Two days ago my daughter, Sarah, was in Africa, about to head home after a month working at a hospital in Zambia.  Today, Sarah is at the camp where she has worked the past three summers in upstate New York.  Yesterday, she briefly touched down at our house.  My head is bound to stop spinning soon.

At 6:00 a.m. I headed to Kennedy Airport to pick up my globetrotting girl.  Even the pick-up was a whirlwind.  Her plane was due into Kennedy at 6:40, but I knew that with international flights, the customs and baggage claim process could easily take an hour, so I wasn’t worried when I parked my car at 7:00 and headed into the terminal.  No sooner had I slammed the car door, then I had a text from Sarah saying she could see from her stalking device that I was at the airport.  She was all set and would meet me on the sidewalk.

“We landed about an hour early, so I’ve been ready for about half an hour,” she said.

“Wow, I’m sorry you had to wait.  I’m also sorry I parked, I could’ve just pulled up the the curb.”  We headed back to Connecticut, our car mixed in with all of the Long Islanders heading into the city.  The traffic didn’t really matter to us.  Sarah had lots to share.

For the next two hours, she filled me in on the highlights and the frustrations of working in an understaffed hospital in a town where  the locals paid money to visit healers  rather than visit the hospitals where the treatment was free.  There was one doctor at the hospital.  While she was there, Sarah saw the same doctor deliver babies, perform an appendectomy and a hysterectomy,  drain the abdomen of someone with liver failure, and treat the many HIV patients who the healers couldn’t help.  I learned a lot about the culture of the tribal community, the challenges of an underfunded medical system, the corruption of the president (how novel!), and the language barrier the nurses faced, not because they couldn’t speak English, but because they were from a different part of Zambia and couldn’t speak with the locals.

Just to give Sarah a little rest from her talking, I filled Sarah in on the various health problems in our family.  I also detailed the rapid rise and fall of The Mooch.  Then it was back to the stories from Africa.

I heard about her fouled-up flight into Johannesburg, her amazing housemates, the leader of her trip, who was taking her 20th summer trip to Zambia, the cobra that the doctor killed with a rock in front of the hospital, and the rumpled man who tended the mortuary right behind the hospital.

Sarah’s group of nine college students and one faculty leader spent a lot of time trying to learn how things worked in this town.  They followed the doctor on his rounds, worked in the HIV clinic, visited outreach stations, interviewed nurses, patients, shopkeepers, elderly and disabled people.  As a group, they’re now tasked with a project to develop a plan for having a positive impact on the health care system in this region of Zambia.  It seemed daunting to me, but Sarah was looking forward to the project this fall.

By the afternoon, Sarah was beginning to drag.  She had slept on the 15-hour flight, but they were  six hours ahead of us, so her day should have been winding up.  “You must be tired,” I said, stating the obvious.

“Yeah, but I need to stay up until at least nine.  Otherwise I’ll wake up in the middle of the night.”

“When are you heading up to camp?”

“I was thinking I should leave as soon as I wake up tomorrow.”  Right.

When I got up at 6:00 this morning, Sarah was already up, sitting on the floor stuffing newly-washed clothes into her duffel and her frame pack.  “I woke up at 4:00,” she proclaimed. “I tried reading some Facebook posts, thinking that might put me back to sleep, but…Nope.  So, I took a shower and packed.  I think I’m about ready.”

I managed to stall her for a bit with other things she could pack or eat, but by 7:00 a.m. she was on the road, starting the five-hour drive to the north country.

Thank goodness she’ll be back later this month (for 48 hours) before she goes back to school.

2 thoughts on “Whirlwind

  1. Yikes! That is a whirlwind of a day with her. Your writing conveys the energetic busyness of your globetrotting daughter. Beautiful. I bet you were so relieved to get her home!

    The image of the doctor killing that cobra in front of the hospital tells a lot in one line, and the mortuary behind the hospital. Wow. That’s an awesome assignment for the college students to come up with a project to have a positive impact on health care. Super.

    All the best,


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