Saturday, January 7, 2012

We arrived in TZ 48 hours ago. It's beautiful here, and our hosts have been most gracious. Mostly we've just unpacked and gotten settled and tried to get over the jet lag. The time difference is 8 hours.
Swahili is clearly more useful here than English. My (T's) Swahili is pretty rusty, but I've been surprised to find vocabulary and phrases bubbling up into my consciousness from some forgotten cerebral aquifer. Just being around the language makes it boil to the surface more or less unbidden. Though I have the vocabulary, diction, and grammar of a three year old, people seem so delighted that I can speak any Swahili at all that I keep trying.
I visited the new hospital grounds yesterday. The construction is basically done. A few workers are still putting up some trimwork, but beyond that there is little to do. The rooms are all empty, though already have designations. The hospital design (and it seems a good one) is after an approved health center plan from the TZ government.
I had a bit of an amusing (and enlightening) moment on the way to see the hospital. Four government officials arrived in the morning to view the progress of the construction—sort of an informal pre-inspection (I suppose before a real inspection after which the hospital will presumable be given permission to officially open. The officials arrived with their driver in a nine-seater white Land Cruiser—the same vehicle used by governments all over Africa. They asked three of us (two Tanzanians and me) to accompany them to the hospital. Having not seen it yet, I wasn't aware that the hospital is only about 400 yards away.
But of course we had to drive. City of Hope (where are are staying and the parent ministry of the hospital) has three vehicles, but the pickup had recently been wrecked, the Nissan SUV wouldn't start, and the keys had gone missing for the van. We spent twenty minutes hunting for keys, making phone calls looking for keys, and trying to get the comatose SUV to start by transplanting the battery from the woebegone pickup. No luck. All the while, we could have walked to the hospital and back again several times. Eventually someone had the brilliant idea to ride in the government Land Cruiser with the officials. After all, it was a nine seater. Thankfully they were amenable to this, so the eight of us piled in. I couldn't help chuckling to myself when we arrived on the hospital grounds a full thirty seconds later.
How many times have we seen this same technophilic mindset operating in our own western culture—especially in healthcare? Why have we been so silly as to export it to African cultures? Isn't this so much of what is wrong with our own healthcare system in America? I think it was Oppenheimer, the leader of the Manhattan project, who famously said, when asked why build the bomb: “Because we can.”
The truth is Africans are very good at coming up with a simple solutions if we will just let them, rather than try to convince them (usually by way of example) that the best answer is the most technological answer. For instance, this morning, when taking a family walk, we witnessed a young man driving a team of oxen down the dirt road, dragging a plow. Not in use, the plow lay on its side, bumping along in the gravel. Joi asked, “Why is he just dragging his plow like that?” But I had noticed the fellow's ingenuity. The plow itself was not actually touching the ground. He had lashed the implement to a small sacrificial log which took the beating of being drug along the rough road, leaving the plow unscathed. The twenty pounds that this makeshift sledge added to the oxen's load was negligible. When I explained his method to Joi, she made an apt comparison: “Oh, it's on a trailer.” Exactly: a “trailer” that cost him nothing but a few minutes at the roadside with a machete, could be easily reproduced by any farmer at no expense, and was perfectly adequate for the job. I wish I could have pointed out this humble farmer's inventiveness to our friendly health officials, who admittedly only operate the way they do because we (even I) have taught them to be champions of technology, often without considering the cost.
Oh, and by the way: Yesterday was our fifteenth wedding anniversary. And we both forgot! We have other things on our minds...

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