Amsterdam 31 maart 2016
Cheerful voices, wanderings in the night and Ponda!
‘Ohhhh, hallooooooo Erwin! I can hear you…How lovely! This is the first time that we hear each other’s voices… Hahaha, after all those e-mails we are actually talking to each other… How are you?’
The cheerful voice on the other side of the line feels like a ray of sunshine. I give the woman all the time in the world and indulge myself with her unstoppable Zambian cheerfulness.
‘Everyone is looking forward to you coming. All the doctors, all the nurses, all the boys and girls…We are going to have such a fine time. What’s it like in Amsterdam? Is it still winter, are you still wearing that silly hat or is the sun shining? At last it’s raining here, rain at last….so good! We’d like a lot more!’
I surrender. Put the laptop down and lie down. Quality time! Wonderful!! African quality time. Just what I needed. ‘We’ll bring as much rain as we can for you, I say, we’ve got enough here.’
A hearty scream which flows seamlessly into long laughter blows my last doubts away. After I’ve hung up ten minutes later I realise I haven’t asked one question from the list which I‘d put together so carefully. It’ll be fine in Lusaka, I think. It will be fine.
That warm enthusiasm which all our contacts so typify from the start is in complete contrast with the reason for our visit. The HIV and AIDS epidemic has wreaked enormous havoc in this African country in recent decades and it is far from under control. One in seven adults is infected and there are about half a million orphans: in a population of just fourteen million people…frighteningly high numbers. Unimaginably high. I have no idea what these numbers mean for a country. What does this do to the people!? Is there panic or fear or are these ridiculous concepts for the average Zambian?
Everything is being done by international community, the Zambian authorities and doctors to turn the tide. One of the new initiatives is New Horizon: a programme whose aim is to provide children and young people up to the age of 18 with the correct HIV medication. As simple as that sounds it is really difficult. Firstly most children have a complicated medical past and secondly the stigma connected to HIV is huge, and many children want nothing to do with HIV doctors and HIV medication…
It’s 3 o’ clock in the morning and the lightness of the Zambian existence is far away. Just like my sleep. With a big cup of tea I wander restlessly around the living room. I just can’t get rid of my worries. I’ve never been to Zambia. What do I really know about that country!?
The digital clock on my computer says 3.13. Two seconds later I see a new e-mail come in. From Zambia. I open the message and look into the happy eyes of a man working on the land. It’s Ponda, our guide and chauffeur in Lusaka. Under the photo it says: ‘Good morning Mister Erwin. I just wanted to let you know all is fine here. It’s still raining. See you next week. Ponda!’
‘Thank you Ponda’ I whisper and shut down the computer.