Sunday, March 23, 2014

First Few Weeks in Zambia !

Almost 2 weeks in Africa and so far all I can say is WOW. 
WOW – the people.
WOW – what a different world.
WOW - where the heck am I?

It has been quite the experience already. Starting in Lusaka was a blessing in disguise because it was an excellent bridge from Western life to African life. It is the Capital of Zambia and quite a large city but still very what you have seen as Africa on TV and whatnot. 
I know I was just so in shock coming here because I just couldn’t believe I was actually in Africa. A place I have only learned and heard about in school for the lions, giraffes, and elephants or through the Lion King. It has always just seemed like such a foreign world to me growing up in a town of 3000 people in Ontario, and now I’m actually living here. 
The biggest shock for a small town girl like me, who gets pretty overwhelmed in cities already, was the Lusaka bus station…. Lets just say I have never experienced ANYTHING like it. I know a lot of the girls felt the same way. Our instructor Jessica did caution us about what the bus station would be like which I am so thankful for. However, she could have described every detail of what we would experience there but I still would have been just as overwhelmed! So many people swarming the car from the moment we drove in, running with the car, everyone is yelling, asking us questions, and we just had no idea what to say or do! All the men around us were saying marry me, marry me, then trying to grab our bags to help take them to the bus but we didn’t know who to trust or where to go. Once we found the rest of the group and our bus, I realized how fast my heart was pumping, how my hands were shaking. It was so strange, but such an incredible experience! Followed by a very loooooonnnnnnngggggggg 9hour bus ride, which was surprisingly awesome! It was a perfect way to see the Zambian landscape and Africa! 
Mongu is amazing! We are in Africa here. There are cow/bull things on the side of the road, people walking everywhere all the time, chickens, stray dogs, etc etc etc. The foliage here is so beautiful as well! Everything is so green and the trees are awesome. The people are so nice and welcoming telling us they love all of us! They are so helpful and so tolerant of our attempts at speaking Lozi :P The kids that swarm us outside our compound are absolutely adorable. I am just so in love with the Lozi culture, language, people, and everything Mongu is about. 
This week for my clinical placement I was in the Out Patient Department (OPD), which is a mix between a clinic and an emergency department. It was a very interesting placement because I was an Employed Student Nurse (ESN) in Kelowna Emergency this past summer and I got to see the difference between Canadian emergency department and Zambian emergency department. There is no way I can compare the two because it’s just a completely different system and world here. It definitely took me a couple days to get comfortable with my place and role while working there. By the end of Friday, I really wished I could have had a few more days there because I was really starting to get comfortable with my place in the team. I  am starting to understand the balance between understanding their ways and letting be, and the role we Canadian nurses have in modeling better care and education. 
The thing I found the most different working in OPD was the sense of urgency of patient care. In Canada, we nurses are very go, go go, and urgent. Here, it seems as though urgency is not an issue. The nurses here are very calm when emergencies come in which at first felt to me very wrong because it felt like the patient wasn't important. But getting more comfortable working with the nurses in OPD, I realize their less urgent nature is something to admire. The lesson I learned from this experience is taking the few moments to be calm and truly assess the situation. Also, it's not that these nurses are ignoring their patients, but they see so many severely ill and critical patients on such a regular basis that it almost is a positive coping mechanism to just be calm, otherwise extreme burnout would be inevitable. I am taking away an experience of understanding that the emergency culture here is very different than home and both places have positives and negatives to them. 
Overall, I wish I could put into words the experience we have had here but there is already too much to say and not  enough words to describe the experiences! I think we all can say, Zambia is incredible and we are all looking forward to this crazy adventure called Africa! Until next time! 
P.S. thanks for reading our blog! 

-Caitlan S


  1. Dear Caitlin,

    As an old emergency nurse, reading your post was a special experience. I too worked in an emergency in another place - rural Australia in the outback - in the late 70's (yes I am that old!). I can recall how limited those resources seemd to me after being an ER nurse in a Canadian city - and how remote it felt to be out there with a few other nurses, a midwife, and a visiting doctor. Yet, I know from my visit to Mongu last year how plentiful that outback environment was back then, compared to what you experienced this week. And you are so right: burnout would be inevitable without a long view and the calm that comes with that. You have already adapted much better than you think! Thanks for sharing your stories - I will keep reading them as long as you post them,


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  3. Susan Christopherson Hi Karen, I tried to post the following comment on the above blog but it wouldn't let me. Please forward this on to Caitlan and her fellow students for me and maybe they can add it if they would like to: "Dear Jackie, Jessie and UBC-O Nurses in Zambia 2014 Students,

    I am an English relation of Caitlan's living in Spain and have just received the link to your blog. Having read all of your posts from before your departure up to today's (23 March) I wanted to tell you what an amazing insight you have all shared into your individual experiences, the incredible people and culture in Zambia and the sheer differences between the two countries/medical establishments. You are all doing amazing things there as well as demonstrating how strong and stoic the Zambian mothers and babies, along with the medical team, are. Particularly when coping with often limited facilities. I wish you all the best of luck for the remainder of your trip and, from somebody who works in the (boring by comparison) financial world, I am in awe of you. Thank you for sharing your fascinating experiences into your nursing/medical world and I have no doubt the Zambian people and yourselves will have found this life experience mutually-beneficial/insightful.

    Very best wishes and good luck for the future to you all,
    Susan Christopherson"