Hospital Opening in Chipata

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Chipata is a city in the northeastern part of Zambia, known as Eastern Province.  It’s a border town near Malawi, on the edge of South Luangwa National Park, which makes it busy!  Not anything like Lusaka, but by Zambian standards it’s big town.  There is a large military base there and extensive NGO outreach projects to address HIV/AIDS, making it an ideal place to do some hospital renovations.  Our Defense Attaché asked me to go and I was only too happy to join him!  A little bush plane flew us out to Chipata, on the periphery of Zambia’s wilderness.  It’s really magical out there.  Expansive, wide, with violet shadows and orange sunsets, all surrounded by waving grass and the subliminal silence of nature.

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Here is our group in front of the new hospital (I am taking the picture!)

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The next morning we arrived early for the opening ceremonies.  Zambia is big on ceremony.  Speeches, dancing, poetry, more speeches, all following strict protocols about who addresses whom and where we sit during the event.  I was able to slink into the background with my camera, my favorite place, while Tony and Chris paid court to the dignitaries.

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Hundreds of people had gathered to watch and pay their respects.  As the performers lined up and the drums rolled out, the Zambian culture of hospitality, music, and dance stunned me into smiling and clapping like a little kid.  It was amazing!  Group after group, singing songs and reciting poetry, dancing together and bringing all those hundreds of people to their feet laughing and swaying to the music.  Have two hours really already passed?  And this is just to open a small hospital!

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Whatever Africa may lack in economic development, the contributions it makes to the culture of the world is almost beyond Western comprehension.  To see a people so connected, to each other and to the rhythms of whatever makes the world pulse with life, turn my own doubts on the value of our spread sheets and schedules and clocks.

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There is really more than one way to live successfully, isn’t there?

More pictures of the performances we saw today:

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I liked that even though they had costumes, everyone wore different socks:

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It’s customary for the officials viewing the performance to get up and join the dancers to give tips.  They tuck bills into the dancers’ clothes, both men and women.  Interesting practice to see in broad daylight….

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After all the performances and speeches were over we all watched the ribbon-cutting,

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Then joined the officers at the Officer’s Club for lunch.  I suppose it could have been a boozy affair, but the Health Minister and Guest of Honor ordered a Coke, which meant that’s what the rest of us had too.  Officer’s Clubs are similar everywhere.  A long, shiny, brass-handled bar, TV with sports playing, a pool table, flags, and soft leather couches that sink when you sit down.  We all filed through the buffet line and I think I shocked everyone when I chose nshima and grilled fish instead of the Western-style pasta with meatballs.  I wish I could say that it was because I was trying to make friends (which works, by the way), but it was actually because I like nshima, and grilled fish in this land-locked country is a treat!  In this picture I’ve already picked off some of the fish, but it was whole when I started.  It’s hard to take pictures of your food without looking like a weirdo…

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Wow, what a wonderful experience.  What a wonderful day.

I’m not an economist, and I’m not a politician.  I see the world through the lens I was given and try to figure out what makes sense.  There are deep, complex problems here.  The prevalence of HIV/AIDS will affect Zambia for generations to come.  Every day throughout the entire country, the power is off for 6-10 hours at a time for “load-shedding,” which means the electricity and the water simply don’t work.  My Zambian staff at the Embassy haven’t had power or water for weeks, and when it does come on for a few hours in the middle of the night (which is usually when it comes back), they wake up to fill buckets and bathtubs to get them through the cooking, bathing only happens with whatever is left.  But as in all countries, we have our own issues.  In the U.S. we have to worry about getting killed when we go to school or church, and every day we fight the excesses of a food supply polluted with chemicals and factory engineering that make us the most obese population on earth.  So which of us are more advanced?

Working together.  Learning from each other.  Taking the life, or the lens, we’ve been given and continuing to try and make it better.  That sounds like a good enough way forward to me.

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