Some of the young women of Chelsi’s HIV club crowded around the bench where one of her game participants had just taken a seat. But Chelsi didn’t notice at first.
“Alright! So our game of the baby elephant and lions, what did the baby elephant represent?” She took a rhetorical pause. “The baby elephant is our body. The Mother elephants protecting the baby elephant is our…? Immune system! The Lions are,”
“Germs!” One of the secondary school boys shouted before Chelsi finished.
“Very good! And once we’re sick with HIV, what happens to our immune system? Our immune system is weakened. Remember, we removed some of the mother elephants, then it was very easy for the lions to attack the baby.”
Soon the commotion on the far bench under the tree became great enough that Chelsi couldn’t help but notice. She took a few steps towards the group of young women. When the group saw her approach the parted ways revealing a young women in a brown dress and bright red knee. Chelsi felt an unexpected surge of adrenaline. “Shit,” one of the other students had been trying to rip up a dirty chitenge into a bandage. “You lions, you are too aggressive.” She turned back towards her bag on the other side of the church yard. Grab some Kleenex, an alcohol pad, gauze, gauze, gauze, where are you? Quickly squirting some hand sanitizer on her hands, she went back over to the bleeding student. The other woman starting to try and fashion a bandage with the chitenge. Chelsi politely pushed her aside.
“Here,” Chelsi handed her the clean tissue. The women rarely spoke during sessions, so it was hard to gauge their level of English, but the young woman seemed to instinctively know what to do with the tissue. She started blotting around the wound.
Peace Corps had made it abundantly clear that volunteers were not to be giving out medicines, but bandages are pretty benign. And Chelsi wouldn’t have, except that she felt partially responsible; it was her session and she wanted to help her students.
Chelsi ripped the foil top off the alcohol pad and held it out. She didn’t want to touch it, but her student just looked at her, not understanding the gesture. Of course she’s never used an alcohol pad. Reluctantly Chelsi removed and opened the pad holding it up over there wound. She could see where the blood was starting to ooze out of the woman’s skin again. Come on, she thought. The woman replaced her fingers with Chelsi’s, but instead of applying it directly to the wound she wiped around it.
“No, you have to wipe the wound itself.” Chelsi said, but her student just looked up at her with a grimace. She knelt down and move the woman’s hands around so the cloth pad was over the wound again. “Alright, this is going to hurt, but it’s good for you.” The young woman let out a shriek when Chelsi pressed the pad on to the wound with its crumpled up wrapper. As soon as Chelsi stood back up to prep the gauze the young woman removed the pad. Blood started up again quickly.
Chelsi passed off the fold gauze and fumbled with the tape. “I don’t have any medical tape. But this should work for now.” She stretched out a length of duct tape and snipped it. She slapped it over the gauze, over the wound of the young woman’s knee. Not the prettiest, but better than a dirty piece of cloth. She signed, her students face was still twisted up in pain, but she tested out her knee and everything otherwise seemed to be alright. Chelsi looked around to the rest of the benches.
Students who hadn’t crowded around to watch were packing up their things. “Thank you for coming everyone. Same place next week. We’ll be talking about transmission.” Chelsi, thinking she was in the clear, suddenly felt her stomach knot up into a ball. Fuck.
A few of the students who hadn’t yet departed returned the benches to the inside of the church. Chelsi gathered up her bag and books and called her dog. The rest of her students went left down the road, she went right.
“That was really dumb,” she confessed to Daisy. Chelsi scoured her hands for open cuts and scrapes. Far and away the most common way a volunteer would contract HIV is through unprotected sex. And Peace Corps had hammered that home. Condoms where spilling out of every crevice of Chelsi’s house. She had no use for them, but Peace Corps just kept sending them. What I could have used was a pair of rubber gloves… HIV is of course transmitted through blood to blood contact. But even if I had gloves, would I have remembered, or thought to put them on? She felt for her honesty; probably not.
The knot of anxiety in her stomach loosened slightly. She sighed, content with the condition of her hand. But you have to be more careful.