The Real Lusaka

In my few days here, I feel like I’ve been to two Lusaka’s. The first Lusaka was big and overwhelming and scary, and I had no interest in exposing myself any more than necessary to it’s busy highways, sprawling neighborhoods, unfamiliar faces, and multiple languages. Our first two days here, we saw the guesthouse, the BU office, the lobby of the Ministry of Health, and the grocery store. We walked the 25 minutes from our guesthouse to the BU office all through residential areas that represented a fraction of a percent of Lusaka. In Lesotho, you can walk from one end of Maseru’s city center to the other in less than that. By the end of our first week in Swaziland, we knew all the major streets in Mbabane. This first Lusaka completely overwhelmed me and made me feel very much off my game. And the lack of success during our first couple days made me feel that much more intimidated by this mammoth country I know so little about.

I started to discover the second Lusaka during dinner at the Kalahari last night. Getting support from the Ministry of Health made me feel a bit warmer towards Zambia, so we were a bit more adventurous today. We wanted to visit the offices of the Churches Health Association of Zambia (CHAZ) to introduce ourselves and the study. Their offices were sandwiched exactly in the area that we were told to be wary of (halfway between Cairo Road and Lumumba Road). But rather than criminals, we met only people who went out of their way to ensure our safety. The taxi driver who took us to the offices instructed me not to put my purse in my lap lest someone snatch it through the open window. On our way out of the offices, the CHAZ guard wouldn’t allow us to leave the premises without finding us a taxi driver who he knew and trusted. We then went to meet a friend, Ruth Chikasa, at her shop on Cairo Road. We went out for lunch together, and had a great time catching up and talking about all the festivities around her niece’s upcoming wedding. She then insisted on finding us “her guy” to drive us safely to the University. So despite all the warnings, we have only encountered the kindest, most helpful, and protective individuals. I will be careful to not let my guard down completely, but I am really looking forward to experiencing more of this second Lusaka, which feels a much friendlier, much more inviting, much less intimidating place.

And for the first time since we arrived, we had a very full day (never thought I would be so happy about a packed schedule). After a full morning of dropping by offices at various institutions to introduce ourselves, we headed to the University of Zambia Research Ethics Committee to receive their comments (aka our sentence). They requested that our local supervisor feature more prominently in the application and that we include our local contact details, not just our U.S. contact information. That’s it. Amazing. After 2 months. We rushed back to the guesthouse to make the few changes and resubmit. Assuming that the Chair doesn’t take off early for the weekend, we should actually have an approval letter from the Research Ethics Committee by the end of the day tomorrow. Don’t get too excited…we still have to get the approval from the Ministry of Health. Keep praying!

After a rather exhausting day, we find out that the guesthouse wants us to change rooms a third time…this is particularly interesting since they only have four rooms. After several years of traveling back and forth to Lesotho, I discovered that I function much better if I completely settle in to my temporary home since living out of a suitcase leaves me feeling constantly scattered. My method usually works just fine…not today. It took over an hour to transfer all our things from one room to the other. I was very glad that I had negotiated a free dinner for us in exchange for the inconvenience, and it was oh so worth it…the best food we’ve had on our travels yet. If anyone wants a fabulous meal in Lusaka, eat at the Nena’s Guesthouse Restaurant…just be sure you have a few hours to spare when you go.

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