I've returned from my first-ever trip to Africa. I was in Zambia for around two weeks, mostly as a volunteer for the US CDC, working on an electonic medical records tracking system called SmartCare. The intent of the system is to improve care for Zambians by creating more usable medical records than the current paper-based systems. Zambians, unfortunately, continue to battle maleria, TB, HIV/AIDs and other serious conditions. Life expectancy in Zambia is a shocking 39 years, so there is a great deal of work to be done.
Traveling has the potential to expand a person's world and this trip certainly did that for me. In addition to my first time to Africa, this was my first trip to a third-world country. Shown below is my welcome from the people of Macha. I'll start with this.
10 things I didn't know about Zambia, ok 11...
1) It takes 7 hours to fly from Lusaka (the capital city) to the top of Africa. Africa is HUGE!
2) Third-world countries have significant challenges, however it's certainly not all 'doom and gloom', the Zambian people I met were friendly, warm-hearted and seemed pretty happy.
3) 20,000 kwacha (Zambian money) is about $ 5 USD - conversions are tricky!
4) Carry certain items with you at all times - bottled water (very dry and dusty), small flashlight (really, really dark at night, especially in the country) and toilet paper (yes, I should've known that one - don't say I didn't tell you!)
5) You can actually see the Milky Way in the sky from Macha, Zambia - and what a beautiful sight it is.
6) In the southern part of Zambia, where Tonga is spoken, there is a traditional handshake that differs from what I would typically do.
7) Rural roads can be so rough that cars can actually break apart from driving on them.
8) There is a better tasting drink than Bailey's - it's called Amarula.
9) Victoria Falls is justifably one of the natural wonders of the world.
10) There is no better way to see animals than to visit a game park. I was fortunate enough to go to Chobe in Botswana.
11) Some of the most remote, rural places (like Macha) use technology in interesting ways - their network is called LinkNet.
Esther Schorr, one of my colleagues on the trip, is also blogging about our experience.
I've been involved with SmartCare for about 1 year. It is a joint effort by the Zambian gov't and the US CDC and has been in operation for around 7 years. I've had many requests from people I've talked with to learn more about this project and some have asked how they could volunteer themselves. As part of this trip I am writing a specification document about the application and am working with some other volunteers to help the SmartCare team to establish a public website to explain their work. Also our team shot extensive video while in Zambia. After we edit the video, I'll make it available as well.
One of the lead Zambian SmartCare developers, Irene Pathy and I, will be speaking on a panel of Women (Developers) at TechEd/Barcelona.
Also, one of my colleagues, Anton Delsink, will be presenting a session on the use of Visual Studio Team System for SmartCare at TE/Barca as well. If you won't be in Barcelona, these sessions will be available on the post-conference DVD. The sessions may be available on the internet as well.
If you want to help or know more, send me mail! Be patient about my response, as I am still plowing through about 500 actionable
mails that I received while in Africa.