It was near noon on a hot Saturday morning when Musonda knocked on the front door of the friary in Lusaka,
Zambia. She was an old acquaintance, a woman I had known since 1995 when I worked in Chinyingi Mission, northwest of
Lusaka. Even then she was HIV positive and was assisted with High Energy Protein Supplement (HEPS) from the mission’s
health clinic. She was visited by our Home Base Care group and assisted with funds for other needs such as food, toiletries,
blanket s, etc., through Chinyingi HIV/AIDS Assistance Programs (CHAAP).
The woman who now leaned against the wall of our friary was an emaciated shadow of the woman she I had known. The
past few years had been very hard on her and her two school-age sons. She spoke hoarsely through puffed lips that were
coated white at the corners with thrush.
I reached out for her arm, moved her off the wall and slowly directed her to the front parlor, the
designated weekend counseling room for CHAS. Musonda had spent two hours trying to reach us by Mini Bus. On a
Saturday you can sit for 30 minutes, waiting for the bus to fill up with passengers. When it is full, it moves to the next
stop. This waiting had made her more worn out than I had ever seen her before, and she was shaking with a cold, sweaty
glow of perspiration. She moved with little strength in her limbs into the parlor.
Once inside the parlor, I asked her to hold on to the back of the chair to support herself.. Meanwhile, I rolled out a mat
on the floor and put the seat cushions from the chairs on to it. Ever so slowly, Musonda crab-walked to the mat and
cushions, propping herself up by holding on to the tops of the chairs in the room. As she reached the cushions, she simply
collapsed on them. It was not the first time, at CHAS, that a session with one of our people started with a twenty minute
rest period. I asked Musonda if she would like some orange juice and she responded that she could not hold anything in her
stomach except water. The past day she had been purging whenever she took anything but water. I left to get some oral re-
hydration fluid packs (ORF) that are kept for just such occasions.
When I returned with the glass of room temperature water and the ORF, I knocked on the door and entered. Musonda’s
body was off the cushions, stretched flat across the wooden floor. Putting the glass down, I scanned Musonda for any sign
of movement but there was none to be seen: she was out cold. She was breathing so softly that I had to put the blade of my
knife under her nostrils and wait for her exhaling breath to fog it up. I began to be fearful, when what seemed like five
minutes passed with no sign of life, but finally the knife started to fog. So I quietly left the room shutting the door behind
me. I put the "Session in Progress" sign in place so Musonda would not be disturbed and went to my computer to finish
paperwork. Twenty minutes later I returned and Musonda was still asleep, though she had moved on to her side with her
knees pulled up a little. I gave her another ten minutes before slowly waking her.
Musonda had come to see me for assistance with the request for a new bucket for water. I asked about the other bucket
she had recently been given. She said it was still in good shape but that she needed a plastic twenty liter bucket with a lid
because the bucket I had given her did not have a lid on it. I would like to share with you the reality Musonda described for
me that day, of life with HIV/AIDS.
been given the only room left available at her sister’s house and she tried her best to keep
been unable to move about to conduct her business of buying and selling.her sons in
school. As the HIV virus progressed to AIDS, taking greater hold of her, there were more
and more days when she had to remain at home, and for some time she had been unable to
move about to conduct her business of buying and selling.
Each day this is Masonda’s main job so that she and her sons can have water. Many times her
sister sees that Musonda is too weak to go for water and helps out. This means that her sister
has to make three trips for water that day, two for her own family and another for Musonda.
Sometimes, if Musonda’ s sons get home from school early, they run for extra water if money is
available for it, but this rarely happens. Usually when they go for water after school it is for the
first and only bucket of the day. This means that supper will be late if they have it at all. There
will be no water for cooking meals or boiling for tea and preparing clean drinking water. Without
water Musonda cannot wash the dishes, clothes, herself, or even the sores on her body. She can
sweep the house not wash anything. There can be no washing up after the pit latrine is used,
which increases her fear about infecting others. She especially fears it these days when she
increasingly has diarrhea.
Musonda accepted that with AIDS she could do very little about fulfilling her responsibilities as
a mother and female head of her household, but she did her best. She could still carry water if she
had the help of a twenty-liter plastic bucket with a strong lid!
Musonda got her bucket. She later shared that she often sat on it while waiting in line to be
served by the people at the water tap.
A bucket is a small and often forgotten item in our lives, except when it is the means to bring life.
“Water is Life”. Musonda reminded me about that and about many other things which I often take
By now, Masonda said she is only able to force herself out once a day, in the morning, to collect one twenty-liter bucket
of water. This water is the entire day’s supply for Masonda and her sons. The trip for water takes her about thirty
minutes each way and the wait depends on the number of people ahead of her in line. She pays the people at the water
tap for her twenty liters, and others help her to lift the full bucket on to her head. Masonda then slowly proceeds home,
attempting not to spill any of the water. Now, however, because of her increasing weakness, she needs to rest half way
home. Some days she has to rest even three times. She needed a lid on the water bucket not just to save the precious
water inside it but also to be able to sit on the bucket when she needs to rest on her way home.