Zikomo Twarumba

(Thanks a lot in Nyaja)

I am on my way out of Lusaka and preparing for arrival in San Francisco.  I cannot wait to be back home, see Dustin, Jersey, my folks, sleep in my own bed, and settle back into my SF routine.  It will be lovely!

The last week here was nice – a lot of quiet time for cold-recovery and blog-writing combined with a number of interviews with people here in Lusaka doing work in malaria.  And, it was punctuated by good food (Chinese, Indian, and more salads along with Ben’s home-cooking!), a cinema experience (Inception), and final errands/gift buying.  A lot of energy was dedicated to the countdown until I leave – and arrive…

Zambia: it has been a wild past 2.5 months.  Thanks for the memories, learning, and awesome people.  I can’t wait to get home and digest all that I have taken in!

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Is it malaria?

After arriving in Lusaka, and then traveling to Livingstone, I was struck by a powerful cold.  So powerful that it laid me low for five days…  and then has had a recuperation period going on four+ days.  The combination of exhaustion and a slight fever got both my and Dustin’s concerns going — could it be malaria?  (And wouldn’t that be ironic?)  Having had malaria once before, I was not interested in having it again…  But after consulting multiple websites, contacts in the malaria community, and a medical doctor, it seems that I have a common cold that has just hit me hard.  What a way to spend my last week in Lusaka!

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48 hours to San Francisco

(Dustin’s last post)

Over the last week or two in Zambia a low level theme had been brewing about how I was going to get home.  The complication was that my flight left from Malawi, but we were ending our travels in Zambia.  The obvious solution was from my to fly from Lusaka to Lilongwe, but that is easier said than done.  There are two airlines with reasonable flights, on alternating days (which in total provides one flight per day).  My flight from Lilongwe to Addis Ababa  left at 2:30 on Saturday, which meant I should be at the airport around noon.  The daily flight on Saturday arrived in the evening, so that meant I would need to leave a day early (Friday), spend the night in Malawi, then leave on Saturday.  That sounds like a good idea, except that the operator of the flight, Air Malawi, apparently doesn’t like to sell airline tickets.  We tried multiple times: through a British website (rejected because travel didn’t originate in Europe), through the Air Malawi website (failed because the website credit card entry was broken), though a travel agent in Petauke (failed because they couldn’t figure out how to contact the airline), and finally though Ben and Anna’s company travel agent (can’t book flights that don’t go through South Africa!).  When we were finally able to get a competent travel agent in Livingstone, the ticket price had increased to $350, which didn’t even include the two airport taxis and overnight hotel cost in Malawi.  So at that point we hatched plan B.

We had made friends with an excellent taxi driver in Chipata named Alick, who was anxious to get more business.  The origin of failing to get the Malawi flight stretched all  the way back to when we were staying at Dean’s in Chipata – so we had earlier already raised the possibility of him driving me from Chipata to Lilongwe.  The idea would be that I would fly within Zambia from Lusaka to Chipata, get picked up at the airport and then driven 3-4 hours across the border and to the Lilongwe airport.  It seemed a little risky given the reliability of automobiles in Zambia, and unforeseen issues at the border crossing, etc.  So the original plan was to go to Chipata on Friday, drive to Lilongwe, then have the extra cushion of Saturday in case something went wrong.

By the time we were in Livingstone on Thursday, trying to buy the Air Malawi flight and discovering it’s exorbitant price, rationality was waning on my part.  So I decided to just risk it – which meant flying to Chipata Saturday morning, catching the taxi to Lilongwe, and having only about 1 or 2 hours of buffer time for any problems.  So, we bought the ticket to Chipata and decided to throw the dice.

Come Saturday morning Julianna dropped me off at the airport to start the adventure (7am flight).  If all went as planned I would be in San Francisco 48 hours later, by virtue of a flight to Chipata, a taxi to Lilongwe, a flight to Addis Ababa, a flight to Frankfurt (with a 12 hour layover), and a flight to SFO.  The first two legs seemed the riskiest, but the initial flight went off without a hitch.  I arrived at the Chipata airport, where I was supposed to meet our taxi driver.  There were only 5 of us on the plane (which was small enough that they couldn’t fit by large backpack bag into the luggage compartment under the plane and had to put it in the main cabin!).  Anyway, the airport cleared out quite quickly and it was soon obvious that no one was there to pick me up.  Julianna had kept the cell phone for her last week in Lusaka, so I was starting to wonder how to get myself to Lilongwe if our friend Alick didn’t arrive.  He was about 20 minutes late, but did arrive, and from there we headed out.  On the way into Chipata from the airport he informed me that he didn’t trust the ‘fitness’ off his car, so had arranged a friend to drive me across the border and to the airport.  I was happy he was trying hard to make sure things worked out well, but it didn’t raise my overall level of confidence in automobile reliability!  We met up with the friend, agreed on the splitting of the negotiated fare, and were off to Lilongwe.  The border crossing went easily enough, concluding with a text to Julianna from the taxi driver’s phone – to let her know I had crossed the last major obstacle.  We ended up picking up a ‘good friend’ of the driver at the border  (a common situation is that the driver will ask if their friend can join in the car – because us crazy muzungus don’t fill all the seats!).  I said that would be fine with me, and we headed on our way.  After dropping the woman in downtown Lilongwe we continued out to the airport and arrived with time to spare.  The most perilous segments of the journey behind me, I rested easy and coasted through the remainder of the trip.  It was a long 48 hours, but a welcome relief to return to the comfort of home and a nice warm shower.

I made it back to the house and met Julianna’s cousins Mike and Melissa (they were staying at our place because they had to come back to San Fran from Thailand in order to get their work visas for South Korea).  They were just starting a game of Settlers of Catan, and offered to add me to the board.  I said – why not? – and settled back into the routine of home.

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Dustin’s Falls

(Dustin again)

The Thursday morning the plan was to head to the Zambian National Park around the falls to take in the beauty from there, and maybe make it over to the Zimbabwe side too if there was time.  Julianna was developing the start of a cold, and woke up with a nasty cough and not feeling great – so we decided that she would stay home in bed and get some extra rest (as she had already been to the falls’ parks, and wasn’t going to be up for the quick pace needed to fit everything in).  So, Julianna nuzzled into bed for a little more rest, and Dustin headed off to the parks.  (It should be noted that Julianna feels I have a propensity for tripping, so her last words to me were: ‘be VERY careful’ on the slippery rocks and such).

I was dropped off at the park, paid my entrance, and headed in to explore.  The sun was just beginning to peek out, which made for quite a mystical atmosphere.  It was early enough that it was quiet, with hardly any one else yet in the park (save three other people, who I later found out were Scouts on a Jamboree trip).  The falls are quite massive, and it is hard to describe them as anything other than overwhelmingly amazing.  I always enjoy a good waterfall, and this is without a doubt the pinnacle of those experiences.  With the rising sun providing the wonderful morning light, I couldn’t help but snap up as many pictures as possible.  With one attempted picture, fate slipped in and sent me tumbling: left hand down onto the rocks to cushion the blow, right hand into the air (save the camera!!).  Luckily I had been somewhat cautious and wasn’t close to the edge – there are for the most part no barriers and it would be quite easy to misstep and end up at the bottom of the falls (thus Julianna’s grave concern in sending me off on my own).  I bounced up, not thinking much of it until I looked down to see the blood running down my wrist.  The rock I landed on had sliced open a small gash on my palm/wrist, so I spent the next 20 minutes exploring the rest of the area with pressure on the cut and holding my hands up high to slow the blood flow (I must have looked quite odd running around like this, luckily no one else was really around).  After having taken in the views from all the trails I could find I headed back to the entrance, found a bathroom to wash up the cut and added a little folded toilet paper as a makeshift bandage.   From there I searched out another trail to the ‘boiling pot’ at the bottom of the falls that Julianna had recommended as a can’t miss.  This consisted of going down about 1,000 steps to the bottom, taking a few pictures, then huffing back up those steps (all the while with the elevated hands!).  Satisfied that I had taken in all the best views, I headed out of the park with a trip to Zimbabwe in my sights!  On the way out I ran into the people I had heard talking about scouting and asked if they had a band-aid.  They eagerly responded, got out a first aid kit, broke open a sterile bandage and wrapped me up we enough gauze to treat a gunshot wound – but I was very thankful.  They said: ‘scouts are always prepared’ — I replied that I was a scout too, but not prepared, so I very much appreciated their saving my life, and honor🙂.

Having semi-successfully toured the Zambian side, and with 2 hours to go until I was to be picked up, and headed for the border to get in a quick visit to Zimbabwe.  The view from Zimbabwe, as reported by Julianna, was even more fantastic because it was slightly further away on other side of the river.  After passing through immigration I headed to the Zimbabwe falls park, paid my entrance fee (again, second person into the park) and picked up the pace a little so that I could fit everything in.  Once inside the gate I jogged to the far end of the park for what looked like the best vista, and then worked my way back from there along the river to the entrance.  I was glad to have started at the far end, because by the time I was back close to the entrance I was surrounded by multiple large groups of tourists.  Somehow the views were a bit more majestic minus the throngs of tourists.  Regardless, the whole experience was wonderful, and it was pretty hard to leave.  I stretched it out to the last moments, jogged back out of the pack, to immigration, got a new Zambian visa, and made it back for my 10am pickup.  Below are the highlights of the pictures:


I got back to the lodge for a quick breakfast with Julianna, we packed up, and said goodbye to our lovely experience to head back into town.  The rest of the day consisted of touring the backpackers Julianna had lived at, reconnecting with her friends on staff there, and revisiting a couple of gift shops to pick up some items Julianna had been regretting not getting the previous time around.  We had a wonderful pizza and salad lunch at Olga’s (where she had had her solo birthday celebration), and spent the last hour before heading to the airport trying to finalize my travel plans for the journey home (more on that in the next post!).  Finally, we got on the plane and headed back to Lusaka.  All in all, we packed a lot of fun into a short excursion, and enjoyed a wonderful time on our mini anniversary trip.

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Return to Livingstone Island

(Dustin again)

With Julianna having spent nearly two weeks in Livingstone earlier in the trip, I had the benefit of coming into town with an experienced tour guide!  She had identified the not to miss activities, and (of course!) had a great plan to fit everything in.  The plan for the first afternoon was to head over to the falls and out to Livingstone island for high tea.  The folks at Stanley got it all arranged for us and they drove us down to the river to catch the boat out to the island.  This island is a small patch of land in the middle of the 1.5km wide Victoria Falls, which allows for gorgeous views of the whole spectacle.  Upon arriving on the island we were instructed to take off our shoes (the short hike tromped through marshy and muddy paths) and we were given large rain slicks to keep us dry from the mist of the falls (which can sometimes be better described as a full on rain storm).  From there we headed out on our walk to the very edge of the falls.  The idea of standing on the edge of the falls and looking down 300 feet to the bottom seems a bit ridiculous, but in the moment it felt like the obvious thing to do!  The guides walk you out into the water and you stand on a rock just at the edge – one additional step and you’d be in for a long fall.  It was pretty fun, and good for a short thrill, but after one strong gust of wind I was ready to head back to safety…

After the hike we had our feet washed of the mud – I thought this was the perfect opportunity on our anniversary trip to relive part of our wedding – but Julianna didn’t find the clumps of mud and guck too romantic – so we let the guides do the rinsing.  The rest of the hour was spent enjoying tea and biscuits, English style, at our table just under a hundred feet from the edge of the falls.  Pretty great fun!

We returned on the boat back to the river bank, and found our lodge’s Dutch host waiting for us.  It seems that all the other drivers were busy running other folks around, so he came down in his own car to pick us up – now’s that great service!  The quick turnaround got us back to Stanley Lodge for sundowners, making for the perfect evening.  We sat on a bench above the reflecting pool, sipping gin and tonics, and the sun set over the river valley below.  All in all, we couldn’t ask for much more of a perfect afternoon and evening. Once the sun set we headed back to the room to rest and get cleaned up, Julianna took advantage of the luxurious tub with a view – and then we headed back for a starlit dinner by the pool.  We had a wonderful meal, and all in all reflected (hah!) on a perfect start to a whirlwind anniversary trip.

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Happy Anniversary Part 2!

Dustin here, back for my assignment of a final quartet of ‘guest blogs’ to sum up the last part of my time in Zambia with Julianna.  This first post couldn’t come on a more appropriate day, given that today is our 6th wedding anniversary, as you may have just noted from Julianna’s post!  Before continuing on with the narrative, a quick editorial break🙂.

Now that I’ve been home for a few days and had a short time to reflect on my experience, one aspect has really stood out as differentiating this trip from previous trips.  While there was opportunity for great tourist excursions on safari, and (soon to be described) at Victoria Falls, the most enjoyable and memorable portion of this trip for me was the opportunity to join Julianna in her interviews and research process.  The chance to hear from local people, spending their lives trying to improve the health and opportunities of their communities, will be a treasured memory for me for years to come.  It helped me gain a deeper perspective on government, development, and life in Africa – that I will continue to digest for a long time.  Even more so, I was so proud to watch Julianna go about her process of developing relationships, building understanding, and forming an intricate thesis around how malaria policy is succeeding and failing in Zambia.  She has a wonderful gift for quickly bonding with people, which allows her to develop deep and interesting conversations where people are comfortable in sharing their honest thoughts, ideas, questions, and weaknesses.  Over the course of the few short weeks that I was with her, it was a joy to observe over and over again as she made friends with a new person, proceeded to have an insightful conversation, and all the while lifted the person up and left them clearly feeling they had made a new friend (and they had!).  She has certainly gathered a large body of interesting facts, insights, and premises that will build an interesting dissertation – but even more so I love how she has been able to bring her energy, creativity, and thoughtfulness to so many people.  Zambia will certainly benefit from her on both fronts!  On today our anniversary, this (and more) make it completely clear to me why I fell in love with her.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

The reason why this post is appropriate for our anniversary is that we had decided that because we would be apart on our anniversary  (as I write this I’m laying in bed in San Francisco, cuddled up with Jersey, who just returned home, delivered by Tom and Phyllis) that we should celebrate our anniversary early in Zambia.  The initial vacation plans didn’t include me going to Victoria Falls, because it was far from anywhere we needed to go for the research plans – but Julianna thought I really shouldn’t miss it.  So, we decided to make a quick trip from Lusaka to Livingstone for a one night, 30 hour, express ‘6th wedding anniversary trip’ to Victoria Falls.  So Wednesday morning in Lusaka we left Ben and Anna’s place and grabbed a taxi to the airport to catch a quick flight down to Livingstone.  When Julianna had stayed at the backpackers in Livingstone earlier in the trip she had seen a poster for a special discount rate at a luxury lodge – so we thought that sounded like a fun thing to do since we only had a one night stay.  We got picked up at the airport by the hostel and brought back to finalize the booking.  We had thought it was going to be $150 (from the price that was on the flier), which seemed pretty pricey – but OK for an anniversary splurge.  When we got out the cash to pay, it turned out that the price was per person!  We had already committed, so just decided we’d go all in (and it turns out that the normal price is actually $1000 per night)!

After settling the reservation we got back in the shuttle to be dropped at this lodge, called Stanley Lodge.  From town we headed towards the falls, then turned off on a dirt road and drove another 15 minutes into what seemed to be the middle of nowhere (and in a direction away from the falls).  At this point, we were kind of wondering what we had gotten ourselves into.  But, upon arrival it became clear that the stay would be fabulous.  We pulled up and were directly greeted by the friendly Dutch manager with a smile and a champagne glass filled with a fresh (corn-based!) local drink.  We entered the main building of the lodge, as he explained that the design philosophy of the place was focussed around openness – which was clear as the entire back wall of the lodge was non-existent.  Instead of a wall, we instead looked out over a reflecting pool and into the Zambezi river valley below, complete with the mist of Victoria Falls bellowing up in the distance.  At that point it became clear that the long drive out the dirt road was to arrive at this picturesque plot of land with vistas over the whole valley.  We were then taken to our room, which was oriented similarly to the main lodge and likewise had only three walls.  The same fantastic panoramic view of the valley was available here from the room as well – it could be taken in from the chairs on the back patio, chilling on the bed, or while relaxing in the raised tub (Julianna’s favorite).  Quite satisfied with the tour of the beautiful room, we pressed on to the next portion of the adventure – there were only 24 hours left in Livingstone!

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Happy Anniversary!

Happy 6th Anniversary, Dustin!  Thank you for being an amazing, committed partner who challenges me to be and do my best, gives me the space to be myself at all times, and is my number one fan.  Getting married to you is the best choice I have ever made.  We have now known each other for over a decade, and what a decade it’s been!

To all of those out there, married or in committed relationships, here is a marriage blessing (from a card from Dustin’s cousin Desta):

May you have the courage to stand as yourself, alone and strong so that you may together understand the power of your union.

May you discover through your commitment to each other transforming energy and abiding peace.

May you open your hearts to each other so that together, you can share with others the fullness of your joy.

May you be filled with thanks and wonder, humor and fun, hope and perseverance so that you may grow in wisdom and grace.

And may you be blessed.

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