Afrique: Summer 2009

IMG_3548I was called to Africa on an emergency, as a family member called to say my husband was in a mining accident between Zambia and the Congo. On June 18th, I left in a hurry, not knowing if he was alive or dead. Unfortunately, my luggage was 11 pounds overweight, and in Boston the airport charged me an extra $250. Then, in New York I had a 9-hour layover. So, before I even left the United States, I was completely stressed out and physically drained. There were several more stops, from Zurich to Nairobi, and I finally arrived in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

There was another fee of $100 for those coming from the US when I got to Africa. Normally it wouldn’t be a terrible problem, except they looked at my money and told me my money was too old, and they refused to take it. My $100 bill was made in 2001! They kept me in the airport for 3 hours. I think my blood pressure went up to 300! But they didn’t care. Finally, my uncle came and paid the $100 to immigration for me with a new bill. Only in Africa you can find all new American dollars! They won’t accept anything older than 2004 and the slightest tear or hole invalidates it also.

I stayed to rest for a few days before the next crazy leg of the journey. My aunt, my brother and brother-in-law went with me to Zambia. It took 3 days! The journey was tiring, but beautiful. The mountains, the wildlife, the people, the hospitality were all outstanding. Even though I was born in Africa my visits back here since moving to the United States have been years apart and I had forgotten the beauty and the peace of having what most consider to be wild animals walking among humans. As I looked around at my new surroundings, I saw elephants, giraffes, zebras and monkeys. The monkeys were very friendly approaching us for our food, of course. We fed them all of our bananas. There was a sense of peace and tranquility that I would reach for often throughout the rest of my journey here. I stayed a few days in the capital of Zambia Lusaka. Next, my Auntie and I went to the Congo.

IMG_3547We went to Lubumbashi, the nearest city to where my husband was. We then traveled to the small village of Kasenga, which was close to the mine where my husband was working when the mining accident happened. Two and a half weeks had passed since I first received news of the mining accident. I had spent this time worrying if my husband was even alive and wondering what condition he would be in. The very ends of my nerves were frayed and I sent up one last prayer to Allah before exiting the vehicle I had arrived in. I took a deep breath and steadied myself for what was to come. When I saw him it was scary and overwhelming. I thought I was prepared, but I was not. He was still covered with blood, his face was swollen, he had lost weight, and his most serious injuries were a big open infected gash on his head and back. We had brought bandages and food, dishes and pots, mosquito nets, blankets and sheets with us. They had no medical care and no decent food.My brother-in-law was also injured with a broken leg and collar bone. Two other men had broken legs and arms,
and one had an injury to his head. They called me and my Aunt the “rescue ladies”. Fortunately, my husband’s strong constitution and his faith brought him through this tragedy, along with our help.

Every day was a challenging day, not knowing what you were facing or if wounds would get infections since we didn’t have doctors or medical expertise. Since there was no hospital, we took our chances until they could walk on their own to get better treatment in neighboring countries. It was mixed emotions for me because it was the first time I was taking care of anyone, especially four men, to such an extreme degree and in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t have a proper shelter or water. Our shelter was a tent with a cement floor. It was very hard to sleep on the hard cement floor and during the day, you could feel the heat of the sun through the tent.  I had gotten used to my King size bed at home and the cement was hard on the hips and back.

To get water, we had to go half a mile and sometimes had to carry 20 gallons of water to the village one gallon at a time. In my last week in Congo, I found a little boy who I paid to help me carry the water so that my aunt would not have to. To carry all of that was an exhausting burden, but I didn’t have a choice. That was my duty because the men depended on me to help them and get them back to their health. We even had to use charcoal to cook for the men everyday. We did not rest very much knowing that we always had more to do and we prayed everyday that nothing bad happened to the men.

The village people were very nice and hospitable. They spoke some broken Swahili and French. A few people spoke a little English. We spent five weeks there nursing my husband and the other injured miners. When they gained some strength, and the wounds had partially healed, we all went back to Lubumbashi. His pain was persistent in his back, so we took him from there to Zambia. We had to beg for assistance at three different hospitals because the x-rays and lab work seemed to suggest that nothing was seriously wrong.

We were disappointed, but one doctor explained he may need an MRI to make the diagnosis, and there is no facility with this kind of technology in the region. We decided to pursue this further in the future when he comes to the U.S. However, this was heartbreaking because it meant I had to leave him in pain and return to the US since my Visa to be in Africa had expired. I flew home on August 19th.

My Aunt Hawo was the one that supported me through this really hard time. She travelled with me the whole way; she wiped my tears when I cried and she was my shoulder when I needed comfort in my anguish and stress. She deeply touched me; indeed, she is my angel and my hero. I love her and miss her very much!

In spite of this setback, we really enjoyed Zambia and our time together there. Through my travels, I had the opportunity to compare these three unique African countries; Tanzania, Congo and Zambia.

Tanzania is 80% Muslim and has primarily agricultural and coastal advantages. As a port, many goods are going in and out, and there is a lot of construction and economic activities. Despite this they don’t really welcome foreigners, and Somalis in particular don’t feel welcomed.

Next, Zambia has a higher standard of living and is primarily Christian. Immigration is also very restricted due to their strict laws. Even if you’re born there, you’re not considered a citizen. Also, there’s a lot of corruption. However, this can work well for Somalis once they get a handle on how to manipulate the corruption to their advantage. Zambia is an industrial based society. They do import agriculture from the neighboring Tanzania, but they manufacture most of their own goods.

In contrast, Congo has no agriculture, and little industry. It is majority Christian and the pace is very slow and laid back. Women run most of the businesses. Men are more likely to be employed in mining or office work. It’s a beautiful country, but it is fast on its way to destruction by pollution and greed due to the mining and exploitation by many western countries for their natural resources. What outraged me is that these foreigners (US, Japan and China, in particular) have no qualms about coming to reap these resources, but they are doing nothing to develop the countries by building roads, schools, and infrastructure. They are taking with their greed, diminishing the natural beauty which can never be replenished, and not giving anything back for the people and their society.

For my next trip to Africa, I would like to see a change in the development of these countries and an end to the corruption that is a part of people’s daily lives. Instead of taking advantage of the countries, I would like to see people appreciate the riches that God has given to them and for them to take their countries back into their own hands in the near future.

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2 Responses

  1. Marianne, I was very curious to hear about your trip so I thank you for writing this. What an amazing journey. I hope your husband and family are well.

  2. Marianne, As I read your story, I remember how both privileged and impoverished we are in this country. The ease, in someways of our lives (your husband would have been put in an ambulance and taken to the hospital) , and yet how the pace of our lives robs us, even as we have fifteen different flavors of soda in the convenience store. I am awed by the courage and persistence, the sacrifice of your journey, and envy a little the strength of your family ties. I am revolted by the greed that invades those countries, that depletes them with no apparent need to give back. The almighty dollar one more time mixing it up with human nature…Thank you for writing and posting this story, and reminding me of those things that are truly important. Many blessings to you and your family.

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