After our introduction to the house the night before, the next day we got up at 6 am to get ready for the first day at the hospital. In Tanzania, everyone is up around sunrise, which is definitely something I needed to get used to. Steven’s house is up on a hill about a half hour walk from the main road, but luckily he has offered to drive us down in the mornings since he leaves at 7, saving us a lot of time and energy. From the main road, it’s about a 10 minute daladala ride to the Meru District hospital in Tengeru, commonly referred to as the Tengeru hospital.
We were somewhat familiar with the hospital already, since we had visited with the full EWH group instead of going to Mt. Meru hospital in Arusha again. Because of this, we had started working on a lot of the machines and we were introduced to the hospital’s fundi (handyman), Shami. Shami has some basic knowledge as an electrician, but the hospital doesn’t have a biomedical technician, so there are plenty of broken machines.
There is a dedicated workshop for us, which is really nice and fairly unusual, but from the last visit we saw that it was completely filled with broken machines, junk, and even a broken motorcycle, making it really hard to navigate. To top it off, for some unexplained reason there is a giant stuffed elephant hanging from the window – weird, but somehow it makes the workshop seem more homey.
The workshop is adjoining the laundry building, with a thin wall in between that lets us hear all their conversations. Right outside, there is an outhouse that we learned pretty quickly to avoid at all costs, and to the side of the building is the trash burning pile (there isn’t any garbage infrastructure in Tanzania, everyone burns their trash).
Despite the various smells that sometimes waft into the workshop, the scenery is still pretty unique – a village is right across the courtyard with no division between it and the hospital, which means that often dogs, children, and chickens roam around the hospital grounds. There’s also a water tap outside the window where women hang around all day doing laundry.
The layout of the hospital in general consists of dozen or so separate buildings, with one road through the center of the complex and grass with dirt paths running between them. There is a small waiting area with stone benches, but it’s usually full so there are always patients and families of patients sitting around in the grass.
First, we wanted to clean up the workshop a little bit so we could actually see the tables and have a real place to work. While cleaning up, we found a lot of potentially useful spare parts and a few broken machines that had been hidden in all of the junk. We also found a lot of other things, like old jars of bulk chemicals, questionably dirty scrubs, old missionary cassette tapes, and some even stranger things.
Finally, after finishing making the workshop at least partly usable, we broke for lunch. There was a hospital canteen we could eat at, but it looked pretty sketchy (a couple of guys in a dirty concrete building in the corner of the hospital), so we went back to the place we had eaten with the whole group the past Friday. There was no reason to go to a different place, because virtually every local restaurant serves the exact same menu – in fact, the options are so much the same everywhere that most restaurants don’t even have a menu. There are three starches to choose from – wali (rice), chipsi (fries), or ndizi (starchy bananas, not sweet), and three meats to choose from – nyama choma (roasted beef), mbuzi (goat), or kuku (chicken). Most of the time, I went with kuku chipsi, since beef and goat tended to pretty tough and included a lot of bone, fat, and gristle. Besides the lack in variety, the other problem was the service that left much to be desired – often, the server would forget our order after placing it so we had to ask several times, turning lunch into a two hour affair. This depended a lot on the place we went to, so we soon started looking around for a speedier lunch spot.
After lunch, we went to the head Matron, Naomi, to ask if we could be shown around to the different wards to introduce ourselves. This was where my Swahili lessons really came into play – at each ward, we started with a general habari za asubuhi (good morning), and then after exchanging greetings I would launch into the little speech I had prepared:
Sisi ni wahandisi (we are engineers)
Tunataka kurepea mashine na vifaa wako (we want to repair your machines and equipment)
Kuna mashine hiifanya kazi hapa? (are there machines that don’t work here?)
This pretty much exhausted most of my ability in Swahili, so most of the rest of the conversations were in English, since most doctors were at least conversational in it. As we went through the wards, Kasper kept a list of the broken equipment and the ward it came from so we could sort through it later. There was a lot of broken equipment in the workshop already, but after going through each ward, the number of machines that hadn’t made it to the shop was much bigger.
We had a couple of strange encounters, like when the head nurse of the maternity ward immediately put a wedding invitation in my face and asked if I could contribute some money – but for the most part, the doctors were very kind and grateful for us being there. EWH has been coming this hospital for several years, so they already had a good impression of the students that came every summer.
By the time we finished the tour, we had a long list of machines to organize and prioritize. It was around 4 pm by this point, which is when a lot of the staff went home, so we decided to follow their lead, especially since we wanted to stop at the supermarket and it took around an hour to get home.
On the way back, we didn’t have the luxury of Steven driving us up the hill, so we started the half hour climb prepared for a hike. It was tiring not only physically as we climbed up the steep rocky hill with motorbikes passing by every so often, but also mentally as we were obligated to greet every single person we passed. It was fun after the first dozen or so people, but eventually cycling through all the Swahili greetings we knew while trying to climb the hill got pretty hard.
We had some fun moments on our climb up though – we stopped to take a break in a small clearing that let us see a nice view of the valley below, and we realized we could actually see Mt. Kilimanjaro between the hills over 50 miles away! We also had lots of groups of young kids just getting out of school passing by, and they all greeted us with a “good afternoon” (or a “good morning” if their English lessons at school weren’t as advanced yet), and they walked alongside us holding our hands on the way up.
After getting back to the house, we started making dinner for the first time. For me, cooking dinner by myself was something I had rarely done, but luckily I was living with Kasper who at 27 has plenty of practical life experience. I was pretty surprised how good our meals have turned out, and dinner has become one of the things I look forward to every day.
The rest of the week went pretty similarly, with the same routine of waking up, hospital work, shopping, walking home, cooking, cleaning, and sleep. More about the technical work we did and the first weekend in Month 2 coming up soon!