On Call in the bush
So there we were, on the side of the road on our first day in Zambia after we’d finally fled Malawi, talking to the driver and passenger of the Landrover that had just passed us by. Two people that we hadn’t seen or spoken to in over a year. Faith, coincidence or whatever kind of higher power you wish to attribute this unexpected reunion to, had dealt us another lucky card and in the process decided to provide us with a new opportunity to get involved with a great organization.
About 16 months earlier we were in Monkey Bay, Malawi, where we fought the law and a crocodile. We only won the second battle. During these adventures we didn’t neglect our duties as awesome Guerilla Volunteers and offered our help at the local hospital. Here, we met Simon and Kirsty, a Scottish couple that had just finished their education as doctors and wanted to put those gained skills to use in a third-world country and did so. This they found fun and all, but really, they wanted something more. Maybe something like the ThreeLeftHands. But then with doctors. We talked a lot and enjoyed each others company, but as things go in the shady and fragile world of the traveller, after we parted ways, the contact faded.
Needles to say, the two people in their Landrover we met on the highway of Zambia were the same Simon and Kirsty and we immediately noticed the sticker on the door of their car. ‘On Call Africa’ it said over a map of Africa combined with one of those spiky lines you see on hospital machines and which you hope never goes flat. Apparently, the couple followed their dream and founded an NGO of their own. As you might have correctly guessed, they named it ‘On Call Africa’. With their Landrover they drive to remote settlements and set up a clinic for a day, where people from all directions then come to. After a day, they drive on to the next village to do the same thing. Their own take on Guerilla Volunteering so to say, but then with doctors. And yay, we could help!
Before we knew it, we drove Doutzen like a racing horse to Livingston, southern Zambia, hopped just on time in a Landrover and set of for this new experience. After two hours of die hard off-road driving over dirt tracks and through rivers, we arrived at our first destination and then it struck us. We are no doctors. We don’t have a medical degree of any kind. Sure, we’ve been in hospitals a lot, but unfortunately, that does not count. For Marten, this was no problem. Doctors that drive to remote places spend more time servicing patients than their cars and indeed, the Landrover did make some strange noises and the brakes didn’t exactly work and Marten had a project. Henk however, can’t fix things. Henk can talk. Henk can write. Henk, like the other ThreeLeftHands, can do loads of stuff. But not fix a car. Or be a doctor.
Simon had a solution for this. “One of our doctors it not on this trip and normally, he does sex/health education. You can do that.” And so Henk, armed with a banana and a pocket full of condoms, set of to the tree. A tree has shadow, and in the shadow is where you sit with the men to talk about matters. And there was something to talk about.
No, when your chin is itchy doesn’t mean you’ve got syphilis…
“Hey guys,” Henk said awkwardly to the little group of men, varying in age from twenty to seventy, “my name is Henk and I was wondering… what do you know about STI’s?” Not much, it appeared. The men were surprisingly open and very interested in things to do with the health of their penis, of which they knew very little about. And so Henk told them about syphilis and other STI’s, why HIV is dangerous, why they should get themselves tested and displayed how to use a condom using the banana he had in his pocket. Not that banana. A real, yellow banana.
The men in their turn actively partook in the ‘class’. “I’ve got blisters in that area, what is that?” “There can’t be immorality in a marriage…” says one man solemnly, “Ha!” exclaims another one, “How can there not be immorality in a marriage?” the other men agree. After all, monogamy doesn’t really fit in their culture. Some questions we don’t have answers to. “How many times should I have sex per week, and then, how many times per night?” “Can we get some medicine for power?” they ask. For a moment Henk wonders what power they’re talking about. Then it dawns on him. “If you don’t have power,” he says, again using the sentence most questions of this afternoon require, “you should see the doctor.”