It is hard to believe that my time in Lusaka, Zambia is already coming to an end and I have to say, while there are reasons I am excited to return home, I am not too eager to leave the life I have started to create here. The local community in Lusaka is very supportive, inclusive and genuine and is full of interesting professionals which I am glad I had the chance to meet. I am grateful for the opportunity to mingle with people working at some of the leading international development and global health agencies such as the United Nations, the Ministry of Health and the CDC at a weekend braii (what we would call a barbeque or cookout) and to be able to talk to them about their work and experiences living in Zambia and other parts of the world.
While it took some time, I feel like I have adapted to the more laid-back lifestyle in Zambia and have enjoyed that fact that it is less stressful than back home. I can understand why I have met so many people who moved to Lusaka for what was supposed to be a few months or a year and have now been here for multiple years, some over 20. There does not seem to be the same sense of competitiveness and hurry that I often find myself caught up in while living and working back in the States. Now, there have been times I wished for a greater sense of urgency; like when we were without running water for a week because of a broken pipe, or sitting in the dark for four hours a day while the electricity was turned off, or stuck on the side of the road for hours at night because our bus broke down. Back in the States, moments like these would have thrown a wrench into my entire day and launched me into action to try and rectify what are, at the end of the day actually pretty minor, inconveniences. But here I find myself, more often than not, finding humor in these situations, doing what I can to change my routine but otherwise, accepting these are things I have no control over. I believe I am leaving Lusaka more relaxed with greater patience and a stronger ability to accept the things I cannot control.
At work, I feel that I have learned so much about the healthcare system in Zambia and am better able to understand problems the local healthcare system faces. I am leaving with many things to think about in terms of my potential role in developing solutions to strengthening local healthcare systems in low-and-middle-income countries (LMIC). My work in Zambia had me at the University Teaching Hospital almost every day and while most of my time was in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) or the research office, I also spent time in the delivery ward (witnessing my first birth!) and the Kangaroo Mother Care unit. I had the opportunity to speak to many professionals who have been a part of the healthcare system for years. I have spent most of my time here collecting and analyzing data related to neonatal health outcomes in order to quantify the cost of care for preterm births. I was keenly interested to learn how the hospital collects and analyzes data in order to report statistics, primarily on patient outcomes, to the local government and Ministry of Health. This was a great opportunity to see the challenges faced in collecting quality data on health outcomes and how this data is used (or not used) to drive decision making.
Overall, my time in Zambia has been wonderful and I feel that I have grown both personally and professionally. I have learned to be more flexible and adaptable and how to overcome obstacles that came up during our research, critically thinking about how to course-correct and move forward. I also feel I have greater appreciation of the importance of understanding the local context when working in different communities. I gained the most insight when I took the time to observe and listen to others, and put my initial assumptions and opinions aside.
It seems almost surreal that my time here is almost up and soon I will be back in class at UNC but I am sure that I will return to Zambia again.