Sunday, February 14, 2010

Another Day in Two Worlds

We set off early Saturday morning for an outreach to Simalundu to do teacher training and leadership classes. We quickly filled the Land Cruiser with passengers. Rodgers, Sylvia, and Fortune came along to translate for David and me, Ellie Hamby and Elizabeth Halale wanted to talk to the community about the medical mission in July, and Austin Siabeenzu came to record singing groups for Namwianga's radio station.

We bumped over the infamous washboard stretches of the Kabanga Road for the first two hours before making the turnoff to Simalundu. Then it was another hour and a half of bone-jarring misery as we dodged potholes, rolled through mudholes, and careened over eroded ravines in the roadbed. After that brutal journey we were greeted by the Simalundu ladies clapping and singing to welcome us--and were blasted by the baking heat that provides yet another reason why very few people ever make it to Simalundu, and even fewer ever choose to return.

The Simalundu community was created in the late fifties when the Tonga people were displaced by the building of the Kariba Dam. They were torn from the fertile areas of the Gwembe Valley they had farmed for centuries and dropped into the barren, desolate area that is now called Simalundu. There were no programs to help them, no resettlement assistance; they were left alone to survive as best they could.

Today Simalundu has an elementary school, a grain storage building, and a clinic building--with no medical personnel to staff it. Untrained workers dispense what little medicine is available. The church, though, is large and active, and on Saturday five local congregations gathered for our workshop. We started out in the grain storage building--a metal structure built by World Vision for food relief efforts. Ellie Hamby and Elizabeth Halale addressed the group and talked about plans for the July medical mission. A few minutes of that oppressive heat and we were relieved to dismiss our classes outside to meet under the trees.

My class went well, and as we sat around talking afterward, I asked the ladies about some of our students at Namwianga who are from Simalundu. We were told that Eric, a recent high school graduate, had been bitten by a very poisonous snake called a puff adder recently. Since both my translators, Sylvia and Fortune, are nurses, we took them and headed over to see Eric. He had received some traditional herbal treatment, but his foot was swollen and he was obviously in pain. Fortune and Sylvia agreed he needed to go back to Namwianga for treatment.

Some of the women had prepared a delicious dinner of chicken and nsima for us. It was 3:00 before we finished and started loading up for the return trip. We managed to squeeze Eric and a friend of his into our already crowded vehicle and started off. The next three and a half hours were another endurance test over the awful roads. At Namwianga we dropped off Eric and his friend, assured by Fortune that he would get antibiotics and a tetanus shot that night and be ready to go back to Simalundu on Monday--the only day there is any public transport available.

We had only been home a few minutes when I got a Skype message on the computer from our friends in Austin who were hosting our daughter-in-law Leah's baby shower. We had our camera on, and they had theirs on, and through the marvels of Skype technology, I was able to participate in the shower. I got to greet most of the guests and see the baby gifts for our first grandchild.

I was struck once again with the realization that technology allows me to live in two very different worlds.

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