Pilile and I wake up very early on a lazy Sunday morning. I still feel queasy from a stomach virus but my fever has subsided. We have a quick breakfast and slip outside into the rising sun and dust. Pilile has heard that her mother was admitted to the Piggs Peak hospital yesterday so we are heading up to check on her and see how she is doing. As we drive through the beautiful hills of Swaziland, passing morning churchgoers and cattle, Pilile tells me that her mother, Monicah, has come home but has a bad case of Tuberculosis that has exacerbated in the cold winds of oncoming winter. She is on anti-retrovirus (ARVs) medication for HIV as well as the first round of TB treatment. It has been difficult for Pilile to leave Piggs Peak for a week to perform with us as she is her mother’s primary caregiver. Thabila, her sister, has been helping her out buying groceries and checking in. I later learn that since she is mostly confined to their home, Monicah takes care of Guduza, Pilile’s 3 year old boy.
We drive through the now very familiar main street of Piggs Peak and turn off onto a dirt road after the last store. Piggs Peak is a timber town in northwestern Swaziland high in the hills about an hour from Mbabane. Most people here work for one of the South African timber companies that own the factory forests that surround the town. Negotiating some bumpy terrain, our vehicle pulls up outside a cluster of mud homes with corrugated tin roofs – Pilile’s home. She greets the neighbors who are surprised to see her before the end of the tour. We then enter her home where her mom has been resting. It is very cold this morning. Even inside, the wind cuts through the cracks of the two room house chilling us to the bone. The ground is shrink wrapped with white plastic over mud. Three beds crowd a makeshift kitchen counter in the front room. Water jugs lie near the door to be carried 100 feet to a nearby communal pump. A window struggles to fight back the wind that pushes against the clear plastic panes. Monicah sits on one of beds in an old coat that is ripped in many places. She exclaims with pleasure at the sight of her eldest daughter – it is an unexpected delight after a very difficult day yesterday. They talk for a couple minutes in siSwati about the hospital visit Thankfully, she is feeling better though her cough persists. Last night the whole family hid under a table from the mountain winds. I can only think that this is probably one of the worst living situations for someone with TB and HIV. It is enough to be sick without having to fend off the cold.
The conversation turns to a polite English to accommodate the Western visitor who sits a little uncomfortably on a bed. Monicah asks me how Pilile is doing in with the tour. I tell her that she is doing wonderfully as the Boss Clown of the show, “Madam!,” and that the Statue Routine with Sibusiso and Matt is one of our funniest sketches. Even though Pilile has never acted before this week and still has a lot to learn about theatre, she makes great strides each day with her amazing fire when on stage and ability to knock an audience silly with one wide-eyed look. She absolutely loves clowning!
Reaching into a black shopping bag, Pilile shows her mother a pair of blue sequined shoes bought in Mbabane for Mother’s Day. “They are for going for church and hospital,” she tells her. Monicah loves them and instantly takes her slippers off to strut around the room. “Ay, kuhle! (their so pretty),” I say in my basic siSwati. We clap a rhythm while she dances in delight.
Suddenly, the door swings open and Guduza bursts in with a big hug for his mom. She wipes the endless stream of mucus from his nose and immediately starts smothering him with motherly love. “He is closer to his grandmother but he is still my boy,” she tells me. I show Guduza a little sleight of hand magic and some basic juggling. He is shy but slowly opens up with a big smile hiding from between his mother’s legs. After about another 15 minutes of quiet conversation and games with a few of the red noses I brought with me, Pilile tells me it is time to go back to Mbabane. “I am now relieved even after a quick visit.” There is a march organized by the World Food Program for orphans and vulnerable children that we want to join if we arrive in time. The children from the SOS Children’s Village are performing their traditional dances and songs in the big square downtown – it would be lovely to see them.
As we leave Pilile and Monicah’s home, I pause at the door and send a silent prayer for a less biting wind tonight. I know it probably will not be answered but at least there is hope. On the way out of town, we swing by the Score Supermarket to buy Monicah a big chicken, some pap, chips, and high-Vitamin C juice for dinner. We end up getting a huge bag of chicken wings and breasts for a stew to last her the week until Pilile returns.
Later, Pilile tells me that she is so happy we were able to visit. Usually a reticent, proud and strong woman, she laughs tonight more then ever before with the rest of the group. She also volunteers to become team Time Keeper giving us warnings on departures and schedules. It is a different woman from the one yesterday who was quiet and worried. On this day off, I guess we have taken a simpler path in providing emotional and physical support to those who need it most. Just a friendly visit and some good food to warm the body and the soul.