Zambia – April 2011

For years Mary Adair has been trying to get me to go to Zambia while in Africa. For the last year Dr. Dina Rosen (who has been stationed there for 14 months for AHF) has tried, as well. On this trip I decided we must include it — so it is a first for me, as well as Adela and Herb.

We were arriving at almost midnight so Dina had assured us that the Southern Sun Hotel shuttle would be there to meet us. She had personally gone to the hotel that day to make sure.

When we walked out of the Lusaka airport with our two carts stacked high with bags, the Taj Hotel and Intercontinental drivers were there, no Southern Sun. They said, “Oh, he just left”.  No taxis there. (one, actually, but not one you would want to set foot in). Being nimble AHFers, I remembered that Dina said the Sun was right across from the Taj so I asked the Taj driver if he would please take us — in a pitiful ‘help us’ way (I can do that when necessary – I have no pride!) – he called his boss and said yes. It took another 45 minutes to leave but we did get safely to our hotel at 2:00am.

Zambia clinic meetingThe first day started early with a 3 hour all staff meeting.  It was very informative for us. Great input from staff — we learned a lot about the situation in Zambia and our testing and prevention programs.  We heard a lot about the corruption in Zambia and how the donor money (coming in mainly from the Global Fund) has been stolen and misappropriated. We listened to how many of the grant funded programs have gone under and why the AHF  testing and clinic programs are so critical now.  There are waiting lists at the government and other NGO clinics and they are all very anxious for our new AHF Lusaka clinic to open in a few weeks to take these waiting lists.  We were there to determine the marketing needs and the conclusion was there is no real need to ‘market’ the clinic services to start as there is an immediate patient base that we will have on our doorstep – the real issue is speeding up initiating CD4 testing and treatment before many of them die.  It brought me back to the days of our first clinic in South Africa, Ithembalabantu, and the waiting lists.  In the first few years we could not take on the overwhelming demand for treatment and every time I went there I opened the file drawer of waiting lists and the DECEASED section got bigger and bigger. That drawer pushed me to advocate to speed things up – people were dying on the waiting list – that, is now happening in Zambia.  It’s a total shame because it correlates directly back to the corruption and the stealing of HIV/AIDS program money.  It is the people that always suffer.

But there is a hustle bustle in the clinic to get it open and we are crossing fingers for it to open in two weeks.

On the second day, we were scheduled to go out on a testing outreach, and Dina informed me that I would need to drive her car to attend.  It was an automatic so I said ok.  When we got to the ‘market’ site, I realized it would have been better to have a truck or 4 wheel drive because it was like on an obstacle course: huge water filled holes (small lakes) on one side of the path and large, jagged rocks sticking up on the other.  I had to choose between the two, with Adela and Herb in the backside both telling me what to do and our volunteer guide, Frederick, outside the car directing me as well.  Three directors all saying different things.  It should have been filmed – it was both nerve-wracking and hilarious.

Zambia MarketplaceWe made it through. Frederick indicated I should drive right through a big pen of lambs, goats and pigs. When I saw guys dragging little goats and lambs by one leg I realized we were in the middle of a meat market – not the regular African ‘marketplaces’  we know in Uganda and Kenya.  I was happy to get through that and away from seeing the lambs surrendering to a dark fate. After we parked we helped staff stake up the testing tent.  The testing team was very efficient with set up and obviously knew what they were doing.

Adela began snapping pictures.  My safety antennas went up in the scene – we were sort of trapped in a closed area and were 3 white people with cell phones and a big camera  (everyone keeps telling Adela that she is ‘white’  and she tells them she is not — quite funny) – we were targets for the very dodgy characters around.  Seemed to me to be thug-types (later, we were told there are many ‘refugees’ there and as soon as the sun goes down it is extremely Testing Tentdangerous and it is likely to be targeted for a loaf of bread).

As my danger sensors were tuning in, I heard a pig squealing – a desperate squeal – getting slaughtered.  I looked to the area behind the tent where I thought the horrible sound was coming from and saw nothing.  I decided to shut that out.  Then a wheelbarrow pasted by me with 4 bloody legs sticking out of a cloth draped over it.  I looked around and will never forget what I saw (which I will not describe here in detail).  I heard lambs crying and screaming and felt like Jodie Foster in “Silence of the Lambs”.  My heart began racing.  Thirty feet away stood a wood structure not far from our testing tent that I caught a glimpse of — hanging lambs, goats, pigs – being slaughtered. Between the refugee thugs, the pigs feet and the screaming of the lambs, I knew I had to get out of there. We were in the middle of a real, African meat (live meat) market. I am not a farm girl, I am a city girl, and I felt like I was having a mini-anxiety attack. I said, “Let’s go – where is Frederick!?” He had disappeared.  Not around at all.  Not good. He was our main guy — the counselors were busy testing.  Right then a woman to be tested came up to me and gave me the hardest high-5  I have ever had, said a bunch in her local language and then slapped me on the face hard (it was meant to be affectionate, I think!).  It turns out she was drunk (many people seemed to be).  It’s a tough life in that meat market.

I said, “Adela! Finish up your pictures – we are going – now! Herb – find Frederick!”

No Frederick. I got in the car to call the clinic and asked them to tell Frederick to get back here ASAP.  I had not gotten his cell number as I never thought he would be going off somewhere. I was feeling very aware that I was 100% responsible for the safety and well being of Herb and Adela and knew we had to go.  The continued screaming of the lambs and occasional glimpse of that wood structure was pushing me toward the car.  Finally, Frederick returned – poor guy had gone to find us an easier way out to avoid the obstacle course – to no avail. We backed out the car, waited for Adela to finish snapping and headed out through the lakes, rocks and animal pen. I had to try hard not to run over the feet of little, tied up lambs left in the pathway. I plowed through the muddy course twice as fast as when we arrived and we were out! A sense of relief washed over me.

People say, “You eat meat. Where do you think it comes from?”.  The grocery store, I say. Rationally, I know all of that and I saw “Food, Inc” and was horrified.  But it is different to be in the middle of it – the sights, the smells and worst of all – the sounds. I usually can block it all out and continue doing what needs to be done, but that day, my blockers were on holiday. I will be a vegetarian one day – I keep vowing.

After the market, we had a productive afternoon of meetings with the Lusaka team designing the marketing and advocacy plans for Zambia.  As it got to be about 5pm, a call came from the testing team we left at the meat market. They had not yet been picked up and it was getting dark.  This is when I learned how dangerous it was there when darkness falls – they needed to get a cab called to get out there asap. A cab was sent (and I wondered how a cab would possibly find them there) – but an hour later they walked in the office and I was relieved to see them.

Testing in TentAs in every country  program we have visited and worked with, I was impressed with the dedication, professionalism and spirit of our country program staff.  They go through obstacle courses every single day in a million different ways — constant challenges that far exceed what we face daily in the United States.  I wish there was a way for our U.S.  staff that do not get around the world to really grasp the extent of our AHF family.  We are beyond diverse – we are the most culturally rich clan that could possibly exist.  Herb and Adela are feeling it, too, and we talk at the end of each day about our experiences and how amazing it all is.  It is humbling and inspiring.  AHF is making a difference every  day in places most of the larger AHF clan will never see.  But it is happening and it is something to be proud of.

Zambia clinic meeting
Zambia Marketplace
Staff at Testing Tent
Testing Tent
Testing in Tent

Herb in the meat market.

Herb and Zama (who is based in South Africa)

Signage up... next step is to open the doors for service.

Really great staff meeting.

Testing team preparing to go out for the day's outreaches.

AHF Lusaka team.

This grasshopper drove with on the windshield a long way - even after I put the windshield wipers on instead of the blinkers!

The tent was blowing away if not staked down.

Many men got tested and were happy to be photographed.

These goats were still walkin'

The pen we drove through.

  • Zambia clinic meeting
  • Zambia Marketplace
  • Staff at Testing Tent
  • Testing Tent
  • Testing in Tent

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