Zambia - My Biggest Travel Scare

I have had exactly one truly scary thing happen to me while traveling.  Until today, I have not shared this story with anyone outside of the people involved and my personal doctor.  Before I tell the story, I should mention that Zambia is one of my most favorite travel destinations.   I found the people there to be extremely friendly, Victoria Falls is one of the most amazing things I've ever seen and I've often told people that if I were to ever decide to serve in Peace Corps again, I would probably select Zambia as the place to go.  It's a very special place.

In June, 2016, I was traveling with my friend Roberto Pazos for the TV program "Peruanos en el Mundo."   We took a very early flight to Ndola where we were met by John Velasquez, a Peruvian who works in the Zambian mining industry.

We hadn't had much sleep since we left before dawn to catch our flight.   We had breakfast with John in Ndola before making the one-hour drive to Kitwe, where John's mining company was located.  

Kitwe is a mining town and they don't get a lot of tourists.  John is one of several Peruvians who lives and works there because of their experience in the mines in Peru.

John's wife and the wives of some of the other Peruvians volunteer at the Sara Rose orphanage.  

That's where I took this photo, less than five minutes before I started to get really scared.

Roberto Pazos and John Velasquez at the Sara Rose Children School in Kitwe, Zambia

After taking this photo, we got into John's car to head to his house.  As I sat down in the back seat, I got double vision.  My eyes wouldn't focus, so I took off my glasses thinking maybe they were dirty.  That still didn't work.  I didn't say anything and instead, closed my eyes hoping it would stop.

When we arrived at John's house, I got out of the car and told Roberto: "I have a problem.  My eyes aren't focusing and I'm seeing double.  I can't even walk straight."   Roberto was of course immediately concerned. He told John and they took me in the house and put me on the couch.   John called a doctor and told his family to stay out of the living room so I could relax.   I kept my eyes closed, but occasionally would open them and everything was still spinning.

The doctor arrived.  He was Cuban, had studied medicine there and spoke fluent English.  He took my blood pressure and said it was something like 200 over 160, dangerously high.   He told me I had "chronic hypertension" and he would go get medicine for me.   I told him that I did NOT have a history of high blood pressure, but he didn't believe me.   I told him I had a complete physical less than two weeks ago and everything was fine.  He still didn't believe me.   But he went to the pharmacy and returned with some medicine.   

He came back less than 30 minutes later.  When he returned, my vision was back to normal and he took my blood pressure again.  It was slightly high, but not abnormal.   He still said I needed to take the medicine and rest for 24 hours.  The doctor drove me to a hotel and told the staff I needed the "quietest room" they had.  They handed him a key and he walked me to my room.   He gave me the pills with instructions to keep taking them until I got home.   I slept soundly.  When I woke up around 6pm, I walked out to the lobby.  They told me to go lay back down.  They were making chicken soup for me and would bring it to the room.  

The next day, I was fine.   I felt relaxed and ready to continue.   I owe a huge debt of gratitude to John and Roberto for taking care of me and to the doctor.   When I got home, I went to see my doctor the next day.  I showed him the pills that I had been taking and he had to look it up to see what they were.  It was not a drug that was available in the USA.   However, he said there was no harm in what I was taking.  He gave me a complete check-up and everything was fine.

I still don't know WHAT happened that day in Africa.  One person suggested that maybe I had an extreme emotional reaction to the orphanage.  But I don't believe that is the case.  There was a lot of happiness in the place.  And Kerina Makamu, the woman in charge (who is next to Roberto in the photo above) clearly cared a lot for the children.   

Thankfully, the story has a happy ending but having this happen in the middle of rural Africa is certainly the scariest thing that has happened to me in all my years of traveling.  


Our interview with John begins at 11:45  in the video I've linked below.  The tour of the Sara Rose Orphanage begins at 15:46.   

Be sure to also watch the video from Victoria Falls at 9:32 as well.  It's truly spectacular.  

Dates of Travel

  • June, 2016

Places Visited

  • Victoria Falls
  • Kitwe
  • Livingstone
  • Lusaka
  • Ndola




This post is part of my series "One Photo - One Country."  I'm am selecting one photo and writing one story from every country I have visited.   Your comments and questions are welcome.  

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