FRIDAY’S FULL DAY
Our second full day in Mufindi was over. We entered Protea Point, the volunteer’s house, in a cloud of dust, looked at each other and said, “What a day!” It began early Friday morning when we drove in our white car (with the words “Little Angel” etched on it) up steep, dusty, rutted roads to the village of Mdabulo. Our destination was the Care and Treatment Centre (CTC). It was CTC day for people with HIV/AIDS. Within the CTC’s large waiting room beats the pulse of people stoically waiting on long wooden benches for diagnosis and treatment. Young, old, babies, children, adults. The atmosphere was orderly and somber with Tanzanian music playing in the background.
Ruth and I were put to work at separate stations. I was working with two Tanzanian volunteers facing 100 people at the front of the waiting room. As people silently approached our table one by one, they handed us their medical identity cards. Cards that were often tattered, torn, stained. It was our job to look at the number on their cards, locate their files(sometimes involving a frantic search), give them their medical files and record their weight before they moved onto the various stations they needed to visit for treatment and counseling. People sat patiently waiting their turn– some staring ahead expressionless while others were talking softly. Babies were quietly stirring, sleeping or nursing. Mothers would gently place their babies on the cement floor while they were being weighed.
Armed with their medical files people moved into the next room where Ruth assisted Jean, an aged Peace Corp worker who decided he wanted to teach in a remote village secondary school before he was too old. He was our age, hasn’t seen his wife in two year as electricity and running water are essential requirements for her and she will only travel to Italy. Mufindi is definitely not Italy! Jean volunteers on CTC day and Ruth helped him record patients’ CD4 counts (white blood cell counts). From there some were having their CD4 count taken, others were seeing the doctor, most were receiving a monthly supply of ARVs (anti retroviral drugs) while others were visiting the counseling room. If their CD4 count is 350 or less they are eligible for free ARVs.
After our jobs were completed Jenny Peck, one of the NGO’s capable managers, tearfully asked us to join in a prayer at the clinic next door where Klaine, a 13 year old boy with AIDS, bundled up in a woolen blanket, was nearing the end of his life. The aunt, his closest living relative, held his hand. The doctor was sending him home to die. To hire a taxi for a return trip to their home costing $8.00 each way was an unimaginable burden on Klaine’s aunt. We were thankful to be able to help in a very small way.
We drove home at noon feeling devastated and utterly helpless. But Dr. Leena reminded us that although approximately one third of the population in the District of Mufindi is HIV+, there has been a significant increase in people being tested – 1,443 this year and as a result a decrease in the number of people succumbing to AIDS. The CTC is on the front lines and is saving many lives! Almost daily we see and feel the lows and highs in this extraordinary part of Tanzania. Ruth and I do our best to focus and hold those positive experiences. But sometimes it’s just not possible. “Maisha magumu” – Life is hard.
In contrast to the morning’s CTC experience we were scheduled to visit Luhunga Secondary where the African Book Box had built a library. Students are using the well stocked library during the day. But the computer lab at one end of the library cannot function without electricity. Although electricity is finally coming to Mufindi people have to pay for it to be hooked up. Our charity was asked to pay for electricity to be hooked up to the school. Yes , we can do this! A Tanzanian newspaper recently reported that 80% of Tanzanians spend their evenings in darkness. It is exciting to know that for many villagers electricity will brighten their long nights.
We are now planning our teaching projects. It’s practicum time again! Sometimes I wonder if these two wazees (old people) can keep up with the rigor that is needed to make our lessons effective. Ruth will be doing a wonderful novel study with a group of secondary students at Luhunga. I will be working with a group of Mwefu elementary students on a play about the destruction and rebuilding of their school. This year the play will be in Kiswahili so I will need our wonderfully animated librarian, Yusto, to be by my side as translator.
This is a LONG email but with the generator still on and the internet still functioning - I felt I just had to grab this opportunity. Thank you for your patience! I promise to make my next letter home much shorter!
With much love,