Blaze It

Today about did me in, I’ll be real honest. It was a successful day for sure, but exhausting all at the same time. Caleb, Lauren, and I were paired up once more and left at 7:40am for the community of Mwandi, which was another area we hadn’t visited yet. We drove with Benny, who is an absolute stud when it comes to maneuvering the dirt roads of Livingstone, and the teaching gang. Benny dropped us off at the Airport Clinic where we meet Osson, the caregiver that was taking us around for the day. We also met the head nurse of the clinic, and with her permission to visit the community, we headed off.

One thing that I never get tired of is hearing the children in each community excitedly screech when they see us walking by. They always yell “Mzungu!” and usually “Hi!” or “HOW ARE YOU?” at the top of their lungs. Today’s children did not disappoint. Instead of shouting some intelligible phrase, they just screeched and screamed in excitement. I’m not even kidding. There were probably 10 of them just jumping up and down squawking at us like little birds. It got so rowdy that one of the local dogs came over to check out what was going on and ended up plopping itself down in front of the kids to just stare at them in confusion. It was hilarious! Later, other little kids came out and in one group jumping up and down chanted “Mu-zung-gu! Mu-zung-gu!” I wish I had a video because it was comical for sure!

Similar to the patients in Dambwa, most of the patients that we saw in Mwandi suffered from hypertension or upset stomachs/loss of appetite. I received a mini lesson from Osson about the eating habits of the local people and learned that they typically only eat one meal a day, and it’s at night; all other food is given to the children or the elderly in the household. This was in response to my observation/suggestion that one woman we saw that didn’t have hypertension per se but had high blood pressure at the moment could benefit from eating a little something in the morning.

After that very brief but direct chastisement/lesson, I wasn’t sure how the day was going to go because that was with our first patient. However, I needn’t have worried because I think the professionalism of our group with the rest of our patients demonstrated that we were not entirely incompetent when it comes to helping people, and the advice we give is just to help. This was especially true for the second to last patient we visited with that had leprosy. Three of the man’s toes had recently fallen off after getting infected and dying, and the area of the foot where they had fallen off from was pretty infected.

Before seeing the wound, I offered to take lead in cleaning and dressing the wound, and let me tell you, it was bad. I did the best I could, but it was definitely infected and no amount of cleaning on our end was going to change that. After redressing the wound and offering a referral to the clinic to get the infection looked at, we were prepared to make our way to our last patient. However, this patient had other plans. He started complaining to Osson about how African Impact wasn’t doing enough to help the people, that they had all this money to buy whatever they wanted with it, and that they were paying the caregivers (and maybe the volunteers, too? It was hard to follow his line of thought) but the caregivers weren’t coming by to help him.

In this situation, I probably would’ve just said I was sorry he felt that way but I hope he feels better soon, but Osson came to our defense in the best way possible. He explained to the man the flaws in his logic/line of thinking, emphasizing that we were paying to be there, not the other way around, and that we were volunteering when no other Zambians in the community would. He tried his best to get across that he wasn’t being paid, that it was a voluntary position, and that if the man wanted to discuss more about why things work the way they do with African Impact and the people of Zambia, then that’d be a discussion for another time because it would require a lot of cultural discussion.

Overall, I was very touched by Osson’s defense of the work we were doing. While the man was grateful to be helped in the moment, his attitude of borderline entitlement to the aid of the AI organization, along with his attitude towards us as volunteers was uncalled for and just plain disheartening. As volunteers, you put a lot of stake in the well-being of the patients you’re doing your best to support, and to be told that your work isn’t enough by someone you’ve done all you can do for, it’s hard to hear. Osson’s defense of us really did make my day.

After returning, we had a yummy butternut squash soup for lunch, scuttled off for a round of ping pong, and quickly wrapped up our last minute details for the classroom workshops we were presenting in the afternoon. Like I said before, mine was on Basic Wound Care, and I honestly wasn’t sure how it was going to go. In the United States, basic wound care is pretty much second nature to most people, but I know in Zambia that’s not the case in most of the places we’ve been. However, we were going to be teaching at a government run school with bright kids from somewhat well-to-do families, so this knowledge could’ve potentially been in their wheelhouse already. To top it all off, as I was squatting down to write on the white board I was bringing for my lesson, the back of my BRAND NEW CUSTOM PANTS split, and since I didn’t have time to change, I was forced to go to the school knowing that my pants with partially split in the back. Luckily, it wasn’t noticeable unless I squatted down, so I decided to keep my back to the wall and sit on the ground or stand with the students, no squatting.

Oh my goodness, these kids were so fun to teach! We taught a class of eighth graders in rotating groups of three (at least for this class). I was teaching with Sophie and Nathan about basic wound care, common diseases and prevention, and the spread of germs and hygiene. These kids just soaked up the information like sponges. We had them take quiz before we started teaching and on the back they were to write any questions they had after the lessons. The questions definitely reflected the class’s participation and understanding of what was being taught, and I honestly would’ve been surprised if they didn’t learn anything because they participated very well.

I definitely didn’t start out right off the bat as the students’ favorite teacher of the day, but I’m pretty sure by the end I was because I was able to get almost all of them to laugh and participate without having to be stern or feel like I was talking down to them. In a way, they felt like a group of peers because I very vividly remember being their age, so I tried to incorporate the personality I had then to how I presented my lesson. After the class ended, one of the girls came up to me and gushed about how much she “loved our accents,” and tbh I about died laughing!

While waiting for the other class to get out, I went outside to get some fresh air (I was SWEATING) and a group of students ended up forming around me and we chatted about what they wanted to be when they grew up (most said doctors, including pretty much all the girls, and it definitely warmed my heart). They asked if we were going to be coming every Wednesday to teach, and when I broke the news that we wouldn’t be, they were all genuinely saddened by the news. Overall, I definitely found a love for those kids that I didn’t think I had for that age group as a whole, and it’s opened my mind again to 1) how you can’t judge a book by its cover, and 2) you can be surprised every day.

We were at the school for almost two hours and had to wait another 20 minutes for the bus, so by the time we got back it was after 4:00pm and we were all toast. Somehow, Braydan convinced me to go back to the Curio tourist market with him, and while there we bargained for some souvenirs that we ended up not having enough money for, so we went back to the LBP and then back a second time to the market to exchange money and pick up our goods. I was still wearing my ripped pants, and dang, those things had me sweating bullets! I felt like I was going through early menopause or a heat stroke, and either way the pushy sales people were not doing it for me today. Needless to say, when we got back for dinner, I was famished and pretty much chugged down my food and tried to cool off as much as possible.

With a full belly, I kept feeling like something was missing, and realized I had a desperate need for chocolate. We were chatting with one of the coordinators, Imani, right before a group of interns decided to leave for the Pub Quiz Night just down the street. Since neither Braydan nor I nor Imani was going, we decided to join Imani in a trip to the gas station for some much needed chocolate. I’ll confess, I bought a Cadbury hazelnut chocolate bar, and it’s 90% gone already. It’s been 2 hours. Clearly, my body was craving chocolate because that is not typical behavior for myself. Regardless, the chocolate was fantastic, the company and evening were wonderful, and talking over Skype with Braydan’s sister, McKell, was a great way to end the evening. Tomorrow we’re back together and in Sakubita, so it should be a blast. Until tomorrow, ¬°adios!

-Gabrielle Bezzant

Author: Gabrielle Bezzant

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