Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Honest Musungu

Through the site visits, I am not just learning about rural healthcare, but also the rural economy. Each trip is laden with purchases from local producers. The prices are considerably cheaper than Lusaka, so the team I travel with goes out of their way to purchase whatever is available (It can be rather ridiculous at times). But everything must be bought in large quantities. I came home from the first site visit with 13 eggplants, 9 cucumbers, 17 green peppers and 20 tomatoes.

Each province specializes in different crops, insects and rodents. Mice were the specialty in the Eastern Province. In the Northern Province, location of the most recent site visit, the hot items were cassava, groundnuts, rice and caterpillars. I had no interest in buying caterpillars or rice – especially the minimum of 100 pounds – but I was suckered into purchasing groundnuts (peanuts, shelled and fresh from ground). For a whopping 10,000 kwacha ($2), I returned to Lusaka with at least 6 pounds of groundnuts. As for cassava – I had no idea what it was…

It so happens that this very popular starch is in fact a root. We stopped at a cassava farm on the last day. After the purchases were made, the owner of the farm suggested I try some. She brought out a plate with large chunks of raw cassava, which had been soaking and softening in water. I took a bite and nodded approval. Then our team of four hopped in the truck and we continued down the road. They all kept watching me take small bites and finally one asked, “So what do you really think?” “Well… I think it tastes horrible...” Relieved that I no longer had to pretend I liked it, I chucked what remained out the window. Everyone laughed, agreed, and threw theirs out the window as well. It turns out that while the rural folks have an abundance of cassava, the city-folk are better at preparing it – I heard stories of roasting, buttering, and salting cassava for the next 20 minutes. (It also so happens that while the rural folks are incredibly lean and healthy, over 30% of people in Lusaka are considered obese).

We continued our journey from the farm. Once we reached the main town area, we stopped at a health provider’s house because I was hoping to retrain her on some of the technical aspects of the project. The provider worked and stayed at the rural health center the majority of the time, but occasionally visited her family in town, which was the case this day. Unfortunately, her daughter informed us that we had just missed her and she was already heading back to the rural health center. As we drove down the road from her house, we almost ran over a drunken man who was stumbling towards us. A colleague explained that it was her husband and that he was always drunk, had to stop working as a result, blah, blah, blah. The conversation then turned to how everyone was surprised that she went back to the rural village on a Saturday night, instead of staying in town until Sunday or Monday morning.

“If he was my husband, I would go back on a Saturday night too”, I commented.

“Musungu – you have made me laugh today”, I heard from the front seat.

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