Friday, June 28, 2013

Trial by Fire--part two

Someone commented yesterday that it was a pity I couldn't get a picture (or few) of Cairo Road. Believe me, picture taking was the last thing on my mind. I went in search of pictures online, but the only ones I found were out of date, or tourist lies promotional shots. Anyway, the one below will give you a general idea--use your imagination to add all the things I discussed yesterday:

In case I wasn't clear--not my picture

When we left off last time I was hurrying in the direction of the airport and searching for a place where I could use the facilities and get a bite to eat.

What I forgot to mention was that when we had the alarm installed the service guy explained it all to me, but it was very complicated. More than just an alarm that sounds when the car is broken into, there is also an immobilizer and an anti-hijacking device. 
Once the door is beeped open and you have settled in, there is a specific sequence that must be done in starting the car. You have to turn the ignition to ‘on’ and push a button, and then turn the engine on and then push another (hidden) button. The first button allows the car to turn on and the second button disables the anti-hijacking device. If you don’t push the second button the car engine will cut out about five minutes into your drive and alarms will sound and lights will flash.

It is very nice to have that added security, but it’s also quite complicated when you simply want to drive and/or have other things on your mind. 

This brings us to the airport drive that hectic day. To say I had other things on my mind is an understatement. I was nervous about doing the airport run on my own (I’m a confident driver usually, but Zambia is a different story—I promise to write even more about this later), and this day I was worried that we were running late, and I was hungry and needed a bathroom immediately.

I pulled into the first gas station I saw, noting that it had a little hamburger place next to it. I sent Troy over to peruse the fast food menu while I ran to the bathroom. This was easier said than done as first the key for the bathroom  had to be located, and then one with the key had to slowly get up off her seat, dig the key out of her pocket, and then stroll over to the side of the gas station and then leisurely open the door. Finally the door was open and I made quick use of the facilities and then ran back over to the hamburger place.   

There I found even more frustration as the ‘fast food’ employee was slowly and laboriously taking care of the contents of her cash bag and there were still two people ahead of us in line.

The two ‘fry cooks’ didn’t seem to be working with any type of speed either. I knew right then, there was no hope on God’s green earth of getting a ‘quick bite to eat’ so I dashed back to the gas station and scanned the shelves looking for something with protein and low-carbs so I could get what I really needed. Nothing! I eventually settled on some cashew nuts and bought those quickly.

Running back to the car I saw that we now had only 15 minutes to make it to the airport at the latest time I was shooting for. The last thing I wanted was for our new, sweet volunteer to feel stranded at the airport on her first visit to Africa.

I slid the key into the ignition, turned the key to ‘on’, clicked the alarm button—just as I’d been instructed—and then finished cranking the engine. Only, nothing happened. The engine wouldn’t turn over. 

I pushed the button to re-arm the alarm system and started over. Still nothing.

Now I was beginning to panic. The car had just been working perfectly. Now I couldn’t get it to start.

Tom’s phone battery had just died so I couldn’t call for help. The place where we bought the alarm had given us an enormous discount, but that meant no receipt. So, no phone number for them to call for assistance. I thought perhaps I could call the paint store where I had just left Tom, but didn’t know the phone number for them. The gas station was no help. They had no phone book at all.

When I got back to the car, Troy was sitting in the driver’s seat, trying the key sequence again and again. But, still no success. 

In between bites of cashew nuts (the low blood sugar was NOT helping the situation), I tried the key sequence again and again. Surely this is what insanity feels like--trying the same methods over and over while hoping for a different outcome.

I laid my head on the steering wheel and begged God to give me a miracle. I just had to get the car on the road and get to the airport. I had to!

As I lifted my head off the steering wheel, I glanced down and realized my gear stick was set to ‘drive’ instead of ‘park’. 


Could this be the problem?

I quickly reset the gears and turned the key. 

The engine started up immediately!

Praise Be!

Driving quickly to the airport (face burning with embarrassment) I found out that I had not lost my knack for handling roundabouts. Good news! I pushed the gas pedal down as much as I dared--narrowly avoiding a speed trap--and made it to the airport in record time. 

There we found out that the plane had been delayed and landed just after we walked into the airport. 

God is still on His Throne and He loves me.

Troy and I even had time for a quick chicken and chips (fries) lunch as the plane’s passengers disembarked and headed through immigrations and customs.

There were no further problems collecting Gilly and the rest of the evening was uneventful.  

I survived the adventure of driving in Lusaka! Hooray! And the car survived the adventure of having me as a driver. If it’s not one thing it’s another. 

Next up in the driving saga: Getting a Zambian driver’s license. Yes, that added to my stress. I was technically driving illegally. This next chapter is ongoing and once it reaches a conclusion I will share it with you.

Exactly Three Years Ago: Not the Favored One                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Trial by Fire

We have a new car! Now that the road is repaired (hooray! Also, more about this later), we can drive a smaller vehicle.

In May, the government of Zambia removed the fuel subsidies that they used to provide, which caused a 22% increase in gasoline prices. We now pay over $7 a gallon (just under $2 a liter), and driving a large vehicle no longer seemed practical.

Another nice bonus is that our new little Toyota is an automatic. Despite my very great desire, I still haven’t learned how to drive a manual car. 

Now that we have an automatic, I can help with the driving. I drove halfway home from Mansa last week, and then I drove for a couple hours on our way down to Lusaka. Aside from all the people and goats and chickens on the side of the road, the roads I’ve driven on were mostly empty with very few other vehicles.

This week though, we were down in Lusaka to collect a volunteer from the airport. As is normal for our Lusaka trips, we ended up with a huge to-do list. As I waited for an alarm to be installed on the car (Toyotas are frequently stolen and used as taxis), Tom jumped into a rented pickup truck to take care of some other errands. The plan was that he would meet up with me later, but if time ran out I would head to the airport with Troy. It was a straight shot, and though traffic in Lusaka is horrendous, the airport route wouldn’t be too bad.

This all changed though when Tom called and said he needed extra money and would I please hit up an ATM quickly before going to the airport. Sounds simple enough, right? Yeah.

Getting to an ATM near where we both were meant driving down the absolute worst section of town--Cairo Road. Lusaka was designed for 100,000 people way back in the time of British rule. Now it is home to 3 million people with no real road changes. 

Cairo is the main business section and is often just a mass of cars vying for the few parking places and pulling in and out of various businesses. Pedestrians flow across the road, frequently using any gap in traffic rather than marked crosswalks. Even the crosswalks are barely marked and there are few traffic signals so you simply have to watch everything because you don’t know when someone will walk right in front of your car. Thankfully we’re all going so slowly that any accident would likely be uneventful.  To make it even more exciting, there are street vendors walking among the lanes of traffic selling everything from car phone chargers to underwear to blow-up globes of the world. 

I finally made it to our preferred bank, but of course there were no parking places. There are always men standing around on Cairo Road hoping to earn a few pennies by directing traffic and helping people locate parking places. They’ll also happily break into your car if you don’t reward them for their efforts. One such man was motioning to me to ‘wait, wait’, and then ‘come this way’, then ‘wait, wait’. Finally, I simply stopped on the road behind other parked cars and dashed over to the ATM while Troy stayed in the car to guard it, and then hurried back to the car. Our new friend earned fifty cents for his help.

I got back into the muddle of traffic and headed north to where Tom was waiting semi-patiently for the cash. I quickly did the hand off and then rushed back to the car, noting that I now had only 30 minutes to make it out to the airport in time to meet the volunteer. 

At this point I desperately needed to find a bathroom and my blood sugar had also dropped drastically. I needed to find a gas station with a restaurant, pronto.

Trial by Fire--Part two tomorrow. 

Exactly Three Years Ago: SIMC: LARPing edition (boy, do I miss my kids!) 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

How I Missed Out on a Fortune

The other morning I pulled a much larger than normal egg out of our basket to cook breakfast. Our chickens have not been happy since their feed was stolen a few weeks ago and they had to make due with maize bran until it could be replaced.

The eggs have been tiny which made finding this treasure of a large egg extra special.

I expected to find a double yolk in it for sure.

I was not prepared for what I found instead.

When I cracked open the egg nothing but egg white came out--nothing that is except a fully formed tiny egg complete with hard shell.

Sarah told me later that her brother once found an egg like this at the poultry plant where he worked. His boss said that if he had left it intact (had used a candle to see inside), it could have been worth $3000.

All I got was an extra large omelet.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


In April we had a visit from some obstetric nurses named Michelle and Kelly who were in Zambia to spend time with one of our Peace Corps friends. They were a big help in teaching about maternal and baby health both at our orphanage and in the community as well.

I'm finally able to share their account with you:

Our first talk was with the group of nannies at [the] orphanage. We had a list of things we wanted to discuss in each class that we wanted to cover such as the importance of prenatal visits, diet, malaria prevention, hand washing, breastfeeding, safe sleeping for infants and how to care for someone having a seizure. We had heard that a child in the orphanage had recently had a seizure and we wanted to ensure that the nannies knew how to handle one if it ever happened again. Seizures are seen often where malaria is prevalent because that is how the body fights off fevers. Many cultures believe that the seizure is indicative of having evil spirits so it was also important for us to explain why it was really happening. 

We were very surprised at the quality of questions the nannies asked of us. We ended up going in depth on female anatomy and they had great questions on fertility, menstration and some questions we had to research and get back to them on! It was a neat experience getting to know the nannies while we are there and they felt comfortable asking us questions as the week went on which was great! [It's] a nice group of women there. I'm so glad they get to help care for [the] babies!

Our next talk happened before the Under 5 Clinic in the village. There were about 50 women there. We had an interpreter and talked about a few things that applied to children. We put a great emphasis on breastfeeding since it is what is best for your baby and is readily available! I am a breastfeeding educator back in the states and I was very surprised to learn about the low breastfeeding rate in Zambia. Many of these babies are getting fed water the day after birth and given solid foods way too early! This is definitely a topic I feel passionate about and it seems as though the clinic is teaching the same things I would recommend. We are all on the same page! I do believe it is hard to break habits especially when the information is passed on from the previous generations so that is something that will need to be taught in Kazembe for years to come.

We had a great time in the clinic. The people who work there are knowledgeable and passionate about their patients. Unfortunately, they are completely overwhelmed with responsibility. They need more resources and funds, but so does every other village clinic in Africa. I would love to see this one get nicer equipment and more help though!

We put on a couple more classes within the next few days. One to a group of about 20 pregnant women, another class for a group of 22 traditional midwives and one to a group of about 100 people in a nearby village. The talk with the midwives was fun! I love how these women commit their time to helping women birth babies. 

Now there are many things I love about my job, but one of them is how similar the labor process is. For those of you who don’t know, Kelly and I work as labor and delivery nurses at a hospital in Des Moines, Iowa that mostly serves the underprivileged and under-served. 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 inspirational. They haven’t had formal education, they have learned it all through years of 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 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 postpartum 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.

Not only did we teach, but we were the students as well! Back home, we have all these tools to help us in healthcare including: fetal heart monitors, ultrasounds and dopplers. In Kazembe, they don’t have this luxury. 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 in the end.

Thank you so much for allowing us to stay in your facility. We had a wonderful time and I got to spend my birthday there. I had offered to care for Samuel the night before to give Sarah a break and I can’t even express how awesome it was to wake up to his smiling face on my birthday!! 

At lunch, the kids surprised me with a party and by singing to me and Michael. It was Michael’s birthday in April too so I got to give him a cupcake and we got to share in the celebration. Thanks again!

Want to experience this 'high' for yourself? We'd love to welcome you for a visit or a volunteer stint!

(Almost) Exactly Three Years Ago: If Man Were Meant to Fly.... 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Mountain Climbs and Other Perils

You might remember from past blogs that Tom and I have been scouting for new land on which to build for phase 2 (or is it 3, 4 or 5) of the orphanage.

We will eventually run out of space on our current land and it (while a huge blessing) has never been ideal for all our big ideas of energy efficiency, sustainable farming, etc.

The kids here are getting older and will need more space for sports and physical activity and we will need more farmland to feed all the ever-growing stomachs.

So, we had been working on a lovely piece of land right on a river. But! That land may soon lay under water due to an energy corporation coming in to build a dam. So, it was back to the drawing board.

Tom located another nice piece--also on a river--and has been working through the red tape and other cultural issues so we can one day hold the title to about 50 hectares (123 acres). Not as large as we'd like--but way more than we have now.

The other day, as we drove up from Lusaka Tom pointed out the future land to me and mentioned that he'd have to head down there one day soon to take some measurements. I said I'd be happy to go with him and once he had shown me the river, I could sit on a blanket under my pretty, purple umbrella to read a book. I would pack a picnic lunch for us both to share and it would be almost romantic.

Are you guessing already that things didn't quite go as planned?

Thursday morning I woke up early and put together a simple picnic lunch of chicken salad with bread and/or crackers along with sliced tomatoes and cucumbers.

Troy was coming with us and we all worked together to make sure we had sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and anything else we might need for a day's outing. I packed my bag carefully with my Kindle, iPhone, and crossstich project. I was all ready for a peaceful day by the river. (oh, how wrong I was......)

When we pulled up to the headman's house there was already a crowd waiting for us. Thankfully we managed to convince most of them that they didn't have to walk with us.

I was excited to see the river and we headed out right away. I was wearing jeans and a loose fitting shirt and felt good. The sun was up and high in the sky, but since this is our cold season, it wasn't too bad. At the last moment I threw one of our water bottles into my bag. Boy, was I glad for that later.

The river was beautiful! Tom pointed out where we might be able to install a water wheel to produce our own electricity. We saw many little water pools where kids might be able to swim. (This was before our guide pointed out where crocodiles live when the water is high. Oh, my! I'm sure Tom has a plan for them)

It was lovely and peaceful nonetheless.

Then we began discussing where to go next. Tom wanted to show me the hill where our house could sit one day. Our guide shook his head doubtfully. "There's no road," he insisted. These are not words to discourage Tom. "Onward and Upward!" is his motto.

So onward we went. 

The path disappeared and we began slogging through grass that was above our heads. It was hard going as the grass often lay on the ground and concealed logs, rocks or holes in the ground that threatened to trip us up. The grass itself conspired against us as it would snag our feet and so every step had to be carefully placed. It was by no means a walk in the park. It was more like swimming through a hay field.

Tom was so good to reach back and help me over difficult ground, Lord love him. I'd love to say I was a gracious lady the entire time, but as grass and thorns sliced my hands, and my foot snagged in a snarl of grass roots yet again, I was occasionally closer to someone wearing a pointy hat rather than a safari one.

Eventually we made it to the base of the hill and began the climb up. I had hoped that the tall grass was only at the ground level, but alas, it continued on all. the. way. up. It was awful.

I kept muttering, "I was supposed to be reading a novel by a river bank under a pretty, purple umbrella".

Halfway up we sat down for a breather, and oh, my! The view was amazing!

This picture was taken at the top when we finally made it up there. This would be the view from our living room. The sun will go down right there.

We could have stayed up there for a long time, but by now it was 1:30 and we were starving. We still had to get down the hill and then walk the 3/4 mile back to our car. 

Everyone knows that hiking downhill is always harder (though mentally it's a bit easier since you're almost done), but this one was extra hard because of the tall grass. It was like trying to walk down a hayfield. Very slippery. I fell over and over again. My poor body was so confused. Falling is not the norm by any means.

Finally we reached the bottom of the hill. Oh, Thanks be to God!

After a brief rest we began the 1 mile walk back. Our water was long gone so we were eager to reach the car.

Our lunch was also waiting in the car, but with a huge crowd gathered around, it would have to wait. Troy and I rested in the car, and surreptitiously nibbled on crackers while Tom handed out work assignments, until we were finally able to get on the road toward home. 

I guess next time we'll try the picnic idea again.

Just to give you an idea of how far we walked, here is that picture again:

Next time (and yes, there will be a next time), I will take a walking stick and some gloves. Any other hiking tips?

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