The Cheeky Blighter!
I wonder if eighteen months seems like a long time to a monkey. A monkey or two in particular must have had delicious dreams of easily-snatched toast and tasty corn muffins while I was back home. One of them sat a few feet behind me at breakfast my second morning here at Flatdogs Camp eyeing me and hoping those toast memories were about to be relived in reality. I was too wary for him that day, but I’m sure he’s just biding his time. Little does he know that I’m not the shrinking violet of yesteryear, but “Doc Diane,” intrepid heroine of fact and fiction.
I arrived back in Zambia to a rousing, surprise greeting from Bill’s sister, Ginnie, and her overland truck tour mates holding up letters that spelled “Welcome Diane” as I made my somewhat bleary way into Mfuwe “International” Airport. I saw Ginnie for a mere five minutes before she was whisked off for more adventure down the road towards Lusaka and Victoria Falls and beyond. The local staff of Flatdogs and the expats in the Valley have all welcomed me back warmly, and I’m settling back in to life in this wonderful place (I have yet to dance on the bar Friday nights, but my tenure here is still young).
My little thatch-roofed “doctor’s house” is neat and tidy, if not the fanciest abode, and little-the-worse for the remarkable flood that flowed water five-feet deep right through the place in February. With much hard labor of sweeping out the residual mud and crocodiles, the place looks even better than before. The cobra-sized holes in the walls and tears in the screens were even repaired in honor of my arrival (the cobras themselves have retreated to the septic tank).
I have, of necessity, quickly reverted to peering around corners and observing the toilet water with care remembering well the elephant “hiding” in front of my house and the stories of cobras in the toilet bowl. I am sleeping ever so snugly this time with nary a worry of baboon spiders or other undesirable creepies in my lovely REI Bug Hut. How I wish I had known about this invention on my last visit, but then, I suppose my stories of stomping around at 2 am wearing nothing but my hiking boots as I tracked the elusive baboon spider who wanted to snuggle with me in bed -- well the stories would have been much tamer. The Bug Hut, for those non-aficionados among you, is a tent made of no-see-um netting with a nylon floor. It fits almost perfectly on top of my bed inside the hanging mosquito net. Every night I happily zip myself in to bug and varmint-free slumber. My house men think me a bit nutty, but I’m willing to suffer their bemusement for a terror-free night’s rest!
But I have no worries that my Bug Hut has spoiled my chance for good stories. My second morning here, my houseman came to my window at six am saying, “Doctor come see the lions!” Several of them had been very noisily exchanging calls all night which I must admit lost its romance about 2 am. So I started to follow Davis who was walking down the road to the manager’s house, and after a few steps I thought (synapses slowly reviving from slumber) that I wasn’t ready for my date with natural selection and hopped in my truck. Sure enough, just fifty yards or so off the manager’s veranda two big male lions were lounging in the grass. A third was calling from behind us and getting closer -- and closer. When the third one sounded like he was just on the other side of the wall, I decided it was time to put more structure between us. I put my hand on the doorknob to the house -- locked!! So I found myself cowering in the corner behind the wall of the veranda and thinking that I was perhaps about to die stupidly -- something I have always vowed to avoid! I peeked over the wall and saw the lion was still maybe forty yards away with my unlocked truck in between us. Realizing a cowardly (or maybe just sensible) retreat was the better part of valor, I dashed for the truck. We all lived to tell about it -- not too bright really -- and the house men especially should know better -- well I suppose I should too. Kind of an exciting way to start the day though!
After a start like that, my succeeding days have seemed a little tame. The Kakumbi Rural Health Center, where I spend most of my days volunteering, has undergone a remarkable renovation conceived and organized by my predecessor, Dr. Johnny Bell and his partner Grant, a nuclear physicist-cum world-renowned expert in ancient harpsichords. In their six-month tenure, they managed to raise the money, get the District office to agree to a plan and almost complete a renovation, rebuilding and redesign of the clinic into a much more usable and patient and staff-friendly place. It seems a miracle almost.
The lovely new clinic is currently run by a skeleton staff of a nurse, our new midwife, two pharmacy techs/translators and the jack of all trades night watchman. Since I left in December of 2005, the previous midwife died of AIDS and the clinic head left literally in the dead of night in disgrace after being found having a hand (along with her husband, also a clinical officer) in the clinic’s cash receipts while at the same time making a handy sum off treated bed nets meant to be given out for free.
In my few days here, I have already seen more perplexing and distressingly ill patients than I might see in months in the States. On my second day, I saw a deathly thin, frail eighteen-month-old weighing only thirteen pounds with severe breathing problems. Her mother presented me with the ARV cards for herself and the baby which told me they both have HIV. I looked into the baby’s frightened brown eyes and at the fragile lines of her ribs tight against her paper skin and knew that she will not live much longer. Her name is Gift.
Some inroads have been made against AIDS’ devastation here. I was heartened to discover that our clinic now has HIV testing available, that the testing is fairly readily accepted and that anti-HIV drugs (commonly called ARVs for anti-retrovirals) are available to most, albeit only from the referral hospital in Kamoto. Unfortunately, the rate of new cases continues to increase. with 1 in 4 people in this area likely infected with HIV. Most days at the clinic we diagnose new patients with HIV suggesting the messages for prevention have yet to take hold. So much remains to be done to stop this horrifying epidemic.
As I decompress from a busy day at the clinic a brilliant orange full moon is just rising above the acacia trees telling me dinnertime is near and ending another lovely day in the Luangwa. I think I’ll stretch out and let the crocodiles nibble my toes.
This page was last updated 08/18/07