Reflections by Dr. Isaac Tembo

My Mwandi Story

As I reflect as far back as 28th June 1991 I truly have believed the “Todays decisions is tomorrows Decision”. That’s the date I arrived at Mwandi Mission Hospital clad in a long khaki overcoat a cap and dark glasses a single bag equipped with all my personal effects to start life as Medical Practitioner.

Disembarking from the only public bus service available in those days notably called UBZ ( United Bus Company of Zambia) I immediately experienced a feeling a getting back into the ages after travelling from Mongu for the last 12hours. For my first time I saw a grass thatched Restaurant with a partially mud wall that attracted me with a well written notice “ Welcome to warm meals all the time” beside a drawn Fish and a lump of Nshima ( local staple food equivalent to pulp) and I soon realized being equipped with only a Diploma in Clinical Medicine after a 3 years training as a Clinical Officer this was time to make a Decision of my lifetime.

My full names are Dr Isaac Tembo born to Rogers Tembo and Rosemary Tembo. I was born in Mufulira a smoke filled busy mining town where Dad was a miner and Mum a house wife. Being a first born of a family of 8 (4 males and 4 females) mum gave me her entire time grooming into becoming a Doctor I’m proud of today. After high school I left for Lusaka( the capital city of Zambia) to train as a Clinical Officer for 3 years and obtained a Diploma in Clinical Medicine in 1990. My story will take you through the events that eventually made me become a Medical but above all the decision I made on the day I set foot in Mwandi remains the foundation of my existence at the Mission Hospital.

Language was evidently a problem I faced on arrival at Mwandi but luckily I found an English speaking Lozi man who escorted me to the Hospital. I walked tall into the Hospital compound and all I could see was a third ward clinic at a glimpse of collapse with scattered building with old paintings with a small hospital surrounded by a compound of staff housing. I was happily received by a fatherly Hospital administrator and got convicted god had a purpose for my life to fulfill in this mission. With all preliminaries done I was told accommodation will only be available in two weeks but you can do in a store room (that is currently a house in front of the chapel). Opening the store room was greeted with Bats unexpectedly rushing out only leaving me with the stench of Bat droppings that made me feel like a beginning of a horror movie. I sat on the door steps putting my mind together until the Nursing Sister in Charge came around and offered her guest bedroom I could share with her brother.

I was so exhausted and soon fell to sleep after dinner. My first night at Mwandi is still memorable as Listened to recurrent sounds of death from the Hospital direction. People wailing most of the night made me to reflect much of what I was doing in the Mission if that will be my way of spending nights for time to come. I kept thinking in Africa the reality of death is much harder to avoid.In many places theres a dire threat of famine, drought, malnutrition, pestilence, epidemics of contagious diseases, flareups of malaria and now AIDs. Even without reading the warnings books of God Africans recognize that we are but a breath from eternity. They might also echo the prophet Jeremiahs awed praise to God: “Because of the Lords great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail” Lamentations 3:22. Those reflections took me into deep sleep only to wake up to report for duty.

My Mwandi story 2.
The early morning sounds of birds and a sweet cool flow of the morning breeze woke me up to see the Mwandi Mission that has been my dream of the year 1991. I briskly prepared myself and headed to the hospital after my breakfast. I was amazed at how much news had reached the ears of many folks here that a 23years male single young man has come to serve Mwandi as a Clinical officer and got a series of greetings in the Lozi language that I had little to understand only to answer in English leaving me a bit ashamed to be Zambian and failing such vital communication necessities.

I was taken around the hospital and I realized I was the more senior medical practitioner available as the only Clinical Officer was out for a 3 months training in Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDs while the only missionary doctor and his wife a nurse were out of the country but to return within a week. HIV and AIDs by then was neither much mentioned in Mwandi nor was it a topic to learn in school while I did my training. However it was dreaded feared diagnosis people were beginning to know that was made clinically with no tests available and not much to offer other than how to live with the virus.

I soon found myself in the Outpatient seeing patients with an aid of a translator despite being able speak two other major languages Lozi was proving to be the hardest to get along with. By the time I started work Mwandi had 1 doctor, 1 midwife, 6 Enrolled Nurses, 2 Environmental Officers, 1 lab technician, and 23 nursing aides. I was amazed at how much the Nursing aides could do starting form Pharmacy, Maternity, Outreach, and Nursing work it was an eye opener for me learning from these workers. The whole workforce amounted to 110 workers including drivers, security men, maintenance team, stores, laundry, and kitchen and grounds staff. It was a lovely team of ever smiling men and women dedicated to duty. I noted civil servants or government workers were minimally placed here.

Mwandi was a place out of nowhere, no electricity, no communication of any sort apart from letters you have to post at the local post office, no newspaper, no phone, no email, no fax, and the road network to livingstone town was a dusty patch that could up to 4 hours with a bus that passed once every day if missed by chance some crawling land rovers packed with people, fish, goats, pigs was the only option to get out of the Mission. Being a medical practitioner was an envied position with a privilege of getting on the mission vehicle when going for salaries at the month end. Needless to say we had to layby at Coillard UCZ church in Livingstone to wash off the dust after driving behind a truck on Nakatindi road.

I had to learn to live within what Mwandi provided and it’s here I learnt how fish from the Zambezi River can be so tasty that it buries all the misery I have faced living here. When night came it was more misery with the hospital generator only providing 3hours of electricity and the rest of the night was dark. I learnt how to deliver babies using a kerosene smoke discharging lantern.

One of my most cherished possessions I brought to Mwandi was a Kings James Version Bible Grandfather gave me with carefully marked areas of his meditations and study notes. It represented many years of Close communion grandpa had with God and echoed to me to follow the words of the book of life. I read with passion each evening looking at his highlights. In Deuteronomy 6 he highlighted words “love, heart and soul; these words should be taught to children diligently”

I started imagining how God’s hand has directed my hands to touch recovering patients and I got convinced of God’s love and power and reflected over Psalm 34:8 “Taste and the lord is good. blessed is the man who seek refuge in him.

I met the missionary doctor a week later and I got amazed what on earth he was doing in this part of Africa that I got compelled to serve my motherland from there onward. He convinced me Mwandi was my professional destination and gave me an idea what the future of Mwandi looks like. I was too young to understand all he told me until today I have got a conviction that am made to serve Mwandi in my life time and looking after the sick is my life. Words continued echoing in me that “The decisions we make today determine destiny for yourself and others tomorrow.”

I had the opportunity of seeing the non-medical side of Mwandi being in church, playing football, and fishing and loved the bush clinics and within three months I could speak Lozi fairly well. Within the year of starting work I saw groups and teams of volunteers coming from USA and it brought a lot of hope for me and lots of friendship. Words like Alabama, Salisbury, North Carolina, South Carolina, Birmingham, and many more became part of my vocabulary and got acquainted to American English. The years that followed took Mwandi to another level.

My Mwandi Story 3

My first three years in Mwandi caught me adjusting to multiple areas including the language, traditions and culture, work relations I have to thank God finding myself in a Christian environment with rich interpersonal relations within the mission station and outside.

Working in a rural area can be devastating but there a lot of moments of joy that we live to recall all the times. The coming of electricity to Mwandi in 1992 was such a moment still fresh in my memory when one afternoon we all rushed to the Mwandi Livingstone highway junction to witness the connection of Mwandi to the national grid of power supply. One big loud switch was enough to bring endless smiles as we by any means rushed back to the mission only to meet all brightness with lights that we had been envying. I still acknowledge “God has no limitations and he brings light where there’s darkness for all to see”. It was time the staff could think and buy Television sets, pressing iron, fridges, stoves and all that accompanied the power. The hospital saw the incoming of computers, cold rooms how amazing it was to work in light even at the darkest hour.

In the surrounding areas of the mission the power effect of electricity was evident seeing people getting to saloons for haircuts and all the hair styles for ladies become part of Mwandi society. I still recall the team form USA clad in yellow T shirts with prints reading ‘let there be light’ and indeed light came to be. Mwandi was an area where now we could sip a cool glass of water from the fridge a thing in the past we could afford once a month when we visit Livingstone.

Light gave me much hope and trust that life at Mwandi was getting into a direction of my dream. I could now sit in a room seeing patients or having worship while being cooled down with overhead fans. Electricity has brought much change than any investment I have seen in Mwandi mission. Development of the mission got to its peak with a new hospital, operating theatre, delivery rooms, outpatient department, and chapel  coming into existence.

My passion to work at Mwandi grew stronger and I got a liking of doing bush clinics that exposed me to meeting real African life that I envied to be part of with my medical skills for the people. I remember my first day meeting with a nose bleeding old woman for three days and all I could do was pack her nose with Vaseline smeared toilet tissue and pinched her nose for an hour. She complained of pain but I was so muscular to be pushed away and my reward was she had a sound sleep after 48hrs of bleeding and no sleep. She has never bleed again. Luke 9:6 reads “Departing they began going about among the villages, preaching the Gospel, and healing everywhere”.  People have wondered what has been my motivation existing at Mwandi. The answer lies in the fact that “The Motivation for missions today is the command of Christ and as a result the blind are seeing, the lame are walking, the lepers are being cleansed, those who have been deaf to Christ are hearing with their hearts, the dead in soul are being raised to abundant life, and the poor in spirit are anticipating the riches of a heavenly inheritance.”

This part of my story may sound weird but from my earliest days I prayed for a reenactment of the bible story of Isaac and Rebeca in my life. I wanted God to point out my future wife. I admired the certainty of the servant Abraham sent back to his home land to find a wife for his son Isaac. Mwandi seemed the appropriate place and time for God to send me a wife and in Mwandi I started looking and kept on praying. No woman palpitated my heart until 1995.  “Houses and wealth are inherited from parents but a prudent wife is from the Lord” Proverbs 19:14……

My larger portion of my Mwandi story involves my Lovely and beautiful wife Judy and our Children. My next part of my stories is that of my family life and professional prosperity that has seen me today as a doctor.