Global Health Travel Blog

UNC Gillings students share their global field experiences around the world.

Category: Rebekah

Dear, Zambia

Victoria Falls

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).

Wall from Café Zambezi – Livingstone, Zambia

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.

The bus.

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.

In front of the Devil Pools at Victoria Falls

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].

– Rebekah

The Path You Must Take

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.

Effoi Pizza Restaurant in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Effoi Pizza Restaurant in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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 baby shower in Lusaka, Zambia

The baby shower in Lusaka, Zambia.

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.

-Rebekah