It hit home today that I'm in the middle of southern Africa. The previous few days have been hectic, I haven't had much time to let it sink in--running from meeting to meeting around Lusaka with deans and more deans...at the University of Zambia, the Dean of Agriculture, the Dean of Engineering, another dean...then to the hospital to meet with the Dean of Medicine, and medical students there who have helped with D-Lab in the past. They have bars on the doors of all the offices in the University. Feels kind of like a prison at first glance, but heh heh heh, unlocking padlocks is waaay more satisfying than huffing at the stupid card reader at MIT that never recognizes my card.
My favorite so far was visiting Disacare -- a Zambian organization where various people with disabilities build wheelchairs for other Zambians. It is where Jess has been working to design and build bicycle ambulances. (Jess has been here 5 times before and she's showing me the ropes.) Saw a few Zambulances being welded together, met the workers, got a marriage proposal--great place.
But today, we took a bus (*they pack the busses full full, no room for aisles, packed right between the businessman and the potatoes) out to Chilanga, spent 1.5 hours waiting to meet up with people. (Transportation is especially unpredictably inefficient because all the presidents in southern Africa are meeting in Zambia this week, and they keep closing random roads.) It gave me the chance to sit by the side of the road and just watch people. Little kids always smile and wave back. Women carrying babies will usually smile and wave back, too, although a little more shyly. A soldier stopped and talked to me. He grinned and asked if I was "relazzing." Yeah, I said, I was relaxing.
Eventually, Jess and I met up with Leonard, who was running an AIDS training workshop at a church at a compound called Freedom. Every bench was filled with dark smiling faces, carefully taking notes about the immune system. Then we ran back to the main road to catch a bus over to the Hospice Clinic. We talked to a nun there about working with D-lab and checked in on the bike ambulance they have. The nun told us to come back on Monday when they're less busy, and the bike ambulance was broken--and looked as if it were never used. We agreed to take it off their hands, repair it and give it to the community of Linda nearby that had a bike ambulance already that they use regularly. Then we jumped in Kenny's (from Disacare) truck bed (woah, truck beds open on all sides here, not just the back!) with the bike ambulance, picked up a few hitchikers who jumped in the bed with us, and drove to Linda to meet Johnny, guardian angel of Linda. He runs a community center where we saw him teaching a class on clean drinking water to a room full of women and their babies. Sat and talked to some of the women who work at the center for a long time. Bussed back home again, more bussing for groceries, then home again and Emmanuel gave us an impromptu Nyanja language lesson. (Professor Emmanuel Matsika attended IDDS and is now hosting us in his home across the street from the University of Zambia.)
The astounding moment when it all finally set in was when I looked at my hand and was shocked by its paleness. The only other muzungus (whiteys) I've seen here were at the shopping block and the nuns at Hospice. You know you're in Africa when you forget you're white.