Acronyms and Flea Shampoo


This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, April 13, 2004 was originally posted on April 15, 2004.

DAY 178:  Nowhere on Earth is the AIDS epidemic more widespread than on the African continent.  In fact, according to Lonely Planet, “the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that AIDS-related deaths will mean that, by 2010, sub-Saharan Africa will have 71 million fewer people than it would otherwise.”  With the lack of proper governmental and healthcare infrastructure to deal with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, this rate might not see any sight of being lowered.

Most Africans are too poor for any sort of treatment, and so the next best thing is education, research and an understanding of the disease and how it spreads.  A number of programs have been set up by Western non-profit organizations with goals to do just that, so that the spread of the disease, over time, might decrease.  One program, P.S.F. (Project San Francisco) originated in Rwanda in 1986, but that was killed (literally) during the brutal genocides of 1994.  (As if the deaths of AIDS wasn’t bad enough.)  This program resurfaced in Zambia as Z.U.H.R.P. (Zambia UAB [University of Alabama] HIV Research Project), which recently transformed into Z.E.H.R.P. when it became affiliated with Emory College instead.  It was at ZEHRP that Shelle was a supervisor.   

Shelle, like the rest of the staff, had the Easter holiday off and decided to spend it in tandem with the Easter week-long holiday of her teacher friend Deann.  It was on this vacation that their paths crossed mine.

Shelle had the Tuesday after Easter Monday off and wanted to be back to the office in Lusaka by mid-day Wednesday.  She, Deann and I woke up in Livingstone, six hours away, in the darkness of 4:30 a.m. to board a bus at 5:15 which departed at six.  The ride was filled with sleep, reading and a stop at a roadhouse that impressed me with its clever, water-saving bathroom engineering — the drain pipe of the sink fed to the floor urinal, flushing it, saving water on what would have been a redundant flush.

“REMEMBER THE TIME YOU LET ME BORROW your long-sleeve shirt?” Shelle joked on the bus in light of the fact that we had only known each other for all of two days.

“Yeah,” I said reminiscing, “It seems just like yesterday.”

Perhaps the two past days were enough to establish trust because she said, “We have a spare bed at the flat if you want to stay over.”

“Is that cool?”

“Yeah, no problem,” she said.  One of her housemates was away in Rwanda.  “Just don’t steal anything.”

“I’ll try not to.”

By noon we arrived in Lusaka, Zambia’s dusty capital city with just three skyscrapers, dusty roads and modern buildings.  From the main bus terminal, we got a taxi to Shelle’s house in the Emmasdale neighborhood, a ghetto where many volunteers from overseas lived in secure compounds with guard dogs and 24-hour security guards.

The house, consisting of three flats with three bedrooms each, was operated by Z.E.H.R.P. as living quarters for their employees, just walking distance from the clinics.  Inside, it was like walking into a suburban house in New Jersey:  bedrooms, bathrooms with running water (sometimes), kitchen, laundry and a big comfy living/dining room with TV, DVD, stereo and a computer workstation with high-speed satellite internet access.  On the sofa was one of the housemates, Cristina, a Filipino-American originally from Boston who had been abroad for so long that seeing another Filipino-American walk in the door was quite a surprise.  “Wow, I haven’t seen a lot of you in a while,” she joked.

Shelle, Deann and I settled down our baggage in Shelle’s room and then Shelle got on her cell phone to check up on the office.  A supervisor, she was hoping it’d be a slow day and that maybe she could take the rest of the day off to entertain us, but from the other end, she got the serious news that there had been a seroconversion in the lab — someone who had previously tested HIV negative was now testing positive.  That someone would have to get the bad news that they had contracted the virus.

“I said everything will be okay today, as long as there isn’t a seroconversion,” Shelle said.  What she feared was now the reality of the day, and with the lack of running water, she forsook a shower and went right to the office.  Deann and I followed behind.

I was expecting it to be like an episode of E.R., where Shelle would come in and walk the halls while people walked with her to give her clipboards and information as she put on her lab coat.  I expected to hear a mouthful of acronyms I didn’t understand, followed by a proclamation of “STAT!” 

However, it wasn’t as overly dramatic as a television show.  Shelle got the information she needed from her staff and made sure things were in motion with her staff, and then gave Deann and I a quick tour of the facility.  ZEHRP’s clinic was in a campus of a few buildings, the main one holding the lab where blood was processed and tested for HIV (picture above).  I saw the centrifuges and the big freezer were DNA and other things with acronyms I didn’t know where stored.  We were introduced to many of the staff, which consisted of Zambians and volunteers from overseas, and saw the rooms where people enrolled in the program came for counseling.  I have to say that amidst the AIDS epidemic spreading across Africa, seeing ZEHRP gave me an assurance that there was some sort of light at the end of the long, dark tunnel and it was a bit inspiring.

For lunch, Shelle brought us to the staff “cafeteria”, which was a big picnic table outside where a woman served chicken and the Zambian staple nshima a pasty side dish that made from maize meal that looked a lot like mashed potatoes.  Nearby, three guard dogs waited around for people to throw them their unwanted chicken bones.

Shelle went off to handle some business concerning the seroconversion, leaving Deann and I to loiter the grounds.  But with the AIDS epidemic all around me, certainly there was something I could do.  An old adage goes, “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”  But what could I do?  Biology and chemistry were my worst subjects in high school.  I can’t do math; I went to art school.  What was I supposed to do, paint over the top and bottom portions of a plus symbol so that positive results could be negative?  If only life could work out that way.

An opportunity for me to “do my part” presented itself when Steven, one of the ZEHRP staff called over the guard dogs for a bath.  They needed to be washed and lathered up with flea shampoo so that they could properly guard the facility with an iron paw, keeping the HIV research program on track without a hitch.  I volunteered to help wash the dogs, Suki, Tsalvo and Sam, who recently got a blue streak of paint on his side because he unknowingly slept leaning on a freshly-painted wall.  Steven and I lathered up the dogs with flea shampoo and hosed them down, and after, each dog shivered the water off to dry.  Despite our best efforts, the blue paint was impossible to get out, but I felt accomplished that I at least did something to help the ZEHRP project, as menial as it was.

I MET UP WITH SHELLE AND DEANN IN THE LAB, where the seroconversion situation was still being dealt with amidst other tasks that had to be handled in the office.  Deann and I felt that perhaps our presence was a bit intrusive, so we walked back to the house.  The electricity was out, which meant watching television or DVDs was out.  However, Deann, a television addict, was the next best thing and caught me up on everything that had happened in The Sopranos in their latest season. 

Shelle came home from work and took us to Manda Hill, the Westernized strip mall where all the mzungus — the African term for “foreigner” (like “gringos” in South America) — could visit a slice of home.  (There was even a Subway sandwich shop!)  There we went to “The Magical ATM,” the one cashpoint supposedly in all of Zambia that would take a MasterCard/Cirrus network ATM card, where I became a multi-millionaire in less than a minute. 

From there we went to a local Indian restaurant, a favorite of the ZEHRP volunteers, where I treated myself and the two girls for dinner, wine and coffees with Amarula, the African cream liquor made from local fruit, similar to Bailey’s Irish Cream. 

“Thanks for dinner,” the two of them thanked me.

“No problem.  Thanks for picking up a little stray puppy in Vic Falls.”

Shelle bought some take-out for her housemates Cristina and her husband Jens, who worked at another research clinic in town, and her “sick” boyfriend George.  I put “sick” in quotes because there was a little uncertainty if George was really sick or if he was just weirded out that his girlfriend had suddenly brought home a stray Filipino-American puppy home from Livingstone — even if he did lather up with flea shampoo earlier that day. 

The three of us picked up Cristina and Jens at the ZEHRP house and drove over to George’s, where he was in fact, a little out of it.  He was in good spirits though and let us crash his pad for a while, as he, Cristina and Jens had dinner.  We all sat around talking and joking over bottles of wine and playing with Shelle’s and George’s cute little (and real) puppy Lelo.  For me, it was great to, for a change, feel a little bit like I was home with old friends; it felt like I might have been hanging out with friends at Blogreaders Yvette‘s and Udz‘s house in New Jersey — right in the heart of Africa.

WHILE THE A.I.D.S. EPIDEMIC IN AFRICA MAY NEVER END, it is good-hearted people like Shelle who come overseas to do their part in helping out in any way possible — and occasionally pick up strays on their Easter vacation.  As I lay in the bed of the spare bedroom that night, I knew that at least in my eyes, it was much appreciated.

Next entry: Giving Good Price

Previous entry: Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

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Comments for “Acronyms and Flea Shampoo”

  • Thanks for the midday misdirection from the everyday boredom of our lives.  And a big thank you to everyone that does what needs to be done.  Thank you for making us think this morning, and every moment we have to read about your travels.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/15  at  01:43 PM

  • Flea shampoo, STAT!....Hose, STAT!....

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/15  at  04:12 PM

  • Hey, every bit helps! what i’ve been doing for the last 2 years is donate to it seems like a worthy cause and you can donate your money to specific causes… i usually donate to the children funds smile

    it’s friday, have a good weekend all you blog readers! N smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/15  at  04:17 PM

  • yes…have a great weekend…hopefully there is some great weather…go out and enjoy…or shit…go fly somewhere!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/15  at  05:33 PM

  • you’re so cool. 

    *disclaimer* that’s the most immature and least descriptive words i could leave as a comment, but sometimes it drives the point straight home. God Bless. Markyt is lucky to have a brother like you.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/15  at  08:53 PM

  • Hi, I’m Shelle’s mom back in Augusta, GA.  She just emailed me about your site, so I had to read it before I took her malamute, Chiva, for her walk.  (Yes, she does make a habit of picking up stray puppies and people!)  Thanks for buying her dinner.  She is quite a writer herself and has emailed some amusing anecdotes.  Let me know if you’d like me to send them.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/15  at  08:56 PM

  • lucky to have a bro like erik?  you mean erik is lucky to have me as a bro?


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/15  at  10:41 PM

  • STACY:  The word “cool” will never go out of style…

    Glad you found The Blog; welcome aboard!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/15  at  11:27 PM

  • DONNA:  Hi there, Shelle’s mom!  Welcome aboard!  I suppose I can thank YOU for bringing up such a good-hearted individual.  At the time of this writing, I’m still here at the ZEHRP house, so that’ll mean a least one more Blog entry with a Schwamberger…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/15  at  11:37 PM

  • It’s good to recognize that there are scary things out there, but that good people, like you said, are doing stuff about it.
    It makes us appreciate our lives more - at least I’m speaking for me.
    Thanks for the stories, Erik!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/16  at  12:12 AM

  • Wow - it has taken this SBR five and a half hours but I have finally caught up on the blog.  Erik, my mum is blaming you for turning my six week Thai holiday into an 11 month RTW, but you are still invited for dinner if you hit Australia (she thinks you look ‘sweet’ in the photos).  Keep up the wonderful writing and photos, you keep me sane.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/16  at  04:42 AM

  • Well said Duaine!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/16  at  05:54 AM

  • SHELLYT:  Hey, thanks for breaking the silence!  Where are you headed off on your RTW?  Perhaps our paths will cross…

    SHELLYT’S MOM:  Sorry about that!  Perhaps I may take you up on your offer though!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/16  at  06:06 PM

  • just started reading your blogs…
    better late than never…
    Donovan says hi!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/16  at  10:44 PM

  • MED:  HEY!  Happy Easter! 

    DONOVAN:  I pity the fool who don’t eat my cereal!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/17  at  06:26 AM

  • Yes, AIDS is a big problem there, but it is made worse because a lot of other disease gets lumped into the Aids classification. There is not enough money for the many tests required to really diagnose so it gets guessed at.

    If you would like to read up on alternative views on this disease and others try this.

    Posted by Mexico Mike  on  04/18  at  06:51 AM

  • Erik - you’re always welcome at our place!!  Once your 16-month (or whenever your money runs out) excursion is over, come back to our place for some shrimp with patis and charades!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/19  at  05:59 PM

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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 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,, 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.

Next entry:
Giving Good Price

Previous entry:
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?


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