“Now we’re really on a bush safari!” Lydia Chew’s excited comment came the day after her and her son Wai-Tim’s arrival to Tanzania while we wound through the mountainous and forested country south of Babati on a well graded but dirt road. I grinned and told her I had a feeling our trip that day was going to get a lot more rugged and off-road. Lydia, a nurse, and her son Wai-Tim, a pre-med student, were from one of the Bible Fellowship Churches in Pennsylvania, and were on a short term trip to our place in Magambua. I thought it’d be great to have them join me and my ‘lay pharmacist’ Lucy on this mobile clinic.
We were on our way to Kwa Madebe, a village north west of Kondoa nestled in the hill country where the Alagwa people live. The Alagwa are a Cushitic people group, the vast majority of whom are M@slim and relatively resistant to the gospel and unreached. A TIMO team, who had been living among and serving the Alagwa for two years, had invited us to come hold a day long mobile medical clinic there. We had been following one of the TIMO team’s landcruisers from Arusha as they led the way to Kwa Madebe.
Part way through the mountains their car took an inconspicuous right turn on to a dirt track heading west. We followed, I shifted in to four wheel drive, and my concentration tripled as we left the well graded main road and followed them on to a rocky mountainous track that took us crawling and snaking over ridges and down valleys, crossing the Bubu River twice and finally to their village. We stopped just after the second Bubu crossing to greet the rest of the TIMO team, including some of the kids, who were busy collecting water in plastic jerry cans in the middle of the shallow river.
“That was some track over the mountain we took! Do you have a better way to take in the rainy season?” I asked Owen Pugh, one of the TIMO team members and driver of the car we had followed. “That WAS the better way.” Owen replied.
Not all of the team live in Kwa Madebe. Pastor Mussa and his family, along with the Pugh family live in Gaara. “Just over that ridge there”, said Mussa as he pointed towards another mountain ridge about half an hour walk away. Pastor Emma and his family, along with team members Kim, Carrie, Becky, and Bethany, all live dispersed in Kwa Madebe. The hilly and rocky country reminded me of the ‘lonely and desolate’ places that the Scriptures talk about, where Jesus would find time to pray and be with His Father.
As darkness fell, we ate ugali, beans and rice looking out over the valley behind Pastor Emma’s small house, while the temperature dropped and the wind picked up, kicking dust in to my contacts. After a welcome warm bucket shower and pinning shut a hole in Wai-Tim’s mosquito net with a carabineer, I squeezed under my own mosquito net. Anticipating the clinic the next day, Wai-Tim asked, “Do you get nervous before these kinds of mobile clinics?” Hmm, I get more of an excitement about it, some places more of an anxiety. When I thought about it more, I get nervous about being able to help people, and what if I can’t help someone? I get nervous about being a good example for Christ, and about getting the diagnosis right. We’re called to serve, we’re called to love because Jesus first loved us. The enabling and the results need to constantly be left in His hands, I reminded myself. I fell asleep to sound of the wind whistling outside and Pastor Emma praying fervently in the main room for someone who had come to him for advice and prayer that evening.
At dawn the following morning, big tarps were being pulled over the partially completed school/meeting building that the team were in the midst of building. “We should try to close up that hole” I explained to the men working the tarps, noticing a gap at the top of the wall where people could look right in on to the doctor’s room. Lydia and Wai-Tim were teaching Bethany how to take a blood pressure, using a gracious Alagwa woman as the guinea pig! Everyone was helping out, and the cooperation was terrific. The clinic started with prayer and then registration around 8am. The whole TIMO team helped out, along with Lydia, Wai-Tim and Lucy, in four stations that we had set up – Registration/BP screening, doctor’s room, laboratory, and pharmacy.
It was a thrill to see the Alagwa TIMO team members interacting with this obviously very ancient and interesting people group, speaking in the local language which seemed to always come from the back of the throat, quite different from Swahili. They obviously have made wonderful relationships here, and have won the hearts and confidence of the people. Even driving in the day before, I noticed how many people smiled and waved as their team car passed by, but then my car just got stern faces and stares, not being recognized. I wanted to shout and point, “It’s OK, we’re with them!”
We worked steadily through the day, seeing all ages, little children all the way through to the grandfathers and grandmothers. Some had serious issues like dysentery, pneumonia, rheumatic fever, a dental abscess. Others had the usual rashes and the aches and pains of arthritis from years of climbing down and up mountains to fetch water from the river below and carry it back home miles away.
The value for such a clinic as this, I feel, was the chance for the team themselves to just demonstrate again in a tangible way, their love from God for the local people. They reach out in so many ways to their neighbors, and this was just another small but visible way they could reach out and say, “We’re here for you, we’re here together, God is here too, and He loves you.” During these kinds of clinics my prayer is that Christ is lifted up – in the way we interact with each other, the patients, in the honesty and care seen during a patient encounter, in the expression of Kingdom values from a Biblical worldview, in the sharing of the gospel. In the way that we are the body of Christ, His hands and feet to a world which needs Him. The continuity is in the TIMO team’s presence, and the relationships there on the ground day in and day out.
At the end of the day, we had seen about 120 patients, finishing up around 7:30pm. We were all tired, but content. I’m thankful for the way the Alagwa TIMO team welcomed us, the way we all worked side by side with Lucy and the Chews, and for my wife Melissa holding down the fort in Magambua while I was off having fun driving over mountains! In my opinion, the clinic had gone very smoothly, the team solidified and probably started new relationships, and I think we actually helped quite a few patients with their ailments. We’ll know the next time I visit….. hopefully I’ll get a few more smiles and waves when I drive by!
Priviledged to serve Christ and the people of Tanzania,
Dr. Jon Eager