Jeff S, Sally M and my husband and I (Jeff and Sally H) arrived home yesterday afternoon; we were thrilled to be able to catch an early flight from Minneapolis to La Crosse and were so thankful that all our travels and connections went smoothly. The long trip gave us plenty of time to reflect on our many wonderful experiences in Tanzania (and to try to sleep!)
Adjusting to the time change caused me to wake during the early morning hours and think about the nine who remained and were in the midst of their second day of their safari—realizing they would soon be arriving at the Ngorongoro Crater. We are excited to hear about their adventures—and we won’t feel completely ‘home’ until they too have safely arrived.
With the limited electricity and Internet access I wasn’t able to complete a blog while in Tanzania but wanted to share some thoughts and special moments with you now. Africa is VERY dry. In the past years we typically saw workers using machetes to cut the grass along the dusty path we walked between the Health Centre and our accommodations; this year there was no grass to cut and the plants and bushes were wilted and droopy. Unfortunately for the people, a continued drought will mean starvation for many. Our one interpreter said, “We eat much when we can because we never know when our next meal will come.” It is so hard for us to even imagine—and then to realize that those conditions could worsen for many.
Let me share more of our journey as we ‘walked along the African path of life’ and give you a glimpse of some of the people we met. On Sunday our group gathered at the church across from the Nyakato Health Centre. A choir of about 20 young people sang and danced (same group we watched practice almost daily in front of the clinic). They were amazing and at various times throughout the 2½-hour service they sang with choreographed dance NINE times. Denyse brought her flute and our group gathered in the front and sang Amazing Grace and Beautiful Savior for them; somehow I think they ranked much higher in musicality!—and we didn’t dance. But they were gracious and appreciated our efforts. In fact they cheered after Denyse played the first little phrase for her warm-up! After the service we gathered outside in a circle for the auctioning of live animals or produce for people’s offerings. This time there was only one head of cabbage being auctioned, which we purchased and then Phil presented it to the gentleman who stood up and interpreted the pastor’s sermon for our group. After dinner at Lucy’s we once again piled 20 bodies into the 12-passenger ‘daladala’ to return to Starehe Children’s Home to complete the physicals. I assisted with vision checks; near the end of the day they asked if we would recheck an adolescent girl we had done the day before only this time she would have her glasses. We told her to step to the line and put her glasses on; she knelt down and very carefully laid her glasses ‘on the line.’ We stifled our giggles as we helped her understand SHE stood on the line—but needed to put the glasses on her face. While the miscommunication was humorous it made me realize that in our many attempts to communicate we probably hear the Swahili or they our English—yet miss the entire meaning. It is so wonderful to realize that a smile and compassionate touch can be communicated in any language.
To help prevent those types of communication errors we had two interpreters hired for our use. It was immediately evident that neither interpreter understood English well enough to be of any benefit to our patients. I believe that God controls all the details of our life—and in talking to the head nurse and requesting a change in interpreters I remembered that one of our first female patients had a son who spoke English very well. Since his aunt was on staff at the clinic they were able to hire him (James) as well as another fine young man named Kisney. They both quickly assimilated into our group and were a wonderful addition. James’ father was deceased and the only public school they could afford was 200+ kilometers away. He was only home because he had a 4-week break for the month of March. He would like to be a physician someday so we taught him how to take a blood pressures, allowed him to observe surgery and explained many surgical cases and diseases to him. Both of them were kept very busy and were very dedicated young men. The salary they received for their services—10-15 dollars a day was probably more than many make monthly. One of my postop patients was an elderly woman who only spoke her tribal language, which James did not understand. Her daughter spoke both the tribal dialect and Swahili—so I would give James the instructions, James would translate into Swahili for the daughter who then translated it to the tribal dialect for her mother and questions were received in reverse. It worked amidst many smiles.
One of the things we are very careful to do is to ‘join the staff’ and work as a team alongside the Nyakato staff. We volunteer our time and bring as many supplies as we can with us—and purchase any needed supplies available locally (oxygen, IV bags that leak and distilled water for sterilizer). The patients are charged a minimal fee for surgery as well as the regular exam fee. Jeff or Kristi helped with the many, many patients that walked into the clinic. This is very necessary as if we provided complete free care to the patients our presence would hurt more than help the Health Centre and community. You can imagine if the local staff charged for exams and ours were free how disruptive that would be for their system. Everyone would want to wait to see the mzungo doctors. If we knew of patients that did not have the resources for payment for exams or surgery, we would help pay for those services through the clinic’s Special Needs Fund (SNF). We also provided taxi rides home for many of the patients so that they didn’t have to walk home—many for several miles—after surgery.
One surgery we paid for was for a little 9-year-old boy that Jeff saw with a large hydrocele (very large fluid-filled scrotum), which was an embarrassment to him and interfered with his activities of daily life. He returned a few days later for surgery. It was rare for fathers to wait with their children or families at the clinic—usually only the mothers accompanied their children. This young lad’s father and mother came. As soon as the children woke from surgery we would place them in their mother’s laps (and give them a lollipop—pipi) for comfort. This father held his child and expressed such loving concern and compassion that it was touching to observe. When one of the interpreters asked the patient how he was doing, his first words were, “Now the kids won’t laugh at me at school.” Both his mother and I had tears in our eyes. He is just one small example of how we can touch and change lives for the better with simple procedures that we so easily take for granted. It is why we consider it a joy to put up with cold showers, long airplane transport, long days of work, sleeping with 9 people in a 3 bedroom hours (you do the math!)
As has been mentioned before, a favorite time of every day was the morning chapel where the singing was inspiring. At our last chapel time together, Dr. Bonn thanked us for coming from such a great distance and for giving up time with our families, as well as our personal time and money, to work along side their team. It was a very sentimental time as several from our group shared special memories with them and gratitude for our time together. We ended the chapel with a favorite song Mungo ni Pendo (God Is Love)—a song which showcases their amazing harmony and singing. We typically sat in a circle inside their center pavilion—Dr. Bonn requested that we all stand and at the end of the song we held each other together with our arms. It is that togetherness that makes working with them such a wonderful experience and bonds these mzungos with them in their work of service.
– Sally H