A guest of Encompass Africa and truly inspiring man, Ashram Mustapha is an RTC Fellow for Global Health and currently on assignment in Lesotho. After his safari holiday with us, he settled into the project and has kindly shared his blogs with us that we are allowed to bring to you – happy reading about one man’s journey to Africa.
The First 100 Days
It’s said that it takes a hundred days to immerse yourself in something to truly get to know it.
Going to the airport this time was different than any other. I said my goodbyes to loved ones including my canine best friend at home in Vancouver – for the next four months. Destination – South Africa and the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. As I landed 25 hours after leaving home, I felt a sense of excitement—and yet nervousness and uncertainty about putting myself in a new world where I wouldn’t have the comforts of home or the familiarity of friends and family.
What would await me in sub-Saharan Africa? Savannah, jungle, searing heat? Giraffes, lions, rhinos, elephants and buffalo? All of this and yet a lot more.
Landing in Cape Town, I had a sampling of the beauty, the flavours and the wonders of the southern-most lands that the Dark Continent hold, where the mountains reach the sea at Cape Point, and where ships have charted paths for the last 500 years in search of something new, something different, something exotic.
But beyond the natural beauty was the reality of life in a world so completely different than mine. The harshness of the Robben Island Prison on the Cape where Nelson Mandela spent two decades, the history of segregation that divided a nation for almost a century by skin colour, and the brutality of the Apartheid regime centered not far from the Transvaal gold mines of Johannesburg and the diamond mines of Kimberly.
With great beauty comes great contrast.
I had to look no further than the colonial reminders of slave trade buildings, bordering the vineyards of the Cape and Stellenbosch that produce some of the finest wines in the world.
In under two weeks (on safari with Encompass Africa!) my final destination was now the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho—a small land-locked country in the South-East corner of South Africa where it is now winter and below 5 Celsius. Lesotho, a separate nation from South Africa, has some of the highest rates of HIV and AIDS in the world that impact almost a third of the two million people in this mile-high country. I am about to spend the next few months trying to make a difference in lives by preventing the spread of this pandemic that has gutted the continent from the inside out.
Where would I begin?
In only 90 days I will need to bring all of my knowledge and skills together with two of my MSD colleagues from the US and the UK in an attempt to scale up a strategy for non-surgical Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision with no time to waste. For every five circumcisions of infants, boys, or men – one case of HIV will be prevented. And for every male who has the procedure done, the transmission rate to female partners is reduced by 60 percent. The technology is proven—but the strategy needs to change to reach the most vulnerable beyond the cities—well into the townships, villages and tribal fiefdoms that are most in need, where the majority reside.
Welcome to Africa.