At the beautiful children's hospital in Botswana, in the capital city of Gaborone, a little girl rushed past me as I climbed the stairs to the second floor. I turned to look at her, but didn't see her face, only her pretty braids. In that small encounter, it seemed to me that this girl moved as if she owned the hospital.
Later, standing in the lunch line next to Dr. Gabriel M. Anabwani, medical director of the hospital, he becomes friendly and outgoing when this little girl and other children join the line behind us, speaking easily with them and they with him. He tells me with happiness that she was the first child in this pediatric hospital -- the first child in the country's official rollout of HIV treatment -- to be put on HIV medications, at the age of nine. She did very well, he says. I say that she's a star. She tells me, "You think so?" She sounds modest.
Now 11, Kemiso Ntope was here on this day to talk with reporters and pose for pictures. She's bright and beautiful, freckles dotting her high-yellow skin. She has a keen self-assuredness.
At lunchtime, with no room left at the dining table, I ended up taking my plate to a nearby classroom, along with Kemiso and Anabwani. It is because of Anabwani, and one doctor from Houston, that this hospital was opened. Tall -- over 6'3" -- and attractive, looking very sharp in a mean navy suit, Anabwani exudes dignity, and the power of a person who's firmly in control and doing what he wants to be doing with his life.
"Tell her about your school," Anabwani tells Kemiso. She gives me a little smile, acting shy. "She's the number one student in her class," Anabwani says proudly. "She gets all top marks."
In that moment, I get the feeling that this is what it's all about for Anabwani -- saving the lives of bright and beautiful children who have so much talent to give. Saving these children enriches the world.
When I tell him Kemiso gave me the impression of owning the hospital, he smiled. He tells me, "Sometimes she interrupts my meetings and says, 'I want to talk to you.' " He's not unhappy about this. I say she's self-empowered. "You really think so?" Kemiso tells me, as if to say, "I know so."
Facing reporters, Kemiso says she takes Kaletra, Retrovir and Epivir, altogether six pills in the morning and again at night. She talks about having been very sick in the past, but she's well now, and has no side effects. Asks one of the reporters, What does the medication mean to you? "I can play," she tells us. She adds that her friends at school know she has HIV, and that "they just treat me like a normal person."
Kemiso has two brothers and a sister. She's the youngest, and the only child who's positive. Two of her siblings are in their 20s and one is a teenager. Her mother says, "They take good care of her." She says they bring Kemiso to the clinic for some of her appointments. When asked about stigma, the mom says, "That's a long story." She says she had problems with her own brothers and sisters, but that one sister has been very supportive.
A reporter from a Botswana paper says he would like to marry the charismatic girl when she grows up. She says nothing. "He's too old for you, right?" asks a female reporter from Capetown. Kemiso nods.
Asked what she would like to do with her life, Kemiso said she wanted to become a doctor. Would she like to work in the children's hospital? Yes, she replies. Says a young African American doctor in the room, "We need her. You're hired."