Before I came to Zambia, I had done a fair amount of learning and research on the country and the common health challenges seen here. However, there is no easy, catch-all method of fully preparing you for the realities of life here. So while I knew that there was a larger population of HIV in Zambia compared to Canada, it was still a shock to work at an anti-retroviral therapy (ART) clinic and experience the sheer amount and variety of people who came there. And through I knew intellectually that malnutrition stunts growth, I was still startled to learn that the boy I was talking with was not 10 or 11, but 17. This has happened again and again, where I see a child and, due to their height and appearance, believe that they are many years younger than they are. And even though I knew that there is a larger population of children compared to adults in Zambia, it's still surprising to work at the hospital or in clinics and see children instead of older adults.
These examples are only a few of the many situations which have shown me how much more there is to learn, and how the reality of life can surprise and shock you.
During these past two weeks I have spent time at rural and urban health clinics. I have seen a lot of clients come through, mostly children and new/expecting mothers. With so many clients, there are bound to be ups and downs; things that are familiar and new. I made a child cry because she was afraid of my white skin. I made mothers laugh with my attempts to pronounce their unfamiliar names...and slowly, with help, I became better. I grew more accustomed to making a preliminary diagnosis based on symptoms, without the myriad of tests that are available in Canada. I relearned how to take a blood pressure manually, and I discovered that you don't need to speak the same language to communicate - a simple smile (or elaborate game of charades) can work wonders.
Throughout this practicum I have been learning so much here from the Zambian health professionals and students. I learned about malaria, HIV, ART, and TB. I learned about my Zambian counterparts, the midwife and nursing students. I talked with people, young and old, about everything under the sun. I've seen new babies, new mothers, and children of all ages. I've seen grandmothers, sisters, brothers, and fathers.
Despite all that I've seen and experienced, I know that there is still so much more to learn. My Silozi is quite rudimentary, and I still have a lot to learn about the common illnesses here. I recognize that I don't even know all that there is yet to learn. I hope that I can continue to have an open mind, and that there is as much (or even more) learning ahead of me.