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April 17, 2012 / catherinebwrites


(Photos Martin Stone)
On Wednesday we went to Mazabuka, a two-hour drive from Lusaka.   The plan was to get there as early as possible so that we would be finished in time to make the return journey in daylight.    While we were still  forty kilometres away I got a text.   It was from Sister Mariana, a Zambian nun whom I’d met here in Ireland. 
“Many people are here,” read the text, “they are waiting anxiously for you to arrive.”
 We arrived in Mazabuka and went to Nchete House, a community centre run by the Sisters of Mercy.   People were streaming towards the waiting area.    We looked in.   Holy Guacamole!    People of all ages were crammed into the waiting room and more were arriving.  Time to get cracking.  
Kieran in the waiting room looking daunted.

Alex, Martin and I set up in a circular thatched hut in the grounds.    Part of the space was a waiting area and the rest a closed off room.   

Audiology Mazabuka

Three audiologists working in one room is not ideal but, it was the best we could do.   Mutanta, our interpreter, was continuously on call so there were non-stop interruptions.  Outside, the waiting patients all talked at the top of their voices and, every so often, we had to go out and hush them.Besides it was very dark inside the room, so we were all frowning through the gloom at our audiometers.  

Peering through the gloom


Outside there was chaos.   The Sisters had taken names and given everyone a number as they arrived but, when we arrived, Kieran asked for the patients to be divided in to three groups. Ear, Nose and Throat.   This meant that people were no longer being seen in the order in which they’d arrived.   And nobody likes that.  Mutanda and Alex had to keep going out and explaining.

Pattison at work

At one point in the afternoon there was uproar outside and I went to ask the people to quieten down.   I opened to the door to find Pattison. Our ear-mould technician cowering outside.   Pattison is young and slightly built and his outsized white lab coat made him look even slighter.   He held a chart in front of him like a shield and his eyes were wide and darting.   In front of him stood three, large, middle-aged women, feet planted apart, hands on hips, heads wagging, angrily giving out the pay.   I reckoned they were not happy with having to wait but   I decided, coward that I am, to withdraw discreetly and suffer the noise.

I don’t even know how many patients we saw that day because it was heads down and… Next.   Next.   Next.   There must have been about 150 altogether.     Two patients stood out one was a little girl who had suffered malaria and been treated with quinine.    As a result her hearing was severely damage.   Sadly, I couldn’t test her properly partly because of the conditions and partly because I did not have a drum.   A drum is very useful for conditioning small children for a hearing test because, no matter how bad their hearing loss they get the vibrations of a drum.   I thought she might have some useful hearing but she didn’t understand what  to do so I cannot be sure.    Her little face has been haunting me ever since.
Beatrice arrived  wearing a nurse’s uniform.   I asked her if she spoke English and, although she appeared to hear me ,she  collapsed in to giggles, twisted about in her chair and looked away.     it was such a strange response..   Was she mentally ill?   Did she have a learning disability?    As I was furiously wondering how to proceed another woman in a similar uniform came  and sat beside her.
“I speak English.”  She said.  
Then she dropped her voice and leaned confidentially over the table.
 “And I am very familiar with her “condition”.”
Good lord. What “condition”?
            I explained the test to the woman she translated it into Tonga for Beatrice.    Very soon her “condition” became clear.   She had a severe hearing loss.   Once  I spoke directly into her ear she stopped giggling and it turned out that she spoke excellent English.   She was just embarrassed.    And when we gave her hearing aids she was  delighted,   she could hear..
            In the mobile clinic  Kieran removed wax from a man’s ear with a grasshopper embedded in it!   Yuck…. But kind of interesting too!   He also declared that he’d seen more pus in Mazabuka than he’d seen in his whole life.   Martin suggested we call him Pus in Boots.    It seemed hilarious at the time!
Grasshopper in ear-wax… mmm…delicious!
We had hoped to leave Mazabuka in time to get back to Lusaka in daylight but that didn’t happen.   In Africa the sun
doesn’t  loiter about  delivering twilight.    It just plops down behind the horizon without warning.  
Sun in the process of plopping.
And then it is dark and the driving is difficult.   Kieran drove while Alex kept an eye out for  potholes  and  pedestrians.   It’s  difficult to spot Africans in the dark.   Cars  whizzed past  on the inside and some  cars sped past with  no lights.   I dealt with my fear by chatting merrily to  Evelyn and Mercy, our nurses.
            We arrived back at our hotel wrecked and slept the sleep of the just.



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One Comment

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  1. Gold in the Shadows / Apr 26 2012 6:38 am

    well you never know what you find in an ear! As always, very entertaining. But I am also moved by the sense of compassion for the people you were working with.And I love the formidable Sr. Bernard!


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