Maximum Diva

 

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In the making for the past year and a half, the Maximum Diva Woman Condom is now ready to be introduced to the world! The Society for Family Health (SFH) has finally received the product in country with the brand established and has begun recruiting the Interpersonal communicators (IPC agents) to sell the message of women’s empowerment via this new reproductive health option. So, through this season of product preparation, it has been an exciting time to be a part of the social marketing and communications team at SFH. AND Lute and I got to participate in the first IPC training conducted by our IPC Manager, James Zimba, to our Maximum Diva Woman Condom brand ambassador, Cleo the Ice Queen!

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Cleo is a well renowned artist in Zambia who gained even further notoriety after living in the “Big Brother Africa” house. Not only did we get to be amongst the first people in the office to rock the Maximum Diva Brand (aka neon green and pink polos), but we also had the chance to hang out with the Ice Queen herself and talk about sex in front of brightly colored and branded materials.

So what is the big deal with these condoms?

After extensive research and iterative development following the overwhelmingly negative feedback that SFH received after their first female condom distribution, the Maximum Diva Condom has been manufactured to have improved user experience. The improvements are evidenced by easier product insertion (which is a huge issue that exists in this market since male condoms are often easier to put on correctly) and lack of sound during sex due to the new material used in manufacturing (no more latex!).

As the only designer at SFH, I am excited to see first hand the utilization of human centered design and iterations as it relates to products in the social impact space. I am excited to follow the product’s acceptance and see if the claims of the new product prove to be true in the field since they are now being sold on the market!

CONGRATS TO SFH for a successful LAUNCH of the MAXIMUM DIVA FEMALE CONDOMS and to my maximum diva co-fellow for being the launch coordinator!

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The Move

Months of discussion, propelled by termite infestations, extreme power and water outages and the overall health and safety issues that were becoming more apparent and hard to maintain at many of our homes over the course of the first 6 months homes yielded a complete ZamFam move in early 2016. With GHC’s assistance, we all, over the course of a month, transitioned to new homes scattered across the city. For me, this move was pretty bittersweet because while the housing that we had been living in for our first 6 months in Zambia had a host of physical problems that had been compounded over several years that affected the collective livelihood of the group that lived there, the housing complex had been an integral place of community for the 4 years of Zambian based American fellows (as well as many of the Zambian national fellows) who were a part of Global Health Corps. The history of the complex and just the sheer convenience of living next door to other members of our cohort made the place special because it housed many memories and enabled new group memories to be born which meant that the official announcement of our move called for a grand farewell celebration. Kalin headed up a going away Braii or BBQ for friends and family of current and previous GHC fellows based in Zambia, and the turn-out was great. It was a beautiful way to move into a new phase of our Zambian GHC experience.

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Fast forward a month later, we somehow managed to pack up all of our belongings (which for me was a heinous process since I tend to collect massive amounts of random things) and have since moved to various homes in Lusaka that boast improved maintenance and power as well as being a bit more convenient to most of our cohort’s work places.

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For GHC, one of the main focuses for our move was to improve the commute from work to home so that less people were traveling to and from work after the sun was down. And because this was a main part of the move and new housing selection, roommates were swapped and new living arrangements were made. Effie and I are still roomies and have welcomed Doris into our day to day lives as our new third roommate in our spacious and beautiful new home (complete with accent walls and a red kitchen!).

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We all had to adjust and set new expectations for one another to ensure that we live as peacefully and productively as possible in our third official living arrangement since moving to Zambia. While this experience was definitely bittersweet at the beginning and learning how to get to work or grocery shop or just live in our new contexts added a certain level of anxiety for me as I sought to find my new norm, the move has proven to be for the better for all of us and I am thankful for all of the new opportunities that this new housing arrangement has to offers us (like intentionally traveling to visit each other or hosting dinner parties with one another).

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This just goes to show that the only constant in life is change, and that’s a beautiful thing.

 

Q2

A few weeks into 2016, and Global Health Corps had us fellows hit the ground running in the most rejuvenating way possible. This year long fellowship is set up in a way that requires quarterly reviews and group check-ins that are intended to provide us with not only the time to process our personal and professional growth, but also the space to socialize and keep morale high amongst the community despite the hardships that working and living abroad might yield. Maintaining high spirits while trying in enact positive and innovative change within our placement organizations or just in the name of health equity as a whole has proven to be, at times, exhausting, which is why these quarterly retreats are such a great and valuable re-energizing part of the fellowship. Most of us have experienced highs and lows throughout the year and will continue to do so as the remainder of the 5 months pans out. Calibrating personal and professional expectations while also seeking to leave a lasting impact has simultaneously proven to be a delicate challenge that most of us have or are continuing to face. Needless to say, bringing together groups of GHC fellows to discuss shared experiences and process their realities is cleansing.

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I was unable to attend the first quarterly retreat, which focused on experiences faced within country groups, as a result of my prior commitment to attend and present at the Humanity in Action “Arts and Activism” conference in October. So for me, Q2, or the quarter two retreat, was the first time I had the opportunity to experience the cleansing and inspiring nature of the GHC retreat system. In mid-January, ZamFam jumped on a small plane and made our way to Mfuwe, which was about an hour’s flight from Lusaka.

Q2 acted as a 5 day period of internal reflection and external processing between members of the ZamFam country team and the GHC Malawi country team, that are collectively known as the MalPals. Through co-fellow presentations, spiritually awakening lectures led by Still Harbor, and one-on-ones with GHC staff members including our fearless leader, Barbara Bush, in addition to the post session socializing and catch ups, I felt refocused and refueled for the second half of the fellowship to unfold.

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In addition to the internal relief the Q2 provided, there was so much natural beauty that surrounded us in Mfuwe, Zambia that made the experience even more enlightening. Staying at the Croc Valley Camp lodge, which was immersed amidst Zambia’s Natural Park and game reserve in South Luangwe, was not only beautiful, but it was also such a unique experience. I shared a room with 10 other girls in hostel style set up with mosquito nets draped across the room that made it feel much more lavish and helped compensate for the 1 toilet and 1 shower situation that the 10 of us were trying to figure out over the course of the 5 day retreat.

The roof to our hostel style room was tin and acted as the perfect tap dancing stage for the local monkeys and baboons that began dancing away at the crack of dawn. Speaking of monkeys, they were everywhere which was cool, but kind of terrifying. I never realized how much baboons specifically act and look like humans; one even opened the door to our room and walked in! Those opposable thumbs though.

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And in between heart felt sessions, as a group we got to experience a day and a night game drive through the South Luangwe National Park. Baboons/monkeys were frequent (per usual), elephants were friendly, giraffes were curiously cute, zebras sparked debates about if they were white with black stripes or black with white stripes, and hippos darted in and out of the bushes all of which made our experience so surreal. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any of the big cat predators, but our time in Mfuwe was still incredible.

These games drives were beautiful and really helped me to physically feel the vastness of the world and God’s creation which helped me to at least momentarily feel at peace with uncertainties that I was feeling and remember that everything and everyone has its place and purpose. It will all work out the way that it is supposed to. Thank you Q2 for reminding me of that.

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Holiday Cheer

I love this season that is known as “fall” in the US largely because of the concentration of exciting and family oriented holidays that encourage time well spent together and the creation of memories. This year, I have spent the majority of the holiday season in Zambia with my new ZamFam. From painting beer bottles for decorations and playing with light up balloons for Halloween, to having two expat Thanksgivings filled with Turkey and stuffing and CRANBERRIES (all of which are luxuries to find here), to decorating our Kepa flat with solar powered Christmas lights, stockings and Christmas stickers, I have loved the new memories that our GHC family has created. HAPPY HOLIDAYS YALL!

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Out on the Town  

This past weekend was an eventful one! My usual, casual Friday half day commenced, and afterwards, I went home and immediately to sleep. It was the last day Lute was house-sitting for her cousin and the last day that she would be driving us to work. Not having to worry about dealing with mini bus fee negotiations, sitting extremely close to strangers’ armpits, and praying that we wouldn’t drive towards incoming traffic everyday last week was glorious while it lasted!
After waking up from my cat nap, the roomies and I decided to watch some quality television AKA PITCH PERFECT and PITCH PERFECT 2, courteous of hard drives with massive amounts of space. Over the course of a few hours, people came in and out to watch with us and then, out of no where, Alexis made announcement.

“I have a surprise”. And in walked REENA + MWANSA!

We haven’t seen them since they left 3 weeks ago for Kitwe, which is about 6 hours away from Lusaka. We talk everyday and have been venting to one another about the inevitable adjustment struggles that we are all facing, but seeing them in PERSON was SUCH A SURPRISE!!

Reena stayed with Effie, Kalin and I which enabled long night chats about our lives here and what we envision for ourselves in the future. Saturday was full of events as well as we were celebrating  BRIANS 26th birthday, which was birthday number 4 for ZamFam.

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We began the day by getting picked up by a one of last year’s ZamFam fellows, Robyn, and going to ZamBean-a coffee shop notoriously known for having the best coffee in all of Lusaka. AND IT WAS FABULOUS! I got an incredible iced coffee slushie and a bacon/egg breakfast combo (per usual) that I shared with Reena since she got French toast. MEAT! Nom Nom!
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Of course, we all napped and Kalin put up her hammock following this breakfast feast.

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Next on the agenda was going  to Chengdu, a local Chinese restaurant and casino for dinner! We were really worried about prices, but it turned out to be really affordable and delicious. And to celebrate Brian, we placed a candle in a dumpling!

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Following dinner, we had a Zambian style kick back at our casa before heading out! After sorting out the cab/ride situation, we hit up CHICAGOS first. It was definitely a different scene than it was the first time I went there as it is a restaurant in the mall. Afterwards, we hit the Lounge for some dancing and mingling and then finally headed home to hit the hay. #wehitthatscene
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Sunday, was sad because Reena and Mwansa left and Brian left for Botswana for a work training :(. But it was happy in the sense of productivity. Effie, Kalin and I thought the power was going to go out so we cooked a lot, worked out, showered, and prepared for the week all before 1pm. AND I COOKED THIS INCREDIBLE BAKED AVOCADO + EGG MEAL that Reena taught me! It turns out that the fear of loadshedding makes us really productive, even though power did not go out on Sunday. Lawlz.

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WHAT an eventful weekend going  OUT ON THE TOWN with my ZamFam homies.

VMMC

This week, Lute and I had the privilege of attending the launch of Society for Family Health’s Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision Campaign (VMMC) with the rest of the Communications team. It was Tuesday, and we had just concluded a long VMMC meeting at the office when Lute and I received an email informing us that we were invited to attend the launch the next day! One of our co-workers agreed to pick us up at 6:30am near Kepa to take us to the launch in the Matero Compound. Of course we were sporting our VMMC tshirts and were excited to represent SFH at the event; however, it was SO COLD. Jeans and jackets were a must in terms of wardrobe that day!

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When we arrived, much of the decorations had been set up so we were responsible for distributing awareness information and setting up the pop-up banners in order to complete the branding for the event.

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Around 8:30am, the event began with a marching band to bring awareness of VMMC to the community. The event proceeded with a series of speakers including doctors and government representatives in addition to a slew of press. There was traditional African dancing and drumming and even a skit was performed that showcased some of the common myths and fears that barred men from moving forward with the surgery.

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The overall goal of the event was to break the stigma surrounding such a sensitive topic by calling for the cultural acceptance of VMMC because of how much the procedure has been proven to significantly improve community health. In fact, VMMC procedures reduce the spread of heterosexual HIV by about 60%, which is huge! Despite the weather and perhaps awkwardness that some people felt, overall the event was a success. And I even got to play the drums with some cute new little friends! I am excited for future launches that we will participate in at the Society for Family Health!

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Chipo the Cheetah

Second week of living in Zambia had finally come to a close. It was finally the weekend and our first LONG weekend in celebration of Farmers Day, a national Zambian holiday. In an effort to adventure outdoors beyond the confines of the Kepa Complex, Sara, Kalin and I ventured to the Chaminuku with some new friends.

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Chaminuku is a Luxury Lodge and Game Reserve right outside of Lusaka where we had an incredible time. After about an hour drive, we arrived at this beautiful lodge and indulged in a huge almost gourmet buffet style lunch. Meat, cheese plates, fresh veggies galore! It was literally like paradise.

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After enjoying the beautiful scenery and food, we decided to take part of a daring African excursion by hanging out with some CHEETAHS. And damn, was it scary.

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We got to meet Chipo, a beautiful adolescent Cheetah who was so majestically terrifying it was almost paralyzing.

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The guides gave us a bit of an introduction and then we all had the chance to pet them and even walk them. And for the most part they were so nice! Just purring and licking everyone. It was so cute and playful!

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But then it got closer to their dinnertime and Chipo got off the leash, and he full speed chased down a member of our exploration group who was walking on her own. Luckily for all of us, she didn’t run away and stood still. 5 feet in front of her, Chipo stopped in his chase. IT WAS SO SCARY! Overall, though, it was a day to remember! I loved my first time on a game reserve and cant wait to experience more of God’s beautiful creations by going on more game drives and trips during the rest of my time here!

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Dutch Market Shopping in Kabulonga

So Saturday was a beautiful, lazy day. I woke up by the sound of my buzzing Samsung go phone. Effie wanted to check out the Dutch market with me! After scrounging around my Belvedere lodge room, I finally pulled together an outfit for the market. We walked for what seemed like years, after getting lost numerous times on the treacherous mounds of dirt that serve as sidewalks. Seriously it was like off-roading. FINALLY, we made it to the Dutch market, a place frequented by expats to buy a host of African designed items for their personal collection.

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We ran into some of our ZamFam there, bargaining for the best deals, and Effie and I both bought new bags!

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I love market shopping and checking out all the hand crafted jewelry; we even saw some bracelets that we made from the copper in the Copperbelt!

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I felt so peaceful being surrounded by so many colors and beautiful things—well as peaceful as you can when you are surrounded by people aggressively selling you their salt and pepper shakers. Despite that, I found my happy place there. The market only comes once a month, and I am counting down the days until the next one!

Birthday Bashes

I have always been a big fan of birthdays. I used to be the type that would have a full on birthday week with events with different groups of friends for the entire week of my birthday- which means that OF COURSE I was the girl who called dibs on the princess themed birthday party before other kids in my class so that they knew if their birthday was near mine, they would have to pick a different theme.

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As I have grown older, I have learned to really love celebrating other people’s birthdays. Its so much fun to surprise people you love and care about with songs, memorable photos and gifts while showering them with praise for how wonderful they are as a special person in your life. Because lets face it, it’s more fun to be belting out HAPPY BIRTHDAY in an off key, hoarse voice (not harmonizing like some of you acapella people) rather than being on the receiving end—because after 21, being on that sides can almost 100% of the time be very awkward. Like yayyyyy thanks for singing to me while I sit here smiling awkwardly at you…BAH. But of course I still love it because I relish the awkward moments of life.

In the midst of the craziness and haziness of the past 3 weeks, ZamFam has been blessed with 3 birthdays for 3 of my dearest friends thus far.

On July 4th I had the distinct pleasure of not only celebrating the birth of the United States, but also the beautiful existence of the purest light of our ZamFam. Reena, the youngest of the crew, turned 22, and we brought it in with margs and songs at Bucca de Beppo in Time Square. I loved celebrating with this lil nug and miss her so much since she moved off to the Copperbelt district of Zambia today, which is 5 hours away from Lusaka.

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On July 16th, our lovely Kalin hit the quarter century mark on an emotional roller coaster of a day. Still warming up to the reality of load shedding, the day began in a bit of a dark place (literally and figuratively), but came full circle that evening when we had an incredible nshima dinner with the current and past ZamFam GHC fellows. Kalin had been SO excited for nshima and it was SO delicious; I think we were all stuffed and happy following that meal while in the company of so many cool people. Of course we surprised her with a cake, card, and some NAUGHTY GIRL wine (which was loved by all). And in honor of traditional Zambian practice, Kalin had water poured all over her (which is suppose to be reminiscent of being born out of the womb…a really intensely graphic metaphor but we embraced it nonetheless)

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On July 18th, it was Sara’s 25th birthday and was the day that marked our first weekend in Lusaka. Reena, Brian, Sara, Kalin and I decided to adventure out to one of Lusaka’s top 10 places to eat, Deli, for a delicious brunch! After a night of no power, girl talk, nail painting, banana-grams playing, and New Girl watching (via an external hard drive), it was nice to escape the walls of the Belvedere Lodge for the day. And Deli was perfect! Although the power went out, it was a cute, boutiquey looking restaurant that served EGGS AND MEAT AND COFFEE. We were all ecstatic!

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Talk about celebrating the little things in life! We had such a great meal and conversation which transitioned nicely to our first Lusaka braii, or cook out, hosted by the current GHC Zambia fellows. Booze was a-flown and meat was a-cookin (for quite sometime since the power went out again), and everyone seemed to be having such a great time! And it was really fun getting to know some of the current and past fellows even better too! In honor of Zambian tradition and Sara’s birthday, we sang, we showcased a cake and we drenched her in water- and it was beautiful. Many people hit the town following the braii, aka Darty, and had the chance to feel out the Lusaka clubbing scene!

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All in all, ZamFam goes hard for birthdays despite power outages. It has been so fun celebrating my new friends in our new home!

Load Shedding

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!”
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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)

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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.