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"I was hoping for a good life."
In Zambia, greetings are elaborate and effusive. It's of utmost importance to ask after a person's family: their spouse, their children, the health of their relatives. But with the scourge of AIDS wreaking havoc on the country's population, the question ‘How is your family?' has become loaded and problematic.
So, it was with the best intentions that my first question for the lovely, thin bird that is Casey Kasoma was about her family. "My husband is gone," she told me. "He died last year." Both her daughters are also dead, leaving her as the only living adult in her family. At 61 years old, she shoulders the burden of raising six grandchildren on her own.
Casey sells bags of maize for a thousand kwacha (20 cents CDN) per bag, hoping to generate enough money to sustain her family. "When my husband was here, I felt I could try," she says, casting her sad, dark eyes toward the impeccable dirt floor of her home. "But now I feel I'm not doing enough for the children. I don't feed them the way they ought to be fed. Most times, I don't know where their next meal will come from."
An orphan's organization pays for her grandchildren's school fees, and for that Casey is grateful. Although, it's difficult for her grandchildren to see other kids with better food and nicer clothing, "I encourage them to work hard in school - that's why they are there. But, deep down, I feel I am failing."
"Sometimes I think about settling on a farm. I could grow food and sustain myself and the children. But I'm growing old and I'm not sure I have the energy to do farm work. These are the thoughts always creeping in my mind: ‘What to do?' If only that problem could go. It bothers me very much."
She says nice things about her biosand filter, but water seems like a small problem compared with other worries. She agrees. "There is no problem with water any more. The problem is the livelihood and other means of sustenance."
Families like Casey's face enormous challenges. Water is just one part of the story; a complex web of issues like economics, politics, as well as hunger and HIV/AIDS, keep many on the edge of despair. HIV/AIDS has ravaged much of Africa, taking mothers and fathers at their prime, and leaving the grandmothers like Casey to raise the children.
She labours alone at a time in life when she should be cared for and allowed to rest. "I was hoping for a good life," she says. "This has not been the way I dreamt."