Written by Jory Gomes ’18
In the Fall 3-week semester, a group of nursing, biomedical humanities, and other health-minded students traveled to Zambia, with Professors Amber Chenoweth, Ph.D., and Emily McClung, Ph.D., to study the culture and the health issues the African nation faces. This ardent group of Hiram students has returned to campus with a plethora of knowledge and an eagerness to share their experiences. Four students—Natalie Menke ‘19, Holly Wilkens ‘18, Maggie Marten ‘18, and James Coppenger ‘18—were asked about the most memorable moments from their trip and what they want those who have never been to Zambia to understand.
Menke made the assertion that most people look at Africa on a map and assume it to be a homogenous mixture of stereotypes that they’ve been fed throughout their life. She stated that she “[wants] people to understand how diverse Africa is. The countries that make up Africa are all diverse in their own ways, Zambia was fairly tropical and not made up of a desert like parts of Northern Africa.” Responding to other stereotypes, she continued “yes there are regions that are still extremely poor and living in mud huts, but there [are] also cities that are just like ours, minus the skyscrapers. Zambia itself was more advanced than I had thought beforehand [because I had been] clouded by false stereotypes.” Following this, Menke said that one of her favorite experiences was “being able to tour the veterinary school and seeing their labs. The microbiology lab was doing a project very similar to what I had done last spring in microbiology [class at Hiram] and I thought it was really interesting to see they are doing the same type of research using the same techniques.” Lastly, Menke said that she wants more people to visit Africa so they can see it for themselves and meet the people—perhaps even befriending a few and remaining in contact with them like she was able to do.
Wilkens echoed some of the same sentiments on the stereotyping of Africa, and then followed with what she perceived to be the Zambian stereotype of Americans. She stated that they understand that other countries like the United States are rich in resources, and that this leads them to “have a stereotype of Americans as being wealthy and smart people.” She backed this up by saying that “some of the doctors and nurses that we met were asking for our opinions on treatments for patients, and for us to help raise money for equipment that they need, for example another autoclave. Those that we conversed with were surprised to hear that our country also deals with poverty and citizens not having access to certain resources.”
Another memorable thing that Wilkens learned was that the rangers at South Luangwa National Park don’t have a lot of authority in conservation. She commented that “if they find poachers, then they have to wait for the police to come and arrest them.” However, she stated that it was important to note that “the rangers do have the support of the villagers, that help as informants.” Finally, Wilkens noted that though people in Zambia have to walk kilometers and travel for days to get treatment for illnesses, there are organizations aimed at improving the overall health of Zambians, like clinics in rural areas that allow doctors from other countries to volunteer for 3 months. Other organizations Wilkens noted are “a handbag store called Wayawaya (pronounced Whyawhya) that provides jobs for the women in Livingstone that do not have an education, the Luangwa Project, where they provide schools for children, boys and girls clubs, and they donate materials for girls that started their menstrual cycles, a store in Mfuwe where people can buy the pads necessary for the girls and donate them to those in need, and Mulberry Mongoose, a jewelry store where they use the snares from the national park to make the jewelry, using the proceeds for conservation services.”
Like Wilkens, Coppenger noted stereotypes in his reflection, but he also noted other misconceptions people in America have. He explained that almost everyone he has talked to since the trip “has asked me‘did you feel safe the whole trip?’” He followed this by adding that he “[wants] people to know that just because we weren’t in America doesn’t mean we weren’t safe. I have felt more uncomfortable in the US then I felt for almost a month in africa. We crossed the border into two different African countries and never once felt threatened or uncomfortable in any way.” This comfort in going between countries is opposite to many of Americans misconceptions about Africa, and he wants people to change their understandings for the better. When asked about his most memorable experience, Coppenger stated the people, “what stands out most is when we would go to places like the orphanage or villages and the kids and people just flocked. The people were so excited to show you were they lived and that amazed me… people with little to nothing were proud of where they were, and yet here in the states we have people with everything, ashamed that they don’t have more.”
In her reflection, Marten agreed with a lot of Coppenger’s points but added that, in her opinion, “it sort of seemed like Mfuwe, the most remote area we went to, was the happiest, while Lusaka, the most urban area, was the least happy. I know that I’m making broad generalizations of the people, off of a brief observation, but I think it boiled down to simplicity. [In Mfuwe] the true meaning of their lives didn’t seem to get overshadowed by all the things we have in our society.” She said this countered the thoughts she had before the trip because she initially has a bias towards the United States, assuming that because of our technological advancement, our society must be much happier and healthier than them. However, she noted that the subconscious notions she had held to be true would have kept her from seeing the happiness and liveliness of Zambia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, had she not been able to put it to the side. She ended her reflection by saying that “now I think maybe we are all brothers and sisters (as the vendors so often said to me, ‘hello, sister!’). We feel the same emotions, have the same basic goals, and face the same basic problems. It is not a world of us vs. them, it’s more a world of sister and brother.”