“Welcome home”, said the Immigration Officer

I have lived in the US for many years but it never felt like home until September 10 this year when I returned from visiting family in Zambia.  The Immigration Officer at Dulles Airport asked if I had “XYZ” visa (which he could see in my passport) and whether I resided in the US.  I responded in the affirmative for both and then the Officer said:

“Welcome back home”.

For the first time, I felt that the US was home and not just my duty station. These few words made me feel very welcome.  I am Zambian, yes, but my life is in the US and this is where I spend most of my time and the US has shaped my adult life a whole lot.

I am grateful for the opportunities the US has given me and the positive differences those opportunities have made to my loved ones back home.

Thank you, USA, and it is indeed good to be back home.

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Zambia – Malaria being eradicated

What a relief it was to learn that malaria has been eradicated in Lusaka and Southern provinces in Zambia!  Malaria was the most common disease that people in Zambia suffered from as I mentioned here.

My sister-in-law works at a local clinic in the Southern Province and corroborated reports about the eradication of malaria.  The disease is so rare that now only a couple of specialized clinics in her town have the capacity to treat and prevent malaria.  If my sister-in-law’s clinic receives a patient whose symptoms remotely sound like malaria, they immediately send her to the specialized clinics for treatment.  The malaria clinics get the history of the patient, visit the patient’s home to give prophylaxis to those in the house and also get in touch with a clinic in the town where the patient was recently.  The other clinic also does their own preventive care.  This has greatly reduced malaria cases in the country.

Another very important way is compulsory spraying of houses as reported in this article, especially in high density area.  My parents’ maid said her house was sprayed about a year ago and any insects, including mosquitoes that venture into her house still die from the effects of the spray.  She said the downside of the chemicals is that one’s skin itches if they wear clothes that were sprayed, but she says this is better than having malaria.  Inhabitants have to remove all clothes, beddings and food from the house before their houses are sprayed.  The sprays may be harsh but the alternative which is getting malaria, is not what we would want.

These positive stories show that there is hope that malaria can be eradicated in Zambia and any other countries that put their mind to it.  I know those who have worked hard on this won’t see my appreciation, but I am grateful to all.

I am allergic to the sun – Part 1

I am a Zambian and grew up in Zambia, meaning that my body has no problems with the sun.  At least, that is what one would expect.  That was the fact until my twenties.

First it started hives on my arm when it was exposed to the sun.  A pharmacist gave me some ointment and all was well for several years.  Then a few years ago I started getting hives on my neck when I was in the sun, even for a short period.  A seasoned (aka senior citizen) dermatologist in Austria gave me some medications which did not work.  I asked a pharmacist when I visited Prague and his solutions also did not work.

Well, I went to Zambia and decided to see a pharmacist.  I went into a pharmacy, looked at the pharmacist and immediately turned to leave.  She called out to me and asked if she could help.  In my heart I said “definitely not!”, but my mouth “yes, please. I have this issue.”  She gave me hydrocortisone and I told her that it did not work. She kept quiet for a while and then said “ha! use some sunscreen. Use this every time you go outside, especially for your neck.”  Being the street dermatologist that I am, I told her that I did not need it because I am black. She advised that everyone, in spite of their race, needs it.

I applied the sunscreen immediately and went about my business which involved a lot of walking in the sun and was impressed with the results.  I had no hives! Needless to say, I have not had hives since except the one time I forgot to apply ‘my’ sunscreen.

Now for the reason why I wanted to walk away from the pharmacy without any consultation.  Well, so called pharmacist was 12 years old (or so she looked).  I thought about the seasoned Austrian dermatologist and Czech pharmacist – they could not help me, so how could a baby pharmacist help?!!  She proved me wrong and I felt really embarrassed.

I hope you are all enjoying your summer.

Snake!!!

My family moved to a newly established poor neighborhood when I was 12 years old.  This was very different from what I had been used to in my then short life.  One thing  that seemed to be everywhere in the new neighborhood was the number of snakes  – outside homes, in the bush and many times in the houses (even in your bed if you were unfortunate enough).  The presence of snakes did not interfere with our lives and we were fortunate/blessed/lucky that there were no casualties except for Mike, a neighbor, who was spat at by a cobra in the middle of the night.  A nursing mother was awoken from her deep slumber and asked to squeeze some milk into Mike’s eyes, because apparently that worked wonders.  Thankfully, there was no damage to Mike’s eyes and he went on with his life.  I will not say we did not get startled or cautious when we saw snakes because that would have been folly and could have had fatal results for us.  We killed the snakes, ran away or left them alone depending on the situation.  After the situation was resolved, we went on with our lives as if nothing had happened.

I moved from home in my early twenties and had no encounters with snakes for many years.  However, I was out hiking with my walking club in Vienna, Austria on a beautiful day and enjoying the views from the mountain top when someone casually said “Look”.  I looked to where this person was pointing and there was a snake slithering across the road.  I screamed and ran behind one man and I was shaking life a leaf.  It took a while for me to start enjoying hiking again without thinking about a snake jumping out at me.  I could not believe how scared I was of that snake because snakes were practically my next door neighbors when I was growing up!

Unfortunately, I am still creeped out by even the very thought of snakes and have not gone back to my younger days when I would be in the forefront of snake killing.

 

Austrian Friend Visited me in Zambia

I was in Zambia for a month until last Friday. I have several stories but I will start with the one of my Austrian friend, Lisa.  We maintained contact after I moved from Austria and she visited me a few weeks ago.

I have no idea what fears were instilled in Lisa by well meaning people, but they made her think that Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) was still in 1870.  Unfortunately, also, the YouTube videos she watched to prepare for her visit only showed the bush and wild animals.  The meds I know she had are anti-malaria tablets, insect repellent and upset tummy tablets.  She was also understandably warned not to eat any salad. Lisa spent the first two nights at my parents’ place and continually asked where the insects, especially mosquitoes were.  Well, there were none in the Lusaka area where my parents live.  I took her to Livingstone to see the Victoria Falls on the third day and the only mosquitoes she saw were during a cruise on the Zambezi River, which is in the wild so she disregarded those.  Lisa was also shocked at Zambian infrastructure, my parents’ house included.  It is modern and spacious!

Lisa had a slightly running tummy on the second night but it was over before it began.  How she panicked!  My family and I did not because we knew that it was nothing serious and it must have been caused by a change of diet.  She was perfectly fine by morning though she was still panicking and took some upset tummy tablets.

By the end of her trip, Lisa started asking why she had been given wrong information about Africa (not just Zambia).  She said there were more mosquitoes in Austria than in Zambia.  Without my knowledge, she had also been sneaking in some salad and her stomach did not react.  She also wanted to stop taking her anti-malaria ‘arsenal’ but I said that just that one infected stray mosquito could bite her, so she continued with her meds and spray.

She enjoyed her trip so much that she has told her daughter and son-in-law to visit with their baby.

I was happy about her conclusion of Zambia, but am still surprised at how my continent is still being portrayed by people who have or have not yet been to Sub-Saharan Africa.  It shows that there is a lack of knowledge out there.   Another Austrian friend is supposed to visit next year, but this one has been to SSA and other “third world countries”.

All in all, my family and friends were happy to meet Lisa and I plan on visiting her next year in Europe.

 

Western Prices in Zambia

Everybody knows that non-locals are charged higher prices almost everywhere you go, except in supermarkets which have fixed prices.  Several years ago, a foreign counterpart visited Zambia with his black Jamaican wife, Sue.  A friend and I decided to take Sue to a local crafts market for some shopping.  We told her not to say anything at the market and just point at what she wanted.  We would do the talking and haggling for her because we knew that she would be charged higher prices even if she was black because of her Western accent.

We got to the first stall and Sue went crazy!  She was asking the vendor all sorts of questions.  We saw the vendor’s expression change as he realized that he was not dealing with a local.  He gave her ridiculously high prices and she said “oh, that is very cheap”.  The vendor’s level of service went several notches up just so he could get her to buy from him.  We told him off in Nyanja and said we were going elsewhere.  He tried to bring down the price but we went off.  Sue protested but we left.

Sue followed us and we told her that she had been charged exorbitant prices.  She tried to protest again, but we said we knew what we were talking about.  We told her again to keep quiet and let us talk to the vendors.  We knew we would be charged higher prices already because we came by car – a symbol, rightly or wrongly, of being “rich”.

At the next stalls, Sue just pointed at various items she wanted and let us do the talking.  She could not believe how different the prices were from the first stall.  We did not haggle too much as we knew that Sue could more than afford the prices and we also wanted our fellow Zambians to make a little more..

A side note – I no longer bargain as much as I used to when I lived in Zambia, even though I know that I am usually charged higher prices when vendors see that I am driving.  The USD goes a looong way in Zambia.

Cuba, my Cuba!

How I miss Cuba!  It’s one country I would not mind visiting over and over again as my heart remained there.  The live bands at all times of day and night around every corner are the draw for me.  The ‘innocence’, romanticized or not, also drew me.

Too bad people were banned from visiting as tourists except for specific reasons.  I am not an American, but I would rather err on the side of right.  I know I can still travel there, but I would like to do so freely and any time I feel like without having second thoughts about it.

It may not be true for me to say this but:  Cuba, my Cuba!

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