It started simply and in the middle became quite challenging. A nurse brought me to someone she thought would want to go outside and informed me that the patient had "a slow brain". The woman barely spoke a word to me the day before and her facial expressions did seem a little abnormal. I helped the woman into the wheelchair and started to go outside. Something was obviously up as she pointed to the left. A female french photographer greets me outside and asks if I was going to take her for her daily tour. She took my puzzled look as a sign to explain further. She continued by telling me that a Maryknoll priest had been volunteering at the Temple for almost six years and had taken the woman out every morning to pray and see her boyfriend. However, the priest has since been stationed inTanzania and the morning ritual has gone away with him. From what I have been told no one else had taken interest in continuing the ritual.
We begin by stopping at a small shop and she asks for a energy drink with two raw eggs in it. The photographer ques me in on the story and outlines the "stops" before going off to finish her work with TIME magazine. The woman came to the Temple over eight years ago with her husband. They both had HIV and the husband soon passed away. Over the years she fell deeply in love with another HIV positive man at the Temple. He passed away as well and in an act of despair she attempted suicide by jumping off a roof. She broke her hips, damaged her mouth, and did some nerve damage as well, which explains the "slow brain" and her inability to walk or stand. When I heard this story I could not help but think it was a plot from a depressing and twisted movie; one that depicted a rollercoaster of emotions and in the end left the main character bedridden and alone.I am told that she shared a deep and affectionate relationship with the man she met at the temple and soon they became "the couple" all could see constantly together.
She has not been here in almost a month and all I can do is think about what she is saying out loud. After ten minutes she claps three times and rubs her head - it's the signal that she is done. She opens up as we leave the life museum. She laughs and starts to talk as we make our way to the stand at the front gate. Once there I buy her some of the plastic bracelets that she loves to wear. During this time she gets to talk to some of the vendors, who are HIV positive as well. It's her only time to socialize because in the infirmary attention is not something she is accustomed to. I bring her back and realize after 40 minutes and 2 dollars that what started as a way to take a break ended up making someone's day in way I would never have expected or anticipated. Now when I first walk in she looks at me and signals to the door with a smile. Sadly every time I bring her back I can not help but wonder if after I leave she will be resigned to the bed and never get a chance to go for what some might think is just a wheel chair ride.