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October 16, 2002

Shakespear

I have been wanting to write about Shakespeare for sometime now. But, the words have escaped me once again. My housemate and dear friend, Amy, wrote this on the 10th of August. I would like to share it with you.

His name is Shakespeare, a name self-appointed but unequivocally deserved. He is a rare case of creativity and talent in a country that has no resources to support or encourage it…a true asset to Mozambique, a beloved asset that his country is about to lose.

He arrived at our center in January along with seventy other students, and by the second day he was already one of a handful of students we recognized and could call by name. He made his presence and witty humor known, was respectful and respected by all, and seemed just to stand above the rest (even in stature…he's six feet tall, another rarity here.)

Shakespeare loved to tell stories and captivated us with a delivery that could only be found in a culture so reliant upon oral histories. But then, he shared his poems and prose with us written with a talent that seemed unnatural to be so natural. He published nearly all his writings in our school newspaper... a newspaper which he, of course, created in his first week here. And, whether talking about love or recaps of the weekend soccer match, nobody missed reading his articles and looked forward to the next week.

But now, it's hard to imagine that Shakespeare when the one I know hasn't been able to walk or sit on his own for the past two months. Shakespeare, the rare, beautiful, and inspiring young poet has AIDS and is dying of tuberculosis…a situation not so rare here.

My eyes have gotten strong enough to not let the tears in them fall when I'm with him; my spirit strong enough to keep a smile on my face. I just keep hoping he doesn't notice how much I'm fighting it. But still every time I leave him, I think of him on the floor of the second largest hospital in this country that didn't have enough beds; I think of the men and children in his hospital room that I had come to know that, in such a short time, have already died and been replaced by others; I think of the doctor that is so overloaded she only has time to see each patient five minutes a day; I think of carrying his fragile body out of the hospital because there was nothing more they could do and they needed the space; I think of him dying on a mat in his grandfather's house asking about a father who is too ashamed to come and visit; I think of how ironic it is that his smile seems to be getting bigger every time I see him, but know it's because his face is sunken and shrinking like the rest of him. And then, I find my eyes and spirit aren't so strong.

Today, we were talking and a silence fell over the room. There was a radio in the background with the only provincial station playing. We overheard the station making the hourly death announcements (because no one has newspapers to put it in the obituaries) all of them made in the local dialect of the person who died. Shakespeare turned and looked at me with his hollowing eyes and said, "You speak Sena, Teacher. I speak Endau. You're not going to understand." Fading off and looking away, he said it again, "You're not going to understand."

You're right, Shakespeare, I'm not going to understand. I'll never understand the convergence of circumstances that have brought you and so many others on this continent to this inhuman situation. I'll never understand how the second largest hospital in Mozambique could be so full of the smell of human waste to a degree that a kennel would be shut down in my land. I'll never understand how your people can deal with these losses every day and still try to smile, because it's tearing me apart. I'll never understand how more hasn't been done to help you and your country. I'll never understand how Mozambique is following the IMF requests of cutting funds on health and education in order to pay off their debt. Cutting funds on your suffering hospital, Shakespeare!!! How can you be in debt to us? Isn't it the other way around? Isn't it us who owe people like you, Shakespeare? I know I'll never understand. And I'm sorry, Shakespeare. I'm sorry I can't do more for you. I know that you don't want pity, but I'm sorry I can't stop crying for you.

And now, it is 2 months to the day since Shakespeare's death. I still cry for him. My heart still aches for him. But, there is happiness, too. I am happy that I had the opportunity to meet him at all. I learned a great deal about humanity from my time with him. I am happy (although that is an odd word to choose) that I got to see the hospital in Beira and the treatment that a Moçambican receives. Although, it is something that I wish with all my might that I could forget....but I am glad that I never will. I am happy that Shakespeare knew the unconditional and unending love of his grandfather. Shakespeare's grandfather has since become our, Amy's and my, Moçambican grandfather. I am happy that Shakespeare got to see his father just one more time. I am convinced that he waited to see his father to die. I am happy that Shakespeare found 2 hours of complete peace just before his death. He had not seen that peace in 3 months. And, I am happy that I can help his spirit live on by sharing this. His life has and will continue to have great meaning for many.... including me.