31 August 2007


Just returned from Mwape. 4 hours on a bus, then 2 hours on a dirt road in the Chieftainess' Land Rover. Jess has done this 5 times before, so it's all old hat for her. The Chief is a modern woman, seems lonely. I think she was reluctant to become Chief when her family unanimously nominated her four years ago. She used to be an assistant accountant at Zesco, Zambia's only electric company. She gave the paychecks out to the workers.

Mwape == remote. A teacher told us he bikes 43 km on the dirt road and climbs a particular tree to find cellphone reception to call home. No electricity in the entire village, except 3 solar panels: one at the school, 2 at the Chief's palace. So dark. But at night, you can always hear children laughing and shouting. Sounds like they're just over the next hill or down the road. One morning I awoke before it was light and heard a chorus of voices singing. Lay in bed and listened for a while, then got up and wandered down the dark dusty path to find them. Walked a long way and they stopped when the sun rose, so I walked back.

The children call out and follow when we walk by. Most know Jess's name already and they shout it when we pass. So many kids. I went to watch a soccer game on my own, and a crowd of 25ish children accumulated around me, quietly watching me as I looked over their heads and pretended to focus on the soccer players. A woman looked at the swarm of kids, then laughed and with a mischievous grin and told me in English her son was sick, could I touch his head and heal him? I never considered myself a "kid person," but here they smile at me and laugh with delight if I smile back and I just want to scoop them up in my arms and take them home with me. One of the Mwape reports says 48.8% of the population is under 15.

Soccer game was awesome. Fans stood on the sides of the dusty pitch and sang as players raced past. Each time someone scored a goal, everyone ran onto the field yelling and cheering. The soccer uniforms sure looked spiffy for a place where people battle with malnourishment and bilharzias. One of the most incredible sights I've seen: when the game ended, all the fans ran onto the field singing--the colors on their clothes swirled through the clouds of dust on the field as the sun set.

Mwape has so many problems. The basic school is gypped out of the textbooks it's supposed to receive from the government. There isn't enough classroom space, because there’s a teacher living in a classroom, because there’s not enough teacher housing, so they cut the classroom time for the kids. Drinking water is contaminated, it's hard to get chlorine, virtually no one uses soap and the place is so friggin remote that farmers can't sell extra crops for income because transport is so hard. But the community feels vibrant, even when kids have distended, malnourished little bellies. Haha. We’re so ridiculous. D-Lab is only here twice a year, well-meaning muzungus intruding. We don’t have a clue.

21 August 2007

One five pin

Tomorrow, we are going to Mwape. They have problems every season with elephants trampling and eating crops. Not in Kansas anymore.

Yesterday, back to the Hospital to meet some friends and another dean. We found a Zambian medical student who will travel with us to translate in Mwape. Walked through a ward. Nightmarish. Zambian doctors are brave, strong people. Haha, highlight, looking up in a developing world hospital and seeing a sign with an arrow: "<-- Biomedical Engineering Department" I smiled really hard.

Back to Disacare. More smiles. Lunch in the back, sitting in the dirt, talking to the mechanics, scooping scathing hot nshima with my fingers.

Out to Chilanga again to talk to the nuns at the Hospice. Peter/ Kayhana starting talking to me in the street and followed me on the bus there and back. Explicitly told him he couldn't follow me home. Nice guy...or crafty social engineer. Still looking over my shoulder and hoping he's not there. Eh, in any case, taught me a little more Nyanga. Hospice clinic is a little slice of heaven compared to hospital. Clean, bright, and full of nuns. What could be better?

20 August 2007

Split tilpS

I'm flying high on Zambia. Jess and I went back out to Chilanga, Freedom compound to see Leonard to arrange some plans for D-Lab. He was in the middle of running a soccer game to raise awareness for AIDS. It was so cool, I don't have the words. In the middle of an up-and-coming squatter's community, watching a soccer game, surrounded by curious ragtag children, watching Lenny walk around the soccer field and talk to people individually about AIDS. Those kids. I had a little posse of girls following me around, they must have been 4-5 years old, imitating what I did, sometimes we had little conversations with broken Nyanga and English, but mostly with smiles. I wanted to sweep them all up in my arms and take them home with me. And I don't even like kids.

19 August 2007


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.

14 August 2007

Robodog takes town

I'm going to Zambia tomorrow.

I am the luckiest girl in the whole entire world, so just tell me that when I come back with malarial polio-infested yellow fever.

Among other things...
Objective #1: Find a new not-so-remote village that D-Lab students can work with during the rainy season
Objective #2: Touch base with contacts in Mwape, current remote village, and get updates on ongoing projects

A year ago, I decided my dream job was working for Amy Smith and traveling to the D-Lab sites. I'm going to lead trips to Zambia over the next year.

Someone pinch me.

Right on the heels of IDDS. I just had a few days buffer time to pack my room, move my stuff to my apartment, and pack for Zambia. This is insane. And [grin] wonderful.