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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Reflections on death in Zambia

Sophie and her guide Martin standing on top of a kopje –- a rock outcropping -- with a view of Zambia's Kafue National Park stretching off behind them

It's subtle, but death in Zambia is closer than in the US. The only times in my life I've had deaths that touch me were my grandfather, my great-grandfather, and my aunt, and the first two died when I was really young. I can't imagine how difficult it will be for me when someone close to me dies for the first time in my adult life.

But here in Zambia, I hear talk about death on a daily basis. For example, the sister-in-law of my proprietress is staying at the lodge right now to help her get over her grief at the death of her one-year-old, firstborn child from malaria. The news carries notices several times a week of the deaths of prominent people. Rarely is their cause of death mentioned - the stigma of AIDS is still too great. And several times people have asked me about my family, but they always start off with the question, "Are your parents still alive?", which wouldn't occur to us in the US. And I hear about funerals often - my favorite cab driver, Linius, couldn't take me to church this morning because he was attending the funeral of a friend's mother. That's all anecdotal evidence, but it's obvious from my experiences here that there's something wrong. Death before old age should be a terrible rarity; instead, here the average life expectancy at birth is just under 40 years.

This was all just weighing on my heart because the sermon today was about "our heavenly hope" and being raised bodily from the dead on Judgment Day. It would have been nothing more than a pleasant reminder for me in the US, but here in Zambia, surrounded by people who'd lost children and family members, knowing their grief and how much the sermon would mean to them, it had much more meaning.

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