It had been a long and grueling trip from Philadelphia, but we were finally on the ground in Tanzania. The trip was more grueling for some then others, though. Jill and I were able to access the Qatar lounge in Doha given the amount of flying that I do, which meant a shower and an unlimited supply of delicious food. The residents stayed together and spent their time in the garden section of the new terminal in Doha – tall tropical plants and lots of running water – which provided them with enough to do during the eight-hour layover that we had. Our connecting flight, which didn’t leave until 1:40 am, would get us into Kilimanjaro International Airport very early, giving us the entire day to acclimate and get to FAME.
Stepping off the plane into the bright sunshine of the morning, we were immediately hit with a cool and refreshing breeze, taking many aback given everyone’s impression that Africa is just a hot and dusty place. Quite the contrary to be honest as I have found that the weather here has been some of the most enjoyable that I have experience anywhere I have lived in the past. The days can be hot, of course, given our location just south of the equator where the sun can beat down on you with an incredible intensity, but the air temperature is often very comfortable during the middle of the day and the nights here are simply amazing. Climbing down the stairs and onto the tarmac, we regrouped before entering the terminal to make sure we were all together.
There were several issues that needed to be taken care of, one of the most important being that even though we had all applied and paid for business visas (which are more expensive to obtain and even though we are volunteering here and not working), it was necessary for that to be stamped and indicated separately in each passport. With all the commotion of our arrival and navigating through immigration, I had forgotten to tell everyone to make sure their passports were stamped with the business visa, but thankfully remember as I was going through. Wells, Anya and Usha had to be summoned back for this step as they were already getting their luggage but consider the size of the airport and the fact that they were only a few meters away, it wasn’t an issue.
Finally making it out with our baggage, we were immediately intercepted by Leonard, who had come with my vehicle, Turtle, to pick us up and bring us all back to his home where we would have breakfast. It was so great to see him given all the trials and tribulations of the long flights, but loading baggage for all six of us into a single vehicle and then seating a total of seven of us would be a chore for certain. I’ve taken photos before of the Tetris-like precision of placing the bags into the boot (trunk), but there was not enough room for everything, necessitating placing several of the bigger bags into two of the three back seats. Though I had offered to stuff myself into the very back, Anya actually volunteered and promptly climbed over all the baggage and wedged herself into the seat. The drive to Arusha and the Temba home was slow though steady, but given that it was Sunday, it could have been much worse with all the incredibly slow trucks that vie this route during the week and on Saturdays. On previous trips, and mainly those before the pandemic, we would arrive in the afternoon meaning that we have to stay in Arusha for the night given the fact that no one drives here at night for it is too dangerous with animals on the road and other vehicles driving unsafely. Leonard and Pendo would put up the entire group of us and have never asked for or taken anything in return for this huge help as otherwise we would have all get hotel rooms that would be a huge and unfortunate expense for us.
Instead, with the changes to flight schedules that have occurred since the pandemic, we now arrive early in the morning and, instead, have a wonderful breakfast that Pendo prepares for everyone. Today, we were served pancakes, toast, eggs, sausage, chicken and onions, diced sweet potatoes and fruit with fresh watermelon juice, amazing tea masala, and French press coffee. It was a feast fit for a king and roundly enjoyed by all given the two days of airplane food everyone had endured (OK, yes, Jill and I did get to eat in the lounge, but it still wasn’t home cooked). I did very much miss seeing the two younger Temba children (Gabby and Gabriel), who were both up in Nairobi at the same school the older boys were attending. Jill had gotten to meet them both by video last fall and was really looking forward to meeting them in person, so we’re hopeful that they will be back for break when we’re back there to drop off this first group of residents and again following our six weeks at FAME.
Our bellies full and somewhat rested, it was now time for us to make our way to Karatu and FAME as I wanted a chance for everyone to move our things in and have some time to rest before dinnertime. We said our goodbyes and, most importantly, gave our thanks to both Pendo and Leonard for the wonderful meal they had provided, then hitting the road for our two-hour drive west through the Rift Valley and onwards for the Ngorongoro Highlands and FAME. The drive had been going smoothly until we were just shy of the village of Rhotia where the Land Rover began to smoke, make a funny noise, and them completely die. The temperature gauge hadn’t really gone up, but the smoke and hissing of the coolant reservoir gave us the unmistakable clue that we had overheated and weren’t going anywhere until we let the engine cool off. It took some time for us to even consider removing the reservoir cap for doing so too early could have easily resulted in severe burns when the superheated fluid would came spurting out and all over everything including ourselves. Finally getting a look into the reservoir, it became very clear that there was not enough fluid in the system and though we had a number of water bottles, it was nowhere near the amount that would be necessary to refill the entire amount.
There were several homes nearby, but one in particular looked promising as it had a large, gated entryway, so Mark went off to investigate with Anya joining him along the way for moral support. Wells also went to check another close home and did find a bucket filled with water, but there was no one home and he didn’t feel comfortable just walking off with someone’s water without first getting permission to do so. Thankfully, Mark came back carrying a bucket full of water with the homeowner in tow as is usually the case here as I’m sure he wanted to know that we didn’t need anything else. We slowly filled the reservoir while starting the car several times as the water continued to refill the cooling system. After putting several gallons of water into the system, the car turned over and idled well, but still had water bubbling up out of the reservoir cap. We still had a few small hills to go up, but given the amount of luggage we had in Turtle, we couldn’t really have someone come pick us up and I made the decision to drive the vehicle the remainder of the way to FAME that went without a hitch, though we were all holding our breath during the entire journey.
Arriving back to FAME following an absence, as I have done twice a year over the last 13 years, is always a rejuvenating and life-affirming experience for me to which anyone who has worked here can attest. Having recently achieved the designation of a hospital rather than a medical center, FAME Hospital is a mecca of healthcare in a region that has very little access to it, and even less so to the quality of healthcare that FAME has continued to deliver since its inception in 2008. Bringing new volunteers (residents) to experience and participate in what FAME has continued to provide to the Karatu community is an unexpected pleasure that has come late in my career, though is something that I have valued greatly and feel entirely grateful to have had the opportunity to do so.
Prosper (FAME’s volunteer coordinator) met us at the Raynes House where we all be staying for the coming weeks, and everyone had a chance to get their gear moved into their rooms. I leave the room assignments up to the residents as there are three rooms and four of them, so it was apparently decided that Usha and Anya would room together for the start, and I presume they will be switching halfway so that everyone will have a chance for their own room. The housing here is incredibly comfortable just in anyone was worried about us – we have four bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, a lovely great room, and a kitchen with an incredible view of the distant mountains to the west with a veranda just outside, perfect for watching the most incredible sunsets. The term, “life is good,” sums it all up very concisely.
We all hit the wall once we were in the house given the two days of travel and I think everyone had a brief nap at one point or another. We’re fed dinners during the week, but the weekends we’re on our own so it was time to figure out our dinner. The Lilac Café on campus has good food but is notorious for taking an exorbitant amount of time to make the orders and tonight was no different than any other. The Lilac Café came into existence back in 2013 with the construction of the hospital as someone would need to supply food for the patients and visiting family would also need a place to eat. This was no more apparent last night when our waitress, after taking our orders some time earlier, came out to tell us that she would be heading to the ward to bring patients their dinner. The usual 45 minutes to an hour seemed to become 1-1/2 hours and, by the time she brought everyone’s meal, all of which were very delicious, I think we were all so exhausted and hungry that we just ate our meals, walked home, and then all passed out. We would attend morning report and then the residents would get their orientation, after which we would begin a half day clinic. Jill would begin her volunteering at the Black Rhino International Academy and then be home early in the afternoon. Life is good is an understatement.