Saturday, January 28, 2012


My story begins with a mosquito. Its middle is a contrast of medical care. Its end is a surprise- a painful one.

To begin, there are two kinds of medical care available in South Africa: public and private. Private medical care is similar to our medical care in the States in terms of quality. It is different in its personalized care and cost. It is available for those who can pay, either in cash or in the premiums of heat Public medical care here is good in theory, but lacking in practice. It is available for the masses, and you are charged on a curve of how much you earn.

When we first came here, our medical insurance back home (of course) didn't cover us here. We decided to "take our chances" of not needing to buy "medical aid" (health insurance) here, and pay cash if there was a need for the doctor.

This is our first experience with a South African "private" hospital in 2007.

Mario, my dear husband, and I were on a trip to Malawi, a country that is four countries north of South Africa. We camped, in tents, in "the bush" with our team, having basic camping necessities, but no real luxuries

Since our team knew full well of the need for Malaria meds (they're called prophylactics, no kidding) we all took the same stuff. A safe dose meant you were 50% less likely to contract the disease if you were bitten by a malaria mosquito.

One morning, Mario was bitten by one.

By the time we got home, Mario was running a fever and feeling "a little off", so we visited the local hospital's emergency room. We paid cash, and were seen by a doctor who knew the drill.

He took blood and cultures and sent them to the lab. He told MArio to go home and get in bed. The results were back the next day.

Mario had Malaria, and it had to be treated by hospitalization.


"No hospital, please!" Mario said. "We don't have medical aid."

"You have no choice," the doctor said. "I would need you to be cared for around the clock and have the right amount of medicine and fluids given to you."

"My wife can do it," he said. This was a promise that I was "keen to keep" and ready to do.

"Alright," the doctor said. "If your fever goes up too quickly, you have to go in to the hospital."

He let Mario go home, on the promise that he would go straight to bed. He gave him quinine, the first-world answer to malaria, and told me to call if things "got bad".

Things got bad.

Mario's fever spiked, and we found out that he was allergic to the medicine that would make him well. He went deaf (temporarily) and had night sweats and dizziness. We appealed to the doctor, who said to "stay on the course" and suggested that I get tested and my daughter. The same blood tests were done on us. We were both negative.

The week with malaria was a precarious one. By the time Mario was feeling better he had lost 14 pounds.

Still, we were thankful that the hospital was not needed.

By the time the bills came, we had a stack - emergency room bill, docotr bills, blood tests, smear tests and cultures. All totalling about 200 USD's. We were flabbergasted.

The surprise was not only the effective care, hospital visit, medicine and docotr visits for such a low cost; it was the awareness that most people in Africa couldn't afford it.

According to the Center for Disease Control:

35 countries (30 in sub-Saharan Africa and 5 in Asia) account for 98% of global malaria deaths.

In 2008, malaria caused an estimated 190 - 311 million clinical episodes, and 708,000 - 1,003,000 deaths.

89% of the malaria deaths worldwide occur in Africa.

Malaria is the 5th cause of death from infectious diseases worldwide (after respiratory infections, HIV/AIDS, diarrheal diseases, and tuberculosis) in low-income countries.

Malaria is the 2nd leading cause of death from infectious diseases in Africa, after HIV/AIDS.

While we became aware of our "bargain" medical care, we also became aware of how widespread the disease was all over Africa. What we considered a "good deal", in fact a huge blessing, was unaffordable to most, who would die from the disease.

April 25 is World Malaria Day. By Arpil 25, approximately 80 thousand deaths will occur in Africa from Malaria. November is Malaria Awareness Month, but only in countries that have an awareness of the disease.

Here is the surprise: Malaria could have killed Mario. His quick diagnosis was the best tool he had to getting better. If he had been treated in Malawi, where the disease is rampant, he might have had a quicker recovery, since their meds are more targeted at "local Malaria", and they rarely use quinine. Treatment there would have cost us about fifty USD's.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


A friend of mine, a Christian pastor, once told me a story of a trip where his seat-mates on a plane refused their meal while he ate the chicken breast special that most airlines are famous for.

When he noticed they weren’t eating he asked why. The girl next to him, a small college student smiled.

“We’re not together,” she said, a little embarrassed. The man next to her only smiled. He then answered my friend’s question.

“I’m choosing not to eat.” He said, waving his hand in permission. “Go ahead and eat, I’m fasting.” At this, the girl between them perked up.

“I’m fasting, too,” she said. “Are you a Christian?”

“No,” he said. “I’m actually a Satanic Priest.” My friend broke in to laughter over the joke...until he realized the man was serious.

“I’m sorry,” my friend said, “but I did think you were joking.”

The priest smiled and didn’t seem to be bothered by his reaction. “No one ever believes me,” he said. “They also believe that Christians are the only ones that fast.”


“Well, what are you fasting for?” the young girl ventured.

“I’m actually fasting to become one with the natural forces that will pull down the (Christian)church,” he said, sincerely. He mentioned a couple of pastors by name that he believed were against said natural forces and wanted their “just removal”.

The man continued, explaining that the world was made up of spiritual powers that most people don’t understand. He was clear, made good sense, and could have converted “an open-minded” thinker with his logic and wit.

After losing his appetite, my friend said, in an attempt at humor, “Well, looks like you guys are duking it out in the heavenly realms!”

The girl smiled, but was quiet.

The man answered, “Exactly.”

The story has stuck with me my whole Christian life. It is significant to me because when I do fast, I know that the dependence on God arises in me and something of faith is released. I also know that there are heavenly realms that can be touched by prayer and fasting.

Fasting is a discipline practiced by most religions, as a sign of and self-denial, and dependence on a greater something. Buddhists, Satanists, Muslims, and Hindus fast regularly as a ritual practice to be become stronger inside.

Fasting is seldom without a purpose, and most Christians fast to become closer to God. It is also something modelled by Jesus, at the very beginning of his public ministry. We are given examples, like prayer and fasting, by Jesus, who is fully knowledgeable of what the human condition is.

Because of its unknown power in the heavenly realms, it is a tool of the Christian faith, especially for break-though.

I say all of this to remind myself, at the beginning of the year, that complete dependence on God is not only important, it is essential for my life...

It is my life.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Playing Christmas Carols 2011
The greatest gift we have been given is life.  Even before we recognize freedom, love, grace and hope we have been given life to pursue all of these things.  Life, in its essence, is full of growth, death, aches and climaxes...all day long.

I was typing from my mother (Jennie's) desk... then from Vincent's...then from David's and finally Alice's.   I have been a vagabond travelling from place to place and hardly writing... that is, in surrendered, beautiful disruption of my schedule, visiting family.   

When we arrived in California, we hardly expected the roller coaster of events that have transpired.  It's been too much for even me to recap, but in my brain, there are endless snapshots that will never leave me.  In the weeks we reconnected with friends and family, we were overjoyed at growth, killed ourselves laughing, cried tears of joy over our granddaughters...and languished in the company of family and friends. We also said goodbye to a most beloved brother. We spent the most time we have ever spent on a vacation "back home".

I am settled, now, in Johannesburg, safely "home", and back to the southern Hemisphere summer.

It was just Friday morning when we left New York City.  We loaded up the hired car with our 6 bags and said goodbye to our beloved Alice on her Riverdale driveway in 0 degrees, our parka  hoods touching as we hugged goodbye.  Today is Tuesday, and it has been my first chance to write since I've been back.  This morning, my upper lip is annoyingly beaded with sweat and my hair up in a pony tail as my neck is exposed to the window behind me.  From cold to hot - from winter to summer - from surrounded by our children to just the two of us here....with our dogs.

The trip, in reflection, was the best, most beautiful expenditure of time we could manage.  When we first arrived in the States, we had one day at Dave Smith's house before  Mario boarded a plane bound for Phoenix, where he was hoping to see his brother, who had been asking for him.   For three days, Mario kept vigil over Anthony with his family at the hospice center.  

I drove David's jeep to Tracy, where I stayed with my parents for a long, gorgeous, relaxed, three days.  I got to have long, uninterrupted talks with my parents, something missing from our face-to-face time for the last few years.

Mario spent his time at Anthony's bedside, leaving three days later while Anthony slept, kissing his forehead and pleading the blood of Jesus over him.  Anthony died a few hours later.

We got the news when we were in Chico, visiting our beloved daughter, Alicia, and her little family. While Brian and she were so encouraging and inviting,  Alicia grieved deeply with us.  Still, grief was interrupted by the absolute miracle of the presence of our families together.   Our granddaughters, Harmony (2) and Alannah (5 months) are too young to understand grief and loss, and too alive to ignore.

 Reconnecting with them s was heavenly.  Alannah, who was one day old when I last saw her (and Mario had never seen in person), is a gorgeous, happy baby who smiles with her whole body when you make eye contact with her.  She was one smile and cuddle after another.  Harmony, prone to contemplation and deep thought was a ball of affection, so  full of hugs and kisses for us.  We stuffed a year of visiting into three days: walks, talks, last-minute Christmas shopping....all done with them as if we've never left.

Before we knew it, three days were over, and we went "home" to Tracy for Christmas.

The days of Christmas were full of celebration and tradition.  Family, growing neices and nephews, grandchildren...singing, tamales...laughter.  A picture says a thousand words and I think I took a thousand pictures. It was a beautiful Christmas, but I have had a lifetime of beautiful Christmases.  I spent the night lapping it up, grateful for the company of my family, once again.  Christmas Day we drove to the Bay area again, this time for a day of soaking with our beloved Cynthia, Mario's cousin (more like his sister) and her family.

The next few days were amazing: Friends, family, catching 49th birthday...our 24th anniversary....My sister, Colleen, hosted a birthday party for me.  Flashes of memories...too much in my heart, which was already overflowing.

New Years we travelled to New Mexico to see Vince, his girlfriend, Rikki and their cat, Eddy. We learned how to play x-box connect (forgive my spelling), which made us feel like 111-year-old-hillbillies, constantly saying "Can you believe this? How do they do this?" Our games were shared with our beloved Vince and Rikki, who were masters - and good teachers.  Since it was a Christmas present for Rikki, we all enjoyed the newness of it together.  We also got to meet her extended family for the first time, which was wonderful.

From there we went to Arizona for the Memorial for Anthony.  It was miraculous that we could be there for such a time.  Planned by his wife of 31 years, my sister-in-law, Shirley, the night was a dinner and a tribute, with all of Anthony's close friends and family sharing their hearts. All while Anthony's favorite foods were served.  It was a perfect night, and one where we reconnected with David and Joe.  To look over Mario's shoulder and see all three sons talking to each other....was a joy beyond joys.  I kept hugging them.  They kept laughing.  They did everything but say "It's okay, Mom".  If life were perfect, Alicia would have been there.

We saw my grand-nephew, Renee's baby who was just born premature.  He was beautiful and every bit of the miracle we heard about long-distance.

From Arizona, the "Boys" (Mario, David, Joe and Vince)  took a road trip to New Mexico, Oklahoma and finally Kansas, where I had flown and was met by my daughter-in-law and granddaughters at the airport.  To see the girls (Lennae, Laila, Lilli and Lauren) for the first time in two years was amazing.  Astoundingly,  the little ones all remembered me - and were anxious to reconnect.  Thank GOD for SKYPE!!   They loved my stories, which they would ask for by making up a scenario with different animals and was so precious.  The boys joined us that night, and two days later Alicia, Brian and their girls joined us as well.

Another miracle of three kids in one place:  David, Joe and Alicia.  We must have stayed up Life isn't perfect.  If it were, Vince would have been there, but the reunion was a huge blessing.  Greater still was the union of all of the granddaughters- all so beautiful!!  All such a miracle!  All so different in ages and personalities!!

We said goodbye again, on a cold morning at the Kansas City Airport, where Alicia and David dropped us off with our massive luggage, and I tearfully said goodbye to both.  We were so moved, but so thankful.  The time with our kids was amazing...

Our last stop was in New York City, where we took a cab from LaGuardia to Riverdale, where Alice was waiting for us.  Three days of heavenly visiting again: this time with a trip in to the City.  What an indellible mark she has made on our hearts!!  It was a stunning time.  Reflecting on Anthony's life, Chev's life...and our own lives as well.

Here I am, finally finishing at nearly midnight my time.  I have drunk deeply on my "holiday" as they say here...and now am about the task of resting.

Life, as we know it, is full of emotions.  The highs and lows, the laughter and tears.  Together, all mixed together the grief and the joy makes a "soup" we call life.

Eat it up.

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