Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Living in Solidarity

If you've been following my African adventures over the past 2 years, you may have noticed that I tend to get sick a lot. Even when I was in the US, I was trying to get rid of amoeba and a urinary track infection, which followed me from TZ. I get so sick of being sick. It's one of the biggest "burdens" that I feel I face living here. I get tired of not knowing what's wrong, tired of being medicated, tired of going to the doctor's offices, tired of just feeling yucky.

I bring all of this up just to say that I'm not alone in this. Being constantly sick, constantly medicated, and constantly in the dark about why you're sick is very common for the people of Tanzania. I cannot know what it is to be Tanzania, nor can I know what it is like to live how they live, even as I live here alongside them. But from my experience of being constantly sick, I get a small glimps into the hardships that they face and I can sympathize all the more about their struggles.

Take for example Kulwa. Remember when I visited Kulwa,* the young woman who had just given birth in late November? My Lulu facilitator and I visited her again today in her family home. We had plans to visit another Lulu participant, but that didn't work out.** So, since we were in Kulwa's neighborhood, we decided to follow up with her. We have only seen her one time since our last visit because we've heard that there's been illness in the family.

When we entered the family courtyard today, we first notice an elderly bibi (grandmom) sitting on the stoop. We assume she is the grandmom who we heard had been sick, so we greet her and ask about her health. She answers that it's been "so-so," or it is as it is. As we were chatting, another woman, still a bibi but a bit younger than the first, comes out of the house. She looks in good health and has a broad smile on her face, but as she warmly greets us I realize that her stomach is swollen and distended, almost like she's pregnant although she's too old to be. She tells us she's the grandmom and the women we were just talking with is her mother (the great-grandmom of Kulwa and great-great-grandmom and Kulwa's daughter). This woman is the one who has been sick, as her swollen stomach can attest.

We enter the house and I am quickly handed Kulwa's baby girl, who is now about 3 months old. I am super happy to see that the little baby girl looks strong, is holding her head up and seems perfectly happy and healthy. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the rest of the family. In addition to Kulwa's grandmom, Kulwa herself has been sick, on and off again since giving birth. She says she's been constantly taking malaria medications, which can be detrimental to her health if she takes long-term. She's been to the clinic and they sometimes say it's malaria and other times they say it's something along the lines of "maternal fever," a sickness they believe mothers get after giving birth. We talked a while with the family, inquiring about the medications they both have been taking, what the doctors have said and their overall feeling as of late. Both patients seem resigned and don't have much faith that the doctors or the medications were helping. Instead, they say they are relying on God's intercession to heal them and have been going to church every day.

From my experience of being sick in TZ I can understand Kulwa and her grandmom's frustration with and lack of faith in the doctors here. Many of the medical professionals are under-trained, hospitals are understaffed and have outdated equipment, and the medicines can be counterfeit or expired. The system here doesn't inspire trust, nor should it. But what I am ill equipped to understand is this family's resignation that there is no solution to their problem. As an American, my culture tells me that there is an answer to any question, that if we work hard enough, we can overcome any hardship. Here in TZ, unfortunately, questions that could be answered often are not, systems that could be fixed are left to rot and ruin, and sick people like Kulwa and her grandmother who have illnesses that might be simply treated and cured are often misdiagnosed and they are left to whatever fate befalls them. And they are told that that's life, that there is nothing different or better out there, which is why they pray daily for intercession from God, because it's the only hope they know of.

I pray daily, but I don't just pray that people like me and Kulwa and her grandmom are healed. I pray and I work toward fixing a broken system, toward bringing up the people's education so that they can demand for better systems, so that they themselves can raise kids who will also be educated, more educated, and that they will be able to contribute toward fixing the broken system. It's a lot to pray for, a lot to work towards, but I know that it's possible, even if Kulwa and her family don't know it's possible. That's why I stay here, through the sickness and the medicine and the yucky feelings. I stay and I fight for Kulwa and her grandmom, who don't know what they're fighting for.

*I've changed this young lady's name.

**Things rarely work out on the first try so we've always got to be flexible and have backup plans.

1 comment:

Michael Leen said...

Thanks for this honest and thoughtful reflection Katie. It seems that maintaining hope is one of the biggest hurdles.