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January 13, 2003

Inequalities.

I have sunk into a bit of a funk in that sometimes I don't remember to take notice of what I am encountering each day. And, every once in a while, reality takes hold of me and truly rattles me.

Today, I was taking a third friend in a week to the hospital to take a malaria test. We are fully into the rainy/malaria season and the many sicknesses are starting to take hold.

The day seemed normal enough, after all, I make the 12 kilometer trek to Nhamatanda about once a week for some reason or another. We hopped on the back of a pick-up truck, only slightly wincing at the stench of some unidentified meat at our feet. Once reaching Nhamatanda, we hopped off of the pick-up truck and began the short walk to the hospital. I stopped along the way to chat with 12 year old Francisco who took advantage of one of very few opportunities to practice his English. Normal day...

But, then, sitting in the waiting area of the hospital things changed...

This time, as we settled in for the wait, we winced at the smell of the latrine located off of the waiting area, a little too close for comfort.

Everyone was informed that the technician who was preforming what one might call triage was out for a while. We sat back down on the concrete benches with the 35, or so, others who were waiting patiently, too.

I couldn't help but take notice of the very young woman who was holding a very young baby. Just from looking I couldn't begin to assess what was wrong with the baby... Actually, more accurately, I could identify too many possible and too many probable ailments... Perhaps she was born too soon, perhaps she was born already infected with HIV, perhaps she was unlucky enough to suffer with diarrhea before her little immune system was prepared to fight it, perhaps the mothers breast milk was not filled with enough nutrients due to her own malnourishment, perhaps they are among the 80% in this country who do not have access to clean water, perhaps a hungry unprejudiced mosquito bit the baby infecting her with malaria.

I know that the baby will become a statistic of infant mortality. There is very little doubt. She is too little, too thin, arms like toothpicks, listless eyes, no tears, no crying, a disquieting quiet.

My heart was literally aching. I wanted to make it all alright. I wanted that young mother to be able to tell her daughter, as my father used to tell me, 'It will all be better before you are married'. But it won't be alright. I wanted the mother to be able to kiss it and make it all better.

But it won't be all better.

I mentioned, near to tears, my thoughts to my friend. She said, rather offhandedly and matter-of-factly, 'Just don't look. It will only make you sad.' But, I think that is what is the problem... We are not looking because it makes us sad. We are not looking at dying children when we have healthy children at home. We are not looking at the rape of other countries for oil when we have our SUVs to drive. We are not looking at the lack of educational opportunities when there is a race to get into the best and brightest colleges. We are not looking at the soaring HIV and AIDS rates when everyone we see all around us is pink and healthy, and beyond that, we are not seeing the horrific death of 40 million people because drugs like AZT are available to us. We are not looking at the fact that people are literally starving around the world when our grocery store and our cupboards are always stocked full. We are not looking at the 4 year old children who are working in the sweatshops to scrape a few pennies together to barely feed their families when we have our new Nike Airs to wear. We are not looking at the beggars who are saving up to buy a Coke, with the hopes of the better lives they see in the advertisements, when we have a few 2 liters in our fridge.

We need to start looking.