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Not the only muzungu in the village

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Claire Liew blogs about her two-year adventure with VSO at St Walburg’s Hospital in rural Tanzania. 

It's time I showed you what you are missing and gave you a tour of the village. It won't take long believe me, although Nyangao is larger than I imagined because it needs to provide for the hospital staff and the many patients and their relatives who pass through. St Walburg's hospital has a very good reputation for surgery and has one of the only functioning x-ray machines in the region. Patients come from as far away as Dar Es Salaam and Mozambique to have surgery here.

The hospital has 220 beds and 220 staff. At any one time most of them are chilling somewhere - sat on a bench catching the breeze, taking a nap on an empty bed, or having a wander around the hospital and chatting with colleagues. St Walburg's also has the only ICU in Southern Tanzania - what gives it the "intensive care" status though is the availability of a sats monitor and the ability to provide oxygen at a higher flow rate than the other wards. I hope I never need it...

The pharmacy stocks medication in line with the World Health Organisation's Emergency Medication List for Developing Countries, so there's not much choice when it comes to drug treatment. We don't ask about patient allergies, stage of pregnancy, whether a woman is breast-feeding, or about drug interactions....in fact, at the moment we don't worry too much about what is prescribed. If the prescription can't be deciphered (the doctors writing here is even worse than the UK - imagine!), we make a guess at what it says or what we think it should say. I am fairly sure I gave someone Betadine wash instead of co-trimoxazole tablets the other day. My bad.

The VSO volunteers go for lunch every day at the small restaurant outside the hospital gate. It's speciality (indeed its only dish) is wali, maharagwe and mbogo; that's rice, beans and spinach if you've let your Swahili slip. Sandra's unending positivity shone through when she remarked, "mmm, this is really tasty", while I was thinking it tastes the same as yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. But actually it's true - it really is tasty food and for 40p you can't knock it.

On New Year's Eve there was a special service in the hospital chapel, followed by an all-singing, all-drumming staff parade through the wards to bring good luck; the patients were sprayed with Holy water and they were all given a bar of soap for washing clothes. Then we got to finish work early and watch a gangster-style rapper from the village entertain the staff. A typical post-work activity for me, then.

At last, I have started having Swahili lessons three times a week though I'm not sure if I'll get on with the teacher. He has an annoying propensity to answer the questions he asks me before I get the chance to answer them myself. At one point he exclaimed, "you know nothing..." to which I rather angrily replied, "that's why I need a teacher!". In his defence, he was probably frustrated by my poor use of the future tense of the verb to have. Apparently if I say, I will be a dog, it's not quite the same as saying I will have a dog. However, any lessons are better than none.

Until now I have been relying on a phone app that teaches Swahili to the Armed Forces. Lay down your weapons and are there armed men near here?, have a rather limited use in Nyangao.

Language blunder of the day: Asking a man who was clearly unemployed and had a mental disability, "How is your work going?"

On a positive note, Mission Convent has gone incredibly well this week. Sandra and I invited Sister Columba to our house for chai which went down well. She brought us many mangoes, Korean trinkets and a statue of the baby Jesus which I tried to stand on a ledge in the lounge as a gesture of appreciation, but embarrassingly he kept falling off. Turns out the baby Jesus prefers to lie flat on his back.

Then, I spent 3 hours on the weekend, helping Big Boss Sister fill out an application for a course in Germany. It took a painfully long time and I ended up writing it myself but I was rewarded with bread and jam, mangoes, fruit juice and some rice with beans and sandy spinach for lunch. Today, I said I would help her set up an email account. She thought divine intervention had stopped her setting one up over a year ago, but really it's just poor Vodacom signal at the Convent. I wonder whether BigBossSister@gmail is already taken?

Question of the day: Why are there millions of insect wings outside the back door every morning? Where are the insects they belonged to and why are they leaving their wings here?

Clearly, I've been on my own too long....

*Muzungu - white person

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