28 September 2011

The Day Muzungus were at Mushili

 Here, not only do chickens cross the road, but they also chase people.

I woke up tired this morning but I think it’s because the dogs were barking so loud last night that I thought someone was coming to attack us, which made me run through all the places I could hide or escape to in the event of an actual attack, which kept me up way later than I should have been.

Frances and I continued our boot-camp running, getting stared at the whole morning.  I called it an early day, just in time too, because after I broke off to go home, this chicken started chasing Frances down. 

I showered and ate a good breakfast, excited to get to work for Children's Clinic!

[well balanced breakfast]

We arrived at Mushili via truck, which is probably my favorite mode of transportation.  The Land Rover was the smoothest ride, but it was also quite loud.  When we arrived, there was a sea of children and parents waiting for us under our favorite tree.

We jumped right in and started conducting Children’s clinic under a tree.  How legit is that?!  One of the things I thank God for constantly is shade.  I love shade.  Not only does it keep you cool, but it also keeps me from getting sunburnt.

Along with the 10 gallons of sunscreen I put on every morning.  I only brought one whole bottle, but I don’t need to worry about running out because Frances bought the entire sunscreen section at Target.

When we started the morning, my job was to help put the kids in the scale.

[scale picture]

Some kids loved the scale, others hated it.  I kept thinking that if these kids had swings, they wouldn’t cry in the bag, they would just enjoy it like a swing.  Most kids were pretty chill, which is more than I can say about being put in a bag.  One day I’ll get a picture of a kid in the bag on the scale, because they look precious, but since I can’t exactly speak the language, pantomiming “Can I take a picture of your kid?” while a hundred other parents are patiently waiting to put their kid in the bag didn’t exactly seem like the best idea. 

After a while, someone from the community took over my job, so I took over marking the child’s weight on their growth chart, which was not nearly as fun, but probably more rewarding.  It was also heartbreaking because so many of the children lost weight, and it’s not even rainy season. 

Rainy season here is when the kids typically get a lot more communicable diseases like cholera and dysentery.  And then they drop weight.  Weight here is a good predictor of health status, much more than in America.

What can you do for a child who drops 3 kg (6 ish pounds) in one month?  What do you say to a mom who probably knows that (all the children here are carried around on their mother’s backs tied on with a cloth) her child is losing weight?

Dear Lord, protect these children.  Keep them safe.  It’s out of my control.

When all the children were finally weighed and Frances was done marking them on the appropriate government documents, we assisted Lamb with shots. 

His name isn’t really Lamb.

 Lamb is the English translation of the Lamba (the dialect spoken here) word that his name is.  If I had to guess, I think his name starts with an M, but most of the words we know in Lamba start with an M, so maybe I’m thinking of something else.

I took a picture towards the end of clinic when there were only about 20 people left.  Next time I'll be brave and take one earlier! We wish we could have ALL our clinics under the trees!

[end of clinic]

This time I gave all the injections and Fances gave all the OPV (Oral Polio Vaccine) drops.  It’s surprisingly harder to aim medicine at a child’s mouth than it should be.  And now, someone else understands that!

I got really good at giving injections.  It wasn’t exactly fun, but it was a good feeling to know with every shot I gave in the thigh I protected the child against 5 diseases! (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis, Hepatitis B, and Hib) They’ve been giving the 5-in-1 shot here for about 2 years now.  Before that, it was 3 separate injections like it is in America.  With every shot I gave in the arm, I protected the child against measles.  With every shot I gave on the left forearm, I protected the child against disseminated TB.  That shot leaves a scar on the child’s arm, which is much better than a child dead from TB.  It’s a good way to make sure the child is immune.

Frances found that waiting until after the injection when the child’s mouth was open, screaming, increased the odds of making the shot into the child’s mouth. 

We gave 32 injections into a child’s thigh, using up our entire stock of the 5 part vaccine.  We had EXACTLY enough vaccine for each child, so no one had to go unvaccinated this week.

Clearly, God was with us.

[exactly enough: 2 vaccines and 2 Clinic Cards]

With 3 people dividing all the work, it took us nearly 4 hours to complete everything.  There were exactly 100 children.  Plus some kids that weren’t there to be weighed.

Good thing I put 2 slices of cheese on my sandwich today :)

When the work was finished, we had to get the scale down out of the tree.  I’m not sure how the scale got up there because it was hanging when we arrived.  Frances offered to climb the tree, but she couldn’t get up to the branch where the scale was tied to.

So I had to break out my mad tree-climbing skills.

This isn’t my first time climbing a tree in Africa.  For the first story, you can read here: http://shanhelster.blogspot.com/2009/05/childhood-calls-me-here.html


This time I wasn’t in a skirt though, which made things easier.  I got heckled by some people walking by, so it was harder to get down, because they stopped to watch.  But I made it and I didn’t fall like they were worried about.



After we ate we got to talk with the Lab tech, Pooley, and Lamb.  We found out that some people here work for days to make charcoal, load it up on their bikes (I’ll try to find you a picture, there’s like 8 huge bags of charcoal strapped to a bike) and then walk their bikes to market to sell their charcoal for a total of 12 US Dollars.  Then they have to feed their family on that for weeks at least. 

It’s hard for me to eat all my meals in a day for less than 12 dollars, let alone a whole family!

Life here is hard.

Painful.  Beautiful.  Full of Love.

It’s going to be hard to return home.

We also talked about recent outbreaks of diseases in America and contrasted them with what was a problem in Zambia.  They have a much bigger problem with infectious diseases than we do.  Lamb was shocked that we didn’t vaccinate our children against TB.  But the shot isn’t great, and we don’t have as big of a problem with TB in America.

And we have a hard enough time vaccinating all our children against measles.  Lamb thought it was fascinating that America has had recent measles outbreaks, because with recent vaccination efforts by the WHO, USAID and UNICEF Zambia has seen a huge drop in the number of cases of measles.

We found out that usually Lamb runs the entire Children’s clinic all by himself.  He usually doesn’t finish until late in the afternoon and then all the mothers have to walk home late.  He usually skips lunch.  The clinic is severely understaffed, but at least they have staff at all.  He said he wishes we could stay and help him, and we do too!  They have a two “Children’s Weeks” a year where there is a huge effort to vaccinate all the children in Zambia.  We wish we could help him with that, but it’s not until November. 

By then it’s rainy season and the mosquitoes and alligators and hippos and cholera gets bad, so we’re kinda glad we’re not staying until November.

By the way, I think USAID is one of the coolest organizations.  They’ve been a joint sponsor for most of the major health prevention efforts in a lot of countries, including Zambia.  There are posters up all over the clinic with USAID and UNICEF logos on them.  They both support the Ministry of Health in Zambia, and they’re a huge reason why people are able to get much needed medicines and vaccines here.  They also help fund education efforts, which are almost as hard to talk about as health.  Public school is only offered until 7th grade.  After that school is incredibly expensive and overcrowded, most people can’t afford to go, and those that can face enormous obstacles.

It makes me proud that our country has organizations like USAID that helps care for needs around the world.

We didn’t work too hard in the clinic in the afternoon.  We got started late because of our intense conversation about health and the economy in Zambia (which was fascinating, and we learned a lot!).  Plus, we worked extra hard yesterday!

[chickens inhabit our clinic's courtyard]

When we got home I worked on some school stuff and took a quick nap before cooking dinner.  We got creative with Rice and Beans.  We used a recipe my mother uses all the time (I love you mom!) and added a bit to it.  Basically, we added baked beans to ground meat, but our ground meat was soaked in some kind of spices at the store we bought it from. 

It tasted SO much like the flavors in Cameroon, I almost couldn’t eat it!

We added tomatoes and onions, since they’re so abundant here, even though our meat already had tomatoes and onions in them.  We figured a few more veggies would be good for us.   

I wore an apron that wasn’t nearly as cute as my apron back home, but it worked just fine.


After dinner I indulged in one of my favorite new treats, cookies called Hit!  They’re chocolate cocoa flavored cookies with vanilla cream in the middle, bigger and softer than an oreo.  These things are so tasty, Frances and I are limiting ourselves to one each day so we don’t eat them all.  We’ve been looking for them all over town, but the only cookies we’ve found in town are cookies called “Eat Som Mor” which are shortbread cookies.

They’re surprisingly addicting and apparently that’s how they got their name. 

It says that on the package at least.


Aparantly word got out that there’s Muzungus (White people) at Mushili (The Rural Health Center).  They joked that’s why the clinic was so busy this morning.  

This place is so beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.  So full of love and hope and pain and suffering. 

All I can do is pray.  And I’m thankful our God listens.

Can you hear when we call
There were we fall
Standing our backs against the wall
At the Top of our lungs how far we’ve come
Were pain and love bleed into one
All that we need its so bitter sweet
The pain that opens our eyes to see
Baby when all you see is darkness
Coming down now
We all need forgiveness
Coming round now
Mat Kearney “Down”

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