It was another glorious day in Ngorongoro Highlands with the sun shining very early as I awakened readying myself for another last day at FAME, having had so many of these over the last ten years. It has become a more routine and simpler task for me these days as it’s really not saying goodbye any longer, but more a “see you five months,” and something to which everyone here has become accustomed. There are other volunteers, like me, who have found a home here and return on a regular basis, but I had realized quite early on that for this project to really work, it would require that not only the patients here knew that I was coming back, but also the staff at FAME. For as much as it means to come here and provide care to the patients, it is really about supporting the medical staff and for them to feel comfortable in that fact.
I still had at least a third of the charts to go through this morning before returning them all to Kitashu and so I sat down at our kitchen table with a cup of tea and began plugging away on my laptop with the new EMR and the stack of cardboard charts, that will soon become obsolete even here in remote East Africa. I had discovered last night that we were missing a few charts and, though, thankfully I had a record of their visit in the EMR, there was some missing information for our database that had been overlooked during the installation of the new system. I had been able to obtain this information as long as I had the paper chart in hand as the information still existed there, but for those missing charts, which was typically because the patient had received care elsewhere at FAME following their visit with us, I would have to locate the charts. Knowing that I was leaving, I met with Kitashu to give him a list of the approximately twenty missing charts so he could find them later and email me the missing data. Of course, he did this within a day.
I made certain to hang around late enough that morning for tea time to come along as it would be several months before I would again have the pleasure of drinking Samwell’s remarkable Chai Masala that is so lovingly brewed each and every morning at FAME so that everyone can continue to partake in that remnant of colonialism that still exists in much of East Africa. I enjoyed my tea, stopped by Jackie’s office to give her some of my nice clean American dollars in exchange for some beat up bills that she had accumulated and would not be acceptable here at the bank so that I could bring them back to the US for her. They are very particular about the need for US dollars here to be pristine and recent, lessening the likelihood of them being counterfeit, or at least that’s in principle. Regardless, that was fine with me as I did have left over cash that was perfectly suitable and no worries about exchanging the beat up bills on my return to the States. I walked through the administration building to say goodbye to everyone and then down to the outpatient clinic. I met with Kitashu to hand over the huge stack of charts we had, though not nearly as huge as that on other visits where there are nearly three times as many patients seen.
I was on the road and heading out of Karatu surprisingly on time, which is a rare occasion for me, not because of the inability to manage my time, but rather due to the unexpected things that pop up at the last minute and need to be completed. Amazingly, everything had been finished early and it was now just a matter of taking my time with Turtle, listening to The Gipsy Kings, and enjoying the sights down the escarpment, of Lake Manyara, Mto wa Mbu, Makuyuni, and on towards Arusha and the towering Mt. Meru. It is certainly helpful that I now know this route like the back of hand, having driven it dozens of times over the years and it has become my familiar commute, though has lost none of its shear magnificence as a result.
Our plan on my arrival was that I would be departing the next day with Leonard, his brother and a friend for the coast region of Tanga and the Indian Ocean, though, to be honest, I knew little more than that. On my arrival, I discovered that one of their children had been scheduled at the last minute for a tonsillectomy that was to be performed that night in Moshi, about 2 hours away. I wasn’t certain as to what our plans were for the coast, but went along with the family to the care center where they were to have surgery as I was part of the family and I knew that they would value my support through the process. I met the surgeon, whom I was very much impressed with, and sat around as we waiting for all of the admission procedures to be finished. Leonard and Pendo would be staying at the care center with their son after his surgery, but we would need to find a place for me and, thankfully, right down the road was a wonderful, old hotel, The Keys Hotel, that turned out to be one of those incredibly pleasant surprises. It turned out to be one of the nicest and most relaxing places I’ve stayed here in Tanzania.
By the time we had taken care of everything at the care center, which also meant going to the market for cartons of ice cream, it was well after 9 pm and none of us had eaten dinner. Luckily, the kitchen at the hotel was open until 10 pm, so Leonard and Pendo order food that sent to the care center for them, and I finally sat down to enjoy a nice meal after having been traveling the entire day it seemed. I relaxed on the back deck that overlooked the pool (yes, they actually had a pool) and ordered my favorite soft drink, Stoney Tangawizi, which is the tastiest ginger ale you can imagine and available mainly in East Africa. Deciding on what to eat, I went with the “kuku choma,” or barbecued chicken and was so happy that I did since it turned out to be one of the most delicious dishes I had had in some time. I ordered only a half chicken and can’t imagine having tried to eat an entire one by myself.
Exhausted from the day and all of the excitement with the surgery, I went up to my air conditioned room (a rarity in Northern Tanzania) and read a bit before bed, knowing that I’d be awakened at some point by a message from Pendo as I had asked her to let me know when the surgery was over and all was well. The next morning, I went downstairs only to discover that breakfast was included with the room and proceeded to relax with a wonderful pot of Kilimanjaro coffee that was later accompanied by perfect French toast and fruit. All had gone well with the surgery, but it wouldn’t be until the evening that they would be discharged, so it was decided that we would just stay in Moshi for another night and I would get a room for Leonard, Pendo and their son to stay. We would just delay our trip to the coast by a day to be certain that all was well.
Having the day to spend at the Keys Hotel was just so incredibly relaxing as I was able to catch up on work and reading and, in the afternoon, walked over to the care center to spend time with some of their immediate family who had come to visit. Sitting with everyone out in front of the building in the plastic chairs, it was very special for me as I was there not as a visitor or a guest, but rather as a part of their extended family. We all sat sharing stories for a long time, until it was getting dark and time for me to walk back to the hotel and begin to think about dinner. I had had a delicious pizza, perhaps the best I had tasted in Tanzania, from their wood fired oven for lunch, so decided to have kuku choma again for dinner, though with a salad instead of chips tonight. The evening was lovely with a slight chill to the air that was much appreciated. Leonard, Pendo and their son would be coming over later this evening after they were discharged and we had decided that we would leave for the shore in the morning. The others would be heading back to Arusha as long as all was well following surgery.