It's midday, but pitch-dark. Ethel Phiri (31) and Martha Precious Ngoza Mazala (35) from Zambia lean into the strong wind. Around them are banks of snow and freezing temperatures in the polar night in Honningsvåg, 11,000 kilometers north of their home town of Livingstone. The girls are on an exchange to the municipality of Nordkapp, under the auspices of the Norwegian Peace Corps.
They are working with different methods of rehabilitation, physical therapy and follow-up. Honningsvåg is seen by many Norwegians as an inaccessible place with a harsh climate; Ethel and Martha from Zambia have already spent half a year here, in one of the northernmost towns in the world.
“The work we do here in Norway resembles what we do at the clinic back home in Zambia, and the goal of the work is the same: To help people who are limited in one way or another from functioning as well as they could in society”, says Martha.
In Honningsvåg, home visits to service users are an important part of the job, and they wish they could do more of this in Zambia.
“In Zambia we seldom follow up on clients once they are discharged from hospital, not even those who are very sick. In most cases, patients are left to fend for themselves, and are dependent on family members to bring them in for treatment. Here (in Nordkapp, Ed.) we visit people in their homes.
When we go home to Zambia, we’ll try to find time for closer home support, even in cases where patients have family members to take care of them. That’s been an important lesson I’ve learned in Norway
Important exchange programme
“We learn a lot about another culture and about how people take care of each other in different parts of the world. In our job it is essential to understand how people behave and how we can best deal with it. For example, patients here in Nordkapp have several times expressed the wish that we should not come to visit them. They may be feeling unwell, and they say "Martha, I’m not feeling good today, could you come back next week instead?" Of course we respect that, but we’re not used to it, because it almost never happens in Zambia. Things like that are instructive”, says Martha.
Silence on the bus
“Norwegians are friendly, just like Zambians, and that’s why we feel at home here. But Norwegians don’t say a lot, they’re a bit shy. Everyone is nice, but it’s rare that anyone starts a conversation beyond just saying hello”, says Martha, who emphasizes that this is not a criticism of Norwegians. She is merely stating that Norwegians are more introverted than Zambians.
“In Zambia people always talk to strangers on the bus. If it’s just you and one other passenger on board, you will sit near each other and have a chat. Sometimes it feels as if you’ve known your fellow passengers a long time. Norwegians are not like that”, she says.
Eager to spread their knowledge
In August Ethel and Martha are travelling home to Zambia after fourteen months away. They are very conscious of how to pass on the experiences they have had in Norway to their colleagues.
You can't just instruct doctors and nursing sisters and tell them that something must be done in a particular way, but you can say to colleagues: "Look, this is what I learned in Norway!"
"We are going to travel around sharing our knowledge with the representatives of all the clinics in our region. One of the main goals for us in Zambia is to become much better at following up on patients after they are discharged", says Ethel Phiri in Honningsvåg.
The exchange between Nordkapp, Norway, and Livingstone, Zambia, has lasted for 8 years. In total 8 Norwegians have travelled to Zambia, while 8 Zambians have spent one year in Honningsvåg as health workers.