This summer, I have been working as a research intern for the NIH-funded Methods for Prevention Packages Program (MP3) study. This multi-component intervention study is at its formative stage and primarily aims to explore if the secondary distribution of HIV self-test kits (SD-HIVST) to pregnant women will increase HIV testing among their male partners. It also plans to explore if the integration of adherence supporters and integrated next step counselling will improve ART and PrEP adherence among pregnant women in Lusaka, Zambia. As a result, I’ve spent most my time here strengthening data collection instruments, assessing questionnaire items, designing semi-structured interview guides, creating training materials for study protocols, and outlining the study’s logic model and timeline plan.
That said, I’ve learned a lot in terms of research design and HIV prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) in Zambia, but have also learned a lot about Zambian culture over the past 6 weeks.
If you read my first blog, The Path You Must Take, it may have seemed as though my bad luck with a missed connection flight turned into an amazing unexpected journey and phenomenal arrival to Zambia, which it did. However, if I tell you that this was not an isolated incident you may begin to think that I just have bad luck with transportation.
Well, this was not an isolated incident (ha ha).
12 p.m., June 21 – Two friends and I began our supposed 8-hour bus journey to Livingstone, Zambia, more famously known as one of the cities bordering Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and being in Zambia, it was a given that I must go to visit.
8 p.m., June 21 – This is the moment where I should be detailing my first impression of the city, but given my adventurous destiny, this is actually the moment where I realize we are in a conundrum.
At around sunset, our #1 recommended bus company breaks down. Now you may think “well these things happen all the time”, apparently not (which is probably a good thing in general but a bad thing for us).
Where I have circled in yellow is approximately where I believe the bus broke down and what also appears to be the halfway point between Lusaka and Livingstone.
As I mentioned earlier, it is around sunset when the bus breaks down so what you see here is about all I could see in person as well (I promise this story has a happy ending).
At this point, it’s pitch black outside with nothing nearby, extremely cold given its winter season in Zambia, poor signal and to top it off my friends and I hadn’t eaten for approximately 7 hours. The bus company informs us that they are trying to dispatch the nearest bus but that it would be a couple of hours. That said, the bus drivers attempted to help all of us get on passing buses that were on the way to various destinations.
My friends and I befriended a man by the name of Isaac who helped us drastically when it came to which bus to hop on and where to get off. By the time we arrived to Livingstone it was close to 1 a.m. and Isaac called us a cab to make sure we got to our hostel safely.
This trip as a whole has not only shown me how to improve my analytical research skills but has also shown me the amazing familial-like ties people in Zambia are so quick to form. From being brought in to a baby shower like family, to being called “mama” out of respect everywhere I go, to then being protected and escorted by new friends on the bus – Zambia has been a phenomenal place with phenomenal people. I will truly miss it but let this not be goodbye forever.
Toki sio [see you later].