end of zambia

August 6, 2008

well, i’m back in toronto, missing zambia and feeling strange. it is weird to feel both back in place and out of place at the same time. it has been great seeing friends and family (back to alberta in two days!) but i also miss zambia.

the end of my trip to east africa was great. i enjoyed a three day safari in tanzania, including in the ngoro goro crater, which was very beautiful. i took the tazara train back from dar es salaam to zambia, which was quite interesting, particularly when a two and a half day trip was 18 hours late to get into a small town in zambia four hours away from lusaka! we arrived at 4am, and i had to take a small bus into lusaka. needless to say by the time i pulled into the bus station i was tired, smelly and very testy.

the last week in zambia was great. in’utu and i had an amazing time at a posh lodge in south luanga national park, where we went on safari. we saw lots of animals, including lions within feet of an open jeep. a little stressful!

i also had an amazing birthday party/going away with lots of indian food and dancing. the waiter’s even sung me happy birthday and kissed me on the cheek, which was slightly awkward and definitely funny.

26 hours on a plane and i was back in toronto, greeted by both hannah and beth at the airport. i am getting settled back in and looking for a job. hoping to stay in toronto at least for a bit.

so, that’s it. it will take awhile to process my time away and my time back, figuring out where to fit in. but with such great people in my life, it definitely makes things easier.


quick holiday update

July 14, 2008

so, the internet hasn’t exactly been awesome on this trip, hence, my poor blog updates. but since i am in arusha, and it is grey, and my bank card has given up on me again (temporarily) i have 8 minutes to write a very quick update about my east africa holiday. i have had an amazing week so far and have another one to go. i just arrived in tanzania today after visiting rwanda for three days and uganda for about 5.

so far, high(low)lights:

– a serious seven hour plane delay to kick off my trip resulting in my missing a bus to rwanda

– an incredibly disturbing and upsetting church outside of kigali, rwanda, where 10 000 people were killed during the genocide. the church was still full of the clothes of those who were killed and our guide showed us where he hid his head in the church to avoid being killed. he was nine years old at the time. the whole experience was extremely intense and should not be summarized in a bullet point.

– the hills of rwanda. incredible. so green and the soil was red. everything was terraced and breathtaking.

– getting pushed around by a serious wind in the middle of a lake in southwest uganda when i took a two person dugout canoe out by myself. i eventually made it back right before it rained.

– tracking chimps through a forest, including basically running through dense trees and stabbing my leg with a tree. but i saw about 20 chimps!

– white water rafting the source of the nile. this was totally crazy and involved grade 5 rapids. our raft flipped completely over once, throwing all 8 passengers and one guide into the river. i also managed to get thrown in two additional times. i have a bruised kneed and cut lip… but it was amazing!

– suz’s birthday bbq including dancing in the middle of the afternoon.

tomorrow i am off on a three day safari in tanzania. i am looking forward to it. hopefully i will be able to write a better update once my holiday is more relaxing! somehow i feel like i have been running around nonstop.

wrapping up work

June 25, 2008

somehow the end of work has completely snuck up on me. i have been busy with the various seemingly unrelated jobs that i have, trying to tie up all the loose ends before i finish work on monday, june 30th. i have loved my time working at unza and chelstone and for cih, but still, i am looking forward to moving on.

in terms of my work i have been busy as a research supervisor for students from canada who have arrived here in zambia. two of the students are actually building on my research at the chelstone clinic, so we have all been busy trying to create a somewhat seamless link between the two groups.

i have also been trying to write up the results for my research that finally finished at the beginning of june. all fifteen patient interviews and the staff focus group were in fact completed, transcribed, coded etc etc basically until it made my eyes go blurry. i think the research has uncovered some important findings and i have been encouraged by my research supervisors to try and get it published, so that will be one of my tasks during the inevitable time of unemployment this fall.

in addition to research and research supervison, i have been helping the unit of physical education at unza with their diploma program offered to the zambian army. this has been a really enjoyable experience. basically, we had a few classes looking at public health and HIV/AIDS in zambia and they went as to be expected. but than, i was asked to assist in one of the practical units. so somehow, i began assisting in teaching the zambian army to swim. we have just completed three weeks of swimming lessons, starting with putting our faces in the water and blowing bubbles and finishing with the back stroke and front crawl (or at least versions of them). the classes have been a lot of fun despite the fact that it is winter in lusaka and generally quite cold. the soldiers really enjoyed themselves and the opportunity to learn how to swim… not a common skill in a landlocked country like zambia.

worse comes to worse i could start offering swimming lessons in zambia if nothing else pans out…

this past weekend (after my rather impromptu day off due to the riots at unza) myself and 7 other people went on an adventure to the lower zambezi. the zambezi is a river that starts in angola, travels through zambia, zimbabwe and mozambique until it reaches the ocean (or at least, that is what i remember from the bradt guide). it is a huge river that shapes a lot of zambia’s landscape. we decided to check it out for ourselves, including trying to see some of the game famous for living in and around it.

we set off saturday morning on a bus to a town called chirundu. despite our car getting in a minor accident on the way to the bus station we arrived and waited for about an hour for the bus to fill up. we arrived in chirundu, which is on the border between zambia and zimbabwe to be greeted by about ten black market money changers (this is my new technical term for them). the zimbabwean currency is experiencing insane inflation (as it has for the last number of years) and exchange rates change multiple times per day. we were given some old notes that expired (again because the value changes so quickly notes have to be increased frequently). i was given two 500 000 bills for free. i now carry around a million dollars in my wallet.

we found two taxis that could take us the rest of the way to our campsite. unfortunately the pontoon we were supposed to take across the kafue river (which later joins the zambezi) had broken down, so we sat on the side of the riverbank while it was being fixed. we finally arrived at our lodge, kiambi, in the afternoon and promptly sat on the ground outside of our tents and passed around two beers between 8 people. feeling happy to be out of the city, we further relaxed and stared out at the beautiful river. the night turned a bit chaotic when some men came to the campground bar and began buying us all drinks for the evening. i retired at 1030, feeling like i had certainly consumed my fair share of red wine and meat from the braai (bbq).

the next morning we all awoke to the sun and got ready for our day of canoeing on the river. after getting a very scary safety talk, including what to do if a hippo attacks your canoe (fyi you swim away from your canoe and leave all of your belongings, apparently they are threatened by the size of the canoe, and not who is in it. however, in swimming away, be sure to avoid the crocs when getting to shore….). thankfully, the scare tactics worked and no one had any accidents. while canoeing we saw hippos, crocodiles, elephants and lots of birds. the scenery was also incredibly beautiful, very lush and you could see mountains in the background. every once in awhile i had to remind myself how possible the same scenery could be found in canada (obviously minus the elephants). by the end of the day my arms were killing me from canoeing and i was quite tired/slightly sunstroked. but the day was wonderful and i quickly recovered by drinking a coke and having a semi-warm shower.

that evening we set out on the difficult task of trying to create a meal from the random assortment of canned food we had brought and the lack of cooking gear. thankfully our neighbours in the campground were quite lovely and lent us pots, plates and spoons. we created quite a meal, finished up the wine we had brought and played camp games (not even initiated by me). eventually we just all lay down and stared at the stars, half asleep.

all in all, the weekend was amazing and i thoroughly enjoyed myself. it is always great to do something new and exciting, particularly when it scares you but ends up being completely safe. i can now  say that i have canoed with wild crocs and hippos… pretty amazing.

unza riots

May 29, 2008

last friday, may 23rd, unza students rioted  in protest of their low monthly stipend from the government. i was on my way to work, getting off the bus at the unza stop, when i noticed a lot of commotion and noise coming from the other side of the street. usually i have to cross a foot bridge to get to campus from the bus stop, but the man i usually buy my cell phone minutes from informed me there was a riot and maybe i shouldn’t go into work today. i called my coworkers only to find out they were not on campus yet and couldn’t give me an update as to what was going on. i decided to stand around with the rest of the crowd and try and figure out what was going on.

within about ten minutes police in riot gear were running down the street towards unza. they were carrying bigger automatic weapons than usual, had shields, batons and helmets (i realize i am not using the appropriate terms here, but honestly, who knows what riot gear is called?). i decided that i had done enough observing and started walking toward a mall nearby to  do my work for the day. suddenly, i heard a few small sounding explosions and my eyes and nose started to burn. i realized that tear gas was being carried on the wind from campus and picked up my pace.

i later read in the paper that two students were shot, one in the leg and one in the chest, by the police trying to contain the riot. unza students are notorious for rioting, however this was one of the biggest in some time. students and others are calling into question the necessity of using live bullets in containing the crowd. the police have not issued a public response as of yet.

even this week there are rumors that students will continue rioting. the students demands of increased allowance were not met by the education minister and currently the president is out of the country. however, once he has returned it may be possible that riots resume.

this is the closest to a riot i have ever been and it was all very fast and confusing. i was never in any danger and always quite removed from the action, although it does make you realize how quickly things can escalate.

lusaka update

May 21, 2008

i always have a hard time writing when i haven’t left lusaka, as everything seems too normal to comment on. but considering my normal is not everyone else’s i will try and let you in on what’s been going on.

things have been moving along. work hit a bit of a low where i couldn’t seem to find motivation or enough to fill my days, but that is over now. the students that i am supervising are slowly arriving (in total there will be 7 from Canada and 2 from Tanzania). they are all conducting research or implementing projects related to HIV/AIDS. i am responsible for coordinating the logistics of their placements as well as providing support during the research process. this is the short term contract that i managed to secure while i was here and therefore extended my stay.

i also finished the patient interviews for my own research. i am now transcribing the interviews and will compile the data. two of the upcoming student researchers will be using my findings, so deadlines are once again fast approaching. i am looking forward to having a semi-complete product to be able to begin to share and disseminate here in lusaka. i will likely try to get it published once i return to canada and am potentially jobless and needing to fill my time.

last week was the european film festival here in lusaka and i managed to see four films. the first was a german film called ‘nowhere in africa.’ it was really excellent, about a jewish family that fled germany just prior to WWII and ended up farming in kenya. the second was an italian called ‘the second wedding night.’ this one was a bit weird… about a woman who ends up being supported by her dead husband’s brother. the third, and possibly my favorite, was a french film called ‘i’m fine don’t worry.’ it was kind of a family drama with obviously a lot of french-type depressing themes. the last was ‘atonement’ with keira knightley and the very beautiful james mcavoy. basically, i actually enjoyed films for the first time since i’ve arrived. don’t get me wrong, ‘step up 2’ is a classic in it’s own way…. but still.

as far as my travel-outside-of-lusaka plans i am going to the lower zambezi this weekend for a canoe safari. there is a bunch of us and it will be a lot of fun. i am a bit freaked out about the proximity of crocs and hippos to me while getting in and out of the canoe… but i’m sure my leg is less tasty than someone else’s. also, very exciting, i bought my plane ticket to uganda for my holiday in july. i will be visiting suz, going white water rafting at the source of the nile and generally exploring eastern africa. i think i will try and also go to rwanda and tanzania, finishing by taking the train from dar es salaam (the capital of tanzania) to zambia. the train ride is anywhere between 40-70 hours-ish, depending on basically everything from fuel to animals on the train tracks. personally this sounds great, although i’m sure i will smell awful after such a long ride!

weekend in solwezi

May 5, 2008

this past weekend in’utu and i decided to explore a bit more of zambia. we hoped on a 9 hour bus to northwestern zambia, to a town called solwezi, to visit our friend joe who works up there. the town is in zambia’s copper belt (a prosperous area with a lot of big mines) and is near the democratic republic of congo border. in consulting the trusty bradt guide, we were in fact told to basically avoid solwezi. the only redeeming quality apparently being the shoprite (a grocery store chain) that has in fact burnt down (a surprisingly common occurrence in zambia… usually greedy insurance scams are assumed to be the cause). despite this poor review, we set off on friday for what we were claiming to be our ‘rural african’ experience (despite in’utu growing up in lusaka, she is constantly trying to make claims of her rural experiences).


after waking up before five to make it to the bus station on time we arrived in solwezi just after three, making good time actually. we were forced to endure terrible nigerian movies for most of the way, only getting a brief break for a few episodes of prison break. needless to say, we were ready to get away from all the screaming and drama that usually are the main themes in nigerian films (they also generally tend to be over three hours long…). once in solwezi, we went by the market to pick up something for dinner. we decided to be brave and buy dried kapenta (a small fish, kind of like sardines i guess) and make it for dinner with some veggies and rice. it turned out quite well, although the mosi (zambian beer) probably made everything more palatable.


on saturday we woke up and went for a hike to the national monument in solwezi. the monument-stone carvings dating the oldest in southern africa- is near a beautiful and freezing cold stream which we spent some time lounging around on rocks. solwezi was very hot, although i did manage to mostly avoid a sunburn. we hung around for awhile, getting quite sleepy and generally feeling rested. so rested in fact, that the hike back out seemed a bit long… until a random taxi pulled out from nowhere and offered us a free ride back into town. we took it and went straight for ice cream… possibly my suggestion. the evening was topped off with drinks at the fancy hotel and a ridiculously overpriced carrot cake. being annoyed, we went back to joe’s house and made amazing pumpkin bread and played the guitar (well not me obviously) until we were tired and very full.


my plan to leave lusaka every couple of weeks continues. in a couple of weeks we are planning a canoe safari on the lower zambezi river… hopefully by the time i leave zambia i will be able to claim that i have experienced many of the towns/festivals/pubs/restaurants/natural wonders that it has to offer.

kuomboka ceremony

April 21, 2008

for all of you thinking, ‘jen, aren’t you in africa, why does your blog sound like you are working and doing research in canada?’ to that i would answer, there are always more similarities in the places that i visit than differences, especially in the capital cities. a city is a city. i watch movies in malls and drink coffee. things are different but also the same. fried chicken usually tastes better than in canada, even kfc is different (not that i’ve eaten kfc in canada since i was young… but you get the point).

last weekend i attended a traditional ceremony in the western province of zambia. for those of you who are wondering if i am experiencing your perception of africa, i am, only sometimes. this traditional ceremony, kuomboka, is a ceremony for the lozi people in western province. kuomboka means ‘to get out of water’ in lozi (one of the 72 languages in zambia but one of the main tribes). it happens at the end of the rainy season when the Litunga (King of the Lozi people) must move from one palace to another as the zambezi river has flooded the lower palace, Lealui, to the higher palace, Limulunga. thousands of people flood a town called mongu for the celebration.

karla, kristen and i set out to celebrate and enjoy kuomboka. after a few hiccups with transport, we decided to take the 9 hour bus to mongu early friday morning. we arrived at the bus station at 6am to buy our tickets for a bus that was meant to leave at 8am for mongu. at 11am we finally departed, after spending 5 hours standing in exhaust at the lusaka bus station. after a long trip, we arrived, tired in mongu. we went to our lodge and watched some traditional lozi dancing before heading to bed early.

the saturday morning we woke up again before 6 in order to get down to the docks to get a good boat for the day. the quality of the boat was emphasized as important by many zambians, as they are generally overloaded and apparently a few years ago a reporter drowned, something i was told numerous times. when we arrived at the dock there were many boats and people. the first boat we got into was leaking quite a lot, so we got out and found another boat. this one seemed fine, they gave us life jackets and even took our names, although the purpose of that was not clear.

we set out on a two hour boat ride to the Lealui. it was a very beautiful ride, past lots of very small villages (only three or four houses) and children waving at us. they kept calling out in unison, smiling and waving at us. i had no idea, but was later told, that the cute children were in fact not sending us warm wishes in lozi, but were saying “we are hungry.” this made my waving back and smiling seem a bit patronizing i imagine.

upon arriving at Lealui we waited around for the King and other important people to depart in their boats. the king leaves in a huge boat paddled by 99 (or so i’m told) men that are carefully chosen for the honour of paddling their king to the other palace. these men must train very hard as they paddle in perfect unison and it is quite beautiful. they also wear animal skins, mostly leopard. on top of the boat for the king is a huge elephant that has been made and whose ears and trunk move. it was difficult to see the whole procession. but, just as the king was leaving, a man asked karla if she would like to go out in his small canoe and follow the procession. so we jumped in to this canoe and had an amazing opportunity to go out on the water and see both the king and the queen’s boats up close as they paddled away. it was extremely beautiful, particularly because we were so close to the water and going out with other small canoes all in a fleet, the celebration was really great, although we almost missed our boat back to mongu because of the length of time we were following the king.

we than headed to the higher palace in the afternoon. the grounds were packed with people pushing and i did not enjoy it as much. we were pushed up against a rope in order to see the king and queen (who we finally saw). the trip from the lower palace to the higher palace took the king and his fleet about 6 hours or so to go by boat.

there was a scandal this year where apparently the king had already left the lower palace before the ceremony because of the high amount of water. a lot of older lozi’s were also talking about how some of the traditions were not being followed, the drums being played at the wrong time and such. considering the ceremony is now heavily promoted to tourists and the main cell phone provider and bank logos were everywhere, i imagine a lot of changes have been taking place.

we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and i wish i could upload photos for everyone to see. unfortunately i would like to write more but i have a busy day. last week was out of control because i had to finish my final papers in order to graduate from my masters!

i hope this short post makes people feel that i am at least getting the most out of my urban zambia experience, and do in fact leave the capital city. actually, on the drive back to lusaka we saw three elephants from the car window. i know we laugh when people pull over to take pictures of elk, but i certainly made our new friend who drove us back pull over for photos of elephants!


April 4, 2008

this week i am trying to whip my research into some kind of shape. so far, it is quite shapeless, but things are looking up. or at least, looking like any action is better than no action.

i had a meeting at the clinic where the research is taking place and felt like i was in front of a firing squad. 27 health professionals, mainly nurses, came to the information session regarding their role in the research project. now, no offense mom, you are the exception to the rule, but i have always found nurses mainly mean and intimidating people. this was multiplied by a hundred, or at least twenty seven. after i had finished explaining the study twice, a woman in charge asked me again to clarify the ‘logistics.’ so, for the third time, i went over all of the logistics for the research. she than asked me to clarify again, saying that she wanted to be frank and that really by ‘logistics’ she meant payment. as i am clearly not making the big bucks with my public health graduate research, i was both annoyed and sympathetic. i’m sure there are lots of times when people are taken advantage of by western researchers… but honestly, there is no budget! once this was clarified, an audible sigh circulated around the room. however, after all of the interrogation, enough people volunteered for the staff focus group (which includes food… and may i also add that someone asked what kind of food would specifically be provided).

please everyone wish me luck that the focus group goes smoothly on the 9th. i will than be frantically writing up preliminary research findings to be able to graduate in june (requiring that all documents be in by april 18th). i will than finish up the research after i have technically finished my master’s.

i am focusing on the staff participants currently, but patients also need to be recruited. this may be difficult given the lack of compensation. however, the overall study that i am under is providing a significant amount of funding to the clinic, particularly to the research coordinator they hired internally to the clinic. so, hopefully once the overall project starts, and the money is moving a bit more, my presence won’t elicit so many disappointed sighs.

holiday in zanzibar

March 28, 2008

this year i took a holiday and traded easter to celebrate mohammed’s birthday. i have spent the last 9 days on the island of zanzibar, off the east coast of tanzania-an island that is 95% muslim. so while i was sweating more than i ever have in my life, beautifully made up women wore makeup and henna on their hands, feet and face, without it running all over the place while the rest of their bodies were completely covered. i on the other hand, was wearing a lot of sunscreen and attempting to remain covered up and decent.

the holiday began in stone town, the main city in zanzibar. the buildings are beautiful and old. even in our budget hotel we had a bathroom sink carved out of one huge piece of stone. we were staying in what used to be a house for some important man’s harem. there was a beautiful rooftop restaurant where we ate breakfast everyday looking out onto the indian ocean. needless to say, i ate seafood for 9 straight days! a lot of squid, octopus, prawns, mussels, kingfish… anything i could get my hands on that wasn’t chicken. i ate from food markets as well as nice restaurants. i also took advantage of the daily happy hours by ordering amazing cocktails where the mix would include fresh fruit juice. i have also never ate/drank so many mangoes…. basically, the food was amazing. and when food, drink and sunsets are involved you can be certain that jules and i had a very romantic vacation.

in stone town we did a lot of shopping (surprising). we also went on a spice tour where we tried to identify all the spices from the plants, let me tell you, it was difficult. everything smells so much better before it is dried. we walked around in the sweltering heat crushing up leaves and smelling them. we ate a very fragrant lunch of curry with cloves and fish. we than headed to jozani forest, which is a huge forest that is home to the red colobus monkey, a very cheeky animal that is native to that specific forest. jules, myself and our guide walked around looking for the monkeys in the trees. we are trying to be quiet, not wanting to scare the monkeys, when one tries to leap over our heads and misjudges the distance, falling onto the shoulder of our tour guide and nearly taking us all out. thankfully, we didn’t scream to scare him away. so he just looked at us from the ground, shook himself, recovered and climbed onto the tree he had missed on the first attempt.

jules and i also went swimming with dolphins on the south end of the island. this involved putting on all of your snorkel gear and sitting at the very edge of a small motorboat poised to throw yourself overboard as soon as the boat caught up to the dolphins. this was a very exhausting but rewarding process that produced lots of bruises. the dolphins were beautiful underwater and dove very deep. obviously they have mastered swimming a bit better than me so it was difficult to keep up with them… hence getting in and out of the boat multiple times to catch up with them. we followed two around for about an hour before we went snorkeling.

after the south jules and i went up north to a small town called nungwi. we spent five relaxing days there, swimming, lying in the sand, snorkeling, scuba diving and reading in hammocks. really the opposite of landlocked zambia. more seafood and cocktails, including a full moon party that we had to take a midnight sailboat in order to dance the night away (see, every entry has at least one dancing story).

we met lots of really great people on our trip. two south africans (living in dubai) who basically had the same travel itinerary as us mocked jules and i saying that perhaps we should lighten up on the political debates during dinner, after all, we were on vacation. (obviously safe injection sites and legalized prostitution is perfectly acceptable dinner conversation… honestly). we also met a wonderful german girl studying medicine who will hopefully visit us in lusaka. two zanzibari boys were kind enough to show us around and make sure we didn’t get too lost in all the narrow streets of stone town.

so, basically, everyone should go to zanzibar. great food, small cute streets, lots of motorcycles and bikes, seriously blue water, sunsets, full moon parties, random people coming together… perfect beach holiday. and as long as you are travelling with jules and i, we will be sure to bring in the importance of social support and the problems with the world bank. obvs.