Thursday, February 28, 2008

Safely on The Ground

Getting there.

After spending Friday night on a plane to Amsterdam, then Saturday night trying to catch up on sleep on yet another flight, I woke up to the sun rising over a mountainous, sleepy looking Kenya. This photo almost captures it, my first view of Africa.

Sunrise over KenyaMount Kilamenjaro?

It is strange to think about all the preconceptions that I have created over my lifetime about an entire continent which I had never visited. Africa to me, up ‘til now, has been a mix of images of Safari’s, of starving children, of our government officials shaking hands with their officials, images of men walking down the street with guns, women collecting water … and all of it seemed inhospitable. There was one image that had also developed in parallel over the years, that is an image of the smiling mother with kids playing and possibly a big tree that didn’t resemble any tree I was familiar with in Canada.

Next we took a final flight into Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia. Now it becomes real, I am here for a full 13 months and well, ya, I feel like a foreigner. Everyone is different, there are only 6 white people in the airport, 4 came with me, 1 is there to pick us up, and then there is me, I made 6. We step outside and instantly there is a warm refreshing breeze mixed with a level of humidity that reminds me of summer in southern Ontario.

Finally on the ground in Zambia


So here I am, 2008, finally seeing with my own eyes what this mysterious place is like.

My 3 day overall impression is that the climate and the people make this place quite similar to what I would call a paradise. The daytime high is around 28 and the low is around 15. We are right in the middle of a huge city and still, when I look into the sky at night, I can see thousands of stars.

Our hostel (note: flipchart in background)

Today we went to a poorer region of the city and spoke with as many people as possible. Zambians, much like Canadians, hold the virtues of being friendly, nice and welcoming, quite high. I got to meet a couple of university students, a few school kids, some seemingly homeless kids, I met a shop owner, and said “muli bwanji” to many others passing by on the street. (Muli bwanji is ‘how are you’ in Chichewa/Nyanja)

The person I spoke with the most was a 30 year old women named Susan. She is jobless and a mother of three, she lost her husband to a car crash and can’t afford to send her kids to school but has faith in god to take care of her. She lives with her mother and whenever things aren’t going well she finds a way to get by and is more than happy to share her time and extra food when others are in need. Susan sang one of her gospel songs and wrote down her address…which isn’t an address at all, but rather instructions on how to find her.

Getting set up

I was surprised to see that there are at least 50 different places to buy a cell phone and they’re all within a 10 minute walk. Everyone has a cell phone! Internet access however is very difficult. Once I finally found an internet cafĂ©, I sat down to discover that the computers worked fine but the internet was down. The electricity is on and off too.

The next biggest change that I have to get used to is all the attention. As a white person, you are far from unnoticed. Like the hot girl that walks into a bar, the eyes follow, necks are strained… but mostly people are friendly, sometimes they walk with you for a while, and other times people are only speaking to you because they want money and the kids are usually shy at first but mostly amused. It has been nice to see familiar faces though, especially Thulasy, who has been here for six months.

All of a sudden I feel like I am a high maintenance person. I have been told that Malaria and HIV are huge problems in Zambia, however, I have yet to see any evidence of either. Malaria is a disease that is passed on by mosquitoes and every year 500 million people get it, of them, 1 million die. The first sign of Malaria is a fever. To help prevent myself from getting this I sleep under a mosquito net, I wear bug spray and long pants at night and I am taking Larium.

My time so far has been a huge learning experience. I have to say that my smallest image of Africa, the one with smiling people and kids playing in the street is the one that is most apparent in my first few days.



Anonymous said...

did you get sun-burned yet?

Great send-off by the way ;)


Brian Magee said...

Hi Mark,

Its great to see the thoughts of a newly arrived volunteer in Zambia. I plan on watching this closely in preparation for my arrival as a JF in May.

Best wishes,

Brian Magee (UNB)

Mark Hemsworth said...

no sun burn yet!

just a twisted ankle from falling off the motor bike during training.

all else is good though.

Anonymous said...

hey mark, what do you think dodo?
I think we might have a really good rate to call Zambia on our phone!
Miss you!

Mark Hemsworth said...

Go for it. My phone is working great right now while I'm in Lusaka (which will be until March 10th or so.

Starting my placement on tuesday and hope to post a new entry next weekend.