Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Everyone Dance Now

i'm currently in lusaka, i just returned from about 9 days of hanging out with my parents and sister in cape town, south africa. it was a great time that i'll probably write more about later, for now i'm going to mention a few things about life back here in zambia.

a lot of you have asked exactly what i'll be doing in my new job in lusaka; the short answer is, i don't know. the program is relatively new and just starting to go nation-wide, so there are a lot of as yet unspecified work areas within the program that i'll be able to work on. the project itself has been initiated by the center for disease control (cdc) with pepfar (president's emergency plan for aids relief) funding. the cdc contacted peace corps and asked if there were any volunteers who could help them on the project as they needed people with village level experience, people who knew how to interact with villagers, explain concepts simply and clearly, organize village meetings, etc. since my peace corps group has an overlap problem that is forcing us out of our villages early, it worked out perfectly for me to join up with the cdc project. the title of the project is smartcare, and it has developed a small card with an embedded computer chip that will hold a person's entire medical history. the card can be read by a specially designed software program, so if a patient enters any clinic in zambia with smartcare capabilities, his medical information can be accessed by the clinic officer. currently all medical records are found in paper exercise books stacked in the clinics (if they bother to keep records at all), which obviously presents any number of problems. if the smartcare program is successfully implemented in zambia, it will be much simpler to track disease statistics (including hiv) and will help clinic officers accurately diagnose health problems and prescribe the proper treatment. it's a colossal undertaking as only 5 pilot clinics have smartcare currently, and the cdc has now started the process of getting the program into every clinic and hospital in the country. so, i and a couple other pcv's (and some ngo's and the zambian ministry of health, they'll help a little too) will be helping them do that in some capacity or another. so, in mid-january i will be moving to lusaka and start working with the cdc. obviously, leaving so early is bringing sooner than expected a lot of the emotions i thought i wouldn't have to deal with for a while about moving from my village. to keep it simple, it's a roller coaster, with doubt, sadness, guilt (that ever-present friend of all pcv's), happiness, etc., all making themselves felt. but, ultimately i know this is a great opportunity to do some valuable work.

i've mentioned before zambians' kindness and hospitality, but something i don't think i wrote about was that this concern for muzungus' well-being seems to be shared even by strangers. my pet theory concerning this phenomenon is that all white people are seen as foreigners (the meaning of the word muzungu, a word directed at me approximately 6 million times a day), which means they're guests, which means hospitality usually demands that they be treated helpfully. i left my bike in kawambwa one day to accompany tom, my missionary friend, to kazembe to look at the orphanage he was building. on our way back it began to pour, and i had visions of my bike getting entirely drenched. when we arrived at the store where i'd left it the bike was sitting underneath the roofed porch and a zambian man i'd never seen before was drying it off with a rag.

similarly, i was recently riding in a minibus up to kawambwa and hating every second of it. my knees were ground into the seat ahead of me and i was carrying my heavy bag on my lap as there was no place to set it. people were pressing into me from the side and behind, and sweat was trickling down my back while the hot, stagnant air reeked of body odor and fish. then, we drove into a rain storm and suddenly water was pouring down the side of my face from a leak just above my head. the entire bus erupted into a chorus of 'tsks, tsks' and the man behind me thrust his cupped hands out to try to catch the stream. there was a general stirring as people squirmed and twisted to make way for a bucket to be passed forward, which the man held up to the leak until it stopped. i slumped forward, wet and still hot, tired, miserable, and wishing the ride was over, but with one difference: now i was smiling.

we recently had a week-long workshop in mansa and instituted a rule with punitive intent: if you were late to sessions, you had to sing and dance in front of the entire group. the only problem is, zambians love singing and dancing and are blessed with virtually no self-consciousness; the only people hustling to their seats were the americans while the zambians continued to amble in leisurely. several times, a zambian would be serving his sentence in front of the group and be joined by other zambians of their own free will. at one point dan's two counterparts were up singing and dancing; dan, being new to the country, trying to be supportive and engaged, and forgetting that he is white, joined them. now, i've reflected a lot on zambians' previously mentioned un-self-consciousness, and concluded that part of it is that they're tremendous dancers, so they have no reason to be embarrassed. this is not true for white, male pcv's, however, of which dan is one. furthermore, sometimes a pcv's self-delusion concerning his dancing skills, coupled with zambians' supportive attitude and general unwillingness to criticize a muzungu, can result in some truly heinous dance moves. dan entered the fray and immediately perpetrated a flamenco/macarena hybrid dance on the unsuspecting crowd; this being a professional occasion i had to content myself with chortling behind my hand and biting back the taunts that instantly sprang to mind.

but here again is one of the beauties of living in zambia: it's okay to be a rotten dancer. no matter how wretchedly uncoordinated and awkward one looks on the dance floor, you're still going to be a rock star--a standing joke in pc circles is that the first time a volunteer dances in the states he will find himself alone in the middle of the dance floor, gyrating clumsily and wondering why he's not being mobbed by happy people wanting to dance with him. so, later that night as i found myself with my arms slung around the shoulders of two sweaty zambian guys as we hopped around the dance floor in time to the beat of euro-techno music, i had reason, not for the first time, to be grateful that they don't mind terrible dancing here.

No comments: