Monday, February 14, 2011

Just Another Road Trip

Ok, so it wasn't really a road trip, just a drive to Mwanza from the village.  But it was eventful.  Having a car in Tanzania essentially means you are a free taxi service.  This is particularly true when you go out to a village.  Many villages are hours from the nearest sizable town by car and pretty much no one in the village has a car, so when someone comes by who does, they seize upon the opportunity.

And so we found ourselves leaving the village with a lovely middle-aged woman.  Brett's sister Brittney and Mitchell were with us as well so the car was pretty full, to say the least.  As we were leaving the village our hitchhiker asked if we could stop at the market so she could get some food to take to her daughter as a gift (her daughter lives outside of Mwanza, hence the reason she needed the ride).  "No problem," Brett replied.  Ten minutes later she climbs back in the car with a bag of freshly baked cookies.  A delicious aroma filled the car.  Right.  What really happened is that she climbed back in the car with a bag of dead fish. Yes, dead fish.  The aroma was not delicious.  But we cracked our windows and drove on.  Some 20 minutes later she asks Brett to pull over because she's going to be sick.  Tanzanians often get sick in cars as they are unaccustomed to riding in them.  We were thrilled, however, that she gave us advance warning of her sickness because vomit and dead fish are not a good combination.

While she was tending to business on the side of the road I had Baylor in my lap and somehow her diaper came loose and she peed all over me.  Wahoo!  All in the first 30 minutes of a 3 hour trip (or tour, perhaps?).  There wasn't much I could do about that but change Baylor's diaper and let her sit clothesless the rest of the trip while I endured in my less than dry skirt.

After we got back on the road (and after another quick stop to continue the car-sickness) we saw a bicycle lying in the middle of the road.  Then another and another.  An abandoned purse.  More bicycles.  What has happened here?  What could possibly have made all these people abandon their things?  It was like a scene from an Alfred Hitchcock movie.  Suddenly Brett shouts at us to roll our windows up.  Then we saw the bees.  Lots of them.  A massive group of killer bees was attacking the area.  We couldn't see that anyone was hurt, so we kept driving, now with the windows closed and that oh so wonderful stench of fish wafting into our nostrils.

After another stop on the roadside, we finally reached the ferry to Mwanza.  We were soon free of fish-filled noses and peed-on skirts. Yes, just another ride home from the village.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Joyce is five years old and recently she and her mother showed up at our gate asking for help.  Joyce had what are clearly large tumors on the sides of her face and her mother was at a loss about what to do.  So yesterday I drove them to Sengerema, a town about 35 minutes away, to go the hospital there, which is better than ours here in Geita.  
It is difficult to really describe the state of health care in Tanzania.  There are few doctors and millions of patients.  There is a shortage of medicine, medical equipment, beds, and really just about anything else you can think of related to health care.  
When we got to the hospital, we first had to go to a window to pay to get a registration card.  I was pleasantly surprised when we got to the window because there was an actual line there, which is pretty unusual.  After about 15 minutes, though, some people decided lines were a waste of time and they just started pushing towards the front to cut in.  This is just the Tanzanian way; it’s not rude at all, though as an American I often find it both annoying and inefficient.  However, after only 30 minutes we were able to pay the 65 cents and got our receipt so that we could jump in the mass of people at the reception window and begin pushing our way to the front to actually get the card we payed for.  When we got to that window, there were about 40 people all trying to accomplish the same thing.  We were successful after about an hour, which was actually sooner than I expected.  While waiting, a car drove up and some men got out and ran into the hospital.  They returned shortly with a rusty metal table on wheels.  They proceeded to carefully extract a man from their car and gently move him onto the table.  He looked barely conscious.  Certainly very sick.  Not a single person working at the hospital came to assist.  You’re on your own here.  There’s just not enough people to help.  
After we got the registration card we were told to go wait in front of one of the doctor’s doors.  There were four doors and bunches of people waiting outside each one.  We settled on number four and eventually were shown in only to be told we needed to go to the pediatric wing.  So off we went across the courtyard, following the sounds of crying babies.  We were able to see a pediatrician fairly quickly--only about a 30 minute wait.  I’ve waited longer than that in the States.  He diagnosed Joyce with tuberculosis.  We would need to see a different doctor for more complicated problems.  He sent us to get blood work done.  One of the administrators of the hospital was there and showed me their new blood analysis machines.  He showed me how they only take 2 minutes to process the results.  Great, I thought, no waiting.  We were told to wait outside for the results, which I knew were already done.  An hour later that same administrator passed and asked what we were doing.  When we told him still waiting, he hurried into the lab and returned about 5 seconds later with the results, now stapled to her card.  
We took these results back to the specialized doctor and he confirmed it was indeed TB and that they needed to schedule a biopsy to find out whether or not the tumors are malignant.  I’m taking Joyce back next week for the operation.  About 50% of all TB patients die.  She has an even less likely chance as she’s a child in Africa with the TB already spread out of her lungs.  She’s such a sweet little girl and so scared.  
We got back to Geita about 6 1/2 hours after we left that morning.  A typical day for the hospital.  Please pray for Joyce and for her mother, Zam Zam, who in all likelihood has it as well.  Sometimes things just don’t seem fair in Tanzania.