Hello. I am in Lusaka, it is a gorgeous sunny day and all is well in my world. I’ve had a good night’s sleep and a short nap. I can’t say that I’m raring to go, but I’ll fake it just fine.
Let’s talk about the flight from Amsterdam to Lusaka. As we were queuing up to get on board, there was a woman in front of me pushing a tiny tot in a stroller and carrying three large bags. We chatted and I offered to hold the baby while she arranged for the stroller to be loaded, etc. So I did that. We ended up seated in the same row and I took on the role of mother’s helper for all 12 hours on the plane.
The kindly stewardess moved the sweet man sitting between us to a different row, so we had three seats (these were small rows).
Little Anna is a typical 1 ½ year old, beautiful little girl with a mind of her own. And her choice was to walk, not sit in a special seat belt attached to her pregnant mother. So she wiggled and threw herself around and screamed. A lot. I spent a lot of time throwing her up in the air, swinging her around, holding her upside down, playing with her, anything to keep her distracted so her poor mother could get a bite, go to the restroom, just get a breather. Luckily, she was often very easy to distract and she responded with a beautiful smile.
Talk about it taking a village to raise a child. People up and down the aisle were happy to flirt and play with her as she toddled along- not too far away from her mother but far enough. The stewardesses took her, crooning to her in German. She smiled and loved up everyone.
She ate anything offered to her, most of her mother’s food, some of mine. Wielded a large fork and managed to get pasta salad into her mouth, as well as all over herself, her mother and the seat.
Anna slept only 2 ½ hours of the entire trip.
So, by the time we got to Lusaka, I was both tired and physically exhausted. My choice, I know.
What was absolutely amazing was to watch little Anna work a computer tablet, finding her programs, changing them, and turning things on and off. Talk about children born with a technological gene.
I had a long chat (of course) with her mother, although we never exchanged names. Isn’t that funny? Her mother is Zambian, now living in the Netherlands and taking Anna home to visit her family. She has a 13 year old and another child due in February. She originally worked for the Zambian government as a hospital inspector, with a nursing background.
Since I just finished creating a 22-module mini Health MBA program for small hospitals and clinics, this was quite coincidental.
Just before we landed in Harare (and again just before we landed in Lusaka) the stewardess explained that she was required by those cities to spray a disinfectant throughout the plane. I never got a chance to ask her why.
We had an hour stop in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, to refuel and clean the plane and take on new passengers after others deplaned. We had to stay on the plane. A little girl, probably 7 or 8, dressed in a beautiful bright yellow party dress with lovely brown embroidered decorative openings on the bottom of her skirt and an embroidered bolo top over it, wearing white party shoes, came on board. She was seated across from us (so only a few rows away from where the stewardesses stayed. She was traveling alone- to LONDON!!!
She had nothing to play with or read, all she asked was how to find Marvin Gaye music on the tv/audio remote and she sang along happily- at least from Harare to Lusaka. Imagine a child traveling that distance, changing planes several times, all alone. The stewardess assured us that she would be helped along the way and monitored carefully. However, as we descended into Lusaka, I had to tell her to put her seat belt on.
She had assistance from the sweet man who had originally been seated in our row, so I didn’t feel that I had to offer to help her carry anything off the plane.
Oh, I almost forgot. It was fun to watch her, and then other Zambian mothers, bend over, lay their babies on their backs, then wrap them with a colorful cloth, tie it either under their chin or both under their chin and at their waist, and carry the children off the plane in that fashion. Anna slept through the entire thing (I guess by that time she was also beyond tired).
Two surprising things I discovered as we deplaned outside the airport:
First, the air was cool and dry. Probably 65-70 degrees F. Second, the air was full of wood smoke, and so was the airport.
Once in Lusaka airport, the line for customs was not very long. I think it may have taken us 40 minutes or so. I didn’t pay attention, because I was chatting with three folks from California who had sponsored a school to be constructed two hours outside of Lusaka and had come for the opening ceremonies.
I had no trouble finding my bright pink (!) suitcase and, outside, a sign for the Taj Pamodzi hotel where I located my driver and two other women going to the hotel.
Kia is from Connecticut and had only learned that Tuesday that she would be going back to Lusaka for fieldwork. Sharon was working with Columbia University, also doing fieldwork. They told me what for, but I’m foggy on that now. By the time we got to the hotel, it was past midnight.
What I do remember is Sharon mentioning that the Zambian government tripled their salaries recently, which is why it is so difficult for private organizations to keep their professional staff. I can see that advising the owners of the private medical training institutions simply to raise their salaries and benefits may not be the most realistic suggestion.
When I gave my Citi Visa card to pay for the hotel, it was denied. I didn’t discover until I went on line that they had frozen it because of “suspicious activity.” Of course, when it was denied in Amsterdam when I tried to purchase a train ticket. I had called them before I left and asked them to note that I was traveling, so this wouldn’t happen (it had happened during my trip to Nigeria last year and took forever to work out, because the only way to do it is to CALL them). I’ll try to do it on Skype later. Luckily, I had also told my credit union that I was traveling, and they had clearly noted it in their records, because I was able to use that card.
I got to my room at 1:15, exhausted but also very hungry. When I went to use the phone, it didn’t work. I considered just eating an apple I had taken from the hotel at breakfast, but then realized that I would want to contact housekeeping the next morning to ask for an ironing board and an iron. So back downstairs I went, spoke to a manager, who eventually came back up with me so he could move me to another room next to mine. He checked that phone and said it worked. So I picked it up and heard the same buzz I had heard on my phone. Apparently, the buttons at the top of the phone- for reception, room service, wake up call, housekeeping, etc. don’t work. You have to dial numbers instead.
But he asked if I would like to move to the other room because it had a nicer view (as well as three pieces of fresh fruit and a live rose bud in a vase). So he moved me- and he was right. I look out over the pool area and can see trees everywhere, including purple jacarandas.
For those of you who are wondering, if any of you are wondering, I did not order anything from room service. First, most of the food was pretty exotic so I had no idea how I would like it. Second, I could eat the fruit, which was just enough.
I had a good sleep, got up to go down to breakfast. It was sufficient for me, but a far cry from the opulent breakfasts I’ve enjoyed on other trips.
So, you are now up to speed with me. It is 1:45 p.m. and I’ll be meeting Vivian and John at 2:30 in the lobby to chat and then go over to the venue to set up.
More to come.