Muzungu. This is what is shouted at me everywhere I go by all the children…and maybe the roosters. Muzungu is Swahili for white, european, stranger (i.e. not from around here.) I have been in the village of Kilwa for one week. Kilwa is a fishing village of around 52,000 in the province of Katanga in the Southern Democratic Republic of Congo. It is located on lake Mweru or Moero, whichever you prefer, which also borders Zambia, allowing for a lot of trade between the two countries. Unfortunately, we seem to be mainly trading cholera at the moment. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Cholera, it is a severe diarrheal disease (think peeing out your bum) which one easily aquires by drinking dirty water, coming into contact with body fluids, etc. The problem is if you don’t treat it, more than 50% of cases will die because they become severely dehydrated, very quickly. Then of course a person might also be sick with malaria, be pregnant or perhaps have the great misfortune of being a child under the age of five in a developing country. If you live in a developed country it is unlikely you will ever see cholera, since it is easily eliminated by chlorinating water. If you can treat cholera in time with IV fluids and prevent dehydration, your risk of dying drops to less than 2%. We have set-up treatment centres around the lake and we investigate every rumoured case. I’m not in terrible shape, but the first time we hiked up the cliffs to get to one of the villages I was winded, and I am baffled at how sick people manage. We do public health, African style. It’s pretty amazing actually. Sort of like you tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and eventually everyone has gotten the message to boil or chlorinate their water.The health care system here is kind of amazing in general. I mean in the sense that it functions despite itself. Things work somehow when you least expect them to. People communicate without radio or phones or e-mails and we find out about cholera cases, we investigate, we treat, we save lives. This weekend one of the community health volunteers biked for two days to bring some lab tests to Kilwa so we could figure out if the two teenage sons of a Tuberculosis patient have the misfortune of sharing their dad’s illness. People hike for miles to get medical treatment, despite how sick they are. This is not ideal by any means, and yet somehow it works, somwhere beyond my own « western » expectations. It works in a place where people still find the time to talk to eachother, where everyone knows their neighbour and their neighbour’s neighbours. I guess what I realize is that sometimes leaving your expectations at the door is important in order to really appreciate a place where you are a muzungu, not from around here.
© Julie Remy