Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Help Spread the Word About our House for Rent

Our house in Columbia is up for rent again.

Would you or someone you know be interested in renting it? It's listed here with Columbia Property Management. 

Please help us spread the word so we can stay stress-free in Tanzania and keep doing the work that we've started!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Merry Christmas from Zambia

I've been putting some shots up on Facebook, but for those not on there, here are a few shots from the past few days' Christmas trip to Zambia. 

The train ride from Dar Es Salaam to Lusaka was long and tiring, but we saw nice scenery and met some cool internationals. 

We were so surprised at how developed the country is. Check out this mall with a band playing Christmas music!

We made it to Livingstone and saw The Falls on Christmas Day. We were totally awed!

Yesterday, Boxing Day, we had a nice morning river safari, fully equipped with an early AM beer. Why not, it's vacation?

Last night we met up with our Danish train friends for a delicious Indian meal. 

And today we took an early early HOT HOT hike and saw this white rhino up close. Worth the early wake up and blazing heat. 

Tomorrow we head back up to the capital city of Lusaka and will probably just chill and take in another movie or 2 before we fly home to TZ on Monday. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Merry Christmas (a bit early)

We head out to Zambia tomorrow for a Christmas vacation, so I'm taking this moment to wish you and yours a very Merry and blessed Christmas.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Winter MKLM Newsletter

If you read this blog, you probably know more than what's in our Maryknoll Lay Missioners newsletter. But, in case you want to download it and stuff it in your holiday cards to send to your friends and family, you can download it here. Thanks and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Parents Meeting and First 2 Sessions of Lulu

I'm excited to say that the Lulu Mabatini program is officially launched and operational. A few weeks ago we held a meeting for parents/guardians/husbands of our participants. This kind of meeting is crucial because girls have very little say in their homes and take on the brunt of household responsibility. We wanted their caregivers to understand the goals of the program and to give their support. Otherwise, they might forbid the girls to attend or make it very difficult because they have too much work to do.

The parents, guardians and spouses of Lulu participants
Natalie speaking to the parents about Lulu.

I was really happy with the turnout and participation. Most people said that they were excited about the opportunity for their girls to learn and to better themselves and that they appreciated the work we were doing. That means they will free up some time for the girls to come!

Last Saturday we had our first session for the participants themselves. Right before starting time, the skies opened up and the rain poured down in buckets.

Despite the torrential rain, we had about 20 girls to the first meeting.
What do you expect from the rainy season?

I knew the rain would effect our numbers but more than that, I was worried because a lot of the girls come from the hills and I hoped that they weren't stuck somewhere cold and wet. However, we had 19 show up and many of them actually came early and beat the rain. (Coming early!? That's an anomaly here where everything runs late.)

Our first meeting of Lulu Mabatini
The participants introducing themselves in pairs.

Yesterday we had our second meeting and we had 25 participants. The girls were a little shy at first, but they're slowly warming up and hopefully are enjoying themselves.

The girls drawing their lives.
In an attempt to inspire some creativity, the girls had to draw/color a picture of their house and environment. Many of them were uncomfortable with coloring because they said it's for kids. But for those who did, they really loosened up and seemed to enjoy themselves.

Another cool development over the past week is that we now have a youth facilitator. Her name is Sikudhani* and she was a participant in one of the groups in another part of Mwanza and has been trained as a peer leader. She is a strong, smart, poised young woman and will be a great addition to our group!
Our youth facilitator, Sikudhani
Sikudhani is in her early 20's and is raising 2 children.

I can't wait to see how things unfold in the coming weeks as we really get into the meat of our subjects. Over the next few sessions we will talk about planning for your life, communication skills, and saving money.

*In Swahili Sikudhani means I didn't think. There are a lot of names like that here, like Shida, which means problem, or Mashaka, which means doubts. To me that's such an injustice to your child to give them a name that announces your regret at having conceived them. To be fair, though, everyone so far that I've met with a name like this doesn't seem to mind it. Still, it's something I can't get used to.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Decorations are up

It took all of a few minutes, but our decorations are up.

The stockings were hung on the wall with care
The stockings were hung by Bubu with care.

Not a very good picture, but the cutest, littlest tree in the world is up!
Our itty, bitty tree. I kinda love it more than a big one.

I always wish I had kids to decorate with because it just seems like it would be more fun. Well, my wish was granted this year because a neighborhood kid, Abduli, stopped by.

We had a visitor stop by while I was decorating.
Abduli approves of the publicity.

To be more accurate, he goes to school where David teaches and they were on their way home and couldn't get the truck past this:

The stream outside our house is too flooded to pass on foot or in car.
That water was going pretty fast. David and Abduli live just on the other side of that stream (in separate locations, in case that's not clear). And the woman in the picture in red lives on this side just across from our gate.

It's not snow, but we got a pretty good hailstorm for about 1/2 an hour while I was decorating the tree and listening to holiday music.

Holiday hail! Does it count as snow?
That's ice. Does that count?

So David and Abduli hung out for about 1/2 hour till the water went down. David was kind enough to help Chris with some computer issues and Abduli was kind enough to chase around the cat around and give me "feedback"* on the decorations.

Abduli goes to Haruma School for kids with disabilities, where our fellow MKLMer works.
He liked the hat best.

From Tanzania, we're all wishing everyone a blessed Advent and a happy holiday season. Hope all your holiday wishes come true.

*I put feedback in quotes because Abduli isn't quite verbal. Though we've seen a lot of improvement since he started school, he's still fairly limited. Although he didn't technically say anything much about the tree, he did enjoy saying "cat" and "him/her" a lot. To his credit, Tanzanians don't do a lot of  holiday decorations, plus Abduli's Muslim, so he probably doesn't have a lot of Christmas decorations in his house.** All of this contributed to him not really having any idea what was happening. But still, we had fun.

**Just because Abduli's Muslim doesn't necessarily mean he doesn't celebrate various holidays in non-religious ways. A Muslim woman I worked with last year said she put up a tree and celebrated  Christian holidays as well as Eids because people in the neighborhood were all mixed and she didn't want her family to feel like anyone was different. I like that sense of unity.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

New Birth

One of my facilitators and I did 3 more home visits today for Lulu project. We've been pretty slow about getting them done and, considering we start our bi-weekly meetings this Saturday, I guess my goal of seeing everyone before then won't happen. Oh well, things happen in their own time so I know it'll all get done eventually.

I love visiting people's houses, though. It's a great opportunity to really understand the way of living here. And Tanzanians see guests as a blessing, so people are always really nice and welcoming when I stop by, even if just for a minute. I admit that I'm not very good at doing that unless prompted, so it's good for me to be pushed a little into doing it.

One of the participants that we visited today, a 20 year old girl, just had a baby this week. I knew that she was pregnant but I didn't put two and two together that that's whose house we were going to until we got there. We were brought into their living room/bedroom and told to have a seat. There was a bed on one end of the small room and a chair on the other. It wasn't until I sat down on the chair next to the bed that I realized someone was sleeping in it! I was a little surprised, but not completely because I know that space is limited in a lot of homes and people want visitors even when someone is sick. So I've been in similar situations before, but it's still a surprise to see someone moving around before my eyes have adjusted to the dark room. After we exchanged greetings with the family we realized that the "sick person" in the bed was actually the Lulu participant and laying next to her swaddled in a bunch of fabric was her teeny, tiny little daughter.

The new mother eventually sat up and participated in conversation with us and I was able to take this picture of her and her baby.

A Lulu participant and her infant daughterdaughter

I don't yet know very much about this girls' story but I understand that the baby's father will most likely not be in the picture to contribute financially to raising the little one. Unfortunately, that's the story of so many women here. The good news is that much like in many other parts of the world, families in Tanzania are large and everyone helps out, so she lives in a home with her extended family who have created what looks to me to be a loving home for her and her baby. Unfortunately, the family income is quite low (the guardian sells rice in town) and with little schooling, girls like this one will have a hard time getting ahead for her and her daughter.

Lulu project will teach this girl and other participants about how to care for themselves and their children's health. Information about clean food, water and sanitation; diseases; bacterias; etc. will help them to stay healthy. Small business skills such as how to plan a business that covers their expenses, how to research the market to get profitable ideas, and how to budget and save money will help her to take care of her family's needs and hopefully help them to achieve a stable life. Finally, life skills such as self esteem, cooperation, healthy relationships and family planning will help her to navigate the difficult world that she and her daughter live in so that she knows that she is of value and is making a valuable contribution to society.

Since today is Giving Tuesday*, please consider making a donation to our work through Maryknoll Lay Missioners or to the organization as a whole, which places missioners in Africa, Asia and Latin America to work alongside the worlds' poor and needy.

In the meantime, I can't wait to hold this young woman's baby girl again next Saturday, because I have no doubt she'll bring her along to our first meeting!

*Or, you can consider donating any time of the year. I'm not limiting this to just today. ;)

Monday, December 02, 2013

Getting Excited

I just got back from a visit to a currently-established Lulu group meeting. There are 3 other groups meeting around the Mwanza area, so one of my facilitators and I went to check it out. The topic for the day was puberty and adolescences. Boy-oh-boy! Girls around the world are all the same. Giggling and talking about things that embarrass each other. It was awesome. I can't wait for our group to start! Our first session is this Saturday. Can't wait!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Hanukah

Bubu poses as a minorah to wish everyone a happy Hanukah. I agree!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Turkey

Bubu is the real Thanksgiving turkey. Happy Thanksgiving, ya'll!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

It's that time of year again!

Clive Turkey

Clive Turkey wishes everyone a happy Thanksgiving week!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Hide and Seek

After searching all over the house for the stupid cat, look where I found him. 

Do you see him?

How about now?

There's just a lot of patterns going on there so he's easy to miss. 

He must've known we were annoyed at him for stinking up the back room by peeing all over the floor. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

First home visits

We did our first home visits today for Lulu project. Mwanza ain't called "Rock City" for nothing. Sheesh, it's a workout hiking up those hills/boulders! I can't imagine doing it every day as the residents do (and usually they are carrying something in their head and/or a baby in their back).

 Getting tired on the way up. 

A view of Mwanza but I'm disappointed because if doesn't look like much in this shot. 

We visited 5 girls today. We hope to do more on Sunday so stay tuned. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lulu Update

I just typed up a database for the girls who have signed up for Lulu group so far. Here are the stats:

So far we have 33 girls*.

They range in age from 12-24 years.

Only 3 of them have jobs. They rest work in the home (theirs or someone else's) for no/little pay.

9 of them have children.

22 of them have left school.

13 of them went only to 8th grade.

Stated reasons for wanting to join the group:
  • I want unity and collaboration 
  • I want to learn a skill
  • To pull myself out of poverty
  • I want to learn more and prepare for later in life

*We will keep collecting forms for the next few weeks but also some girls will drop out, so these numbers will change. Also, we might break the girls into 2 groups, those in school and those not in school because their schedules are so different, it will be hard to find a time suitable for both groups of girls.

Can't wait to get started!

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Environmental Impact

This is what happens when a country has a lack of garbage disposal and sanitation--people dump everything into the rivers and streams. Then this happens:

The stream has diverted due to the trash blocking the way. You can see it flowing freely through the neighborhood.
The river gets blocked and after a heavy rain the water finds an alternate route to get out, thus flooding your neighborhood.

This is the way it's supposed to flow.
Chris and David tried to unclog it so the river could flow again, a very dirty job.

Our house is the gate on the left. The stream is supposed to run alongside it.
Some neighborhood kids helped, which hopefully is a good lesson to them.

Chris and David trying to re-divert the stream. Mariamu and some other children help in the background.
Eventually they decided it was a fruitless effort to clean it out while there was water flowing. So they'll wait until it dries up again and try to clean in after a few days (if we don't get another torrential downpour like yesterday.

Monday, November 04, 2013

As Is

Before our unexpected trip to Nairobi I posted about the topic of waiting and mentioned that we were waiting to hear from the university about teaching positions for the semester. We were also invited to help the university to research and create a social work bachelors program, something that Chris and I were super excited about. In my blogpost you might've noticed my apprehension that the university might ask me to start teaching 300 students the following day with little to no time for preparation. Never in my wildest dreams did I suspect that instead they would say, "Thanks but no thanks." But, indeed that's what they said! It's a long story that I won't go into here, but basically they said they didn't need us this year as professors and that social work isn't a priority to the university.

All of this is untrue. We know that for a fact, but we'll never know the real story about what happened to cause this to fall through. But we really should've known better. We've already learned too well that we shouldn't count on anything here in TZ until everything is done and finalized. But we had been in meetings with the university for many months and everyone on both sides were really excited about the opportunities. Needless-to-say, it was all for naught.

This is something that's very hard for us Westerners to get used to, but is "business as usual" for Tanzanians. We have a very strong cultural belief in the US that if a person works hard enough, they can succeed in life.* But here in TZ it just doesn't work that way. Everyone works hard. And almost no one gets ahead. There are so many uncertainties. The banks fail and businesses go under causing people to lose all their money. Deflation makes the money worthless. Or, someone gets sick. Promises kept are broken. People are tricked through bribery and extortion.  Someone steals from another person. Life is just very uncertain; things can change drastically at the drop of a hat and many people here just have come to expect that things won't work out. They keep moving forward, but they don't ever expect it to go anywhere. This is something I just don't know if I'll ever get used to.

So, all of this has left both me and Chris wondering what next work-wise. This doesn't change much for Chris. He will still continue working at Capacitar, the organization that's he's been with for the past year and a half. And he and I do a lot of regional organizational work for MKLM, which helps the region run and supports our fellow missioners in the field. But in terms of full-time work for me? Well, I left my job to pursue this opportunity at the university so I'm left a little in the lurch. The Lulu Project, the one I am starting in the parish to help teenage girls, is still moving forward so that will definitely be something that could make a big impact. But it's not full time work and I doubt it will be for a long time.

When Chris and I were in Nairobi, we took a few days' retreat at the MK Father's house to think and pray about our next steps. It was a really nice process for both me and Chris and we had some good breakthroughs. We talked a lot about what it means to be a "missioner" versus for example an NGO worker or a short term volunteer. All of these positions are good and worthwhile in their own right but they're very distinct and have different approaches. By its very nature, a long-term missioner is a much more loose job description. You don't always have a set job in front of you, but instead you are led by the community (and by God) to help in ways that they see are needs. You kind of end up doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that, rather than having something that looks like a cohesive job description. It can be a very slow approach and it takes a lot of work to build relationships (and language!) and to just try different things and see where it leads you. It's something I feel like I have been pushing against because I have a very specific interest and have wanted to use my skills in certain ways. But for various reasons those things haven't worked out for me here, so I'm realizing I have to go back to these basics.

So, how am I spending my time each day? Well, doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that, of course. I am planning Lulu, as I mentioned. So I meet with the facilitators each week to work on planning, which can require office work, meetings with girls and families, meetings in the parish or with local leadership, buying things in town, etc. Soon we will have a parents meeting, which will be the kickoff for officially meeting with the girls two times each week. I have also been visiting with people in the community, trying to make more of an effort to be with people, hear their own stories and support them in various ways. I have been working on Maryknoll business (such as planning future tourist trips for Americans to visit MK sites in TZ, human resources work, and even helping with some orientation work for 3 new missioners coming in January), which can require me to traipse around town, do more office work, type endless emails, etc. This week II'll start going up to the parish to help one of the MK Brothers with an adult literacy class that he teaches two times a week. I have also been asked by several people to help on organizational levels at their projects-things like strategic planning, program management, training of staff.

So, as you can see there's more than enough to fill my time; it's just all structured in a very different way than what I might've been picturing. And I'm going to be very honest and say that this way of working is something I'm not that great at. I like to have concrete goals and check things off as I go along, to know exactly what I'm doing and move forward with it. Maybe I'll get more comfortable with this approach as time goes on, but for now I definitely feel a little anchor-less and unfocused. So please, continued prayers as we move into our last 1 1/2 years of this contract, that we can find fulfillment in our life and work here in TZ and that we can make even a little bit of an impact on the crazy system here and the people on the ground.


This is such a long blogpost with only words and no interesting pictures, so here's that baby elephant again. So cute!

*I know that this is a false assumption, even in the US. People in the states work hard also and most never get ahead. But despite it being a falsehood, most people in the states still believe in it and the longer I am living outside the US I'm realizing more and more how optimistic and trusting we are as a people. We trust that things will work out; whereas here, people don't. They have no reason to believe that any organization or system has their back so they don't count on those things.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

For Halloween Bubu is going as a butterball.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Say what?

It's always the little things that can cause a culture clash here and I find myself thinking, "Hmmm, how do I explain that?" 

Friday I made these breadsticks for our community meal. 

They're witches' fingers. I mean, why not?

As I walked across the street to our fellow missioner's house a neighbor stopped me and asked what I was carrying. "Bread," was all I said. But I kept moving the tray away from her so she couldn't get a good look at the shape of them. If she asked, I would've felt obligated to explain not only why I made bread in the shape of fingers, but witches' fingers nonetheless. Witches are a big part of the culture here and it's definitely not something to mess around with. I can't fully explain to you how unbelievably odd it would've been to her that we were eating food in the shape of witches' fingers. Maybe it'd be like if some foreigner in the states made food in the shape of doctors' toes. But not only that, I also would've had to try to explain all about halloween--you know, why we dress up in costumes and beg for candy at our neighbors' houses once a year and how we watch scary movies and carve pumpkins. It's all very culturally odd here and I would've had to do it in Swahili, which was a little too much for me at the moment. 

Luckily, "bread" was a good enough response because all she said was if there was any left over afterwards she's like a taste. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013


We've been back from Nairobi a week as of today but I guess I want to stay in that moment because it always feels nicer to be on vacation and away from the realities of home.

When we were at the MK Father's House those last few days last week we were so fortunate to meet up again with Fr. Mike Basanno. You might remember Mike from last year's camping trip. He was working at a home for abandoned and disabled people but recently he moved to South Sudan to continue his ministry there. Mike was in Nairobi last week to secure some of his visa paperwork and we couldn't believe our luck at being able to catch up again!

Fr. Mike was in Nairobi just by chance and he suggested the trip to the elephant park. Great idea!
This guy's only a few months old.

Mike talked us into taking some time out of our retreat to see the beauty of the area and what a great idea it was! We went to see BABY ELEPHANTS! How much cooler can you get than that? He had visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust once before and said it was not to be missed. As always, Mike was right. Check out these little cuties!


Here come the elephants!

The little ones had to have sunscreen on their ears to prevent burning!
Yep, that's sunscreen on his baby elephant ears. The African sun is too harsh for even these guys!

This place was great. Located on the outskirts of the wildlife park bordering Nairobi, they rescue abandoned or hurt baby elephants, up to 4 years of age, who are found in the park. Some of their mothers have been killed by poachers, some have fallen into wells, others are dying from lack of water. They bring them into their orphanage, nurse them back to health, and then reintroduce them into the wild. They allow visitors only for 1 hour a day because they don't want the elephants to get used to human interaction.

They were aggressive eaters!
They were pretty aggressive, even for babies. They eat every 3 hours and are fed plant based human baby food formula.

After eating many of them played in the mood. See the pile-on in the back?
After eating they liked to roll around in the mud. It was very messy and quite rough.

Chris & Mike touching a baby elephant
A few of them approached us so we could pet them. Of course, they were covered in mud, so we got all sticky. But it was still cool!

It was a great way to spend the morning and if we had the money, I'd have totally fostered one of these guys. If you've got an extra 50 bucks, you might think about doing it. Or, when you come visit us in TZ we could all take a trip to Nairobi and go together to see them. Totally worth it!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Something Silly About Me

Something I've learned about myself since I've been living out of the US. I love decorations. I never really thought much about this when I was living in the states. And, I've always been a "less is more" kind of person, so I've kept things pretty minimal. But I guess because decorations are everywhere in the US and I tend to protest when they put things up too early, it's just something I didn't really notice about myself. But when I got to Tanzania, where so many of "our" holidays aren't celebrated, I realized how important it is to me to mark the time of year by putting up a few decorations.

So that's how I found myself skipping around the house this afternoon when we go these little guys in a package from my grandmom.*

Halloween Decorations 2

Last year my friend Melissa sent me these happy fellows:

Halloween Decorations

But I think they arrived after the holiday. I put them up anyway but I've been looking forward to putting them up this year BEFORE Halloween. It's silly, but when I was in Nairobi and not sure when I would return, I kept thinking in the back of my head, "OH NO! What if I'm gone all month and I can't put up my jack-o-lanterns?" What a dork!

*Decorations aren't the only cool things we got today. We got 2 packages today! What a great day! Thanks Erica and Fuzzy and thanks Grandmom and Grandad.  Have I told you how lucky we are?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Time Out

The lay missioner who was in the hospital in Nairobi has been released and flew to the states earlier this week, so Chris and I are taking a few days' retreat at the MK Father's house on the outskirts of Nairobi city before we head back to the craziness of our life in TZ.

The entrance to the Nairobi house

The grounds are beautiful and are a peaceful place to rest, think and pray.

This is a really appropriate week for us to be on a retreat, since this Sunday is World Mission Sunday, a day set aside by the Catholic Church to pray for worldwide missions. It's great for me and Chris to experience the peace and quiet at this center and to celebrate and spend time with some of the MK Fathers who have been missioners for many decades. Their wisdom and experience is really helpful to us "newbies."

Please take this week to think about and pray especially for all of those people across the globe who are living witnesses to the peace and justice of Christ, whether they are in some foreign country abroad, or they are living in your community or in your own home.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

An Unexected Journey

Chris and I have been staying in a Catholic hostel while we're in Nairobi. It's the same place we stayed in a few months ago when we were last here. There's a guy staying here, who was also here back in July, who looks just like a Hobbit. He's got a very Bilbo Baggins-esque look about him. Short stature, longish curly white hair, big belly. He even wears clothes that I could see Bilbo or older Frodo wearing. Chris and I recognized him from last time we were here and we called him the Hobbit even then. We'd make jokes if he came in late for dinner and there wasn't a lot of food, saying something about how he'll be hungry even before Elevensies.

NO LIE! Today I noticed that he is missing the ring finger on his left hand. You know what I'm Tolkien about?

Friday, October 11, 2013

International Day of the Girl Child

Today, October 11, is the International Day of the Girl Child. Instead of highlighting any of the uncountable stories of girls facing insurmountable odds or being subject to unfathomable cruelty, I decided I wanted to celebrate three amazing young women who I am so proud of and who encapsulate the beauty, intellect and potential of the next generation of women.

Ponderings of a Small Child
My niece Lilly.

Surprises and Happiness
 My niece Maddie.

My niece Liz.

I am so proud to have these three young women as my nieces. They inspire me on a daily basis and I am honored to be their aunt. Even more importantly, we will have a better world because of them.

*First two photos by my amazingly talented niece, Liz. The last picture by my amazingly talented brother, Ben.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Can't We Do Better Than This, TZ?

This headline from the Citizen Newspaper seems appropriately ridiculous to me right now since I just was navigating the awful healthcare in TZ for our fellow missioner.

"The Tanzania health sector has made a sky-leap achievement in a ten-year period in terms of technological advancement, medical facilities and professionalism, Vice President Mohamed Gharib Bilal said in Mwanza at the weekend.

"Dr Bilal, who was speaking during the opening of the fourth Tanzania Medical Students Association (Tamsa) conference on Monday, said he was relieved that 80 per cent of medical practitioners and health workers, who were trained in the country decided to report to their work places."  (Emphasis mine.)

Friday, October 04, 2013

My Weird Privileged Life

I’ve been out of the blog loop for about a week now because my life has sort of taken on a life of its own. Does that make sense? Probably not.

Anyways, I won’t go into details out of respect for my colleague, but on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning I boarded a medical evacuation plane run by Flying Doctors and flew to Kenya accompanying a sick missioner to better medical care in our neighboring country. So here I am, sitting in a hospital room in Nairobi, which feels like another world from Tanzania. It’s a little surreal, to say the least.

AMREF-Flying Doctors sitting in airport in Mwanza 

But let’s back up just a little first. A colleague of mine got sick on Tuesday. I’m the Human Resources representative for our region of MKLM, plus our Regional Coordinator is out of the country right now so I was called to come check on the patient. We took her to the hospital and they diagnosed her with malaria. But there were some complications so they admitted her.

Now, Tanzanian medical care isn’t the best, let’s be honest. There IS medical care but the standard isn’t up to what we Westerners expect and their facilities and equipment aren’t always state-of-the art. They can handle non-emergent cases, but whenever things get a little tricky, we want to treat on the side of caution and get more expertise in the closest location possible, hence Nairobi. So when things weren’t improving with my colleague and we could see she needed more monitoring, I started advocating for medical evacuation*.

When we got to the airport, it was the middle of the night/wee hours of the morning so the airport wasn’t technically open yet. But by the time the plane arrived, I got through immigration and my colleague got settled into the plane, a small crew had arrived and they were getting ready for the day. I had to stand on the runway for about 20 minutes while everything was settled inside the tiny plane and, as anything involving Westerners, we were kind of a spectacle. So as I stood on the runway, there were about 5 Tanzanian male airport employees standing around watching what was happening.
“It’s malaria,” one guy said.
 “Why is this necessary if it is only malaria?” another guy asked. 
“You know the Westerners are afraid of malaria,” a third chimed in.
“The weather and environment is different so they get really sick.”
“Still, why does she need to go to Nairobi for malaria? We can treat that here.”

The conversation went on and on like this. The insinuation that it was a waste and that we were overreacting really made me miffed. "What do you know!?" I thought. "You're not a doctor! Who are you to judge us." Of course, I didn't say any of this. I just stood there stewing in my juices, feeling embarrassed and frustrated at, yet again, not being understood by Tanzanians, the story of our lives here.

And then I got to thinking more about it. About how odd it must look. Perhaps at this point I need to add a little bit of perspective because when people outside of Africa hear "malaria" they think "death." Yes, malaria kills millions of people a year in Africa. It's not something to take lightly, but at the same time, if treated quickly and with proper medicine, most cases can be cured relatively quickly and easily. Plus, EVERYONE in Tanzania has malaria. It’s as common as the everyday cold in the US. You get fever, a headache, any ache or pain? Go down to the corner clinic, get blood drawn for a few cents, and then get the medicine for a few more cents. That’s it. Or at least that’s the simple story. (I’ll get to the more complex story in a minute.)

Also, most Tanzanians have never left their village, let alone left the country. Most Tanzanians haven’t been to a hospital. (If they go anywhere, they go to a clinic.) Most Tanzanians barely have enough money to put food on the table. So the idea of spending that kind of cash to medically evacuate is seen as so extravagant. And to do it for MALARIA!? A common COLD!? It must look insane. Literal insanity because then you can't pay for other things like food, education and shelter for the rest of the family. 

Turns out, though, that when we got to Nairobi and further tests were done, my colleague isn't even sick with malaria. This shouldn't be much of a surprise since it's well known that malaria is misdiagnosed most of the time in TZ. It's a major problem here and another stumbling block toward getting proper medical treatment. So that made me think about the average Tanzanian, the one who can't get to a hospital when he or she is sick. Or, maybe let's say they have more money than the average person and they are able to get themselves to the regional hospital. They most likely would still end up with the fate of misdiagnosis, mistreatment, and perhaps even dying. No one would know otherwise than to say that their loved one died of malaria. If they didn't know any better, no one would think that he or she was mistreated or that things could've been handled differently. No one would be outraged or frustrated at the system that let them down. Again. 

So that leads me back to the guys standing on the tarmac talking about how silly it is to fly someone out of Tanzania for something as "simple" as malaria. This "privilege" that we have to know why we are sick and to get the proper care to fix it should not be a privilege. It is a right that all people should have. I wish there was a way for me to change the perspective of those runway guys and all the other people who wouldn't understand why we evacuated my colleague. They should be furious that a sick person can't get adequate care in their city. No. In their COUNTRY. Second, I wish they even understood that the medical care is inadequate. It's just not good enough and they shouldn't take it lying down. I wish they'd question the doctors and the government and the institutions who all say take two pills and call me in the morning. I wish that they wouldn't just look at us and think what a waste and how silly those Westerns are, but instead wonder why we do it and question what should be done within their own system to allow them to have the same care.

*One of the many benefits of being here with an established organization is that they take care of us in this way. We have global medical benefits paid by MKLM that pays for medical evacuation in case of emergency. Of course, there's always bureaucracy involved and we had to fight with the insurance company to approve the evacuation but in the end they did it and to that I am very grateful.

P.S. My colleague is doing okay. Her case is much more complicated and three days in, we're still not sure what is wrong. But she's feeling a lot better and will definitely be okay.