The “Real Africa”

By Tom Costanza, on assignment in Zambia.

A hotel courtyard in Lusaka. Real crocodile, unreal experience of Zambia. (Tom Costanza/WV)

The Southern Sun was cold when we got to Zambia. People were walking its hallways in hats, scarves, and down parkas. To a guy from the Northwest, it was just a little chilly.

The Southern Sun is a fairly upscale hotel in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital city. Its restaurant courtyard surrounds a pond filled with crocodiles (really!) and these beautiful yellow birds called weavers that spend all day building elaborate hanging nests. It’s a wonderful place to sit with a cup a coffee and just watch.

Tom films volunteer AIDS caregivers. (WV)

Zambians call their country “the Real Africa.” But if you only saw the Southern Sun, you’d never come close to seeing the real Africa. To see that, you need to head out to where the pavement gives way to red dirt and dust devils and the sky is deep blue and filled with billowing white clouds. It’s the Africa of laughing children and hardworking adults. That’s where you meet people like Richard, a home-based caregiver who walks seven kilometers several days a week to tend to his ailing friend, Nickson (I couldn’t help but chuckle at the name coincidence—Richard and “Nixon”). Or you meet Pastor Crispin Varruth, who, before becoming a pastor, lost three brothers, two sisters, his wife, and four of his five children to AIDS.

Now Pastor Varruth runs a support group in his congregation to help lift up those living with HIV. They call it “living positive.” I love the dual meaning of that phrase. Thanks to anti-retroviral drugs, these days people who are HIV-positive are no longer condemned to a slow but sure death. They see people like Pastor Varruth, who’s HIV-positive himself and living a happy and productive life. He is the embodiment of the term “living positive.” If he can do it, they reason, so can they. Here, community members, churches, and even whole villages reach out and support each other.

That’s the “real Africa” I know.

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