"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

7.14.2007

from friday

I was wrong yesterday. I got home last night, counted it up, and realized that I did nine interviews in one day, not eight. Nine is, without a doubt, Too Many for one day. At this rate, I can take off for vacation two weeks early. Which, of course, I won’t. But it’s tempting.

How did this happen, you might ask? Well, it’s kindof a long story. I started the day with one planned interview, stopped by another office and found someone who was eager to talk, and was making my way to my 10am appointment with the rough equivalent of a District Health Commissioner when I saw his car driving down the main road. In the wrong direction. He stopped, picked me up, and pointed out that he still had 6 minutes to get to our appointment. We went on his errands, then made it to the hospital, where the doctor to whom he was going to introduce me was otherwise occupied. “Do you want to go to the health zones?” he asked. “You’d have to pay for the fuel.”

$25 of gas later and we were off to see three hospitals and two health zone officials. Bukavu is bizarre in that most of its big, important hospitals are in almost rural areas. I don’t get it, but, anyway, it was worth $25 because I never would have found these places on my own, and the fact that their boss ordered them to talk to me meant that I had no problems with access.

(There was one funny thing that happened in the midst of all this. While visiting Chiriri Hospital (in the middle of nowhere, yet still technically the main hospital for 1/3 of Bukavu), a television crew burst into the chief doctor’s office asking him to say some words about the hospital. So, long story short, I’m going to be not only on Congolese national television, but also on the Catholic station. (This is not, sadly, my first appearance on African television, but that’s another story.)

Then I had to excuse myself for an appointment to which I was already 20 minutes late (although it turned out that doctor had forgotten we’d made an appointment). This one was at another far-flung hospital, but Panzi Hospital is quite famous. Panzi is in the Ruzizi River valley, which would have been a lovely drive had my taxi driver not blown out a tire on the horrible road leading that way. (The guy should be training for a pit crew; he changed the flat in less than 4 minutes using a tiny hand-cranked jack.)

At Panzi, I had easy access because the chief doctor is Alain’s wife’s uncle (go fig), and did an interview with him in which he told me that describing the Congolese health system would be a thesis in itself. (This made me feel lots better about how confusing it is.)

After that, I talked with someone from the health zone staff before taking a very amusing shared taxi ride back to the city. Seems MONUC was trying to haul water somewhere, but the road is not wide enough for MONUC and all the taxis, thus there was a massive traffic jam. “Wouldn’t it be faster to walk?” I asked the pediatrician who was in the front seat of the cab. “Yes,” he replied, and so we walked 100 meters past the backup, he found a taxi to get us the rest of the way into town, and that was that.

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