Zimbabwe Travel Log

Rosie Vanek, Global Fund Communications
John Rae,  Photographer

Oct 6th

Well, well, well, landed in Harare after 28 hours of travel and had the customs guy decides to pick me out of the lineup for extra attention. So off we go to the stainless steel table that seems to be sporting some strange stains anyway. Carefully and with a bit of show he dons rubber gloves and requests that I open my suitcase. He begins to pull out anything electronic. One backup speedflash. One transceiver. One box of backup cables. One monopod. After he turns over each piece, he carefully notes it’s description on a ledger. Twenty minutes later, once he has satisfied himself with about 15 items in my big bag he requests that I open my camera bag. He takes one look at all the stuff in the bag, looks over at the unopened computer bag, glances at his ledger and gives up. First time too much stuff has saved me. I exit stage right.

I am in Zimbabwe on assignment for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. Everyone has heard about Zimbabwe’s successes and colossal failures. So I am not sure what to expect. I know that producer Rosie Vanek and I will have to have a government minder the entire time. We go straight from the airport to the Government Ministry of Media Relations to get the required Press passes. The cost has gone up from $100 to $200 since Rosie has arrived and we decide that the first day is probably not the best time to make a stink. The process actually goes well and we are out in under an hour. Tomorrow we hit the road running.

Random Thought of the Day: No matter where you go bad American music is waiting for you. Today’s features: ‘To Dream the Impossible Dream’, ‘You are My Hero’.

?attachment_id=9349Oct 7th
Yup hit the ground running. We slogged through two clinics by noon. But the candy came in the afternoon in the name of Marion. Marion is a community outreach volunteer. She is HIV positive 45 years old, funny, shaped like a dumpling, and has two kids that are negative. She is married and happy. Good to see and puts things in perspective. We saw her running a play about HIV that was presented in the middle of a market in a low-income dormitory community outside of Harare. She was great and by the end of the presentation she had close to 200 people in the palm of her hand. We then went on to visit a family in the community who were her clients. They were a discordant couple with three kids. ?attachment_id=9350Discordant means that one member of the couple is positive (in this case the wife) and one is negative. They lived in one room cinder block home that was so small that the bed took up almost all of the room. They had suffered through the stigma of finding out that the disease had entered their lives, gone through counseling, and come out a strong family unit. Miriam’s job is to check on the couple, see if they are adhering to their medicines and monitor their kids. And yes, John managed to unplug the stereo with his knee, start the microwave with his butt, and unlatch the cabinet with his camera bag.

Random bad American music of the day: ‘Afternoon Delight’ and ‘YMCA’.

Oct 8th
Rough day. Started at 5:30 am and traveled three hours to Mutare to visit a program that supports kids living with HIV. We arrived at 9, did a courtesy visit to the District Health Minister, traveled another ½ hour to arrive at the shooting location at about 10am. All programs were performed outside. Bad time to shoot under the blazing African sun. We spent until three at the clinic (no lunch) then traveled back to Mutare to interview three Sex Workers. Mutare is hard on the border. We were within 2km of the Forbes Border Crossing- one of 9 official crossings in the country. ?attachment_id=9351At the crossing long haul truckers get held up between 30 minutes to two days. This makes them vunerable to temptations. The three women we interviewed MT, CW, and HR made their livings servicing the truckers. Perhaps the most depressing part of the day came when MT said that she had been a SW for 10 years and did not use a condom. She justified her choice in three ways. First men pay up to three times more to have sex without a condom. Second in ten years of sex work she had always tested negative. Third she believed that if she did become positive then there were always AntiRetroviral drugs available for free at the clinic. She was orphaned at 8 years old and had a few issues.

Fav Music of Today: Was slimed by ‘We’ve Had Joy, We’ve Had Fun’ oozing out of a speaker at lunch.

?attachment_id=9352Oct 9th
Out again at the crack of dawn. Driving two hours to visit a MSF program in Chiweshe. The idea here is that the patients can do one stop shopping for all their ailments with one medical coordinator. This seems like one of those ‘duh’ ideas, but the simple ideas can be powerful. Often in developing countries you will find that services are delivered in a piecemeal manner. Each NGO will specialize in delivering solutions to a specific problem. Often there is little coordination between the orgs. Jeffrey Saks tried to address this non-coordination problem with the Millennium Villages to moderate success. So anyway- a patient in this pilot program can go to the clinic and visit his or her medical coordinator to get multiple services. He or she does not have to go to multiple clinics on multiple days. The program also takes the idea of coordination to the next level by organizing patients diagnosed with HIV into solidarity groups. This means that the groups of 6-10 can elect a representative to go to the clinic for them and collect their medicines. This organization is important because travel to remote clinics in remote areas can represent a major hardship for the patients. Lembert said that it can cost the patients up to $6 a day to get to the clinic and back.

Bad Music of the Day: Actually did catch ‘Mr. Bogangles’ coming over a speaker.

Oct 10th
In Gweru today. Caught a few laughs from the gang when I kept including the ‘G’ in my pronunciation of the name. It is pronounced Weru. Here we are going to a clinic that integrates HIV and TB services. As they say ‘some days are better than others’. The clinic was circa 1970 and it seems that the maintenance man had quit around 1972. There were no lights so the entire clinic had the feel of darkness. A ceiling had collapsed so they could no longer perform deliveries of children. The desks, chairs, and beds were at least 50 years old and performing accordingly. ?attachment_id=9354Still, through all the challenges, the staff carried forward. We met Trust who was the Primary Care Nurse. He had an effervescent personality and was truly liked by his patients. He cared. In this new program the Nurses are empowered to initiate care. In the past they had to wait for doctor’s orders. But there are few doctors. So Trust and other RN’s have been trained to diagnose and treat a variety of diseases including HIV and TB.

Soon we meet Melody. She is 26, living on her own, working at a take away place, divorced, HIV positive, and TB infected. She had been coughing for two weeks and went to the clinic. Trust ran the TB test and she came out positive. He ran the HIV test and she came out positive. Talk about a bad day. On top of that she cannot work for a month and is at risk of getting kicked out of her rented room. She has to make the trip to the clinic every day for her TB medicines and picks up her HIV medication once a week. Still she managed to smile.

Musical Highlight of the Day: ‘Born Free’ (you cannot make this stuff up).

Oct 11th
Long day of travel from the far east to the far west of Zim. Turn out that Air Zimbabwe is not an UN approved mode of transport. I am not sure, though, that 9 hours of driving on 2 lane Zim highways is any safer. But we made it to Victoria Falls by 4:30pm just in time to run down to see one of the 7 Wonders of the World. They did not disappoint. Just marvelous and these photos are from the dry season. I cannot imagine what they look like at full throttle when it is raining. Asinu said that in the rainy season you can’t even see the falls through the spray. As it was we could not hear each other speak from 2 meters apart.

Music treat of the day: ‘The Candyman’ and ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’.

?attachment_id=9356Oct 12th
Long, long day. We are out to see the Spray Team. They are tasked to spray the inside and outside of all the houses in the district around Victoria Falls with insecticide. In the past when I have gone out to visit the spray teams they have totaled no more that 8 sprayers. Here there were over 50 on the team. Each spray team member is expected to hit 15-20 homes a day in the rural areas. This means (according to my maths again) that the team can cover close to 1000 homes in a day. Quite impressive. Especially knowing that they are in full protective gear, carrying over 30 pounds of gear, walking as far as 10km between houses, and it’s over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. And they do this for 60 days on end for $15/day.

And to top it off: ‘Dreamweaver’ came over the speakers at dinner.

Oct 13th
Going home- oh yea.