Lusaka 11 April 2016
Suddenly we have three appointments at the same time. The wonderful Dr. Maria has done it again; everyone we want to talk to today is available. “They’re here,” she says triumphantly. “Off you go!”
We are pleased, of course, very happy, but we now have a bit of a problem. Two of the three patients we want to talk to, will have to wait. At least an hour and a half!
I sketch the somewhat uncomfortable situation for Dr. Maria. She doesn’t seem to see the problem.
“If you start with the father and his son, the others will wait.”
“Our conversation with Mr. Hondo and Nwongo could take a while. Maybe more than an hour! ”
But the sweetest doctor in all of Africa, this divine pearl, who was given the most perfect name at her birth: Maria, still doesn’t see a problem.
“Yes, and? They won’t mind. They’re used to it.”
I look at the large woman with the baby at her breast. She is sitting with Alex, her thirteen-year-old son, tightly against her. I know that they’ve already had a long day on the road.
She doesn’t flinch. She smiles and nods encouragingly at me. I bend over and start talking softly to her. But this woman barely speaks English. My crazy attempt to explain how this misunderstanding came about with all these appointments, and my half-hearted apology are met with just her kind eyes. Fool, I think. What are you trying to solve?! Stupid Dutch fool! Just leave it and get to work!
“You wait,” I tell her, and make a hasty retreat.
There’s a lot of waiting in Zambia. A lot. In the HIV clinic where a big sign ‘Centre of Excellence’ hangs above the entrance, the hallways are packed with waiting women. You have to be in desperate need of a doctor to join the queue here, I think. Yet no one is discouraged by this hopeless picture. Nobody walks away. No, you’re here, finally, after the long journey, and you wait.
A few hours later, the impressive conversation with Mr. Hondo and Nwongo ends. I walk back into the waiting room. Mother, baby and Alex are still on the same bench in the same position. As if time had stood still and they were just waiting for me to bring them back to life again.
How long, I wonder. How long will Zambians have to wait until the waiting ends? Who or what will bring this country back to life? When does the future begin? What are the prospects? How long will it take before they become irritated, like we in the West, with double booked appointments? When will someone loudly demand a doctor when they arrive at the hospital?
I don’t know. Neither do the Zambians. It’s a case of waiting.