Sunday, July 27, 2008

Frankensophy Takes Tabora

I realize that when Tanzanians see my face with the bandages and black eye, they are probably thinking about two possibilities: I was beaten by my husband (in their minds, most likely) or I was beaten and robbed on the street (less likely, especially as a foreigner – since foreigners are less likely to be beaten before being robbed). I get a lot of stares, and it’s hard to discern whether people are staring at me because I’m East Asian or because I look like I was recently clobbered. I also occasionally get a “pole sana” (“very sorry,” a way of expressing sympathy), which is a thoughtful acknowledgment.

I started feeling well enough to teach a few days after the accident, so I facilitated the afternoon training workshops on Wednesday and Thursday this past week in Tabora. I was running around the classroom, pulling people in to participate like I normally do, and forgetting that I had a big bandage in the middle of my forehead (at the third eye) and an obvious shiner. The participants were all very polite to me, though I wonder how they felt about being taught medicine from an injured person.

Coming soon: pictures of my suture removal ceremony – both at the Orion Tabora Hotel with Barbie manicure scissors (first attempt) – and at Kitete Regional Hospital in the minor surgical procedures theatre (second attempt).

it’s Tabora Time

[above: VIP lounge at Tabora Airport]

Tabora is a lovely city – one of my favorites - and starting to edge out Moshi as my favorite city in Tanzania. It’s got a decent-sized population of 250,000 people, but has a much mellower pace of life than Dar or Moshi. Because it’s off the beaten tourist path, we are among the very few non-Africans here and get a lot of attention. Thankfully it’s not the annoying tourism-type of harassment. It’s more of a curiosity and “Wow, a mzungu or mchina, I’ll try to say hello like we learned in English class.” People stare and express surprise or giggle at my existence. Sometimes they'll straighten up like they're in class (especially kids) and yell out (very formally) "Good evening, Madame!" It’s interesting to get this reaction for half a day, and then the attention gets tiresome. Being a freak is not that much fun (contrary to popular belief).

It was remarkable to arrive in Tabora after our car accident. Tabora is calm and soothing where Dar is all about the hustle. Immediately following the accident in Dar, I couldn’t see well because blood was gushing from my eyeglass-face-cuts, but I remember total chaos with a huge throng of people gathered around to stare at me and tell me to go to which clinic or hospital to get fixed up. A couple of Tanzanian women also came up close to Jenny and me and warned us to lock up the car, protect our belongings, and not trust anyone who wanted to bring us to a “hospital,” because it could end up a scam. At that time, all I could muster was “I don’t want to go to a hospital” (first thing out of my mouth) and “We gotta get out of here” (second thing out of my mouth).

Dar felt crazy and out-of-control. It is much nicer to recuperate in Tabora, where I really feel like I can be at ease. Adjusting to the slow pace of life can be challenging (try waiting two hours for food after placing your order when you’re hungry!), but ultimately it’s worthwhile to be in a place where people take the time to pay attention to each other.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tanzania photos, July 08, album 1

Please click on the above album to see the full-sized album and review the photos. Asante!

car accident in Dar es Salaam (yikes) and The Ultimate Nerd Injury

[i considered posting a picture of my Frankensophy stitches, but refrained - there's a photo buried in my online album of my face the day after if you really want to see it!]

Being in a vehicle in East Africa is one of the biggest risks you can take. Animal mauling by lions and rhinos and hippos have nothing on vehicular accidents. After all these years of taking matatus / daladalas (“public” transport minivans that zoom around crazily like they are on amphetamines) and playing frogger by walking on very busy roads and biking in places with no organized traffic flow, I finally was in a car accident. It was a bad one – the car was totaled – and incredibly, fortunately no one was gravely injured. We were in one of the rare taxis with a good driver and air bags and seat belts.

It was a head-on collision - our taxi driver was good and managed to swerve off the road when an out-of-control vehicle went suddenly into our lane. Rather than hitting it full-on, we hit the other car from the side. The car we were in was a well-maintained Toyota (rare in Tanzania), so the air bags deployed, and the front seat passengers were restrained.

I was the worst physical casualty; I was partially restrained in the back seat (belt around my lap but not properly buckled in) and smashed my face (glasses and all) on the back of the seat in front of me and sustained a mild concussion and some facial lacerations. We all had minor musculoskeletal bruises and sprains.

I have the true NERD INJURY: facial cuts by eyeglasses. Can you get any nerdier than that??

Since my face was bleeding, I was taken to Aga Khan Hospital in Dar es Salaam and received cleaning and several stitches along my forehead and eyebrows. Having worked in many of the public hospitals in Tanzania, I was afraid of what kind of services I might encounter – eeek! But I really got great care – with better attention than what I would have gotten in the US. The hospital was clean, and my colleagues (all doctors and NPs) stayed with me to make sure everything went well. They’ve been super. Dr. Khan (fresh outta internship) did a very nice job stitching my face up.

I now have a black eye and forehead like Frankenstein – it’s a very interesting look for me.

I’ve rested up in Dar es Salaam for a couple days, but there is no time for dilly-dallying: off to Tabora tomorrow morning at 5:45 am for another training!

Panthers in Africa

[above: sophy, Charlotte O'Neal with necklaces for Mama Yuri Kochiyama, and YW]

Young Whan and I had the incredibly good fortune of visiting the United African Alliance Community Centre at Imbaseni Village.

Pete and Charlotte O’Neal are Panthers in Africa. Pete is a political exile from his days of activism with the Black Panther Party in Kansas City, Missouri. Charlotte, his wife, was also part of the Black Panther Party in Kansas City but is not officially in exile. They came to Tanzania in 1972 as urban activists, found themselves on four acres of wilderness at Imbaseni in the Meru Mountain region, and learned to build a homestead by hunting, farming, and building their own home.

Now integrated in the surrounding WaMeru community, they have established the United African Alliance Community Centre, a wonderful multidisciplinary centre for arts and education. They provide secondary school-level education to young people in the surrounding village as well as a rich arts and music program. They host high school and college students from (mostly) the US who do village homestays and/or stay at UAACC so that they can work and learn from the surrounding community.

Charlotte invited us to visit – I only had two hours in transit to Dar es Salaam, but Young Whan was able to stay a couple of days. It was wonderful to witness how much she and Pete have built and grown in this community. Check out the photos – and the websites below.

The UAACC website:

“A Panther in Africa” documentary about Pete O’Neal:


[above: aerial view of Kilimanjaro at dawn]

Ahhh, back in Moshi, my home away from home. It’s funny how familiar everything feels, even though we stay in hotels. I stay at the familiar Bristol Cottages, where Mama Sakina and Mr. Aggarwal and the staff take good care of me. I also have my friends Mei and Joelle, transplants from Chengdu, China and Southern California (respectively) who always welcome me back. They speak Kiswahili and know the lay of the land. It is always good to have advice and guidance from two local strong, sassy and experienced women who are also living far away from their native homes.

Plus, Mei owns Panda Restaurant in Moshi and cooks us real home-style Chinese meals. She uses winter melon and greens from her own garden. And she makes amazing fresh tofu each day!!! How spoiled can you get: fresh tofu and Chinese greens in the mountains of Tanzania.

Joelle first landed in Moshi to teach at an NGO secondary school focused on providing education to the most vulnerable young people (often orphans). She’s now moved on to a women’s village health and empowerment project in Shimbwe, a mountain village near Moshi. I am hoping to link Joelle and the women in Shimbwe to a potential microfinancing project in which the women would make cool accessories out of Tanzanian fabric to be distributed by a San Francisco-based textile artist.

The training in Moshi went as well as a training goes. There were 15 relatively interested and engaged participants from the Kilimanjaro region – lots of rural mountainous villages. As usual, the participants were a mix of nurses, clinical officers and medical officers of highly variable experience, English proficiency and background knowledge on HIV care and treatment. There were no pharmacists this time, though there should be. Happily, as a group, they seemed to understand some key concepts (antiretrovirals, TB diagnosis and treatment, treatment failure, paediatric HIV issues…) and did remarkably better on their post-training exam than on their pre-training exam. I only hope that they are able to remember what they learned and take it back to the health centres in which they work. That’s what really counts.

Chumbe Island

Chumbe Island is amazing. It is an island previously used as a military post and later bought by a German environmental NGO. It is now an eco-resort and official environmentally protected area. The result is a group of self-sustaining solar-powered and rain-water huts, an ecology teaching center, and the best diversity of coral reef in all of East Africa. I saw some really crazy coral types that I had never seen before while snorkeling in the protected zone around Chumbe. The water was a bit turbulent, so the visibility in the photos I took was limited – the photos don’t do the actual coral justice. You’ll just have to visit the island yourself.

The eco-bandas were incredible: rainwater is collected and filtered through extremely fine ceramics (something nutty like 0.0000002 mm pores) to remove even microbial particles. Solar panels collected enough energy to power a few lights and a little fan. A solar tank warmed the rainwater to take showers with. My shower was hot! The toilet was a compost toilet – and didn’t smell at all because it was done well and cared for. And the used water was filtered and recycled to be used to water plants.

It was cool to see a place staffed entirely by East Africans (most were local Tanzanians, and one transplant Kenyan) trained in and teaching hardcore environmental protection practices.

I only wished we stayed longer. Maybe another time.

Zanzibar tena (again)

This was my second trip to Unguja Island, Zanzibar. Stone Town was as beautiful and captivating and haunting as usual.

You may recall my stories from March 08 about the East African slave trade as it relates to the rise and fall of Zanzibar. This time Young Whan and I visited the old slave market in Stone Town, which still has the horrifying traces of the whipping post and the holding cells (75 people in a cell about 10 feet by 6 feet and only three small air holes). The Anglican Church built over it – an interesting relationship between colonial missionaries and the slavery emancipation movement. A couple of the missionaries became leaders in that movement. Many of the freed slaves converted to Christianity afterwards. Hmm.

While the East African slave trade was fueled by the Omani sultans (and thus the slaves were taken from various East African regions to the Middle East, Indian sub-continent, and Southeast Asia), they only started after they got the idea from Portuguese colonialists, who were stealing people from Mozambique as slaves to Brasil and Europe. Still the trade was just as brutal, and slaves were whipped with the tails of stingrays (with the poison and spurs intact) to test their “strength” and tolerability to pain.

After slaves gained their “freedom” in the late 1800s, many stayed in Zanzibar despite being far from home and created a new mixed African community. The Omanis still retained a great deal of power with the spice trade. In the 1960s there was a massive uprise among the black African Zanzibaris, and thousands of non-black people in Zanzibar were massacred. The Zanzibar Revolutionary government set up shop, and were said to govern with socialist and communist principles, redistributing land and homes to poor black Zanzibaris – but without as much planning, organization, long-term support, and (probably) financial resources as in Cuba. It’s really interesting to see the crumbling blocks of Stone Town Arabic style mansions next to the Soviet-style blocks of housing projects.