Some days feel more productive than others, some just feel longer than others!
Last Friday was looooong!
We had lost a day the previous week due to the unexpected death of the younger brother of Anna, the social worker. At the time, I had been slightly grateful for the day off as a bad cold and dust had been really aggravating my asthma but it did mean we were playing catch-up.
7.00am Up early to do a stint of drying and oiling the toddlers ( see any number of earlier posts about the joy of rubbing wriggling children with vaseline and then trying to get them to the next room without shooting them out of your grip as if from a slingshot!)
8.00am Short round of nursery rhymes and action songs to keep the toddlers amused until it was time for preschool.
9.30am Pretty prompt start with Anna and Hassan in the jeep.
First call to catch up with Mama Magreth out in Misungwi (see previous post My Lovely Wednesdays and Fridays). It’s a long drive and we pass the time on the bumpy, dusty journey by singing songs. This morning Anna and Hassan taught me the classic Nakupenda Malaika ( I love you my angel). You can find a version of it by Miriam Makeba if you google it – probably not up to the quality of ours but she gives it a good go. By Misungwi village we were on to the ballads of Celine Dion. I refrained from strappping myself to the front of the jeep a la Kate Winslet in Titanic.
11.00 Arrived in Misungwi village. Mama Magreth is outside the village in the country side so to save time we stopped at the wholesalers in the market to buy 3 sacks of maize. Temperature had reached about 32 degrees with no breeze so we were searching for bits of shade to hide in. Amidst much joking and bartering, we managed to get the price down on the maize slightly but the crop everywhere is dying due to lack of rain so prices are getting higher.
11.30am Arrived at Mama Magreth’s and loaded her up….
only joking…most of the lifting was done by Hassan and his brother who came along on the trip as extra muscle. Her maize was looking better than some but it is dead now and will never produce anything edible.
A quick check of the children’s teeth followed…and removal of an ingrained thorn from a child’s foot (with a mental note to carry a first aid kit next time!)
Best laid plans etc – our cunning plan to save time failed when we realised Mama Magreth had run out of food during the week so had dipped in to her capital stock to feed her 8 children and mother. So back we went to the market for a smaller sack for her family’s use, paid for out of her takings and took the rest of her money to keep for her at the baby home.
1.30pm So, behind schedule already we hotfooted it back to find Mama Hamisi. She has a husband but his work as a handyman is very sporadic and Hamisi, now 2 years old, has been attending the weighing clinics since he was a small baby as he was malnourished.
Without a good family income he, and his 8 year old brother, Ibrahim, are still small and underweight , so we were going to try to set her up with a business selling children’s clothes. Good quality second-hand clothing that comes from Europe can be sold for a good profit here.
Best laid plans…..she was out and her small house was locked up. Thinking she might be at mosque we parked under a tree and waited.
2.05pm Mosque seemed like it was never going to finish so we set off again, only to come across Mama Hamisi walking along the road, carrying Hamisi with Ibrahim trailing forlornly behind with his arm hanging at an odd angle. Ibrahim had fallen out of a tree and hurt his arm. They had just been to the doctor who thought it should have an x ray but the hospital was probably busy so told them to wait until the next day or Monday. The angle of the arm and the massive swelling suggested it was broken so, once more noting that some form of first aid kit would be useful, I strapped his arm to his body with his mother’s headscarf to try to immobilise it while Hassan drove at speed to Secatoure Hospital. We gave her money for Xrays and, after Anna asked not to accompany her, Hassan took her in to the ED to make sure she was seen.
Taking her into the ED implies going in through some doors to be seen in some sort of private area but actually its like an open hallway so I sat in the car watching a doctor fit a drip in to someone’s arm and a motorbike accident victim staggering out with a big bandage on his head but none on his arm or leg wounds as they dripped blood on the pavement as he walked.
Anna sat quietly in the front of the jeep. I knew her brother had died the week before but not that he died in this Emergency Department, which was why she did not want to go in. Soberingly, he died from an asthma attack at the age of 26.
2.45pm Now well behind schedule and getting hungry and irritable, we stopped at a local ‘fast food’ joint for chicken, beans and rice and set off again. Hassan’s penchant for ballads led to a very stirring rendition of ‘Everything I Do ( I do it for you) ‘, the theme tune from the classic Kevin Costner version of Robin Hood .
3.30pm Temperature still around 30 degrees. Baba Joseph was waiting for us at the motorbike mending shop where he worked. He was bringing his son to us for milk as his wife was mentally ill and often refused to feed the baby or got distracted and stopped feeding him halfway through.
With two other children under 4, he was struggling to support the family. We went to meet Mama Joseph and the children. The story was that she had been given twice the amount of anaesthetic during her Caesarean. I’m not sure if that was really the case or whether she was just suffering from bad post-natal depression, which is unheard of as a phenomenon here. Dad asked us to wait while he made sure his wife was dressed and put up a pink sheet to hide the mattress on the floor in the one small room that they share. The room was so small that once we’d all crammed in on wooden stools and the edge of the mattress the pink sheet was sitting on our heads anyway, a bit like a Barbie tent.
As we talked about the best way forward, the two little girls started giving each other kisses. “Cute” I said with a smile, which turned in to a sightly fixed grin as they then proceeded to run their hands all over each other and lie down on the bed, writhing. “Ah yes. They’ve been watching their parents” said Hassan and proceeded to gently caution the dad about not having sex in front of the children. Most families here will all share one bed with only boys , when they reach adolescence, moving out or onto the floor. He told us about a previous family he had visited with five children and had a similar conversation with. The mother was adamant that the children would never see them having sex. When he asked ” How can you be so sure?”, she said ” I call out ‘Who wants a biscuit?’ and if no-one replies then they must be asleep so it’s safe to continue”!
We decided that giving the family transport money so that mum and the children could return to Kigoma, their original village, where both grandmothers lived would be most helpful so that she could get support and the prayers of her family until she, hopefully, recovered. The only other option here is to have her admitted to a psych ward at Bugando ( see previous post Carry On Doctor) which is very much a last resort.
4.00pm . Then we shot up a steep old hill behind the main hospital and walked through a massive cemetery to check on a new family , that of Mama Rahma.
She is a widow with 7 children whose husband had died in a road accident last year. She had had a good charcoal business until then but had to sell all her stock to pay for the funeral so she had been set up a couple of days before with a new stock of charcoal (almost everyone cooks on charcoal stoves) and books and school shoes for her older children so that they could attend school. Her 7 month old twins were pretty healthy , other than chest infections, but would soon not be once she stopped breast feeding as she did not have enough money to feed the family so setting her up in business quickly was a priority for her self-sufficiency.
We clambered up the rocks to her house to drop off penicillin and antifungal cream
and checked out her business which was outside her house. She’d already sold a sackful of charcoal and was very hopeful of getting back on her feet.
4.45pm Next on the list was Bibi (grandmother) Rehema. Rehema’s mother died during or shortly after a Caesarean section. As Rehema was 2 months premature, I can only guess that this was an emergency Caesarean and that the mother was already ill although its unclear what was wrong with her. The grandmother had tried to take care of Rehema and come to us for milk for the tiny baby when she was showing signs of malnourishment. She had been set up in business, selling material, in October of last year. Best laid plans….she was out, selling material in the local market so not there when we called. However, Rehema, now just over a year old, was at home under the care of her young aunt who showed me the small shop (named after her granddaughter) that Bibi Rehema had opened with the profit from her material business and that she hoped to build on as profits increased. She had left a request for funding for a set of scales so that she could sell flour and sugar from the shop.
Many malnourished children stay hungry in the longterm and do not have an ‘off switch’ where food is concerned. Safe to say Rehema is showing no sign of malnourishment now!
5.15pm Off we set again, to the strains of Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’ to find Mama Joyce. She had developed boils on her breast and was unable to feed her baby, which was why she came to us originally. This appears to be quite a common condition here and, although it does happen in the UK, I think the general poor nutrition (and in some cases HIV status) of many of the mothers leads to poorer immune systems to fight infections that occur; and the cost of seeking medical help, also leads to boils being left and turning into abscesses. She was set up with a business selling small dried fish in November of last year and had started making and selling mandazi (plain doughnuts) as snacks as well, but was keen to show us that she had already got enough profit to open a hair-dressing salon.
Best laid plans ..she was out. But her stall was still going well and was being manned by a two small boys.
5.45pm We finally made our way to Mama Julius’ house. She is a young single mother, currently living with her sister and her family.
The first step to helping her with a business was to find her a room of her own to live in, as it seemed likely her sister would take any income she made from a business. When we arrived, Mama Julius seemed to think we were just dropping off money but we explained that we needed to see the room, check the contract and pay the landlord/landlady directly. There then followed 30 minutes of driving around trying to find the room that she had found. Tempers were fraying and the singing had most definitely dribbled down to plaintive renditions of Dolly Parton’s ‘Coat of Many Colours’ by this point as Mama Julius, sporting a white woolly hat, repeatedly hopped out of the car and sped off to double check which alley it might be in. Very slight of build, she reminded me of that ‘child’ in the red coat in ‘Don’t Look Now’ torturing Donald Sutherland with glimpses of a red coat down alleyways but this time it was a diminutive figure in a bouncing white bobble hat, appearing and disappearing amongst the shacks and breeze block houses. Eventually, we said ‘enough is enough’ and sent her home. There’s a fair chance there might not be a room – she may have just been hopeful of a handout.
6.45pm Home at last. Exhausted and very sweaty and dusty. I dragged myself to the market on autopilot and almost wept at the sight of the man who sells ‘chipsi mayai’ (chip omelette) every now and then as he was actually there. So, a takeaway was had, with the addition of a big bunch of spinach and some watermelon.
Closely followed by an early night!
Ibrahim had a broken elbow and was in plaster when we called this week
but we were able to set his mum up with a bale of clothes
and Mama Joyce very proudly showed us her hair salon.