sweet breath. i’ve had the opportunity to absorb a lot of this since i came to south africa, and its the honestly the sweetest breath i’ve ever smealt. youd think something so desireable would be alot less accessible, at least according to human theories like supply and demand. but not here in south africa. the amount of umphefumulomtoti that flows around here is overwhelming sometimes. its everywhere, people all over are sharing this sweetness with each other. in fact, i’ve never been in a place before that has such an abundance of this sweetness. one of the first times i was blessed with this fragrance was while sitting with a patient- Baba Phakathi- at the Hillcrest Aids Centre Respite Unit where i’ve been working this year. Phakathi was a stubborn man of middle age who could be a real bastard sometimes. he was suffering from AIDS in its final stage, and in lots of pain. he had severe diarrhoea, TB, painful, swollen feet, no appetite, and a number of other side effects that people suffer from when they have HIV/AIDS. of course all of this lead to extreme weight loss, inability to walk or even go to the toilet on his own. he could be a pretty rude person when he wanted to and he made a lot of people angry. but he had the sweetest damn breath you could ever imagine. and ever since smelling it on him, i’ve actually been unable to avoid it, no matter where i go. it just seems to be in the everywhere. numerous other patients have also had the same umphefumulomtoti. i smell it at local clinics while waiting in dreadful queues, or at the hospital where people lay scattered all over the place, in their own feces( to sick or oppressed to even ask what the hell is going on). sometimes, when doing visits with nurses or fetching patients in the local communities, im smacked in the face with it as i walk into someones home. its so sweet and it pours out from all of these places with such abundance. its inescapable! but where does it get its sweetness from? in the morning, as the mist lifts and rolls itself over the toppling hills, so to does umphefumulomtoti. then during the day it disguises itself in the often humid air, tucking itself deep into the valleys, where it hovers over our friends and families that surround us. At night, it either accompanies the stale humidity left over from the day or it fuses with the dark clouds that eventually shower us with this umphefumulomtoti. but still, where does it come from? it comes from the millions of people that are dying from a horrible epidemic. david phakathi was the first person i accompanied as he was being called by God. Since then, i’ve had the blessing to be with many others as they too are relieved of their suffering. i myself find it difficult to place those two words in the same sentence-blessing and suffering. watching someone suffer is the worst thing that i’ll ever have to do in my life, no matter where i am or what i might be doing. its absolutely terrible and just one of those things that i dont know if i’ll ever be able to understand. however, when the suffering is so bad and brings you to that point when you begin to question everything, BAM! there it is: umphefumulomtoti, the sweetest breath. yes, its the breath of someone who is about to die. and yes it really is everywhere. sometimes it reveals itself days in advance, and other times its just minutes, or even seconds. and its strange to think that something that can be so sad and bring us so much pain, carries with it the sweetest aroma on this earth. but it does, and thats because its God work. i dont know what its like to suffer as someone in this situation, although i wish i did. i wish there was more i could do for some of my friends who i watch go through this, but i dont know what. as i try to reason all of it out in my head, i am humbled by the fact that they, in this time of great distress, somehow find the strength to take all of their sufferings- all of the pain, all of the rubbish, all of the infections, the bacteria, the parasites, the vomitting, the diarrhoea, the TB, the pills, the sores, and any other thing that someone with HIV/AIDS might have inside them- and they offer them up to the Lord who then transforms them into umphefumulomtoti. Its such a distinct scent that it cant be mistaken for anything else. Its like bringing together the fragrance of a freshly bloomed rose with the the most fresh, most pure honey you can find. you can actually taste it. it completely takes over your body, overloading all of your senses and occupying every part of your soul. Its “umphefumulomtoti”, the sweetest breath. ive sat beside many people now, during this time, and i find myself trying to take in as much of it as possible, and im grateful that in their final moments, our companions so graciously offer us this breath of life! uxolo ayibenabo, peace be with them!
south africa 2007