Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.
Emeritus Professor of Sociology
I was having the best time of my life for five months at the Mwizenge Sustainable Model Village in Chongwe in rural Lusaka the Capital City of Zambia in Southern Africa. I was living a full life with about 15 men and women every day in the African wilderness finally doing the research work I have loved and craved for all my forty years of working life since I was a Research Fellow at the then Institute of African Studies of the University of Zambia in the late 1970s.
I woke up early that morning in Chongwe in June 2021 as usual and had my breakfast of large slices of juicy red tomatoes on brown bread with hot black tea. At 7.25am I suddenly felt so awful, ill and weak in my entire body that I intuitively knew I had to call a taxi to urgently take me to the Clinic in Chongwe 16 miles or 27 Kms away. I felt so weak I could not carry my 30lb or 13.60Kg backpack. Instead, I asked one of the young men village residents, to carry my backpack to the taxi. He looked so puzzled at me that even he realized something was seriously wrong – village residents knew I refused help and always carried my own heavy large backpack and often walked the 5 Kms to the main road.
The young doctor at the Chongwe private clinic said I had a bacterial infection and gave me antibiotics. I went back home and spent a night in utter misery of sickness of fever so high that sweat drenched my bed sheets. My brother decided we should travel 41miles or 67 kms to Lusaka to South Point Hospital where the doctors had access to cutting edge medical lab technology. The battery of tests revealed I had such serious case of malaria that I had to be hospitalized and admitted immediately. The experienced nurses in the small ten-bed hospital ward immediately frantically started to administer the drips for the 3 bags of fluids since I was dangerously dehydrated. The expensive cocktail of doses of intravenous malaria drug courses were quickly administered. Two days later I was discharged feeling great. I went back to my hut in the model village in Chongwe.
A few days later I went back to the South Point Hospital for a medical review where the medical staff warmly welcomed me. I had no idea something was going to happen that would drastically change my life forever. The doctor said my lab tests showed the malaria parasite was still there. They would treat it with yet another round of the cocktail of intravenous drugs. This time I would be an outpatient. The doctor casually suggested I get the rapid Corona Virus test. When the test results came back, I will never forget that moment, the doctor very casually told me:
“Your Corona Virus test came out positive,” he looked at me. “How are you feeling? Any shortness of breath?”
“I feel fine,” shrugging my shoulders. “I have been wearing a mask all the time. I have a small cough; nothing serious.”
“You must be one of those asymptomatic Corona Virus people.”
The doctor gave me Corona Virus prescription drugs that I was to take for 10 days. I was staying at a lodge. I took my first dose. That night my whole body broke up into hives and rushes. I could not sleep. I badly wanted to scratch all over my body. My fever was drenching my bed covers with sweat every night.
My aunt and uncle who used to live in the City of Lusaka passed away several years ago. My nearest relatives were 372 miles or 600kms away in the remote Eastern Province in Lundazi district. My wife and children were 10,000 miles or 16,000 Kms away in Bridgewater in the United States. I would fight this battle alone in a lodge.
When Derrick Chauvin the white police officer had his knee on Gorge Floyd’s neck for nine minutes in the United States, George knew he was going to die. He cried for his mother. During the worst times of my Corona Virus illness, I cried for my late mother who passed in 2018. When I was young, my mother once said: “There are times my son in your life when you will be alone and suffering very far away from home. You will have to be strong. and pray to God. Other kind people will help you.”
My mouth felt so bad that the sight and thought of eating food felt disgusting. I lost my sense of taste and smell of food. My 35-year-old taxi driver Mulenga who said he had also been sick and recovering from the Corona Virus became my inspiration. “Ba Shikuru (old man) you will be alright” he kept encouraging and reassuring me every day as the battle continued.
The hospital could not issue me the international Corona Virus travel certificate yet as my Corona Virus test was still positive so I could not fly back home to the United States even after 10 days of taking medications. I was depressed. Would I ever fly back home anytime soon?
Slowly I began to eat. I first ate nshima with lumanda delele. One day, the hospital issued my international Corona Virus travel certificate as the test was finally negative. After 17 hours of grueling flying, the massive plane landed at Dulles Airport in the United States. When I emerged at the international arrival lounge, my tall mask less son was waiting:
“Welcome home Dad!” He had had both vaccinations. I was so happy.
I have lived with the survivor’s guilt. I was one of the lucky ones. I did not need a Corona Virus hospital bed and a ventilator. People are dying of the virus in Lusaka and among 17 million Zambians who cannot escape. But I was able to fly away. That made me feel guilty. Many Zambian have survived and recovered from the virus. There is still lots of suffering and death from the dangerous Corona Virus among my 17 million fellow Zambians.