During one of our first days here in Mongu, Sister Christina made the comment “When you travel Africa, and you see the way a certain woman walks, you know she is from Mongu. Losi women stand tall”. When I heard this, it didn’t entirely make sense, but it stuck with me. Yesterday, during my second day in the HIV clinic, it clicked, and I knew exactly what she meant with those words. The women here really do stand tall with an unbreakable pride and poise. I first noticed this with a little girl who came through my line up to get her vitals and weight taken. She was just 9 years old, with a clean card. All of the patient history cards I saw that day were folded and tattered, with numbers and dates written all over, but hers was new. I started writing the date on her clean, unfolded sheet when it hit me that the only probable cause of this young girl suddenly becoming infected with HIV was rape. She seized up when I came at her with a thermometer, and it took her a while for her heart rate to calm down while I held her hand taking her pulse. She was timid, unsure and scared of my touch, but she held her head high and her gaze straight. When we were finished, the little girl stood up and walked away with an incredible posture. This is when I first understood Sister Christina’s words. There was this tiny, frail and sick child who had been through more than any child ever should, walking away tall with unbroken spirit. I started paying attention after this, to every woman who sat on my bench then walked away. Some of them had bruises on their faces, crippled limbs, and dried blood around their mouth, 3 sick kids hanging off their exhausted bodies; all of them had advanced HIV or AIDS, and most have probably lived a life full of hardship and pain that I will never understand, yet ALL of them stood tall with the most incredible posture and gait I have ever seen. Losi women stand tall!
When you see a woman walking along the side of the road in an incredible heat with a baby strapped to her back, a bucket of water balancing on her head, her hands full with the weight of bagged coal, and she’s still walking tall and proud through her pain and hunger, your own struggles suddenly fall into perspective.
I’ve gained many new perspectives since being here, and I’m thinking that Zambia has a lot more in store for me.