This would have been one of the more unusual days we have spent while travelling, but an eye-opener nevertheless. Katie had an appointment at KCMC (Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre, Tanzania’s best hospital). It is a large teaching hospital in Moshi town, at the base of Mt Kilimanjaro. In fact from the hospital we had a great view of the snow capped peak. Being medical myself, we thought it would be interesting to have a look at the local facilities. (Katie is not unwell, in case you’re worrying).
When I said she had an appointment, it doesn’t quite work like that. In fact, she had been advised to attend today, but they don’t make appointments. She needed to be at the clinic by 9am to register. Then someone goes to the medical records department to get her file. Once they return, she is given a number, then pays some money & is seen by a doctor when her number comes up. Sounds fairly simple? In practice the whole process took over 4 hours, of which the doctor visit was about 10 minutes. Lots of waiting, sitting on a hard backless bench in a crowded waiting room. Even though, as a white person, Katie was charged extra & was given a degree of preferential treatment. And this was the best clinic in the country. We really do take a lot for granted in Australia, don’t we!
While Katie waited, the rest of us (Keith & I, Mike, Miriam & Sammy) went for a wander around the hospital. The first thing that struck us was the unusual visiting hours. 6am-7.30am, 1-2pm, 4.30-6pm. Pretty much the opposite of visiting hours at most Sydney hospitals. We commented that those were meal times and we realised that the hospital does not provide food, but the families are expected to bring meals for the patients. In fact at 1 o’clock we saw literally hundreds of people suddenly streaming in to the main entrance. They must have been waiting to enter as soon as visiting hours started. Naturally I wanted to take photos. I snapped a couple of the main entrance, but was immediately chastised by a security guard. I later noticed a sign saying that photography was not allowed, but apparently it is also forbidden to take photos of the national flag at any time – and there was a flag at the entrance! I wonder why?
We went into the hospital and headed for the children’s ward. The corridors were clean but very dark, with only an occasional fluorescent tube, and bare concrete floors. They badly needed a fresh coat of paint. There were chairs lined up along the walls with people sitting & waiting. The wards themselves were very basic. They also were quite dark, with many old metal beds lined up with barely space to walk around them. Children of all ages were there, most with a mother (or female relative). It was a sombre experience, and we didn’t stay long as we felt quite intrusive. We were warned not to bring the children in, as many of the patients had infectious diseases. We created quite a stir as a large group of people gathered to have a look at these healthy blonde children.
There were a number of overseas doctors. We spoke to 2 American student doctors there on a short term placement, and they introduced us to 2 Australian medical students from Perth. They all spoke very highly of the KCMC, but also mentioned their very limited resources. They told us how many of the patients only present there in the late stages of their disease, when treatment is unlikely to be beneficial. They said there is no ventilation equipment for newborn babies, so there are many deaths. The students were very enthusiastic about their experiences there, they found it challenging, quite a culture shock but rewarding.
We filled in some time by driving around Moshi, just to have a look. There were quite a few large impressive houses surrounded by high walls and English-style gardens (complete with topiary trees), in a suburb incongruously named Shanty Town. We drove to the centre of town, the main street was a wide avenue with a few blocks of western style shops which soon gave way to the now familiar African-style roadside stalls & shops, which look like a good wind would blow them away. Although the main road was paved, you could see the side streets as we passed were dirt roads with dusty shacks in very poor condition. The poverty is everywhere.
By the time Katie was finally finished, we were well & truly ready for lunch. We didn’t really know where to go, but as a tourist town (the Kilimanjaro climbs start from Moshi) the safest place to eat was likely to be a lodge or hotel. We found one that looked inviting, and sat at a shady table overlooking a small but leafy garden. We were the only people there, which was probably a good thing as the kids were able to run & play & make noise to their hearts content. Somehow they managed to find a garden hose, which was great entertainment for them, as they gradually became wetter and muddier.
As we drove to pick Harry up from school, I realised I was recognising streets & landmarks, and felt like I was almost a local. Our main purpose in visiting here was to see Mike & Katie, and to get a picture of the life of a modern missionary family. Taking part in the ordinary every day activities has given us a much better understanding than we would ever have appreciated as “tourists”. Today we didn’t do any “sight-seeing” but perhaps gained some insights into life here that we will always remember.