A week in the life


I’m feeling pretty accomplished because I just managed to brush my teeth and wash my hands with only about half a cup of water – there’s no running water again. I’ve been keeping a hand-written journal during my time in Moshi and although typing on a 15 inch laptopdoesn’t seem as authentic as writing by hand, I’ve decided to succumb to technology and start typing up my journals. Despite taking a handwriting class for all of primary school- an essential part of the convent school education – all those hours of practicing my curled l’s and g’s have produced a quasi-script that even I have trouble reading.

So as my first full week at Moshi comes to an end, I figure I’ll give you a quick recap of how my day usually goes.

Each day starts at around 6:30 am –after which I usually take a bucket bath. Even though I’m a heavy sleeper and have no trouble sleeping through all my alarms at Cornell, I seem to have developed a really keen hearing and am woken up by everything – the buzzing of mosquitoes, the Muslim call to prayer, the cows and roosters. Though the cold bucket baths are refreshing in the humidity of Moshi, I’ve caught a cold so I’ve been using a retired electric tea kettle to boil hot water. Loveness, the house girl at my home stay who is also one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, begins her day before me and usually already has a breakfast of hot ginger tea, toast, peanut butter and chungwa (oranges) laid out.

Classes at KCMUC (Kilimajaro Christian Medical University College) have been interesting so far. I’ll be developing a policy case study with another Cornell student and three fourth year medical students at KCMUC on a health issue relevant to the Moshi area. However, this week we gave a short presentation on “brain drain” – the migration of health professionals from developing countries. This is a huge problem in Tanzania – which has only 2 doctors per 100, 000 people and more than half of its doctors currently practicing abroad. It’s particularly challenging in rural areas where doctors are burdened with countless patients and a lack of proper diagnostic equipment/medication. Because brain drain is such a relevant topic, the questioning session after our presentation escalated into a bit of a debate – the KCMUC students had a lot to say about our policy recommendations.

One of the students said “Sometimes, we can perform the surgery to save someone’s life but we don’t have the equipment. We can but we are not able to.” I can only imagine how frustrating it must be when your hands are tied due to lack of resources. Another thing that struck me was that a student told me how they had studied and heard about MRIs but had never actually seen one. The hospital also does not have a CT scan machine and although they raised up enough money to buy one last year, the money “disappeared.” I was also surprised to learn that the hospital affiliated with KCMUC is considered one of the best hospitals in the country as it is a “consulting” hospital which is quite high in the hierarchy of the public health infrastructure in Tanzania. Compared to even an overcrowded government hospital in the U.S., conditions are drastically poorer.

The weekend was a nice break from classes – I was able to visit the downtown area twice yesterday – once with Mama Mary, one of the home stay mothers, and all the other Cornell students and once with Loveness and my roommate Abby. The walk to the market with Mama Mary was so exhausting that we didn’t even make it to the main market and ended up going back home. We did stop at the local center, which has a small pool with a sign that read “Half nakedness is strictly prohibited outside the swimming pool.” We stopped for samosas and mango juice, at a random field where the locals probably laughed at us for being so fascinated by the cows and at random stores along the way. We also stopped by the local church – which had beautiful stained glass windows and a choir singing beautiful hymns in Swahili. Needless to say, as a group of foreigners walking through downtown Moshi, we blended in perfectly (not sure if sarcasm translates well) and were followed by street side peddlers selling everything from paintings of Masai to football jerseys. I have to admire their persistence.

When my roommate and I finally got home dusty and exhausted, we found that Loveness and Furah (another girl who lives in our compound) were all dressed up to go to “town” with us so we ended up mustering up some energy and going to town again. This time, we took a dala dala into town. The “dala dala” – the main mode of transportation in Moshi, is a minivan except it miraculously fits up to thirty people and stops for every pedestrian on the main road to the market. Basically, the dala dala has no capacity limit and accommodates as many people as necessary. We were not really able to communicate clearly with Loveness and Furah but they led us to a concert tucked away behind a field. The concert consisted mainly of religious songs (heard “Yesu” and hallelujah a lot) and included tons of coordinated dancing – the celebratory mood and joy in the dancing and singing was really infectious. We walked home, chewing on bits of sugar cane, which has an almost mouth numbingly sweet juice. The majestic view of the snow capped peak of Mount Kilamanjaro framed by the tropical green plants dotted with orange flowers made for such a breathtaking view. We walked through the high corn plants in that pretty golden late evening haze, talking about Akon and machumbas (fiancées).

One thing I’ve realized from my time so far is how little is necessary to be comfortable and happy. Even if I find myself in a situation without a flushing toilet or internet or a phone, I know I can still be content from enjoying a great meal and taking in views of the mountain.