I spend exactly 24 hours at Dar Es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania: At 4:30 am I arrived at the guest house of the organisation that runs the hospital in the south and at 4:30 am I left to take the Matatu to Ndanda. The very brief impression I got from this guesthouse/monastery and it’s people was quite fascinating. It seems to be the base for all kind of people from around the world: doctors and volunteers mostly and in the end every occupation. When someone needs an electrician or an architect for example, the St Benedict-community can ask for them and they will come from abroad because they are happy to help. Their network reaches as far as Kuba or the Philippines.
The Matatu ride to Ndanda lasted almost 12 hours but the scenery involved all the nostalgia from my time in Kenya. Over the time there were two different ladys with their young baby girls on their lap sitting next to me and even though my Kiswahili is more than a little rusty they always bought snacks for me too, noticing that I was mal prepared for such a journey. It were always the ones owning so little that had shared with me within the blink of an eye.
There are already two other medical interns here, both girls from Germany and both here for at least a month: Marie and Charlotte. We stay at a Guesthouse run by the Benedictine Sisters which is painted in a happy orange colour and has a garden and a small church-hall. The most amazing thing is that you can actually drink the tab water. It comes from the Makondo Plateau – an accumulation of mountains that protrude over Ndanda – get’s filtered and checked and not only comes from the tap but is also filled in bottles and sold all over Tanzania under the title: ‘Abbey Water’.
Another truly genius construction is ‘Jem Jema’. It is a big pool of water in which we already went swimming once. It looks like a beautiful oasis between the trees and bushes climbing Makondo and is used to propel a turbin which ends up providing a big part of the hospitals electricity.
The Ndanda hospital has grown rapidly over the last 30 years. The Benedictines founded it as well as a primary and later a high school. It has running water, a CT scanner and a few ultrasound devices as well as dialysis machines. The orthopedics theater which I have been helping and observing in has an X-Ray. Every morning we start with ward rounds, talking to every patient and discussing medication and further treatment. Where the doctors (who are btw all Tanzanians except the head of the hospital) don’t have the required instuments they improvise. As I have been in the surgical department I have seen many small children with fractured femurs mostly from falling from trees. A lack of the required cask which stretches the thigh so that the pieces can grow together again made them build a construction around their patients foot where they attach a weight hanging down from the bed.
The last weekend the two girls and I spent at Mtwara at the beach. We explored and collected shells. I swam every day until I didn’t think of anything else anymore and just existed. Even they jelly fish couldn’t keep me away. I was the only one who they seemed to always get. Every time it felt and looked as if I’d touched a nettle. And it was the most amazing weekend with card games into the night, an ocean so close the sound never left us and a good book. ‘Die Attentäterin’ isn’t exactly the light beach read you’d expect. In the center is the conflict Israel and Palestinians and even though it’s an older book it captures the ravine that streches into our present. I can highly recommend it, though it involves the real violence of the crisis.
With Marie, Charlotte and I travelled to Mtwara also a freshly retired gastroenterologist who had worked in Ndanda hospital over 30 years ago as a young doctor. We can listen to him for hours. He’s got more stories and adventures to tell than I could even imagine. He was here with his wife and kids for 3-4 years helping the hospital develop, training Tanzanian staff and providing ground care for villages so engulfed by the bush they had to travel for hours. He brought the first ultrasound device and trained them back then.
The four of us have had an amazing time this weekend together with another friend from Tanzania who I gave swimming lessons to every morning. He’ll be swimming in no time and maybe teach his friends, since a lot of people every year are still drowning.
Mangroves look like trees and survive on the coast in the saltwater. It’s roots look like stalagmites. I mention them here because they seemed to me a fitting metaphor for the people I’ve met here: Difficult circumstances but they manage graciously.