Mpume Mbonambi

Our guest HIV / AIDS worker from Natal

Mpume Mbonambi who comes from KwaZulu Natal, stayed at the Rectory from April 2003 until March 2004, trying to raise awareness among young people about HIV/AIDS. Andrew and Fran will miss her greatly. Sadly her experience here has been more than tinged with frustration that there appears to be little realisation outside a narrow professional circle of the explosively destructive potential of the virus in this country.

Well, its time to say goodbye. Even I sometimes can’t believe that a year has gone by since I arrived here, but then I wake up. My time here has been spent trying to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. Whether this has been successful or not, I can’t tell. This is because in many ways I can’t see the results of my work and I don’t think I’m supposed to (so that’s OK!). I think my time here has been for sowing. After sowing all we have to do is wait for God to do the rest and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

I have learned quite a bit since I’ve been here. Growing up. I’ve always been good at harvesting. It was always nice to see the fruits at harvest. What I did not entirely appreciate was the hard work that had to go in before harvest. The sowing of seeds even at my grandmother’s garden has never been something to excite me. In fact, I do remember that I mostly visited her during harvest. If I did visit her at the time when she was still putting seeds, I would make sure that I was there at harvest - because nobody was to reap the fruits of my hard labour (about two rows of beans). But my time here has taught me a new skill, sowing and leaving it at that! And I feel “Wow, I’m growing up!”

I’ve also “grown up” through meeting and interacting with people from different walks of life. Those working with people living with HIV/AIDS have such dedication and love for their work and they keep going even though resources are getting scarce. Those seeking asylum try to find a new life for themselves in a new and foreign environment. Economic immigrants are coping with life away from their loved ones and trying to find a balance between work life here and family life somewhere else. I have found myself to have so much in common with all these people and many more that I have not mentioned.

What seems to be life as usual for many in this country is totally alien for some. It has been so; at least for myself especially at the beginning of my year. And I don’t think we totally appreciate this fact no matter where we are in the world. For example, I tried to explain the Underground to my friend back home. She couldn’t understand how in the middle of town you would go into a building, go down the escalator tens to hundreds of feet, catch a train that goes under the city and you get off at the other end of town. At the end of my explanation she said that if she came to this country she would not be using the Underground because there is a reason why she does not work in a mine.

Trying to understand a new environment is dependent on the old familiar environment that we use as some sort of reference guide for the new things that we come across. The fact that the sun can be there just for light and not necessarily warmth was something I had to deal with quickly. It was very hard to deal with this, so I told myself there must be two suns. And this is my theory. I don’t care what scientific evidence may suggest. This theory is based on the following evidence; when I left South Africa it was very hot and sunny. I arrived here and it very cold and sunny (the two suns still at their normal positions). Then your sun here decided to go for a summer holiday, which meant that the African sun had to cover its shift over here. Hence record-breaking temperatures were recorded in most of Europe and South Africa in particular had the coldest winter in years. In fact, there was snow in places that had not snowed for over 40 years. Anyway, why am I writing about the weather? Oh no, what have you done to me!!!

Back to the point, there have been times when I’ve wanted to say “there is an easier way of doing this you know!” But that is not always received in the best possible light. For example, imagine a world where if someone wrote you a cheque you could go to the bank and the bank would give you cash!!! Yes, it can be done. And you won’t have to wait 4 to 5 working days, wow! I know that this is just a silly example. However, I have come across a resistance to change and to introducing new ways of doing things that might in fact make life easier. I’ve wanted to make so many suggestions but then I think to myself, ‘gal, you’re not here for that, you are here to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS’. So I keep quiet. But if I could make just one, would someone please put up this notice on the walls next to the taps.

Very cold water!

Mpume Mbonambi
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 27th March 2004