She is positive.
"There was a little girl named Joyce who lived on the beautiful African savanna. The savanna is like a field, only it goes on forever in every direction, with a sky the size and depth of a hundred oceans above it. Most eyes can't take in a scene as big as the savanna and its sky, but Joyce's can. They are big, brown eyes that might be as deep as one hundred oceans and one.
Long ago I told one of Joyce's stories , a sad, sad story that will shape many of her stories to come. But today I heard another story, older than the first and just as tragic. It too will write pages in her life, and shorten its book.
The land of Uganda is situated just over the rim of your world and a little to the right. When you come to Africa, look for the biggest lake and stop just a hair to the north of it; that's Uganda. It's a small country full of busy people with the darkest skin and brightest smiles. Walking around the streets of southern Uganda reminds me of recess - everyone is out talking to each other, some playing games, some making fun, many laughing, one crying.
But mention the north to these southerners and their eyes grow distant, their smiles fade, and they look away. They are frightened and ashamed. In fact, although Uganda has been a country for over 40 years, many southerners don't consider the north part of their nation.
Joyce lives in the north.
Since long before Joyce was born war has darkened the lives of people living in northern Uganda. Roughshod rebels have roamed the land, carrying guns in their arms and a swirling confusion of darkened dreams in their hearts. The dreams come from a place that, if you close your eyes, looks like a crumbling cliff that tumbles down below the light and ends in a pool that is really a mirage, but swallows you just the same.
Many believe, as Joyce might someday come to think, that if southern Uganda had cared about the north these rebels would have been stopped before they could do much harm. But they weren't stopped, as Joyce's life shouts in its small, devastating, living testimony.
You see, it's not only rebels and their guns that kill people in northern Uganda, there is also a plague, and the frightened people of the north have been forced to live in such a way that the plague spreads like bateria on a doorhandle.
In the story of Joyce's that I last told, you heard that she was burned badly over much of her body, and that her mother was killed at the same time by the guns of rebels. But bullets or no, the war had already claimed Joyce's mother. She had the dread plague of HIV that hides hideously in the camps of the north.
Weeks ago Joyce began to cough in her hut on the wide savanna. It got worse and worse, and soon it was unavoidable that she must be taken to a hospital. She was tested and was found to have tuberculosis, a terrible lung infection that, untreated, would lead to death. But the doctors fears were not assuaged by the prescription of antibiotics. They know that tuberculosis is a friend of a plague, sneaking in the doors of bodies that the plague has left open, so she was tested for HIV as well.
She is positive.
She is positive.
She is the butt of every distasteful joke this land can muster, the depository for the misery of a 20-year war. And she sits, eyes so wide and deep, holding it all within her frail body in the hospital in Gulu, and she breathes.
By God's careful manipulation a movie star and a journalist were with Joyce when she was tested, and they have vowed to spend their money to extend the boundaries of her shrunken life. Someday, I hope, she will be strong enough to present herself to the world as evidence of its own misdeeds, and her deep eyes and easy breaths evidence that it need not be that way."