Thursday, November 15, 2012

How To Survive a Queue

This is a fairly typical line, or queue as it's called here, at the ATM. Every time we visit Mansa we have to go to the ATM twice because of our daily limit. This means standing for 5-50 minutes (or more) in line each day.

Once we get our money we may have to go inside the bank to pay our internet bill. This entails standing in line yet again for at least 30 minutes. 

To pay almost any bill in this country means standing in a queue somewhere. And this means developing queue standing skills or at the very least survival tactics.

When we first moved up to this area there was only one bank. The ATM was often out of service which meant extra long lines. Also, there were fewer businesses and agencies available for paying bills so many of them had to be paid at the one bank. One day Tom waited in line at the bank for about an hour with no progress. He then called home and had me send our gardener to stand in his place in line. Our gardener served as Tom's proxy for 3 hours that day and eventually came home when the bank closed without him ever reaching the counter.

One of the only ways to survive long lines is to switch off and just act as if you have nary a care in the world. This used to be very difficult in the 'olden days' when we had no car and had to travel by bus to Mansa. The bus would arrive in Mansa anywhere from 9-11 and then turn around and head back by 1 or 2 PM. This made for a few very stressful hours as we tried to get everything done. Ending up in one of those seemingly endless queues were enough to make even a saint cry.

(And in case you hadn't noticed yet....I'm no, yeah......)

Here are some of the tactics I've employed. 

1. Read a book. Those who know me know this is a no-brainer. I nearly always have a book in my bag for this very reason. Now with the Kindle I actually have dozens of books! Hooray!

2. Surf the web. Smart phones have made life in queues so much more tolerable. You can read emails or see what your friends are up to, and even whine about how long you've been in line.

3. Play mental games. If I tired of reading whichever book I had with me, and before the days of digital entertainment in phone form, I would time the minutes that it took each cashier to help each customer and then count the people in line and then calculate the estimated time it would take until I reached the front. I would congratulate myself and give myself 'points' if a customer completed his/her business within my estimate. 

4. Compose blog posts. Guess where I came up with the idea for this one?

5. This is an unusual tip but it is highly necessary here: Stand at a 45 degree angle to the person in front of you. Let me explain. Zambians don't pay much attention to 'personal space'. If you stand directly behind and parallel to a person, the person behind you might get real up close and personal. Standing at an angle means you can actually carve just a little bigger space around yourself. I also like to see ahead and behind me in the queue. I feel a little bit safer. It's the same reason I choose my table carefully in restaurants. I need to keep things in view. Tom calls it the 'Too Many Bourne Movies Syndrome'. LOL

6. Keep your perspective. Everything will eventually get done. Maybe not on our timetable, but it will get done. If the bus leaves you behind, then you get to stay in a hotel. Fun! If it takes 3 days to pay your electric bill, well, at least you have electricity. Very few things can't be gotten through.

7. Keep your sense of humor. Look around for funny signs. People watch. Whatever it takes, chuckle at something.

8. Talk with a fellow queue-sufferer. Even if the conversation consists of "Ah, this queue is long." "Yes, it is long." "What is the problem with these people?" "Ah, yes, it is a problem." "Development is needed." "Definitely it is needed."
At least time passed during that exchange.

9. Breathe through your mouth. This doesn't always come into play. But, when it's needed, It. Is. Needed.

Have I missed any tips? Do share!

And pray for me as I stand in queue after queue this week repairing or replacing our poor lightning struck appliances.

Exactly Three Years Ago: Chola --an Our Kids installment

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Maggie is hanging in there.

 It’s a slim grip, but she is doing it.

 We have had several children come to us with Kwashiorkors. Johnny was one, Denny another. Both recovered remarkably quickly.

 Johnny especially only needed the first level of special milk and then moved straight on to normal meals. He was in fairly good shape for having spent most of his life in a semi-abandoned state as his mother suffered from mental illness and just wandered the village while relatives or neighbors made sure she and Johnny didn’t die of starvation.

Denny was a more difficult case with his development seriously hindered by lack of nutrition. His face still bears the scars of malnourishment in its slightly hangdog look. He has mostly caught up now, but did take him several months.

Maggie however spent a couple weeks on F75 which is the first level of special milk, while her body stabilized and the swelling subsided. She has now been on the F100 (the second level milk with a higher calorie content) for nearly three weeks while we wait for her weight to get closer to normal. 

Two weeks ago when I finally saw that the edema (swelling) had finally left Maggie, I weighed her hoping to see good news. Unfortunately her weight had dropped from the 6 kilos at the time she joined our family to 5.1 kgs. My heart sunk. I knew rationally that some of the weight loss was due to the loss of the fluids which had caused the swelling. I had hoped though that there would be more actual weight gain. We had been diligently feeding her around the clock. Why hadn’t she gained weight? 

I called our clinical officer and asked him to run an HIV test. In reading over my malnutrition treatment manual I saw that this could be a reason for a child to not gain weight. Would you judge me if you knew that I actually halfway hoped for a positive result which would mean she had the virus? If she was HIV positive I knew we could combat that with medicine. We’ve had huge success in bringing kids back from the brink once they got on the ARVs (anti-retroviral drugs). I knew what we could do. I just wanted to be able to fix it.

She has been remarkably free of illness. Many children in her state are also fighting off secondary infections and dealing with diarrhea and vomiting which slow down their progress. She has had none of that. Just a frustrating inability to gain weight. So I didn't really expect to find out she was sick.

Maggie’s test came back negative. I breathed a sigh of relief. The poor girl has had enough to deal with. But, if not due to HIV then what was stopping her from gaining weight??

Then! Finally! A few grams on the plus side of the scale. The next day a few more. Then a few hundred. The next day a couple hundred dropped off, but the next day more came on. It has been a gradual process but over the six days proceeding my trip to Lusaka Maggie gained an average of 36 grams per day. I’ll take it!

The other day missionary friends dropped by for a visit. They brought along their 7 month old baby. Aside from the obvious skin color differences, it was painfully obvious how sick Maggie is when she sat next to this other healthy baby. Our friends' baby dwarfed her. It would have been comical if it wasn't so sad. Another glaring difference was how this seven month old baby never stopped moving. She grabbed toys from Maggie, crawled around, came back, put things in her mouth and then grabbed a toy again. 

Maggie on the other hand just sat there looking at the world through her big eyes. She would half-heartedly play along and even mimicked my friend when she tapped out a beat using a plastic spoon and bowl, but most of the time she just sat and occasionally gave big sighs. 

Every morning when I collect her from the nursery for weighing on our digital kitchen scale, she looks at me with what I can only describe as bemusement. I place her on the scale, look carefully at the numbers and then clap and cheer when there is gain, or give extra cuddles when there isn't. I wonder what is going through her mind. 

There is still a long way to go until Maggie is completely well. She needs your prayers. Keep them coming, please!

Exactly One Year Ago: Africa Wins This Round
Exactly Two Years Ago: Sundays in My City--Kickball
Exactly Three Years Ago: Random Ramblings (in which we introduce our monkey)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Adages Disproved

This past week started off with a bang. Literally!

Monday afternoon Tom and I were taking our afternoon siesta. The power was out and things were dim and humid. Suddenly there was a horrifying blast accompanied by a flash of reddish light. 

Instantly we realized we'd been hit by lightning again! Out of a completely blue sky! I guess the adage 'lightning never strikes twice' doesn't count here in Africa.

We flew into action to determine whether anything had been damaged. We were so relieved that the water pump had not been plugged in. It didn't mean for sure that the pipes themselves hadn't been hit carrying the electric surge underground. We would have to wait for the power to be restored to be sure.

We turned on our battery to check the computers and other electronic equipment. Thankfully all our computers survived. The internet did not. Time would tell which pieces And both our television and satellite receiver were fried.

Once power came on we were able to test the water pump. It worked! Hallelujah!

Half of our lights were knocked out. There were a few scary nights where we had no security lights until Tom could get ahold of the wires and figure out what was causing them to short out. He finally narrowed it down to a yard-long stretch of wire. Several of the lightbulbs were burned out. We can only buy replacements when one of us goes to Lusaka--no WalMart or Target around here. 

A couple days after the lightning strike we discovered that the printer also has been knocked out. 

Thankfully an internet repairman came up on Tuesday and only our wireless router had to be replaced. We were very quickly back online. Another Hallelujah!

Our electronics graveyard now consists of: A television, a DVR, a printer, about 20 lightbulbs (including some expensive floodlights), and the wireless router. 

Tomorrow I leave for Lusaka. I was heading down there for something already which is now not happening (long story....), but I will now be running from store to store deciding what can be repaired and what needs to be replaced. Keep me in your prayers. Electronics and me are not the best of friends.

Despite all the drama we still managed to get some work done. Here is our latest newsletter. If you click on this link you can subscribe by clicking on the button in the upper left corner.
October 2012

I'll try to do better about writing over this next week. I have news about Maggie to share with you.

(Almost) Exactly One Year Ago: Laws of the Universe
Exactly Two Years Ago: A Paradox 
Exactly Three Years Ago: Extending the Table

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Halloween Comes To Kazembe

OK, so my family has always dressed up and partied hearty on October 31 because, despite my intense dislike for this holiday, it is right up their creative alley.

Troy and Jasmine wanted to share their joy with all the kids this year. I was so proud of them for taking on the whole project and putting so much work into it. Jasmine got on Pinterest and planned some special foods A couple weeks ago they held a meeting with the kids during school hour and allowed them to choose their own costumes--which I thought incredibly brave!

This cake was Jasmine's first work with molding chocolate.
She made it from scratch and created her own design.
The alien is resting on top of a pound cake.
After preparing snacks and treats, including the above Alien Crime Scene Cake, Jasmine and Troy took the kids two-by-two into our living room to paint faces and assemble costumes. The rest of the kids watched Toy Story while waiting their turns.

Beauty's costume choice was Blue Super Hero
Jasmine and Troy did a fantastic job of pulling costumes together from bits and pieces and made excellent use of Tom's old clown face paint.

Johnny as The Hulk--look at that muscle definition!
I felt so sorry for the nannies who had to wash all this face paint off
--especially since we ran out of water that night!
Janet as Princess Ujaro
--a character from my kids' home movie

Moriah as a Puppy
Jasmine saw this face paint design on my friend's FB page. She copied it perfectly!
Henry as Spiderman
I love his pose!
Sandra wanted to be a Heart
This paint was job was a breeze after the others.

 After everyone had their costumes on they ate dinner which included the alien cake, pumpkin pie (their first ever) and some candy. Afterward they all played a few games. One of the games was Super Hero Fight which was destined to end badly. You know what they say: It's all fun and games until someone ends up with a bloody lip.

The Whole Gang
L-R (Back row) Chola: Batman, Elias: Peter Pan, Ernest: Iron Man, Johnny: Hulk, 
 Theresa: Belle, Queenie: Ballerina, Beauty: Blue Super Hero, (Next row) Jennifer: Princess, Henry: Spiderman, Peter: Obi-Wan, Janet: Princess Ujaro, Denny: Ramses, Moriah: Puppy,
 Nathan: Hook, Sandra: Heart, (Front) Lizzie: Fairy, Jack: Monkey

Whew! That is a ton of kids!

Three cheers for Jasmine and Troy making memories!

Almost Exactly One Year Ago: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie --Africa Style
Exactly Two Years Ago: Your Questions Answered--part 4
Exactly Three Years Ago: Wacky Wednesday
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