Esther is as in love with Chikumbuso as I am, maybe even more.
Her eyes water when she speaks about it unable to hide her emotions.
Yesterday I rubbed her legs and asked her to think about Chikumbuso with her eyes closed. She closed them, hesitated, and then smiled.
She said, “Chikumbuso is a Light.”
Her chest heaved, eyes twittered, smile eased not sure whether her audience could be trusted to hear her truths.
“When I wake in the morning and contemplate the day I’m not sure where it is going. Washing clothes I fight with my soul who calls me to Chikumbuso. Why didn’t I go today?” No I have things to do. I continue washing and my mind wanders to the community center. I wonder who is there that morning, which of my friends. I am comfortable with these friends who understand me inside and out.
Then I begin to “worry”. What if there are not enough people to cook the lunch meal?
Perhaps I should go and see.
When my chores are finished the pull to go to Chikumbuso is so strong that I can no longer ignore it.
I pack up my crocheting, grab my scissors and hook, lock the door and go.
Esther’s husband died of AIDS when she was 22 years old and had been married four years .
They didn’t acknowledge that it was AIDS and they didn’t want to know whether it was or not.
When he died Esther was 3 months pregnant with her first child. Her husband’s family came and took almost everything leaving her with just a few kitchen items. This forced her to move in with her brother and his family making 8 in the house.
After the birth of her baby she began to get sick. It was blamed on the fact that she was “not clean”. This “cleansing” refers to a traditional cleansing ceremony that every widow should go through.
Esther tried healing at the clinic and she tried African medicine. When she finally was tested for HIV and got herself and her son on ARTs she was stigmatized by all. She was stigmatized especially by family due to lack of their understanding of the issue. They refused to eat out of the same bowl with her or drink out of the same cup. Her sister in law refused to even use the same basin that Esther used to wash her clothes. Esther ate alone and lived alone in her head without a support group of any kind.
This is where I met her.
Now at Chikumbuso both her friends and the money she earns from making plastic bags has changed her life.
We all rejoiced when Esther's son went to his first day of school. Esther is an integral part of her community. Her courage is contagious to others that are trying to make it on their own.
When commenting on women with AIDS her counsel comes as a direct result of the isolation she felt,
“What is most important is that those with AIDS just need love. Love in the family, love in the community, for without it the drugs will do nothing.”
As Esther enters the gate at Chikumbuso and signs in she smiles, “I am just like that moth continually drawn in by the light. This place makes me happy, it is life for me”.