Orphans

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This blog entry about the events of Sunday, April 18, 2004 was originally posted on April 20, 2004.

DAY 183:  When I was stranded on Easter weekend in Livingstone, a town where only Visa-based ATM cards were accepted, me and my MasterCard-based bank card were lost like a stray puppy.  Fortunately for me, a girl named Shelle picked me up, a Filipino-American stray, and took me home to her house in Lusaka.  For four days, I lived in her house with her HIV research project pals and experienced the life of an American expatriate with all its Western conveniences.  I had found a home.

Originally I was going to take the early bus that morning but when we tried to buy a ticket the day before, my options were to:  take a later bus, which would require a one-night stayover somewhere between Lusaka and Lilongwe, Malawi; OR spend another day at the ZEHRP flats and take the early bus the next day.  Shelle’s weekend was Sunday-Monday, and so the latter was my choice.  This Filipino-American stray would have a home one more day.


THE EXTRA DAY WAS SPENT visiting other strays, or rather, orphans, at the House of Moses orphanage run by the Christian Alliance for Children of Zambia, where Shelle was a volunteer.  It was here that people brought children, newborn to age 2, that they could not care for or afford to feed.

“You can send a lot of diapers and donations but really what these kids need is to be held,” she told me.

The understaffed nursery of about ten toddlers cared by two nurses, a television and some toys was where Shelle and I arrived.  Puppy-dog eyes of little African children stared back at us with curiosity, a little confusion and, from one little boy named Isaac, funny faces (picture above).

For most of the time there, Shelle and I provided what the children needed:  social interaction and a little hands-on TLC.  Some babies cried when I held them, but for the most part they laughed when I tickled them in the belly.  Isaac continued to make funny faces at me when I tickled him until I picked him up to look out the window.  He must have enjoyed the view of the big outside world (i.e. the backyard) too much because he cried when I let him down away from the window.

“You can’t cry, you’re the funny guy,” I told him.  He continued to cry for a bit until he just sat there silent without a funny face — that is, until I tickled him ten minutes later and he was his same old Funny Guy self again.

Catherine, a little girl in a pink dress, was also a ticklish one and she walked with me hand in hand when we went with Shelle — with a baby strapped on her back in the traditional way — to a brave new world:  outside the nursery, and up the stairs to the infirmary where the newborns were cared for.  It was there I walked Catherine around to see the babies, except the ones quarantined with tuberculosis.  Catherine found a new favorite toy there, a big old wooden rocking chair that she absolutely loved swaying in.  Meanwhile, I held (and tickled) a newborn girl named Helen.  I felt a little depressed holding her; she, Catherine, Isaac and others had no parents to care for them and were surviving simply because of the kindness of strangers. 

When we got back to the nursery it was nap time for the kids and Shelle’s and my cue to leave.  I said goodbye to Catherine and “Funny Guy” Isaac, who was in his crib still awake making more funny faces at me.

“I have a puddle on my pants,” Shelle told me.  (The House of Moses kids weren’t exactly potty-trained just yet.)

“Oh, I have one on my shirt.”


ON THE WAY HOME, we stopped at the Town Center Market, which was, well, a market in the center of town.  (I’m not making this up, folks.)  While the Northmead Market was sort of targeted towards tourists with its plethora of wooden handicrafts, the Town Center Market was where Lusakans came for anything and everything (including the kitchen sink) through a maze of old wooden vending stalls organized in rows like a little town.  Each neighborhood was like a department in Walmart, from produce to fried foods to clothing to hardware.  Most of the vendors seemed pretty surprised to see the likes of us there and kept asking what we were looking for — first by addressing Shelle as “Madam” or me as “bwana” which translates to “big man.”

“We’re just looking,” I’d say.

“For what are you looking for?”

“Actually, I don’t even know.”

The last exciting adventure for Shelle and I (at least in Zambia) happened when we left the markets and went back to the Land Cruiser, which we parallel-parked on the street nearby.  The Cruiser was owned by ZEHRP and went in rotation with the staff for driving around town.  However, it wasn’t exactly the most reliable vehicle and it was evident when Shelle couldn’t get the engine started.  Usually she’d just wait for the clutch to pop and it’d start right up, but this time it didn’t work — and in front of all the curious passers-by.  Soon two guys were pushing the car to push start the engine (for a fee of course), but Shelle couldn’t get it.  Back and forth we went on the shoulder of the road, causing quite a scene.  Up to a dozen guys rushed the SUV to “help out,” many volunteering to get in the driver’s seat to start himself. 

Uh, no. 

Their grubby hands were reaching in and Shelle, a little scared, didn’t know what to do.  She turned to me for help but — having living in the New York City area where no one really drives regularly, let along a manual in the right side of the car on the left side of the road — I was totally useless.

“I really have no idea what to do,” I admit to her.

The grubby hands were still reaching in, all the while the car was in motion because others were still pushing it.  Luckily a voice instructed that the gear had to be in second.  One pop, two pop, three.  The engine started and Shelle was thrilled.  She had no small bills to tip with so I held out a couple of ZK1000 notes and a ZK5000 one — all of which were snatched out of my hand before I could blink.


GEORGE CAME TO THE ZEHRP HOUSE in his not-so-flashy, but more reliable company car.  I brought in my clothes that had been hanging out to dry all day after my morning hand wash.

“Did you iron your clothes?” Shelle asked.

“No,” I said, thinking she was just being funny.  (Why would a backpacker need to iron his clothes?)  But then she informed me about the putsi fly, which lays eggs into the fibers of damp clothes.  Like people leaving their young at the House of Moses, the flies leave their young to develop under the care — and in this case, under the skin — of strangers. 

“Make sure you iron at least your underwear,” George suggested.  But the ironing would have to wait until later; we had a rendezvous to attend to:  visiting Jens and Cristina at their new condo across town. 


THE FLAT, UNFURNISHED WITH STUFF STILL IN BOXES, was a nice place with a security guard in front and a big shared yard and pool in the back.  It was in the backyard that George’s cute puppy Lelo befriended the neighbor’s dog Teito, owned by a Japanese couple next door.  With the barking, all the neighbors came around to investigate and meet the new tenants and their guests.  For the humans it was just casual introductions, but for Lelo and Teito it looked like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I spent my last evening in Lusaka hanging out at the back patio table with George and Shelle, Jens and Cristina, over Indian take-out from Premuni’s, and the bottle of wine I bought as a housewarming gift.  After various conversation topics including one about how my father is an advocate for florescent lighting, we called it a night.  I bid farewell to Cristina, my Filipino Connection in the heart of Zambia and her Scandinavian/African/Native American counterpart.

“Have fun storming the castle!” Jens said to me waving, quoting the Billy Crystal line from The Princess Bride.

The faces of the ZEHRP crew that I had encountered had moved on to another stage in life:  Cristina with her new job at the U.S. embassy, and with her husband Jens, a new home.  Helen, the girl whose room I had been staying in, had come back from her field trip to Rwanda.  Even Lelo had a new doggie friend named Teito.  And for me, it was time to move on too.


WHILE GEORGE AND SHELLE WENT TO BED, I spent the rest of the night trying to iron out the potential putsi fly eggs out of my clothes.  Eggs or not, the putsi flies took their toll on me; the ZEHRP iron was too hot at one point and burned right through one of the only two pairs of Columbia conversion pants I had.  The Omni-Dry fabric melted onto the face of the iron and smeared over one of my socks. 

There was no use crying over spilled milk (or melted fabric), so I just turned in since I had an early escape out of Lusaka the next day.  I would finally leave the comforts of a home away from home and become that Filipino-American stray that Shelle found in Livingstone the week before.

“If you get stuck,” Shelle told me earlier at lunch that day, “Make sure you have enough to come back to Lusaka.”

The thought that I could find refuge at the House of ZEHRP, like orphans at the House of Moses, was a comforting one — that is, provided I didn’t come back with any putsi flies under my skin.






Next entry: Traveler Again

Previous entry: The Things People Do On A Sunday




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Comments for “Orphans”

  • hey i am first!  cool.  keep on truckin eric

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/20  at  02:22 PM


  • ERIK - if you need a new pair of those pants, let me know and i’ll coordinate a package for the next guest appearance stars on the Trinidad Show.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/20  at  04:41 PM


  • The picture of Catherine in the rocking chair is priceless! Thanks for that. smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/20  at  09:00 PM


  • Erik- this is Shelle’s roommate Helen. Thanks for these entertaining blogs.  It’s refreshing to hear about ZEHRP/Lusaka from an outside perspective. Consider me the newest trinidad convert.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/20  at  09:17 PM


  • We visited that orphanage when we were there and brought lots of plastic pants…but evidently not enough if you and Shelle got puddles on your clothes!  Did you meet the twins Ruth and Boaz?  Interesting names, I thought.
    Shelle’s mom

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/21  at  01:39 AM


  • Those are interesting names for Twins Mrs. Schwamberger… If memory serves me, wasn’t Boaz much older than Ruth?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/21  at  03:33 AM


  • aww, the little kids are so cute! they have to biggest roundest puppy dog eyes i ever seen. i hope things turn out well for them and they find loving homes.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/21  at  06:21 PM


  • wow - those eyes speak volumes. So sad :(  But cute cute cute cute cute!!!

    Posted by Liz  on  04/21  at  06:37 PM


  • adorable kids! makes me wanna be a house husband and take care of penny.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/22  at  12:10 AM


  • I LOVE BABIES!  isaaac’s ssooo cute!

    Posted by hanalei  on  04/26  at  08:54 PM


  • HELEN:  Hey, sorry our encounter was really brief… but glad you’re in contact via The Blog.  Welcome aboard, and thanks again for letting me crash your room!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  09:41 AM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


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