Greetings from Mwanza!
The kids started a new school year at Isamilo International School in September, Susanna in Year 2 and Louisa in Preschool 2. They enjoyed summer break, including a visit to a fellow Maryknoller’s project, Uzima Center, where they joined with the children’s group drawing and singing about fruits in Swahili. Now they’re preparing for the school’s Early Years Christmas pageant, which Susanna reports will include a performance by her tap dancing club, an exciting addition! When they’re not at school or swimming, they have a great time searching for fallen mangoes in our backyard, making dirt and flower cakes, and playing with our little dog, Pepper. They sure can have fun with just rocks, dirt, sticks, and flowers! Susanna is reading quite well now and has inherited Anne’s love for books. Louisa’s class is learning phonics, so she walks around and has little epiphanies, shouting excitedly, “Mama!! Four starts with ‘fuh!’ Fuh-Fuh- Four!!” And both are picking up more and more Swahili, thanks to our nanny/housekeeper, Paulina.
We have started working at Bukumbi Hospital, a small Catholic hospital with about 150 beds, an hour outside the city of Mwanza. The nurses and doctors have been welcoming and patient with us as we learn how to practice medicine in an environment so different from anywhere we’ve worked before. Our limited testing options force us to hone our skills in physical examination and deductive reasoning. The lab can perform a ‘Full Blood Picture,’ (CBC), Widal test (but not titers), urine and stool microscopy, and tests for malaria, HIV, syphilis, blood sugar, liver enzymes and a few others, but sometimes we run out of reagents, and often patients and their families decline tests because they can’t afford the cost. There is an ultrasound machine but no tech, and the hospital’s X-ray machine has been broken for a long time. So we are trying to learn to help our patients without most of the information we could always get so easily before, and also trying to find good ultrasound training opportunities for ourselves!
George sees patients in the pediatric ward, learning about malaria, typhoid, intestinal parasites and other diseases we don’t usually see in the US, many resulting from inability to afford bednets (malaria) or fuel in order to boil drinking water (diarrheal diseases). He also evaluates babies on the maternity ward if they have problems and examines all newborns before they go home.
I, following one of my passions, have been rounding in maternity and gynecology with the young Tanzanian physician responsible for these wards, Dr. Susan, and hanging out with the nurse-midwives to learn how they manage labor and delivery. I’m impressed with their level of skill and knowledge – the times so far I’ve seen a mother or baby not receive proper care like she could get in the US, it’s due to systems problems or lack of supplies, not lack of well-trained health professionals. I asked Dr. Susan how Bukumbi compares to the nearby small government-run hospital, where she worked before, and she said it was frustrating there as a doctor, because so often she couldn’t help her patients, as the hospital often lacked medicines or supplies. So I guess we have it better at Bukumbi.
George often works with handicapped children, at a physical therapy project in Mabatini, a poor neighborhood in Mwanza, and at Huruma School, a school for children with developmental delay or hearing impairment, where he’s helping establish a health check program. On our pilot health check day, we were greeted at the gate by children from the hearing-impaired classroom, who recognized us as the visiting doctors. George said hi to the two on his side of the truck, then said to me, “They’re telling us to go, they don’t want any shots.” “Where did you learn Tanzanian sign language?” I asked, surprised. He said, “You don’t need to know sign language to understand what they were saying,” then demonstrated: hand motions brushing something away, then fingers pointing up on the inside of one elbow, and then fingers showing tears going down the cheeks. What a welcome! But they couldn’t have been too worried, because then they took his hands and led him into the school, laughing.
As this year comes to a close, we are so happy and grateful to be here in Tanzania as a family, with all the wonderful opportunities to learn and serve we have had so far and all that we hope lie ahead for us. We wish all of you peace and joy always, and thank you so much for your love and support.