The debate was on. For our holiday breakfast today, should we have bacon or smoked salmon with our eggs? Muffins or toast? A stroll by the river after breakfast, or a drive to the cheese factory? It’s the holidays. Life is good, right?
In Uganda, where we have been working for the last 17 years, our team were having a different kind of day. At 5pm on December 28th, one of the kids that has been part of our family — the Adara family — for many years, died. He died in the little bush hospital that we have been partnered with since we began our work. He died of HIV AIDS, and he was just 18.
His name was Bashir.
When we first met Bashir, he had been sleeping on the verandahs of some of the homes in the hospital compound on and off, for some time. He was eating what scraps he could find, and looking for safety at night when he slept. His Mum had died of AIDS, and after her death, his family unit had collapsed. That’s not uncommon in communities where the fear of this deadly disease sometimes compels people to abandon traditional support structures and families.
I think Bashir was about 10 when we first met him. He was very small and wiry, and painfully shy. He was afraid all the time. In those early days, getting him to speak or make eye contact was a bit of a triumph. Getting him to laugh seemed like an impossibility.
The hospital team asked that we consider taking Bashir into our street kids project. In addition to our medical work, we have had the huge good fortune of working with 25 boys…now young men, for more than a decade. Before they became part of our lives, they came from the streets: abuse survivors, AIDS orphans, or simply refugees from rural poverty. They had found their way, along with hundreds of thousands of other kids, to the streets of Kampala. When they came to us, they decided to call themselves the Ebeneezer Boys.
When we asked them if Bashir should join them, the Ebeneezer Boys were immediately enthusiastic. He quickly became their youngest brother, and a quiet and loved addition to this sometimes unruly but very happy group. All the boys know what it is to live hard. And they respected that Bashir, although so little, had lived it rougher than many of them. In the last couple of years, he became a pretty good bicycle mechanic, training for his future. He had become part of the Ebeneezer Boys family…and part of our family. He quietly battled TB, a run of infections, lung problems, and a real dislike of his meds. He adored his 25 brothers.
When we read about the 40 million people currently living with HIV AIDS, or the 22,000 children who die every day, every single day, from poverty, it all seems a long way away. Dying unknown, unmourned and unnamed by most of the world. As we end 2014, we remember that ever single one of them was a person. A character. A child. A brother or a sister. Someone loved. A Bashir.
The last time I was with them, the boys were playing me some cool Nigerian rap while we sat around drinking cold drinks and eating lunch. Much to their shock (and initial horror) I got up to dance. In a second, 26 boys were on their feet, tables moved aside, music cranked up, and away we went united in the pure joy of music. I looked across the room and there was Bashir. He was laughing so hard, I thought he might burst.
In 2015, the Adara family — Bashir’s extended family — will try even harder to make the world a slightly better place. One child at a time, in his honour.
Rest in peace little buddy. Your name was Bashir, and we will never forget you.