Trip dates: March 27- April 20, 2013
Muli shani? (Bemba for “How are you?”). We said this phrase a lot to every passerby. They would get excited that I spoke Bemba and want more, but then I would have to disappoint them. Foreign language is not my forte. Jessica on the other hand, is amazing!
I knew from the moment Jessica heard that she was leaving, that I would need to visit. After almost two years of planning, I finally got to visit Jessica in her homeland =). You have already heard from Kelly about the layout of our trip and how she came to accompany me, so I will fill in a few spots and go in depth on a few experiences we had.
After 27 hours total travel just to get in the country, we finally arrived and I got to hug my long time friend! As you all know, seeing Jessica one or fewer times a year is not nearly enough. I miss her terribly so it was awesome to meet up with her again. We did not arrive in Lusaka until close to midnight so we headed straight to our beds. This was my first experience staying in a hostel and it was definitely not what I expected. Hmm, maybe I am not exactly sure what I expected… maybe a huge, dirty room with a lot of bunk beds and strangers. I didn’t realize that there were more options and great accommodations. Most of the nights we stayed in a hostel on this trip, we had a private 3-bed room. Definitely a great choice for travelers wanting to save money.
One thing you have to know about being in Zambia as a muzungu (white person) is that you pretty much always feel like you are on parade. You can become the center of attention quite easily as well as look like a dollar sign. We learned that unfortunately, many people see white people as money because of non-governmental organizations (NGO). NGO’s go in with the purpose of doing good, but end up being a giant handout of freebies and money. The free resources end up getting depleted quickly and then they want more. Many places in Africa have been targeted with this due to being third world countries. Because this has happened so many times to the people in Africa, many have just come to expect free things from muzungus. Especially in the rural areas.
Of course, we all know that malaria is a huge issue in Zambia. In the past, many families have been given huge quantities of mosquito nets, but not taught the importance of them or how to properly use one. They became fishing nets for a lot of them. In order to have an effective outreach in preventing malaria, it is really important for those who are bringing the mosquito nets to include teaching on it and even installation of it in the home. “Teach a man to fish” was a huge lesson I learned while on this trip.
We spent the first few days in Lusaka (the capital) and did most of our souvenir shopping at the Sunday market before we headed to Kazembe in Luapula province. Our plans in Kazembe were to stay at the orphanage and work with the local clinic to do community health teaching. Our focus was maternal and child health, but first we had to get there. Luckily, Jessica needed to head north to do some things anyway, so she decided to join us for a few days. This was definitely great, because not only did we get to spend more time with her, but she could also help us in the right direction. Buying a bus ticket at the bus station is a trip, let me tell you! The bus station is packed full of people and they all want to give you a taxi ride or sell you a ticket or sell you a watch or a phone case or a citenge or a banana or… (this list could go on forever). It would be quite an overwhelming experience if you didn’t know what you were doing, so thank God for Jessica.
The total bus trip to Kazembe was 15 hours long. The first 20 minutes were great. The three of us got seats on the top level at the front of the bus. We had a great view and leg room and air conditioning, but then they shut the air off. I think they just teased us long enough so we couldn’t get off the bus and catch another. It was quite uncomfortable with the sun beating down on us in the middle of the afternoon, especially for these Iowans who just left 30 degree weather. Once evening came, it cooled off and was more bearable, but still not comfortable to sit in a bus for that long. By the end of our journey though, we were missing that bus ride, because the next three later on in our trip were terrible (more on this later)!
We arrived in Kazembe at 6am Monday, April 1st. That day was spent touring and meeting people at the orphanage. The orphanage is laid out well. They hire nannies from the local village and also raise chickens, goats and ducks. Their goal is to be self-sustaining. At our visit they had 27 children in the orphanage including a three month old named Samuel. He had been brought in two weeks prior weighing in at less than six pounds. I fell in love with that kid instantly. He was a three month old stuck in a newborn’s body. He was gaining weight and showing his personality by the time we met him, but still needed to stay on a strict feeding schedule. To give his main caretaker a break, I offered to watch him all night. I fed him every three hours and I can see how being a mother would be exhausting. It was so completely worth it though to wake up to his smiling face the next morning. It was one of the best birthday presents I could have asked for!
Yes, yes, I got to celebrate my 28th birthday on April 3 in Africa. It was amazing. Kelly and Jessica offered to make me a birthday lunch and when I went in to go eat I got surprised with 27 little kids singing me “Happy Birthday!” They even managed to whip up a cake for me. It looked a little sad and melty after the candles burned down too quickly, but I can’t even describe how delicious it was. I don’t know what Jessica put in that cake, but it was heavenly.
Samuel wishing me a happy birthday!!
While in Kazembe, we gave numerous talks, some even as simple as proper handwashing. We talked with the nannies in the orphanage, a few different groups in two different villages, including a group of traditional midwives. Now there are many things I love about my job, but one of them is that we all have babies the same. For those of you who don’t know, Kelly and I work as labor and delivery nurses at a hospital in Des Moines that mostly serves the underprivileged and underserved. This includes families from all walks of life and all parts of the world. There are many cultural differences, but in the end we all have babies the same way and the bond between mother and child never ceases to amaze me. Where I am getting at here, is that our talk with the midwives was really neat. They haven’t had formal education, they have learned it all through the years actually doing the work. They were all older and have probably seen more deliveries than I have, yet they only know what they have seen and when there are problems, people get infections or die. They are very street smart, but lack some book knowledge. Our talk consisted of a lot of anatomy and just how things work in the female body, but we also wanted to discuss some things that result in death or injury. The leading cause of maternal death in Africa is post partum hemorrhage. Immediately after delivery, mothers are at a greater risk of bleeding. The more babies you have, the more you bleed because your uterus does not go back to normal as quickly. We taught them some things that can be done to help decrease bleeding. By the end, they asked a lot of great questions and seemed to enjoy having us there. We were teaching a man to fish, but in return they taught us many great skills. Back home, we have all these tools to help us in healthcare including: fetal heart monitors, ultrasounds and dopplers. In Kazembe, they have never heard of these things. They use their bare hands to feel the position and gestational age of the baby. They put their ear up to a wooden fetascope that is placed on the women’s abdomen to listen to heart tones. Kelly and I had the opportunity to work alongside these traditional midwives and learn some techniques that will make us better nurses.
Us posing with the traditional midwives. They were cool ladies!
Working with the clinic in Kazembe was a neat experience. They are so overwhelmed with patients and there are just a few of them doing all of the work, but they are good at it. They have asked the government for assistance, but they are told that they are in the same boat as everyone else. They delivered over 1,300 babies in 2012 with only one educated nurse midwife and the rest were volunteer traditional midwives with no formal training. We met some lifelong friends at this clinic and I hope to be able to help them with their equipment and funding in the future.
I keep thinking of so much I can write about, but this is already getting long so I will try to speed it up and hit some of the major things.
On April 10th, we had to say goodbye to all of our new friends and the sweet kids in the orphanage to head back to Lusaka for a couple of days. We would be meeting up with Jessica again since she left a few days after our arrival at Kazembe. This bus ride was not quite as nice as the first. Our 15 hour bus ride was cramped, hot, and I was in the middle of Kelly and a few different people that got on and off and different stops along the way. There was little leg room because of the people sitting and laying on the floor in front of us. I can definitely see why bus accidents in Zambia are deadly.
We stayed in Lusaka until April 12, then took a bus seven hours to Livingstone (where we would be staying the rest of our trip). However, while we were waiting at the hostel for our taxi, we met a guy who claimed to know Dandy Crazy (a Zambian pop star). He said he would also be traveling to Livingstone that day for a concert that was taking place there that night. He even introduced Jessica to the Dandy Crazy’s backup dancers. He offered to get us in to the concert for free later that night. This whole thing was sort of unbelievable so we left wondering if he would actually call us.
The bus ride was again hot and completely uncomfortable, but at least we arrived safely despite the bull that got loose and ran right in front of our bus. By the time we made it to our hostel in Livingstone, we were wiped. The last thing any of us wanted to do was go anywhere, but how many times are you in Africa and get the opportunity to go to a Zampop concert? We couldn’t pass up the opportunity when he actually called us, but we certainly weren’t going to get dressed up for it. I seriously wore a t-shirt and sweatpants because I felt so lazy and Jessica vowed not to change out of her tank top and yoga capris.
Ok, so I am about to tell you all a story that will be very hard to believe and harder to believe yet because we have no pictures to prove any of it. Jessica warned us that Livingstone is full of pick-pocketers that thrive off the tourists, so to not bring anything along and that includes your phone/camera. So off we go, with this guy we met that knows Dandy Crazy and is going to be getting us into the concert for free. However, on the way, Jessica notices that he is not going the right way toward the event. She asks where we are going and he responds that we are going to pick up Dandy Crazy! We were in shock! This began as us getting in to a concert for free, but now we were picking up the star!
Before we knew it, we were sitting in the back of the van with Dandy Crazy and five of the most beautiful Zambian women all dressed up for the event. Now, just keep in mind… I am in my sweatpants and haven’t showered in two days. I was immediately regretting my laziness when I found myself as part of the entourage. We drove through this locked gate into this huge crowd all awaiting the arrival of Dandy Crazy. It was completely surreal. People looking in through the windows and trying to open the doors. Oh my goodness. Then we hear the announcement and the doors open and we are supposed to get out. Ummmm, I’m in my sweatpants! One by one, each of the beautiful Zambian women get out, then it’s our turn. The muzungus in all our glory and filth! We definitely got some looks! Then we were led to a VIP section where we spent the rest of the night enjoying our first, free Zampop event. Just another day in the life of Jessica. This kind of stuff happens to her all the time!
Since discussions began about me visiting Jessica in Zambia, we had decided that we were going to bungee jump at Victoria Falls. We had gone skydiving together back in the states a few years ago so we thought we could endure this together as well. It was the end of the rainy season so the water was at its highest. The day before our planned jump, we watched some other jumpers. I’m not sure if this freaked me out more or not. I had been experiencing quite a bit of anxiety just while thinking about the jump and actually looking at exactly what I would be doing was terrifying.
Finally, the day had arrived. On April 14, we made our way to the falls. Not only would we be bungee jumping, but also gorge swinging and zip lining. We started with the easiest one first. Kelly, Jess and I zip lined from Zambia to Zimbabwe, then trekked up to the bridge to prepare for our jumps; however, once we got there, Kelly would be taking over as photographer. She was brave enough to zip line but not dumb enough to jump off a bridge! The bungee jump was extremely scary from beginning to end. I think I hesitated right before I jumped because instead of jumping out three meters into a dive I bent my knees and kind of fell over the edge. Because of my poor jump, I ended up going under the bridge for longer than expected. This is why Kelly thought I was a goner when they pulled up the empty hoist from the jumper ahead of me at just the right time =). Hanging upside down under a rushing river was very distracting. Thrilling, but absolutely terrifying. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to jump off the bridge a second time after that, but I sure did!
The gorge swing was a much different experience. You jump off the bridge right side up and fall 111 meters into a full blown swinging motion. The fall is way more intense than the bungee, but once you were swinging, it was indescribable. Beauty I will never forget. That I would do again, the bungee- ehhhh, not so sure.
Ready? Set? Jump!
Don’t fall in!!
Definitely something I had to do while visiting Africa was go on safari! Jessica is no stranger to animals, so she was fun to have around and point things out. Our safari guide got a kick out of her knowledge! We saw so many wild animals and they were literally inches away from us. A very, very cool experience. And again, it’s just another day in the life of Jessica so, of course (while we were on lunch break) why wouldn’t a French couple randomly break out a tight rope and start juggling? Each of us got a chance to try our skills at tight roping. It was a lot of fun and not quite as easy as it looks.
One of our French friends killin’ it on the tightrope.
Ugh, have I written enough? Are you all awake? I know that I am super blessed to have made this trip to visit Jessica on her amazing journey, so I wanted to share as much as I could with those of you who won’t get this opportunity. Jessica is doing amazing things there and fits right in. I heard several Zambians refer to her as being a Zambian now. They are proud to have her in their country and community. I mentioned that I miss her like crazy, but she belongs in Africa! At least for now.
P.S. By the way, the last bus ride back to Lusaka to catch our plane was just as hot and sticky and uncomfortable as the rest! Even though this trip totaled 6 days of travel, 4 on bus and 2 on plane, this was totally worth it! Thanks for accommodating us and for showing us a great time, Jessica! You’re a great hostess.