Posted by: Claire Liew11 APR 2013
Claire Liew blogs about her two-year adventure with VSO at St Walburg’s Hospital in rural Tanzania. The Sunday before Christmas, Sandra and I went to the church in Nyangao. Many people from the village attend church (Nyangao has a 60:40 Muslim:Christian ratio) including lots of staff from the hospital, so it's a good place to meet folk never mind the more divine reasons for which one goes to church. Personally, I was also using it as Step 1 of a long game I have planned that ultimately sees me "best friends" with the nuns.
Nyangao Hospital is 60% funded by the government of Tanzania and 40% by the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing, Germany. Consequently, there is a convent in the village - many of the nuns have worked as doctors and nurses at the hospital over the years. But these are nuns who know how to live in comfort. Whilst people in Southern Tanzania are some of the poorest in the country, the convent gets fresh milk, grows its own lettuce, makes sour dough bread daily (what I wouldn't do for sourdough bread) and gets water straight from the springs at Ndanda. They live in relative luxury. And I want a piece. So after church, Sandra and I went to the convent on the pretext of introducing me to the Sisters. It went well. Sister Columba (formerly known as Clara) has recently arrived from South Korea - she is a pharmacist too - and will start work at the hospital soon. We will both have to take the Tanzanian pharmacy registration exam which I have agreed to help her study for. Obviously I am doing this for altruistic reasons, but should I be remunerated with the aforementioned milk, lettuce or sourdough bread (please God), it would be most greatly received. And if, after 2 years in Tanzania I am at a loss of what to do with myself, Sister Tumainde (Big Chief Sister - I'm sure this is what they are called) has said she will pray for me that I will one day become a nun.
Wheeling and dealing done, James, Sandra and I caught a dala dala to Mtwara to start the Christmas celebrations with another group of volunteers. The dala dala is a van/bus - the size varies depending on the destination - the one to Mtwara has seats for 25. There were 50 on board. The journey is 3 hours and invariably at some point you will be holding a baby, a chicken, a baby chicken or will be sat on the lap of another passenger. It's a mobile hell for agoraphobics .
The bus stops every few miles to squeeze more passengers in but bizarrely no-one ever seems to get off. When you do stop, boys jostle at the windows peddling wares; dried fish, mangoes, cashew nuts, sugar cane, popcorn. If only I could get to my money I would buy your goods however I can't move my arms for the 7 people sat on me. But this time we made it to Mtwara in one piece and were rewarded with a stay in the Mission-owned beach house run by Mama Hilaria. Christmas dinner was fairly similar to the usual fare one gets in a Tanzanian restaurant. Mama Mtupa cooked us chicken, chips, rice, vegetables, salad and prawns. It was very pleasant and not unlike the festive cuisine back home, except here we also got prawns (only joking mum).
Three days in Mtwara was a nice break and is the place to stock up on all the produce and Western goods you can't get in Nyangao but I was excited to get home and back to the peace and familiarity of the village. Plus, I was starting to miss morning chapatti's, chai time, my pharmacy colleague's trying to teach me new words (today's: joto sana = it's bloody hot) and the morning medical meetings. Overnight cases - cholera outbreak, malaria, TB, malaria, TB.
Dr Jankovic took my photo this morning for the Nyangao Hospital website, of which he is the proud designer (at the ripe age of 70, I would guess). I got up extra early to blow-dry my hair. Not much fun when it's already 30oc outside. Rhian - you would have been proud - I even put on some mascara although it had sweated down my face within 20 minutes. Vanity is indeed an ugly thing.
Happy New Year!