December 21, 2010

My Sister's Month in Tanzania - Part 3

Date: Sunday, December 19, 2010
Subject: Finally, internet
From: 007’s Sister

Habari za asubuhi!

Here I am in the funny little town of Lushoto, in the foothills of Kilimanjaro.

I have-- miraculously-- found a spot with FAST internet. Trouble is, only one computer is equipped with a USB port, and that computer is currently occupied by what looks like a quarter of a gospel group which is listening to youtube clips of gospel songs in anticipation to Christmas. TIA (This is Africa).

Things are really great on my end. I have just finished wandering 'round the markets here, navigating somewhat confidently with the Kiswahili knowledge of an 18 month old. Bei gani? Mizawah. Robbo kilo. Asante sana. Sitake! I

'm really enjoying Tanzania. I find the people nice, non threatening (well, so far), and once you attempt to speak to them Swahili, much more helpful.

I am staying in the scrappy little town of Muheza, which is not a tourist destination at all, but very conveniently located in what seems to be a transport hub: so, few muzungus [white people or foreigners] (actually none apart from those working at the hospital, which is to say, 3 doctors and us 5 medical students, plus 3 Dutch midwives), but very good access to destinations all over the country via dala dala (super cramped busses).

The 5 other medical students are all, strangely enough, Aussie, which is great because it means they're low key, non competitive, and adventurous. Consequently I've been able to get lots of clinical experience, and see lots of things on the weekend too. The hostel, predictably, has no running water, but I use the bucket showers get the job done. Recently, fans were installed in the rooms, which is a total godsend.

All of the muzungus gather once a week for a "muzungu dinner", where everyone can touch base on how they're doing. [Doctor 1] and [Doctor 2], which have been working at Teule hospital as part of their mission in the UK, have been around for 8 years now and run a pretty tight ship. They have 3 children, which have all grown up in Tanzania. [Doctor 3], another UK doctor in her 50s, has been at Teule 6 months. She's hit the slump-- that horrible troph [?] of home sickness and culture shock, and she's basically running two wards at the hospital. In the UK, she's a GP, so I think she's finding the transition and level of health care hard. She is also very threatening, I think, to the local doctors, and too nice to the nurses, both of whom make life really quite difficult for her at times. There is so much to say about how the hospital is run, but I've only got 19 minutes of net time left so I will be brief.

There are 3 types of doctors in Tanzania.

- MD, medical doctors, who, like us, have had full medical training (including phsysiology and basic principles). The best education, until about a decade or two ago, was to go to Russia or Cuba and train there (communist countries promoted a lot of training to Tanzania at the time). When on the ward with the MD, it's possible to ask questions, and we speak pretty much the same language, medicine-wise.

- CO, clinical officers, have had 2 years of training, and learn everything didactically. This means they rote memorize algorythms: if this person has fever, and signs of jaundice, plus signs of anemia, then it's malaria. There is no underlying understanding of how the human body works. This leads to really baffling situations sometimes, and also means that they are very rigid in their diagnosing / prescribing, and that if you question any of their decisions, well... Better leave that sentence unfinished.

- AMO, Advanced medical officers, are basically CO with two extra years' worth of training and specialization, such as surgery and pediatrics. This means they can be really good at certain things, but the problem remains that they don't have a full, holistic understanding of human physiology. It's also pretty interesting-- they will never, ever get paid as much as an MD. In fact, there seems to be a pretty strong hierarchy throughout medical training; the CO get put down so often that they are often quite dejected, but also all too happy to put down people when they can. Also, it's interesting that medical training is very expensive whereas CO training is less so. So obviously: there is a bit of a class difference when it comes down to who trains as an MD and who trains as a CO.

Finances is a whole other can of worms-- because so much of TZ healthcare is dependent on donations and charity, it's been really impacted by the GFC [?].

Skipping right along...

Last weekend we all went down to the beach. The water is so warm it feels like a bath (especially after cold bucket showers), and so salty! We rented bicycles and cycled 16 KM to the hostel we'd rented through some really amazing country side.

This weekend we went on an 8 hours hike up to the Irente viewpoint in the mountains, where it is blessedly cooler.

Next week is Christmas! All of us muzungus will be celebrating together. The kids let it drop that [Doctor 1] and [Doctor 2] have gotten us presents, so we student are fetching them lots of fresh cheese and other 'designer' food which is hard to find/very expensive. We're all cooking something-- I'm roasting the chickens and, for once, no one is competing with me to cook (I've got a bit of a reputation as the best cook, although the two Sri Lankan boys make a mean curry). Us girls have also gone into town and purchased some great fabrics and ordered some dresses. Agatha, a nursing student we've befriended (and whose volley ball team I've joined), comes over in the evenings for some food and she teaches us swahili gospel songs, which we sing to and play on the ukelele. She's also teaching us how to make chapati, and shows us the good stores around town. She's really great; she showed us where the nursing students stay, and frankly it's pretty bleak.

For New Year's I'm going to be accompanying the UWS (Uni of Western Sydney) students to Moshi, then we'll climb Mount Meroo. While it isn't as high as Mount Kili, it's meant to be a tougher climb—[007’s Brother], this has me a bit nervous. The idea is to hike 3 days and reach the summit for sunrise. In the evenings we'll camp out in huts along the way and cook our own food. Cross your fingers!

After that, I'll head back to Muheza to finish my project (which, bizarrely, is actually clipping along nicely). Then finish off my time in Tanzania in Zanzibar... not bad.

I can't believe how fast it's all going-- this is really what I needed, I think, after my tough year last year.

[007’s Brother]: I'm going to spend 2 nights and a day in Dubai, any suggestions of what I should do? I'd like to see the desert...

Ok out of time!!

Gros gros bisous, [007’s Sister]

December 17, 2010

My Sister's Month in Tanzania - Part 2

Here’s my sister’s side of her correspondence with an Australian colleague (whom she’s never met) about Tanzania. She’s taken over a research project on children with pneumonia, while the colleague has left Tanzania for the Christmas holidays to visit England and see the snow for the first time.

Name, locations and references to people have been remove to protect the somewhat innocent.

Date: December 8, 2010
Location: Tanzanian Hospital

Habari [Friend 1]!

So I arrived in Muheza yesterday! I feel like I've been hit by a ton of bricks :) So much kiswahili to learn, oh my. The med students are awesome, and I've enjoyed the times I was able to spend at the clinic so far.

So [Hospital Administrator 1] is away but [Hospital Administrator 2] gave me the USB stick. Thanks SO MUCH for the instructions, I have to admit I feel a bit overwhelmed. I met [Dr. 1], who was very nice and expecting me. But he said before I could start anything I need to approval of the superintendent (?), a certain Dr whose name I have, of course, forgotten. He is usually at the ward, but I went on rounds with him (he was super instructive)! So I'll be meeting up with him in an hour, keep your fingers crossed.

A few questions:
I'm at the research centre right now, trying to match up initials and names. I've noticed that the XLS sheet starts at 4003, but my patient initial folder only starts with number 4201. I've asked people if I folder of initials is missing, but they don't know. Do you remember there being more than one?

Also, once I've match names with ID numbers, where do I go from there? To the centre records? Sorry I'm sure it is obvious but I'm still very jet- and country-lagged […]

Sorry to pull you back here while you're enjoying your vacation (which I hope you are)!Cheers,[007’s Sister]

Date: December 14, 2010
Location: Tanzania Hospital

Hiya [Friend 1] (everyone else calls you that so I may as well get started too)!

I'm just logging on since the last time I had internet access (which was when I last emailed you). There's a backlog of emails but I've decided to answer them chronologically instead of all at once (it's a bit overwhelming).

A few extra days (and a few days away to Oshunga beach) have done a world of good. I've been quite enjoying linking up the initials to names, actually, and the missing folder resurfaced with [Administrator 2] ([Administrator 1] did have it, I think, but it took [Administrator 2] returning to actually give it to me!). I've pretty much finished that bit. All is good. I've been to the Centre quite a lot and hopefully am on good enough terms with [Dr. 1] and [Dr. 2] to get some help if I need it. The project's been OKed now, as long as we don't publish it.

There is so much to see, and I do hope to nip out once in a while to get some ward experience. I'm also loving learning Kiswahili, and I've really hit the jackpot with the other students here (the two boys especially are thrifty and adventurous, like me). We've been getting milk and cream from Tanga Fresh, and making butter and yogurt every day. I also make fresh bread and coffee every day-- it's been bliss, finally my odd DIY habits are paying off!

I've been attending the morning meetings, which at times make me feel as though I'm stuck in a Kafka novel. What's the point of a mortality meeting if no cause of death is identified, no lessons are learned? It's baffling. And sad.I

'll let you know what happens when I actually try to access the records-- keep your fingers crossed.

Safari njema,
[007’s Sister]

PS: how'd you like the Tate? I loved it. Your photos of jacket-less frolicking in the snow make my knitting- cold-blooded- self extremely uncomfortable! Cover up!

Date: Sometime after December 14, 2010
Location: Tanzania

Fresh, rafiki! Asante sana.

Nope-- I'm the only Sydney U. student.

Actually, I'm the only student not paired up! I think the others think I'm a bit crazy to be traveling solo, but I've conveniently ingratiated myself with the Uni of Western Sydney students and now they can't get rid of me (bwa ha ha). This weekend we're going camping in Leshoto; after New Year's we'll be climbing Mt. Meroo (?sp). And, of course, Chrsitmas next weekend. [Friend 2] and I have gotten the kids some presents (thus filling the majority of my bag, and fortuitously freeing up lots of space for kangas) [African clothes].

I feel as though I miss this scrappy town already, and I haven't left it yet. I wish I had more time here. Honestly, it feels a little bit like coming home to Antanarivo (where my family lived from 2004-2007), which I knew I missed, but didn't realize quite how much. Except nobody speaks Malagasy here. Details. Is there anything you're hankering for in particular? My bag is not too heavy (yet)...

[007’s Sister]

December 16, 2010

First Snow

It's the first time it snows for me as a homeowner. Fortunately, I have a new roof. Not so fortunately, I had to shovel by myself, at 7:00 p.m. after work, in the dark.

My roommate, who works from home, didn't have the brilliant idea to do this during the day. As I was shoveling though, he said "excuse me", motioning to the shovel... I, thinking he was offering to help, enthusiastically handed him the shovel. He proceeded to scrap a thin path through the snow, from my porch to his car (which he had started from a distance) to ensure that his nice work shoes would not get damaged for the holiday party to which he was going. Then he handed me back the shovel with a sweet smile on his face.

Ah, the joys of being a homeowner.

December 14, 2010

The Secret of Snagging a Man?

Yesterday, I was sitting next to a girl who was reading a book with intensity. When I looked over, I could see she was reading the "Nagging NO More" chapter, from a book called "Why Men Love Bitches".

I checked out the review for the book, and they are positively glowing!

Hum, maybe I've been using the wrong tactic all these years...

December 08, 2010

My Sister's Month in Tanzania

My sister is a medical student in Sydney, and doing a one-month internship in Tanzania. Here's what she has to say of her travel and first day there.

Date: Monday, December 6, 2010
Location : Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on the Way to Tanzania

Hello hello,

Me voila larguée à Dubai quelques heures... heureusement qu'il y a de l'internet gratuit! Après mon vol de Sydney à Bangkok, et de Bangkok à Dubai, je vais bientôt entamer mon vol Dubai-Dar Es Salaam, et ensuite le chauffeur de taxi m'emmène au couvent (!) pour que je puisse dormir, et va me récupérer pour me déposer à mon bus le lendemain. Ouf!!

Ok, miss you! Just letting you know I'm still alive. Dad, I used your credit card to buy a coffee, I hope it's ok (felt a bit silly to change currencies just for that).

[007’s Sister]


Hello Hello,

Here I am, left to my own device in Dubai for a couple of hours… thankfully there’s free internet! After my flight from Sydney to Bangkok, et from Bangkok to Dubain, I will seem start my flight from Dubai-Dar Es Salaam, and after that, the taxi driver will bring me to the convent (!) so I can sleep, then he’ll come to pick me up to drop me off at the bus the next day. Oy!

Ok, miss you! Just letting you know I'm still alive. Dad, I used your credit card to buy a coffee, I hope it's ok (felt a bit silly to change currencies just for that).

[007’s Sister]


Date: Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Location: Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Coucou famille!

Me voila donc enfin à Dar Es Salaam.

When I got to the airport it was a zoo to obtain a visa-- vous connaissez tous comment cela se passe donc je skip les détails! Mais je m'en suis sortie. J'ai récupéré mon sac (toute suite j'ai vérifié que rien ne manquais... tout était là, sauf le mobile merdique que Scott m'avait prêté pour l'Afrique. Merde! C'est bizarre d'ailleurs, ils ont laissé tout le reste. Enfin bon), et je me suis dirigée vers la sortie, ou le chauffeur de taxi m'attendait bien avec une pancarte "[007’s Sister]", malgré mon heure-et-demi de retard.

Évidemment-- j'ai changé mon argent australien en schillings, et j'ai tenté de m'acheter une carte pour téléphoner-- bien sûr, je me suis fait rouler (parait-il, il faut "register" les SIM cards avant to pourvoir les utiliser... détail qui m'a couté milles schillings, voir un dollar!).

Ensuite on se dirige vers mon couvent (et oui maman, mais pas Catho--Pentecostal). Là, j'apprends qu'en fait mon chauffeur n'est pas Juma mais son ami... je suis ni surprise, ni ravie. Bon, il est sympathique et je lui apprends du français en échange du swahili. Je ne doute pas qu'il m'a roulé pour le prix du taxi, que j'ai quand même tenté de négocier... mais il est 3 heures du mat' a Sydney et j'avoue que je suis bien crevée!

J'ai pu prendre une douche (ma dernière pour longtemps, je pense), et j'ai mangé au couvent... miam! Maintenant, au lit, j'ai un bus à attraper à six heures du mat demain.

C'est marrant, être ici me rappelle beaucoup Mada... mais il y a de la construction partout et j'ai même vu des feux qui fonctionnent sur la route!! Un pays qui à l'air de bouger, il n'y en a aucun doute.

Gros gros bisous, j'écris à toute vitesse dans mon journal et je prend plein de photos,
Deso pour les erreurs de grammaire...

[007’s Sister]


Hi Family!

When I got to the airport it was a zoo to obtain a visa—you all know how that goes so I’ll skip the details! But I figured it out. I went to pick up my bag (I immediately check whether anything was missing… everything was there, except the shitty cell phone Scott had lent me for Africa. Shit! It’s weird in retrospect, they left everything else. Oh well), and I went to the exit where the taxi driver was waiting for me with a sign “[007’s Sister]", despite my hour and a half of lateness.

Naturally—I changed my Australian money into Schillings, and I tried to buy a card for the phone—of course, I got conned (apparently, one has to “register” the SIM card before being able to use them…a detail that cost me a thousand Schillings, or a dollar!).

After that we go in the direction of the convent (and yes Mom, but not Catholic—Pentecostal). There I learned in fact that my driver was not Juma but his friend…I’m neither surprised, nor happy. Despite that fact, he’s pleasant and I teach him French in exchange for Swahili. I have no doubt that he had me for the price of the taxi, despite my tries to negotiate… But it’s 3:00 a.m. in Sydney and I have to admit that I’m really tired!

I was able to take a shower (probably my last one for a long time), and I ate in the convent…Yum! Now in bed, I have a bus to catch at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow.

It’s funny, being here reminds me a lot of Mada [Madagscar]… but there’s contruction everywhere and I even saw traffic lights that work along the road ! A country that seems to move, there’s no doubt.

Big big kisses, I’m writing very fast in my journal and taking tons of photos. Sorry for the spelling mistakes…

[007’s Sister]

Date: Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Location: Muheza, Tanzania

Hello hello,

I'm in Muheza! The bus ride was looooong, but I didn't read a single sentence-- my eyes were glued to the landscape... I'm really in the foothills of Mt Kili... [Mount Kilimanjaro]

Anyway, tonight all of the muzungus are having dinner together (it's a Tuesday night ritual; we students are also going to draw up a cooking roster), so I don't have time to connect my laptop to the wifi hotspot at the hospital (pretty fancy huh!). I just went to town (were I was less mobbed than at the train station), I can hear a cow mooing outside of my windows and kids playing soccer. We have no running water and the elec cuts out more often than not, but the students (all Aussie) seem very cool. I am the only one who came out here alone!

The hospital is... Very different. Let me wait until I spend some formal time there to describe it further.

Also, send me texts!
Sent from my iPhone


December 07, 2010

All I need for Christmas...

... is money!

I've been a bit poor lately, often drawing into my savings account to make ends meet. BUT I shouldn't even complain because I have a job, and I probably make much more money than the average American (or French person for that matter).

Nonetheless, I've decided to be reasonable with my expenses this year, especially on the decoration front. So this is what I came up with (please excuse the blurriness of the pictures, they were taken by cell phone).

Made from a bright Banana Republic shopping bag, cheap craft paper and dull crayons. I bought the Stars in a store that promoted fair trade, and are made from raffia fibres from Cambodia.

Close up of the wreath in question.

I adorned my stairway with multicolored spice packets from Madagascar, red bows and wooden toys that my mom had as decorations for our tree from 1978-1996. (I don't know why the bottom of the picture looks hot pink, but I like it... Hum, food for thought for when I decide to repaint my house).

Cambodia, Part 4

In preparation for the races that happen during the Water Festival in November, the villagers bless and christen their pirogues.

According to Wikipedia:

It is called the 'Water Festival' by Westerners because people pour water at one another as part of the cleansing ritual to welcome the new year. Traditionally people gently sprinkled water on one another as a sign of respect, but as the new year falls during the hottest month in South East Asia, many people end up dousing strangers and passersby in vehicles in boisterous celebration. The act of pouring water is also a show of blessings and good wishes. It is believed that on this Water Festival, everything old must be thrown away, or it will bring the owner bad luck.

The ceremony start with religious blessings.

The buddhist priests then sprinkle the boat and crew with water.

The crew rolls her down the steep banks and takes her on her first voyage on the Mekong River.

One of the French/Cambodian lady accompanying me at this ceremony was strongly asserting that she'd be out of the city during the Festival as "it gets so incredibly crowded it's a zoo here in Phnom Penh, and I want to be as far from the Festival as possible".

This was a eerily prescient comment as on November 22, 2010, according to the Guardian:

More then 300 people died in a stampede at a water festival in Phnom Penh tonight, according to Cambodia's prime minister.

Hundreds more were hurt at the event, on a small island in a river in the capital, as the crowd panicked and pushed over a bridge to the mainland. Some who tried to flee were crushed underfoot or fell into the water.

That's the end of my little exposé on Cambodia folks, but this really doesn't do it justice. It has a rich history, mainly influenced by buddhists art and philosophy and is a really nice country to visit, especially if it's your first time abroad as the people are kind and not at all pushy. But its recent history is also worth looking into, especially during the period of the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979) a period of communism where the intellectual elite (especially the French speaking Cambodians) where systematically murdered during a genocide.

Cambodia, part 3

I'm not sure how to describe the food exactly, but there are a lot of recent Chinese additions to the meals (such as spices, sauce and other ingredients).

We ate a lot of rice.

Tried a common dish called Congée, which I suspect is deviled or rotted eggs (here in a plate with shredded carrots, salmons and cheese).

And I tried to eat Tarantulas, just for the sake of it. They are suprisingly sweet and soft on the inside, though quite crunchy on the outside. I tried my best to much two of the three, but just couldn't bring myself to finish the dish. It made me queasy (which is a sure and sad sign that I'm softening in my old age).

(Me, pretending to be excited about eating tarantulas)

Cambodia, part 2

In Phnom Pen, the motorcycle is King... and often modified to resemble amorphous food stands, or rather sophisticated vehicles to transport people:

Pirogues are also a pretty popular way to get around. Sometimes, you can find entire families living in these slim wooden floats, outrigged with motors.

The National Museum of Cambodia in the Capital holds inestimable collections of Buddahs, old scrolls and decorated stone carvings... Unfortunately, the inside is not ideally maintained (most likely due to lack of funds) but the structure and gardens are beautiful.

Various Odds and Ends of Travel - Cambodia, part 1

I don't know what's wrong with me, but I've been really bad at blogging - I recently went paragliding in France and facilitated a "mock" exercise on a pandemic outbreak of Influenza in Benin (in French no less!), and I didn't even write about those... Blame it on the constant moving around, the house renovations and general laziness.

So let me catch you up on my most recent trip to Cambodia for work. I'll talk about the fun stuff only because if I talked about work, I'd have to kill you (sigh, just kidding... if only my work could be so exciting).

As you can imagine, Cambodia is very lusciously green. Awww, it felt good to be back in the near oppressive humidity of a tropical country...

Rural houses are funny little things, much like Dr. Seuss' dwellings, with a pointed roof, a second floor on stilts, and family life taking place underneath the raised floor of the house.

Humped cattle also benefit from the shade underneath the house

12-year old girl looming silk/cotton scarves - the amazing things is that my hometown (Lyon in France) was an old silk town, and we still see these looms in museums. I didn't know people actually still used these!

Close up of the complicated machinery of the looms

12-year old boys, of course, get to hang out and play, while their sister/cousin works up to 6 hours of day making the weave.