I have been in Zambian long enough now that I am starting to revisit the villages. I was quite excited to return to Mukubwe. I visited this site before I became overwhelmed with the challenges at the clinics… the days when I had time to give into-to-English lessons with the roomful of children and followed by hours of chase. A group of the older boys had asked if I could bring them a soccer ball (what they were using barely was deflated and torn to pieces) when I returned. I nearly forgot the promise and had to scramble around town looking for a ball to buy the night before I set off for the visit.
After several hours of retraining the staff (for a third time) on the protocols, I made my way across the field from the clinic to the school, the usual frustration and anxiety taking over my thoughts. Immediately children appeared out of the elephant grass and ran towards me. I knew they recognized me, as all children run away from musungus, not towards upon first meeting. With each hug, my earlier frustrations became less and less urgent and the anxiety dissipated.
I found the headmaster to give him the ball, as I didn’t want to make a scene. I remembered the days in Guguletu in which visitors would bring gifts to the after-school care program and without fail, there was never enough and I would have to deal with the disappointed children. The headmaster was very pleased with the gesture and insisted we deliver the ball to the field, where a game was already in session. Thus, the scene that I was avoiding became magnified. A train of children followed behind me to the field, as if I was playing a magical flute. The soccer game stopped as I approached and the ball was spotted in the headmaster’s hands. The coaches left the sidelines to shake my hand, and the ball was closely examined, passed, kicked and bounced, as grins spread from face to face. Then the inevitable… everyone sang a song for me. The clinic officer said on the way back, ‘you have made everyone very happy today – they will celebrate’.However, I only felt like a giant ass…. the great musungu saves the day with a $10 soccer ball. I wish I would have just left the ball on the school steps with note… I wish I had brought more…I wish I could do more.
I went to bed that night still thinking about all the events of the day, particularly all the challenges at the clinic, and woke in the morning in need of a clinic. It is hard to pinpoint who is to blame. As I look through the pictures from that day, every child had a runny nose and one coach even picked his nose before extending it to shake my hand (yup a folk, that is right— I still shook his hand). Nonetheless, my throat was raw, my nose was running and every bone in my body ached. No time to nurse a cold though. With each pothole on the rural road, my body screamed back at me. We traveled from 7:30am until 12:30am that day, only reaching two clinics. As I stared out the window, feeling bad for myself, I thought of the many women I have described with pregnancy-related complications, in far greater pain than me, who had to make life-saving journeys on these roads and only in a vehicle if they were lucky. Suddenly, my discomfort was not so important.