We meet Joana, an old woman from mozambique, since the beginning of the DREAM story in Maputo. We in fact begun to attend her house – or rather her hut made of pipes and mud – from 2001, even before Machava opened, the first of the DREAM centres in Africa, when the Community of Sant’ Egidio didn’t yet have in Mozambique an outpatient clinic, or any laboratory …. The cures were not fully available, there was a lot of suffering and desperation, even if you could already breath that friendship between european volunteers and suffering africans that would have been then realized and improved with DREAM.
At first, in those days, we met Luis, the son-in-law of Joana, the husband of her daughter Julieta. Already very sick, Luis the first patient we attended with an accurate and faithful house assistance until the end, until death.
After his funeral it became natural not to leave that relationship that was born with his stretched family, very numerous, even more that also Julieta was sick. And so, one time after another, we began to go to Joana.
Joana’s house was always full of people, a lot of women, many children and few men. Joana stood out among everyone, like a sort of mother, like the true reference of sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The reason was simple: her age.
An unknown age, as not even Joana herself knew exactly how old she was, but certainly very advanced. At least eighty were the springs of Joana, when in Africa you are considered "old" at fourty. For this reason no one called her with her name, they all referred to her with the name avó, that is to say grandmother.
Going to Joana, at Matola Brook, was not simple. The village is rather distant from Maputo town, about an hour by car, and the last bit of road is a long strip of mud. The house, then, is very poor, formed by two environments that at night become large beds made of pipes and materials on which a group of fifteen people sleep. The kitchen is outside, with a large saucepan where they cook the nsima (flour of corn mush) or rise. There is no water and or even electricity. The bath is not very far, made of four walls of pipes covered with old and worn out materials. In this rather poor context Joana is a really special woman. When she saw us she stood up, she smiled at us and began to speak like a train.
She wouldn’t stop for a moment, but the problem was that she talked to us in shangane, the southern Mozambique spoken language, and not in Portuguese …. We couldn’t understand a word …. But no, we learnt two words, very slowly: makinina, which means medicine and kanimambo, which means thank you.
With time, in fact, on the mouth of Joana the words makinina and kanimambo were repeated more and more often as Julieta first, and after other four members of this large family of this grandmother from mozambique then, were tested for the HIV virus and, having a positive result, started the I DREAM treatment.
Now, it was not granted, or without meaning, that Joana spoke a lot of medicines…. On the ground, in front of the hut, on the capulane – as called in Mozambique, the typical African cloth – grasses, roots, seeds, animal legs, stones, shells, bones, were stretched out … well, the weirdest things, all left to dry under the warm African sun. It was Joana herself that used them. To “heal". She was in fact a curandeira, that is to say a traditional healer. People came from long distances to ”be treated” by her. It was all her life she did that work and was thanks to it that she managed to feed all.
Well, even Joana, this traditional healer, that had her “own" medicine, slowly understood that AIDS can be treated only with DREAM medicines (or with other similar ones, obviously …), and for this reason she was very careful her daughter and the other persons of her family under treatment with us took the right pills and at the right time. Joana saw too many people die, and unfortunately also her sons and daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren (for them the antiretroviral treatment arrived too late), in order not to perfectly know the incommensurable value of those pills that were really able to cure and to save.
The story of Joana is – as it seems to us – an emblematic story. An elderly woman, that has suffered a lot, that lived poorly, that has trusted for long time a traditional knowledge, to the force of the parental connections. A woman that has never complained, that has kept fighting, that has gathered courage, that has put all her energies to make it. A woman on whose shoulders was the weight of many difficulties – and few are the men that helped or supported her-, from those small ones of day to day life to the bigger ones of history, of the Portuguese colonialism, of the terrible and bloody civil war, of AIDS. But anyhow she resisted. For herself, and for the younger children.
This elderly woman is Joana …, but is also Africa, the oldest of the continents (humanity was born between those forests and those savannahs, and we all come from an old grandmother like Joana, she is the Lucy of the anthropologists, or Eve, if we want), a continent that has confronted with enormous difficulties but has however managed to reveal an incredible energy, an enormous reserve of life and strength. Joana can be the image of Africa. Of an Africa that resists, that knows how to, if needed, change its age, that doesn’t surrender to its future, but rather takes care of it with love and with trust.
Women in Africa are Africa, without them all is impossible. Generation after generation they continue to carry out the sublime and difficult mission to protect and continue life. Joana entrusts her own forces, but also her new friends. She sais she is not tired: she is happy, because her family is treated. Joana, the curandeira, does publicity to DREAM, to the makinina that helps her effort to take care of life and the future of her beloved.