Week 1: Karibu from the Banana Trees

9 06 2012

3:36PM, June 5, 2012      

Habari za mchana from Mwika Uuwo, Tanzania!  We have just arrived in the village where we will conduct our fieldwork over the next two months, and we are eager to begin.  But first, some initial impressions of Tanzania from someone who has never before been in Africa:

  • The natural beauty of this region is simply striking.  I could see this even before I set foot in Tanzania, as I was able to glimpse the snow-capped peak of Kilimanjaro before the plane descended. The rainy season, which has just ended, has left the regional fields lush with crops of maize and sunflower.    At higher elevations, the verdant hills of banana trees on the road to Mwika make for a transcendent landscape.  As a Floridian all too familiar with the tropical specialty of humid heat, I can definitely appreciate the temperate climate of Kilimanjaro province.  It does get breezy at times, though.
  • Moshi, the nearest city to our fieldwork site, bustles with vibrant culture.  We stayed in the Hotel Midlands near Moshi for the weekend before being taken to Mwika, and we could hear local music stations and frenzied sermons in Swahili through all of Sunday.  Walking in the streets of Moshi reminded me of Manila in the Philippines, but with some key differences.  While Coke advertisements and bilingual storefronts are the same, I found many more Premier League jerseys and less loud blaring of Rihanna songs in urban Tanzania.
  • Many thanks to Vera, Carol, and Mama Nancy for helping us settle in here. Their kindness and generosity have been immensely helpful in helping us get off on the right foot, and we’ve already had a hand in delicious local cooking.
  • In fact, all the people of Mwika Uuwo are so nice and open, greeting us with smiles, handshakes, and habari.  In a week or so, we might figure out enough Swahili to respond with something a little more sophisticated than nzuri and asante.
  • We’re here for health purposes, and we spent the last two days seeing patients and observing healthcare practices in the Mwika Uuwo dispensary.  Yesterday, we watched Dr. Mmari, a senior medical officer in the dispensary, diagnose and treat villagers.  In this time of transition between the rainy and cold seasons, there were several diagnoses of malaria and pneumonia.  A fact that surprised me was that Tanzania has a national health insurance plan that is only 1000 shillings (or $0.70) a month, for those who are not already covered by their employer.  I’m amazed that one can get healthcare coverage that includes inpatient stays for the price of 12 off-brand aspirin tablets at Wal-Mart.  Of course, it helps that most of the essential drugs given in dispensaries like Mwika Uuwo have long been off patent.
  • Today, we spent the morning in the maternal and child health clinic, where I was able to give oral polio vaccines, retinol, and mebendazole to several babies.  Next Saturday is National Vacination Day, so I’m sure I haven’t seen the last of cutting and squeezing red waxy retinol tablets.  I could see upfront the culmination of several decades of global initiatives in preventative healthcare.  Here, mothers bring their babies for monthly visits to be weighed and vaccinated.  With proper administration, the nondescript shots and tablets given in this dispensary will ensure that these children live free of polio, intestinal worms, and other maladies.

Once we meet the rest the community, we will begin our project on assessing knowledge and practices of health in Mwika Uuwo.  The madness of fieldwork will begin soon, but for now I will enjoy a cup of chai and the bounty of nature.

Until next time,

Brandon Metra

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One response

13 06 2012
dukeglobalhealth

We enjoyed your blog post and all the description and context you gave! Enjoy your cup of chai and the beginning of what we all hope will be a wonderful and eye-opening experience on the realities of working in global health. We look forward to hearing more.

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