4 a.m., May 24th, I began my approximately 18-hour long journey to Lusaka, Zambia. I had already begun to strategically think about which flights I was going to nap on and what shows to watch during my layovers. However, as life so often entails, I was not prepared for the unexpected curveballs that came my way on this journey.
From RDU Airport, my flight was intended to go through Washington Dulles International Airport to then Bole Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to then Lusaka via Ethiopian Airlines. What was meant to be a 4-hour layover in Washington Dulles International Airport turned out to be an 8-hour layover, causing me to miss my connecting flight from Addis to Lusaka.
While this sounds like a dreadful, prolonged awful story to my destination this was perhaps one of the best detours that could have ever happened in my life.
I am a first-generation American with my family’s countries of origin being Ethiopia and Eritrea. My family fled to the United States as asylum seekers in the early 1990s due to the communism uproar that had occurred in Ethiopia known as the Derg regime. Since then, most of my family have not returned back home either due to their family moving, passing away or due to fear of political persecution until recently with our most current change in our Prime Minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed. That said, a country that I had felt so connected to by blood and spirit, that had driven me to pursue a career in public health and that had even led me to pursue an opportunity to work on my continent through the Zambia-Hub, was a country I had never been to for these reasons.
Ethiopian Airlines was accommodating enough to provide me and the many others who had missed our connecting flights a free-stay at the Zola International Hotel overnight, and since I had a good friend of mine (thanks Meki!) staying in Addis for a fellowship, I reached out to her to experience as much as I could in an evening/night.
I perhaps slept a max of 1.5 hours that night (and yes I thoroughly enjoyed it!) and then arrived to Bole Airport to depart to Lusaka. The flight I was redirected to had an additional connection in Harare, Zimbabwe which was brief but also an interesting experience to observe and bask in.
Once I finally arrived in Lusaka (2.5 days later) I was exhausted but had felt so invigorated to experience the unexpected just on my way here. Moreover, once I had arrived in Lusaka I found out my neighbors were Ethiopian and was immediately (as in 30 minutes upon arrival to Lusaka) invited to a baby shower where I was fed full and met a community I could feel a part of while staying here.
The African continent has always felt like home to me, but I must say Lusaka has surely welcomed me with open arms.
This has only been my first week in the office and I am super excited to begin working on some of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the MP3 Study. One of my first tasks will be creating a SOP and training materials for the HIV self-testing kits used in this project and familiarizing myself with the REDCap platform which is being used to store our program data.
I can only imagine what other surprises Lusaka has in store for me and the impact I will be making with my work here because, as per my journey, it is clear that this was the path I was supposed to take.