Book Review for Cooperative Connection by Cindy Cole
There are Things that Cannot be Changed
Peggy Frank with Emerthe Nakabonye
Two by Two Publishing, 2021, 377 pp
A work of both fact and the author’s imaginative commentary, this is a compelling book that describes Peggy Frank’s work and friendships in Africa. Those whom Peggy encountered had a profound impact on her life. And they in turn were influenced and changed by the concern and compassion of Peggy. After contracting HIV as a graduate student in Zimbabwe in 1987, Peggy became a vital advocate for HIV positive women in her own country, Canada. Peggy is one of the early miraculous survivors of HIV and with the advent of drugs to suppress the virus has been able to make an immense difference in the lives of women living with HIV both in Canada and in Africa. Her electronic meeting with Mary Balikungeri, also working with HIV+ women, introduced Peggy to the Rwanda Women Network and the Village of Hope.
Many of us in the Therapeutic Touch Community are familiar with the Village of Hope and Rwanda Women Network. Peninah Abatoni, representing that organization, presented at two of TTIA’s recent Congresses about her work in that agency. Peggy taught TT to Peninah and others in Rwanda as well as in Lesotho in 2005. Peninah was able to attend Camp Indralaya and deepen her Therapeutic Touch skills. The energetic healing circle has spread. Peninah has taught TT to more than 500 health care workers and others in impoverished rural areas of Rwanda.
The book’s format is based on letters and emails between Emerthe Nakabonye in Rwanda and Peggy, and this draws the reader in. Mary Balikungeri encouraged pen pals between HIV+ women in Rwanda and Canada. Through the correspondence and commentary, the reader learns the horrific stories of the 100-day Rwandan Genocide of 1994. One of the many traumatized HIV+ widows is Emerthe. Her story of courage and heroic endurance to protect and provide for her children is profoundly inspiring.
We also learn, along with Peggy, of the huge cultural, economic, and medical differences between Western civilization and the post-colonial developing world in Africa. Peggy along with her partner, Peter, established Positively AFRICA, a Non-Governmental Organization and raise thousands of dollars for the Village of Hope, the Rwanda Women Network and then for Emerthe’s community, Umuhuza. However, there are seemingly endless needs in Africa and expectations that a woman from Canada can fulfill those needs. Peggy is open about the psychological and emotional toll the burden of these expectations had on her.
However, the heart of the correspondence in the book is in the relationship that develops between Emerthe, her children and Peggy. Peggy’s emails often bring great joy and hope to this poor and traumatized family. Peggy responds eagerly to emails that tell her how the family is doing. Limited by her HIV+ status to have children herself, Peggy becomes Auntie Peggy and personally helps with school fees for the four children so that they can fulfill their education, find good work and have a better life. The love between the two women that share widowhood and HIV grows over the years.
There are Things that Cannot be Changed is a profoundly moving read. I was kept strongly engaged and keenly interested in this, at times, difficult story. The courage, the strong will of these two women to succeed and be of help to others is so powerfully admirable. Their caring for family and friends shines through the intense, sustained adversity experienced by both. Surely, the resilience, passion, and compassion at the center of this book is relevant for all of us.