Francis and Joy found each other late in life. Widowed and alone, having suffered but not yet ready to give up on joy, they gave each other everything they had: themselves.
Together, Francis and Joy dug a meaningful and beautiful life out of Uganda’s red dirt. They learned to laugh even when they were hungry. They learned to put other people first. They learned that love could carry them when all else failed.
And slowly, as all else did fail, they learned to lean on each other to survive in a world full of hardship and parasites.
When Peter, a Sole Hope social worker, met Francis and Joy last week he assessed them and he came back without picking them up. “I am not so very sure she will survive the journey,” he said. “It is a risk”
But sometimes, loving people well means taking risks. When you do that, you open yourself up to the possibility of real joy. And real pain.
After consulting our doctor and nurse about Joy’s condition, it was determined that the benefits of treating her from The Outreach House outweighed the risks.
Prossy, a Sole Hope Nurse, Peter, and I got in a Sole Hope vehicle and headed out to get Francis and Joy. We traversed muddy dirt roads hour after hour. At each turn the road shrunk smaller till we were on a tiny dirt track.
When we found them they were together, pressed shoulder to shoulder, supporting each other in the dust in front of their mud and thatch home. Francis stood on wobbly legs to greet us. Joy was completely unable to walk.
And right there, in the dust and suffering, a smile split both of their faces. A warmth and joy radiated from them. A sense of complete peace in a situation that was clearly desperate.
Joy folded my hand into hers. I could feel the scars and lumps from countless jiggers. And I could feel resolve. Friends and neighbors lifted her into the vehicle and we departed.
There are many misconceptions about jiggers. There are misconceptions about where they come from. Francis told us a story that has circulated in their community about them being the result of a curse that has plagued the land since a time when there was no king.
There are misconceptions about how jiggers should be treated. Joy’s feet and legs were scarred by over a thousand jiggers, but she had recently smeared her skin with poison to kill the parasites. Most of them had died and were rotting inside her.
While Joy stayed with us she exuded thankfulness and optimism, even in the face of crushing physical maladies. As we called in doctors and took Joy from hospital to hospital she smiled and thanked us at every step. And for a while, Joy improved. She learned to walk again, spending hours per day slowly and carefully putting one foot in front of the other.
And then she stopped improving. And her condition turned for the worse.
Today Joy died. She slipped away in a nearby hospital with a Sole Hope nurse by her side.
Loving people well is a risk. When you open your heart and share life with a person you open yourself up to tremendous joy. You open yourself up to real pain. For us here at Sole Hope, this experience has been both joyful and heartbreaking.
And it’s been an honor. It was an honor to stand with Joy during her last days on earth, sharing smiles and tea. It will be an honor to stand with Francis tomorrow as he buries Joy in the earth of the fields where she grew up. And it’s an honor to continue our work, joining our hearts with people in need, even when it hurts.
Note: Names have been changed to protect our patients’ privacy.