Hemingway once said, "I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke that I was not happy." This quote is painted on a wall at a backpackers' that I've stayed at in Livingstone. It's a lovely quote and a great thing to have painted at a backpackers place, but honestly? I'm betting that Hemingway's happy mornings had more to do with what he was slipping into his coffee than anything else.
After over 800 mornings waking up on this continent, I can confidently say there have been many I have not been happy that I was waking up in Africa. Sometimes I'll think, "screw this, I want to go to..." and realize there's nowhere I'd actually rather be. Then I feel all warm and fuzzy. But sometimes, I'll wake up and think, "screw this, I want to be in America. Right. Now. Or Europe. Australia. On a beach. I'd even take the moon, just NOT HERE." Those are not good mornings. But because of the donkeys braying, guinea hens screeching and children making 1000 strange noises, you have no choice but to get your ass out of bed and go along with your day.
When PC volunteers end their service, a frequent question is 'How was it?" As you are trying to sum up two really intense, life-changing years into a few words, things get skipped over. Those mornings when you woke up keening for home while sitting on your floor because heating water seemed too daunting -- you don't really mention those. At least, not until you really get into it with someone. Ask me about giardia sometime. The key, I think, is not to wake up every morning happy that you're in Africa. Rather, it's to keep going until you get to a point, even just a second in your day when you are happy to be here. And to recognize that after a few days back in the land of plenty, you'd be wishing for Africa. In a couple of weeks, I'm getting on a plane back to the states, to brave the first winter I've seen in a few years (I'm terrified.); I'm practically vibrating with excitement at the thought of seeing my family. Right now, I'm hitting that pre-vacation phase when your only coherent thought is, "get me out, oh please get me out, I want to LEAVE." But I know that after a few weeks, I'll be more than happy to come back. There's something about this life that makes it hard to walk away.
I want you all to know that it has taken a lot of will power for me to not turn this into a food blog. I've wanted to tell you about my deep infatuation with curd (lemon curd, mango curd, banana curd...), my hesitant curiosity in okra (how do I make it not slimy???), my amazing pumpkin pie brownie recipe. As well as the pesto-zuccini-tomato tart I made for dinner a couple of nights ago. But no, this is about Africa, not my kitchen. Still, I've decided to indulge a little ...
My general rule is that travel goes hand in hand with trying new things. New experiences, new people, new food. I actually really enjoy it (and really need to get my hands on some crunchy caterpillars soon...). That being said, I've never been a mushroom person. Something about the texture, I believe. I'm basing this almost exclusively off of those gross mushrooms in a can. Any time 'good' mushrooms enter my periphery, everyone else gets so excited that I feel bad taking their happiness away only to spit it out 5 seconds later. That's just cruel. So a couple of weeks ago, when children started popping up along the road holding big bunches of giant mushrooms, I decided to go for it. Especially since it was only 40 cents. I started with cream of mushroom soup in order to get to know the flavors without the sponginess getting in the way. It was delicious. Which means that on some level, I do like mushrooms, and I'm just going to have to brave the sponge.
The last couple of weeks, my focus (in terms of work, at least) has been on doing field visits to meet with clinicians reporting weekly aggregate data via a mobile client. More simply put, using cell phones to send information. A while back, cell phones took developing Africa by storm, and now almost every adult has at least one (they're connected through sim cards, so if you have 2 sim cards for networks that operate in different areas, you often also have 2 cell phones). In recent years, these cell phones have been providing not only a connection to other people, but also a connection to important health information. The use of mobile technology for these purposes is referred to as mHealth. As this blog post is already getting rather long, here are some interesting articles on mHealth:
Developing countries lead the way in deploying mobile technology
How Mobile Technology is a Game Changer in Developing Africa
mHealth Summit 2012
and if you're really ambitious: mHealth for Development (UNFoundation) (I think there's a cliffnotes version somewhere)
mHealth is something that I get rather excited about. Having lived out there in the bush, knowing people who have lacked critical information just because they're in rural Africa, it can be (extremely) frustrating to know that if they just had a little more access... this kind of thing is what changes the game. The program I'm working with uses mobile technology to send weekly rates of RDT (rapid diagnostic test) use, positivity rates, and usage/stock available of RDTs and treatment drugs. Whereas paper copies of what is going on in a rural health facility can take months to make it up the ladder to the ministry in Lusaka, these reports are uploaded into a cloud and available on the server immediately. This means that decisions regarding anything involving malaria, from drug allotment to net distributions to insecticide targets, can be decided using current information instead of rates from the previous year and estimations. There are, of course, days when I work with someone who isn't very invested, who's phone hasn't been working for months but doesn't care to ask anyone about getting it fixed. There will always be those people. But for every negative experience I have, there are positive ones (plural) where someone has taken hours to fill out backlogs from the previous clinician, where you can see a person's concentration as I explain how to access the program on the phone. Those are the people that are making me love my life right now.
Things of interest: How to yala yala (Mike was a volunteer in Mali with me, this post really hit home.)
Peace Corps in a nut shell
Peace & Love