There are not many options for mental healthcare in Zambia. I don’t mean this like I’d say “I wish my city had more resources for mental illness.” In Ndola, not many options really means no options. Nada. I haven’t even found one.
But there are several men around town that are noticeably homeless and dealing with mental illness. I frequently see them walking along in the road, lying in the median or watching the cars drive by. I always see them in and around the road.
It is usual for me to be asked for something. I am asked for something daily – for food or transport or a job or money or for any of the above. And I often wonder “what’s the real need?” Not that people aren’t asking me for what they need just then, but there is always something behind the immediate. A person asks me for money because they need a job. A person asks for food because the are hungry. There are certainly more complexities there, but there’s always something deeper that the surface.
But these particular people, these men and women struggling with serious mental illness, they don’t have any requests of me. They don’t have any questions for me. Sometimes they see me and shout. Sometimes they react to the white person walking by (me) with frightening anger and vehemence. It’s a reality that I spark a reaction in many children and adults alike that is a combination of fear, surprise and eagerness. (This is not about me as much as it is the connotation of the hue of my skin.)
One morning, I picked up Nurse Becky to bring her to Wiphan for the day. As we traveled and chatted, we came upon a man stumbling precariously through the street. As many folks do, he had gathered an immense stockpile of things, mostly rubbish, and had covered his body with bags and bottles of trash and refuse that all seemed to hold some sort of value to him.
I’m often without response when I know there is nothing I can do. But Nurse Becky said one of the most challenging things.
“He puts on so many burdens.”
Isn’t that simple? I don’t think it is simple for him, but it is a simple thing for me.
I don’t tend to wear my baggage on my literal sleeve. But I do drag it around with me everywhere I go, protecting it at all costs. And now I find myself asking all kinds of questions, like what kind of garbage do I attach to myself that I have no need of? or what have I put on myself, just so I have something to hold to?