I shouted, “Save yourselves!” as my parents and in-laws boarded the plane back to the States.
This is it. This is the real life version of my favorite computer game growing up, the Oregon Trail. Sadly, that is my only point of reference when it comes to Cholera, that, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s version.
So what happens during a cholera epidemic? Good question and one that I asked Google because she knows everything. Yet all she churned out were facts because it’s not fairly common in this day and age for a cholera epidemic to occur. What I wanted was a series of events to expect, how to brace myself for this.
I didn’t have to wait long to figure out what would happen.
First, street vendors were cleared by the thousands, wooden stalls turned over and burned. Military roamed the streets patrolling for any illegal vending on the streets. Zambians livelihood and means to an end were suddenly striped from them. How were they supposed to support their families if they couldn’t sell? People walking the streets would be handed brooms and shouted at to help clean. So, you might be on your way to the bank and find yourself at the mercy of the military ordering you to pick up trash and clean for an hour. I must stress, this is only done in certain areas of the city. I have yet to be demanded to clean the lands and be dubbed the Litter Queen.
Secondly, bleach, hand sanitizer and water were bought off the shelves…so much so that for Wesley’s birthday, I bought him two small bottles of bleach I found because he was frantic we would be without. (He’d come home in a panic one day and went down a dark series of events spiral, hyperventilating, which I simply attributed to his lack of not having eaten lunch, so I jammed a sandwich in his mouth and calmed him down.) We haven’t used the bleach once, btw. However, everywhere we do go, we have to have our hands squirted with bleach; the movies, restaurants, grocery stores, etc.
Thirdly, fresh produce was being taken away from grocery stores after being found contaminated. So much so, that whole supermarkets and restaurants were being closed down because of coming into contact with contaminated water. Thank goodness for our friends having left Zambia 😉 and leaving us a hoard of canned food and our own stock from our move here. We were ready to hunker down and eat baked beans with corn and mac n cheese for months if need be!
As for my school, we were closed for a 6 days but we weren’t allowed to gather in groups of greater than 5 people when we were at school. (The governments way of ‘protecting’ us.) We had to continue lesson planning and sending lessons to our parents via WhatsApp and email. So, when I wanted to let my kids keep playing outside and exploring, I was forced to create lessons for working parents to accomplish when they came home after a long day of work.
Once school was opened, parents weren’t allowed past our gates but had to leave their kids to walk to class on their own. (Which as you can imagine is a dream for teachers and a nightmare for parents!) Haha! Being a teacher in the ELC we have to have a bottle of bleach, hand sanitizer and a water and soap station for our kids to use. I mean, we kill the crap outta germs down there! As I like to tell my kids, we aren’t giving the germs any strength to make us sick. So it’s been really funny because my boys will squeeze hand sanitizer and making destroying sounds will say things like, “Take that germs!” and “Not today germs! I’m the strong one!”
All in all, Cholera has affected us but merely only through the ripples of its destruction. Though I sit comfortably in my house, taking the necessary precautions, just a few kilometers away there are riots, burnings and marches because people lack enough clean water and because their livelihood and stalls have been burned down to the ground. I mean basic clean water! I couldn’t believe it! We were sitting in a staff meeting (breaking the more than 5 rule) and one of our HOD’s pipes up that theres a riot nearby and that we should avoid certain routes. Our headmaster then paused and said, “Can we just take a moment to take this in? We have parents upset that they can’t dump off their kids on us at school while whole families are losing their children to Cholera due to the lack of clean water.”
Even now as I write this, I get frustrated about how I was sitting in a room full of healthy and wealthy families thinking about all the info I had grown up hearing, people advocating for water wells in bush villages, people dying by the masses in poor countries, a lack or resources getting to countries in need but that was all distant for me, something I could do nothing about. Yet, there I was, just down the street from it all happening in real time affecting my, now stupid and meaningless, trip to the grocery store.
I mean 3000+ people were diagnosed with Cholera and 70+ deaths have occurred. It’s ridiculous because people don’t actually die from Cholera but really dehydration and the lack of clean water. I will say, that in the months following the outbreak (which officially was back in October), the Ministry of Health has been working hard to get large green containers with clean water to rural parts of the city. They have shut down establishments known for unclean sewage systems, cleaned the streets and the numbers of affect people have gone down significantly, though we are still not out of the woods yet. It really just goes to show you how slowly a country can respond when there is a lack of resources and education.
Though we still haven’t figured out how we could help our community, we aren’t sure where to start really, we make sure that our co-workers and friends, who might come into contact with these affected areas, are being well cared for.