This is a blog about me and the things that make me laugh, smile, hurt or cry!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Social media booms in Africa

Did you know that Facebook is the most visited website in Africa? 
‘Studies suggest that when Africans go online (predominantly with their mobile phones) they spend much of their time on social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and so on). Sending and reading e-mails, reading news and posting research queries have become less important activities for Africans.
In recent months Facebook — the major social media platform worldwide and currently the most visited website in most of Africa — has seen massive growth on the continent. The number of African Facebook users now stands at over 17 million, up from 10 million in 2009. More than 15 per cent of people online in Africa are currently using the platform, compared to 11 per cent in Asia. Two other social networking websites, Twitter and YouTube, rank among the most visited websites in most African countries.’
This is from the UN’s Africa Renewal magazine, published in December 2010. Here is the link to the article: Africa Renewal Magazine | A social media boom begins in Africa.

I found this piece interesting for a number of reasons: Our internet use in Africa (and Zambia) compared to the rest of the world is still low, but our Facebook use is higher than that in Asia - in terms of percentage of sites accessed. More importantly, however, what does this study say about our development prospects in Africa?

If Africa is to develop and propser socially and economically, many have touted the internet, information and technology as one of the ways to do it. But, isn't it telling that as Africans, we are more interested in social media than in business, science and economics. And, before people become over excited about a social media revolution in Egypt, we should be realistic that Twitter, Facebook et al were merely components in a much larger revolutionary mechanism. Do we escape into YouTube because we don't know where else on the internet to go, or because we are running away from our poverty stricken, corruption laden real lives?

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Song About Love

Today is Valentine's Day. The day of love. Not very deep inside of me, I am a romantic. In 1st Corinthians the Bible says that love '...bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails'. Don't listen to the cynics; love really does makes the world go round. Human beings would not exist if it weren't for the love that helps us to be patient, to be kind, to be gracious, to have mercy and to forgive. Love makes us want to do better and be better. Love covers a multitude of sins in all our relationships.

No matter the disappointments and heartbreaks that life, love and relationships may bring, I really do believe in love. And it is for this reason that I always come back to a song, 'I Am Ready For Love' by India Arie.

I believe in love!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Stench of Disease and Despair

I have been afflicted with a recurring ear infection for some time now. After ten months of visiting a private hospital, I accepted the stark truth; that I had reached that stage -- the UTH stage.

Our healthcare system in Zambia points to one place, the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) on Nationalist road. You can go to the most expensive private clinic in the country, but if you are genuinely sick, you will end up at the UTH. This is of course for your own good. Zambia is a relatively small country populationwise. Preliminary 2010 census data puts our official population at 13 point something million. 

The University Teaching Hospital - Lusaka, Zambia
The UTH is a teaching hospital, so all the specialists are found there, passing on their knowledge to the next generation of physicians. Being the referral centre means that staff here have the advantage of seeing every ailment known to this region. The common ailments and the rare and obscure diseases alike. Private hospitals tend to see patients within a very narrow disease spectrum. They don't handle the big stuff, unless it is one of these well funded and equipped mission hospitals out in the hills somewhere. But even these only benefit from one or two skilled expatriate surgeons in a particular field.

Back to my experience. 

I am convinced that the state of our healthcare system says much about the state of our nation and about our social and economic development. I did not doubt the competence or skill of the staff I interacted with. In fact, I thought often of my hard earned Kwacha invested in private hospitals over the last one year. However, my situation was far from critical. I drove myself after popping into the office to check mail etc. I had thought I would be back by lunch time (but it turned out that I only left the UTH just before 5pm). I paid to be fast-tracked to the top of the doctor's list (next in line after admitted patients). I think that my professional attire, high heels and insistence on only speaking clear and sharp English ensured that I did not wait very long and was well attended to. 

The doctor ordered a series of tests and x-rays. Some could only be done at our famous Nkanza Laboratories (where erring men are called for paternity tests and suspicious partners submit DNA samples). Mine was not so glamorous as this. My doctor insisted the x-ray be done at the UTH because she trusted them more than my having it done at a private hospital. Who was I to argue with her? 

After being sent all over the hospital because one cashier didn't have a receipt book and the other was not accepting out-patient payments, I finally made my way to Radiology and immediately regretted my decision. The stench of death and disease was everywhere. As was the pungent aroma of sorrow and despair. 

It is my privilege (and I try not to take it for granted), that I am one of the 5% who went to school and finished; then went to university; graduated and found a good job. I earn enough money that I go to UTH by choice, not by necessity. My appearance, voice and demeanor generally command respect (of course, depending on the situation - female gender and youth in Africa are frequent disadvantages). I can afford to pay to be seen at 11:30 and so not have to begin queuing at 6am as many do. I drive there and do not have to walk 21km to get to only see a disgruntled, overworked, underpaid brusque nurse instead of a doctor.

As I walked out of UTH holding my nose when I passed patients lying in waiting rooms or in corridors with gaping wounds everything felt SO WRONG. It shouldn't be like this. I was amazed at how cheap everything was. From the tests to the x-rays. People should not have to struggle to pay a dollar for a blood test. My x-ray only cost me K10,000 (two US dollars). More than ten times less than in some private hospitals. 

Don't get me wrong! UTH is not as bad as it once was; but, neither is it as good as it has been. It is an institution that is clearly underfunded and under-resourced. Most people there know what needs to be done but not all departments have the capacity to do it. For instance, I went to get a blood test but they didn't have any bottles. So, I had to leave to begin looking for a pharmacy in which to buy one. The test was done and I was given my blood (in a vial) with a slip of paper and told to take it to the haematology department for testing. The other sample, I was to take around the corner to another lab department. 

For my own convenience and safety, I was advised by friends who work there to carry my x-ray home with me, together with my out-patient card. This is just in case it gets lost or misfiled. Hence, it is safer with me. A relative who works in the hospital offered to follow up my test results for safe keeping. Once my review date comes up, all I need to do is dig out all my information and get in line to see the doctor.


If you have time, please have a read of this interesting blog from an American resident on placement at UTH.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Challenger: 25 Years On

Last week (Friday, 28th January), marked 25 years since the Challenger shuttle disaster shook the world in 1986. I was six years old at the time. I had just started grade two. At the mission school I attended, we had a weekly music and news session. Our Head Master, would give us a summary of the news as heard on the wireless or BBC World Service (where would some of us be without this amazing source of information?).

In my years at Sakeji School, three news events stuck in my young mind. One was the series of seminal events in 1989 that I mention in one of my earliest posts on this blog. These included the Exxon Valdese, the Berlin Wall and the Tienanmen Square Massacre. Another story was from 1987 or 1988 (I can't remember when), and this was the first announcement that Britain and France were going to build a huge tunnel under the sea to connect the two countries. The Channel Tunnel would be opened many years later, but it was this first wondrous announcement that I remember to this day.

However, it was the Challenger disaster that stuck in my mind the most. What was most fascinating and devastating about this story is that it captured the attention of every school-going child, teacher and school in the world. As noted in the BBC article, NASA had embarked on a space education programme and the search for a school teacher to go into space was reported all over the world. We heard it at Sakeji School in Ikelenge in Mwinilunga District in the Northwestern-most tip of Zambia in 1985. I was in grade one. We eagerly awaited the adventure and we all wished we went to that lucky school where the teacher would come back and tell us all how it was like to be in outer space.

Then, it went horribly wrong. The task fell to Mr Foster to gently tell us all that a really bad thing happened and the teacher and everyone in the spaceship died in a terrible accident.  I have not forgotten that day and I probably never will. Sometimes I wonder if that is when the desire to report the news first came to me.