are in great need, however it is not possible to help all who beg for money. In particular, giving to people who turn up uninvited can create problems both for me and for others who come after me.) I did however have a word with the Community Nurse, who had written the letter, to see if there was a way of providing a little support through her for Jennipher and others in a similar situation.
At this time Jennipher was a regular visitor to the hospital, although she lived about 20 miles from Monze in a small town called Pemba. She came to collect her drugs and for the hospital to carry out the tests needed to monitor her condition. Often we would see each other and she would talk to me – generally hoping for some cash. I continued to refuse her money but gradually we shared bits of our stories. After two months or so we were talking and Jennipher was very concerned that the rains were approaching. She believed that her house was likely to collapse if she didn’t have it re-thatched. By this time Jennipher was no longer a stranger and she caught me on a good day! So I gave her the equivalent of three or four pounds to re-thatch the roof. The Jennipher I met a week or so later was a different person! She was smiling and joked with me. For me this was such a joy that, to be honest, I didn’t care how she had used the money – if it helped to bring out that smile it couldn’t have been spent better!
That was two years ago. Since then we have kept in touch both in Zambia and by post when I am in England. Jennipher, I am glad to say, has gone from strength to strength. The ARVs enable her to live a relatively normal life, but it is still far from easy. She has taken in children orphaned following the deaths of her brothers and sisters. Her daughter died nearly two years ago. Sarah, one of her nieces, is now growing into a young woman (about 14 years old), Selina is a gorgeous child who is 3 years old and recently another local orphaned child, also about 3 years old, has joined the family to keep Selina company. Osward – one of Jennipher’s orphaned nephews – died last year. A number of Jennipher’s children are also HIV positive.
My own brother and two sisters, wife, four children and five grandchildren are all still living. How can I understand bereavement such as Jennipher has suffered and she is about 20 years younger than I am?
In 2005 Jennipher went to Zimbabwe to meet an older nephew (Soloman). Soloman returned with her and has been a great help working around the house and finding ways of earning a little money – for example last year he made trips to a lake on his bike to buy fish that he could resell back in the village. This year he found that he had a child in Zimbabwe and the mother had recently died. So another journey to Zimbabwe brought back Twambo. However Twambo was not a very healthy baby and early during my visit this year, at about 9 months of age, he too died, breaking Soloman’s heart.
In November this year Soloman heard that his brother had died in a road accident. Jennipher went to Zimbabwe to find that in fact both Soloman’s brother and his brother’s wife were killed in the accident. They left 3 children who were put into an orphanage. Subsequently Jennipher has been back to bring the older girl to stay with her and hopes soon to be able to provide also for the young children – twin babies.
Last year Jennipher was fortunate to find a headman who was prepared to let her have a little land. I have been able to assist Jennipher to install a well and pump on her land and she managed to obtain two oxen cheaply and restore an old plough. She also has a few chickens and goats and managed to acquire a pregnant pig (she is currently fattening the nine piglets!). So hopefully in a couple of months, with Soloman’s help, she will be able to provide for her expanding family.
Soloman is now married and the young couple still live with Jennipher and continue to provide support. In the last couple of years, Jennipher started and now chairs a group of over 80 people who are HIV positive. They get together to support and encourage each other and to try to develop small projects to enable them to raise a little money. Jennipher is busy encouraging others to get tested, and at the last AIDS Day she was asked to share her story in a local church – she brought the congregation to tears. She is now highly regarded by the hospital staff working in this field and seen as a model of how to get the message out into the community. So very different from the woman I met in 2004, who was to be pitied! She is a lovely person with a very strong and lively character, a loveable rogue who has no problem in getting around me – I cannot compete! She has enriched my life by her friendship. It is a tremendous joy to see her with a real purpose in her life and she deserves any support I can give.Last Updated: 04/02/2011 Updated By: David