Dark Skies: The Story and Song for the Weary Advocate

This story is not uncommon in the world of advocacy. Nor in the world of anything, where time passes and one works, works, works.

After expending, imparting to love and free others, it seemed their toil was in vain. Those they worked for were not really free. But neither were they- the freedom bringers. The burden they carried was just too immeasurable. And darkness waited, crouching for this hopeless moment. While alone, lifeless, and fading to just a shell from pouring into others, that is when it struck. Because, you see, they don’t always know when their life-saving canteens are empty until they are standing there, isolated in the forest, brokenly gazing at the unyielding sky.

But although the mountain they stand on is grandiose, and the night looms near, they aren’t truly alone. No. They cannot be. Because the wind still howls like a fire, battering and caressing, burning and beseeching.


Dark Skies

When hope fades

You carry these burdens away.

But you don’t. They’re still there.

I’m fighting alone like you’re not even here.


Am I by myself tonight?

Am I alone beneath dark skies?


The empty, it shivers,

My blanket pulled tight.

The wind howling deeply

Come forge me alive!


Am I by myself tonight?

Am I alone under dark skies?


Spirit, soothe me

With pure ancient love

Whisper sweet truth to

Douse this poison!


Am I by myself tonight?

Am I alone beneath dark skies?


Sing, breathe, heal this shadow of my ghost!

Burn through the bones making me forceful!


Consumed with the grief

That I’m failing outright,

Pointless I’m trying

To make myself light.


Am I by myself tonight?

Am I alone beneath dark skies?


Sing, breathe, flow into my empty shell!

Catch fire to whatever makes me whole!



Dark Skies Poem Excerpt by Elisa Johnston www.AverageAdvocate.com


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The Tunic in the Night

Eva Serna www.freeimages.com
Eva Serna http://www.freeimages.com

The Tunic in the Night

She traced her fingers over the darkest patch of midnight surrounding the bright fuchsia flowers patterned on her tunic. She wondered how the artists printed them on the swarthy cloth, if by ink, or brush or some other means, as the colors weren’t embroidered.

If the council wasn’t so eternally contrary over inconsequential details maybe she wouldn’t loose herself so easily within her mind-fog. Her pinky glided over the next flower, but the argument still droned on ceaselessly.

She stood up, silencing her advisers.  Brushing the pine needles off her leggings she left the circle, kicking the can that had been holding her tea into the fireside flames. She left them stunned, as her tea sizzled behind her, but their hush still did not drown-out the roar inside.

He’d left.

They might have guard positioning and defense plans to fuss about like crotchety old women over their vegetable gardens. But she had a hole ripped in her gut, because he left without a word, a breath, a eye-flick in her direction.

How dare he. Her fists curled.

And it only heaped coals on her raging fire of loss within that the Ruinsfield Women were right. They warned her that it would happen like this, predicted it, even. But she just didn’t listen. Was it worth loving, knowing that equal amounts of pain would be the yin to her yang?

What a terrible curse they mantled her with.

By now, her council she’d abandoned behind the evergreens had begun to murmur. She shut them out, listening for any sound other than brutal humanity. She inhaled the forest air, deeply, permeating each molecule in her lungs. It didn’t satisfy. She sucked in air. Deeper. Deeper, until the ache in her chest burned and the sounds of night were trapped within. She held them there, stilling herself.

One, two, three, four, she counted, slower than sheep grazed through her dreamer’s haze as she fell asleep. Five, six, seven. Maybe if she counted high enough, could she cease breathing? Then the pain might go away? And the confusion would vanish . . .

But by now, her chest having burst open, she gasped for air like a fish. She gulped life and the scent of the campfire she’d left behind. Which annoyingly reminded her of the fish they had caught and cooked over flame together for their breakfast only days before in the frigid morning air.

There had to be more to her than burning pain; more than her broken soul.

She wasn’t planning on it. She didn’t mean to. At least, not at first. Because at first it was just her twitching hand, as the favonian breeze caught her hair. At first her fingers just fumbled across her collar, and were picking at the edge. But then she heard a laugh beyond the trees and her fingers caught and it tore. Just a little bit. She wondered what would happen if she pulled it once again. And again. Then with a sharp tug, she jerked hard, palms buried in the fabric, as if dipped in ink. She wanted the cloth all over her hands.

She tore the front of her tunic completely in half, with malice, with all the ire bottled inside of her. Lovely it was, but only lovely to someone else. To her, it was dung. What he did, leaving her behind was akin to ripping, tearing, wrenching her apart. And so she mutilated his gift, tearing the fabric into two fraying pieces.

She was done. She flung it on the ground. It was oddly satisfying, crushing her soles against the fabric at her feet, covering it with dust, rendering it into filth, like it made her feel. But now she wasn’t wearing his “treasures,” of lovely tunics, of lies and of that like. Now she was free. She was free of him, and the control he had over her.

She breathed deeply again. This time, not considering death, but sighing life.

With a final forceful kick, flinging the ruined fabric aside, she spun on her heels, making her way back to the Council. There she engaged their advice and they chose to forget her sudden departure. Eventually some went off to bed, but she stayed by the fire. And as the moon continued to rise, the tunic vanished from the dust into the night.

Katerina Sobichova www.freeimages.com
Katerina Sobichova http://www.freeimages.com

Kefilwe’s Story: A Girl With HIV (For World AIDS Day)

My momma’s got AIDS” the little girl whispered.

It was one of those whispers that is so quiet that it knocks your breath away, like a sonic boom. Her skin was like copper, hardened, darkened, but smoother than silk. She had a pock-mark on the corner of her forehead, near where her coarse, black hair began to embrace her head. I couldn’t help but think that she looked beautiful. Her dirty “Adiddas” shirt had questionable smears on it, which made my stomach turn. Pathetic and beautiful.

I’ve never met someone with AIDS until now,” I whispered back.

She nodded, knowingly. “Neither did I until my daddy got sick. He’s gone. My momma was mad at him when she found out. She told me that he shouldn’t have done it, that it was wrong for him to do that to her. I don’t know what she meant, but I guessed it meant that if you have AIDS it means you’re a bad person.

I listened to her as we bumped our way over the dry, lumpy grass road.  I glanced around to see if I could find my water bottle. I wasn’t used to the feeling of dust continually clinging to my skin. We were driving to a medical compound, which according to my uneducated guess, must be even closer to the Kalahari Desert than we already were.

It seemed surreal. I vaguely tried to connect the string of events that got me here, but I quickly gave up doing so. However I got here, I was here. Just for this week. But I was in a different world.

But Kefilwe, my copper-skinned companion, actually probably had known many people with AIDS before her dad.  At least one-fourth of the people in her little African Village were HIV positive, which is actually normal in Botswana (and much of Southern Africa).

I shook my head at the sheer magnitude of the situation.  I knew Kefilwe’s mom was dying. Maybe if we could get the drugs to her sooner, but she had an advanced case of Tuberculous, as well. I guessed she had less than a month to live.

This poor little girl worked so hard. From sunrise, to sunset she would do what little she could to make her mom’s life less miserable. I marveled that my neighbor’s kid back in the States, the same age as Kefilwe, ate Lucky Charms, went to school, Karate, and then after dinner would watch TV, or maybe go outside to catch fireflies.  All the while this girl would be mushing who-knows-what, and then cooking it over a fire for her and her mom to eat. Or maybe she would be fetching water from that stinky mud-hole three miles away to cool off her mom’s forehead.

The only reason I actually believed this nonsense, that Kefilwe’s drastically different life was actually real, was because I had watched her live it for a few days now. And she didn’t complain about it. Which must mean that it’s normal, because if it was my neighbor kid living Kefilwe’s place, there would be hell to hear.

Do you think only bad people have AIDS?” Kefilwe was on a monologue of questions. “I don’t think my momma’s bad. She doesn’t look pretty, but she’s not bad. The witch-doctor said that my momma has an evil spirit. But the church-people say that God is punishing her.

I knew that in Botswana, although a large portion of its people consider themselves Christian, many practice a traditional African religion as well, referred to here as Badimo. Although I considered witch-doctors something of story books, I couldn’t help but wonder if we were not so different in America, practicing multiple beliefs at the same time while only claiming one.

Kefilwe, have you gone to school?” I asked. Kefilwe just looked at me confused and then turned back to admiringly study the new stuffed polar bear someone on my team had given her. I wondered if she even had a clue of what a polar bear, or even what snow was.

Another passenger took advantage of her distraction, leaned over, and proceeded to explain to me that the small school which had serviced Kefilwe’s village shut down five years ago when both the teachers had passed away because of AIDS. The passenger, who worked for Peace Corps, continued by telling me that if a country who was a major world-player, like India, China, or Russia had the same AIDS infection rate as this area in Africa did, their economies would also falter. Yet, because of their global influence, it would create a domino effect in the economies of the world.

Are you serious? That just seems so, extreme.”  I told the Peace Corp, my voice ringing with skepticism.

I am,” she responded as we bumped over what could only be a ravine. “A huge portion of the cape of Africa’s labor force has already succumbed to AIDS. This has created gaps all over society and overwhelming barriers to growth.

I knew that India already had a high rate of AIDS infection. I had never considered the effect of such a disease on a whole country before, let alone its effect on a continent, or the world at large.

Kefilwe stopped fiddling with her already smudged polar bear, picking up our conversation again. “My momma says she won’t come back soon, and it will happen just like when my daddy died. She said she will look even skinnier  and not talk much before that happens. She told me I don’t have to cry when she won’t let me feed her.

I smiled sadly at her, brushing my thumb along her cheek. It’s not everyday I hear such a young child talk about sickness and death. She will soon be added to the fourteen million children who have been orphaned in Southern Africa because of AIDS.


My momma says I need to get that medicine for myself so I don’t end up like her and daddy. Momma says you have that medicine. She said you could get it for me. She said that the nice people in your big village over the waters will hear about how we need their help, and they will bring us back the medicine.”

My heart broke then. Kefilwe had put her little hand in mine, and just looked up at me with huge black eyes full of hope.

I don’t think Kefilwe was even aware that she was already HIV positive. She never had a choice- she was born with it. A little knowledge, basic medical assistance, and access to antiretroviral drugs could have easily kept her from this fate. Instead Kefilwe is a statistic, one of the 400,000 babies born with HIV yearly. But on a positive note, she had made it this far. Half of the children born with HIV don’t even live past age two.

I began to wonder about Kefilwe’s future. “Do you have any brothers or sisters, Kefilwe?

I have a sister who is about five, and we had a baby brother. He died last year.” I began to panic. Kefilwe was the oldest of another HIV positive girl. Would Kefilwe have someone to take her in, and regularly give her the antiretroviral drugs when her mom died? Or would she become the head of her household? I shuttered.

We guessed Kefilwe was six-and-a-half.

As if she knew what I was thinking, Kefilwe scooted closer across the ripped-seats, shyly grabbed me around my waist, and began to sing. Her tiny voice was shaky and off-pitch. But as I smiled down at her, she grew in confidence and sang beautifully louder. Soon everyone else riding with us either joined with her song, or was grinning at her, clapping their hands to the beat.

We arrived at the clinic, and I begin to help the medical workers process their new clients. Because of the antiretroviral drugs (AVRs) we were able to deliver, these individuals would not only survive, but probably would even thrive for years. Or at least as long as they had access to them.

After helping distributing the AVRs with me, Kefilwe tugged at my pant leg and asked me for a drink. I stooped to her level, took her little hands, and closed that first forty-cent pill within her fingers.

I hoped my family would not mind the ramifications of what I was about to say. But I couldn’t not.

I took a deep breath, and with Kefilwe’s eyes locked with mine I promised her that it would all be okay, that I would make sure of it.  Kefilwe glanced down at that life-giving pill and then gazed in wonder back at me.

You see, she is my hero, even though she looks at me as if I am hers.


“These are the brutal facts of the AIDS pandemic, the doomsday virus that I sometimes call the greatest humanitarian crisis of all time. But once again I want to stress that there is reason for hope. . . Between 2001 and 2005, prevalence rates fell in Botswana from 38.8 to 24.1 percent . . .” (p.150).

Stearns, Richard. 2010. The Hole in Our Gospel.  World Vision, Inc. Thomas Nelson: Nashville.



This is a fictitious story based on facts. Kefilwe’s story is meant to give an accurate example of the current situation in Sub-Saharan Africa.

To learn more about this and what you can do, please look at this post:

AIDS/HIV 101: Why Should I Care?