During my first few days in Lusaka, I have learned quite a bit about myself in terms what I need vs what I want to live decently and safely in order to begin the journey that I came here to take. From airport pick ups, to no global cell phone data, to transitional housing, to remembering to take malaria pills to sleeping with bed nets to remembering to not drink the water, I am learning everyday that this experience is designed to put me outside of my comfort zone in every way possible- which is inherently good if I actually want to become an equipped soldier in the fight for health equity. And I do; however, I have always thought that there was a fine line between challenging myself to grow by purposefully putting myself in “uncomfortable” situations and an inability to actually function. I am finding that that line is becoming blurred. Mainly as it relates to one thing so far: Load shedding.
When you first hear this term, you might think “HALLELUJAH! Jasmine is FINALLY learning how to simplify her life and not have so much stuff by shedding her ridiculous luggage load” or “Wow! Jasmine is already keeping a physical fitness routine to ensure that nshima (Zambia’s staple dish made with maize flour and water -white ball pictured below) doesn’t effect her weight!”
While both of these are extremely important aspects of the life that I am hoping to adopt here in Lusaka over the course of the next year, neither of them relate to load shedding.
Load shedding (v): an action to reduce the load on something, especially the interruption of an electricity supply to avoid excessive load on the generating plant. AKA for about 10 hours a day the electricity and often times water supply are completely shut off. (see selfie below)
At first this might not seem like that big of a deal or like a really first world, superfluous problem. But then you try to function.
Waking up with no electricity, going to work in the dark, taking cold showers if showering is at all possible, but most importantly, having no wifi (it took me forever to make this post go live). This means no predictable communication with family members and friends or my Wish for WASH colleagues which is not something I was prepared for at all. There is technically a schedule of when each region is expected to have outages, but from my experience so far, outages happen whenever and wherever. And technically a lot of places of work and other public facilities have back up generators that should maintain power; however, they often times require unsustainable amounts of maintenance. And even the local Zambians are struggling to adapt to this relatively new governmental mandate as it effects work productivity, is leading to the increase of job losses, and sometimes leaves middle or low income neighborhoods without power for up to days at a time. Not to mention how hard it is to cook or buy food when your stove and fridge might not have power which makes eating expensive and particularly challenging for everyone. This just reinforces the fact that this is not a struggle faced by a perceived ‘elitist’ American, but is felt by everyone in Zambia. Tapping into our survival mentalities, we are all trying to figure out ways to cope without giving into what often times feels like complete inefficiency or hopelessness because being hopelessness doesn’t help anyone.
Beginning a conversation on how we can shop for generators, wifi USB dongles, and leaning on our ZamDad (Eric, who is by the way incredibly tolerant and patient with us) to advocate for us for potential financial support during this difficult time from GHC headquarters has helped us find the positives in the situation. I know for myself that a year without predictable wifi is not going to work because of all of the online projects that I am currently working on in addition to me needing to communicate with my loved ones in order to maintain my mental and spiritual health throughout the course of this fellowship-not to mention the fact that my actual job at the Society for Family Health requires internet access; therefore, I have to find a solution in order to function. It is comforting to know, that despite how differently all of our ZamFam reacts in the face of this overwhelming challenge that we were honestly not prepared to face prior to arriving here a few days ago, we are all in this together.
In the face of struggle, I still believe that everything will work out the way it is supposed to because there is a greater plan. All we can do now is continue to persevere through this new and rough terrain with actionable plans on how to make the situation better for all of us.
We are challenged to search for the bright spots in this situation, and if we cannot find them, we need to find a way to make them for ourselves.