The Long Way Home

Nimechoka sana (I am very tired)! It was to bed early tonight as I had driven many Mufindi kilometres over rough terrain resembling the East African safari rally. The very long way home began at 5:00 p.m. after leaving Mwefu’s windowless, floorless and doorless rehearsal room. Yusto and I drove back to Luhunga Secondary – approx. 7 Mufindi km. Just as we were approaching Luhunga to pick up Ruth and Jenny Peck (NGO’s manager), Yusto’s piercing phone rang, disturbing the early evening tranquility. I could tell by his somber responses that something was very wrong. His daughter, Abigail, had been accidently struck on the head with a jembe (heavy Tanzanian hoe). One of her classmates had climbed a tree and was trying to reach tantalizing fruit with his jembe. He lost his balance and the jembe fell and sliced open Abigail’s head. Abigail was waiting at the Luhunga’s medical clinic but the clinic’s doors were locked tight and there wasn’t a medical person in sight. Kweli (really)! Such is the state of Tanzania’s medical system.

Off we went to Mdabulo Hospital 15 km away. Jenny suggested I take the “short cut” which took us over a series of deeply rutted steep roads lined with Tanzanian pines and the stubs of freshly hacked trees. We passed Mdabulo secondary students washing their clothes in a stream at the bottom of a gully. As we made our way slowly up another hill, we were confronted with a wall of smoke from hillside fires – not an unusual sight as this time of the year. Enormous flames, rising high above the smoke, were dangerously close to the road. A rare car and a piki piki (motorcycle) were stopped in front of us. Was it safe to continue? There was nowhere to turn around and the steep uneven decline would make backing up challenging. Then a piki piki came through the smoke from the opposite direction and assured us it was safe. As quickly as possible we passed the charred fields, the smoking shamba debris, the roadside wispy flames. Not far now to Mdabulo Hospital.

The sun was setting through the lingering smoky haze as we approached the hospital. It was eerily quiet and mostly dark. One light was on at the nurses station. Their nightly skeleton staff consisting of one nurse appeared. Yusto, Jenny and a very frightened, reluctant Abagail followed a stout, unsmiling nurse into a medical room. Abagail filled the Mufindi night with her shrieks and loud protests as part of her head was shaved and stitched. Soothing and pleading words from Jenny and Yusto were contrasted with sharp commands from the mkali (crabby) nurse. Poor Abagail told her father later that she thought she was going to be killed. This feisty 9 year old was determined to fight with all her might!

While we were waiting in the dark, a woman with her baby bundled tightly to her back joined us on the bench. Jenny had asked her to meet us at the hospital. Her baby who looked less than a year old but was actually more than 2 had a severe case of kwashiorkor, a dangerous form of malnutrition caused by not eating enough protein. This HIV mother and child had been part of Jenny’s milk powder program but had stopped attending many months ago because she said, “Her baby didn’t like the milk.” Jenny thinks her child was lactose intolerant. Mother and child, Yusto and his Abigail, Jenny, Ruth and I piled back into our car. On our drive home Jenny was on the phone to Dr. Leena, 3 hours away from Mufindi, getting instructions about the best possible formula, vitamins and deworming medication. Mother and child would stay the night next door to Geoff and Jenny’s at the yatima’s (orphanage) guesthouse and would be taken to another hospital in the morning. Ruth and I marveled at Jenny’s resourcefulness and commitment.

It had been a long day and a long distance before reaching “home.”

Lala salama (Goodnight),