Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Road to Tanga

About every six to eight weeks we make a trip to Tanga.  Our primary reason for this is to visit an ATM machine to stock up on shillings for the next month or two.  The closest ATM we can access is in the town of Korogwe two hours away.  Tanga, only one more hour of driving is also the closest place with a “supermarket”, about the size of a large Wawa.  So, at the end of July, we found ourselves in need of money and headed down the mountain from Lushoto to Mombo.

Mombo is a small town on the highway which connects Tanga in the east with Moshi and Arusha to the west.  The road is one lane each way, tarmac, and in some places so loaded with potholes that you can’t avoid them.  The speed limit is 80 kpm outside of towns and reduces to 50 or 30 kpm depending on the size of town or village you are going through.  One of the most noticeable things when entering a town or nearing a railroad crossing are the speed bumps.  First you bounce over two sets of three raised lines in the tarmac, maybe four or five inches high.  Then you come to the big speed bump, maybe a foot high.  So, if you are not paying attention all of the time, these can really rattle your teeth.

As the road continues to the east, the altitude gets lower and the temperature gets higher.  Leaving home we are usually in sweaters or jackets. We begin peeling off layers the further east we go.  Along the way, we pass through large sisal plantations.  Sisal used to be the main export of Tanzania.  It is used primarily in rope making.  With the advent of plastic ropes, sales dropped.  Now, with the emphasis on reducing petroleum based products, the exports are rising again.  

As we get closer to the coast, the road winds through miles and miles of orange and coconut groves.  In the wetter areas, there are rice paddies.  This trip we saw women working shoulder-high in the rice. 

Some of the traffic we see on the road can make the trip amusing.  Here there are very large busses, which is the main means of travel for people.  A bus from Lushoto to Tanga can take about six hours instead of three hours by car.  Another form of travel is the dala dala.  These are vans outfitted with seats for sixteen people.  Often, they carry twenty or more, along with the occasional chicken.  Our friend Ezra came to visit us in a dala dala and held someone’s baby for the trip.  

Dala dalas are usually brightly painted and have slogans painted on them.  Some of the ones we have seen are:  In God We Trust, 007 - The Man with the Golden Gun,  Bob Marley’s name and picture,  Rayban, and my all time favorite “Home Sweat Home”, no, this is not a typo.  Many have Bible quotes like “Whatever is excellent” or or express love and thanks to Mungu (God) and Allah.  

Some of the other things we have seen are:

A flock of small yellow birds flying along side us for about a half a mile.
Three baboons on the side of the road before Mombo.
Children playing soccer with a ball made of many tightly wound plastic bags.
A cart full of coconuts pulled by three donkeys.
A woman driving a motorcycle just outside Tanga, with her skirt flying around her.
A beautiful bird called a Black-winged Red Bishop (look it up on is amazing)
Women washing laundry in a small stream by the road.
Women collecting water at the town pump and carrying 5 gallon buckets home on their heads.

Every trip is an adventure.

Friday, August 3, 2012

To Have and To Have Not

     A few months ago I woke up on a Sunday morning not feeling well.  My discomfort had been going on for a few days, but Sundays was more uncomfortable. I said to Susan I think I need to see a doctor. I called our friend in Arusha, Dr. Mark Jacobson head of Arusha Lutheran Medical Center who has here for 27 years as a missionary with the ELCA.  I said we would drive there to see him, but he said with my symptoms we should go directly to Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya.
      Dr. Jacobson said to give him 15 minutes and he would make all the arrangements. He told us to arrange for a driver to take us down the mountain and meet the plane at the Mombo air strip. We called Pastor Kibonga, our boss here and asked if we could have someone drive us to meet the plane. Within 30 minutes Godfrey came to take us down the mountain. 
       We arrived at the airstrip which was just a field of tall grass. In about 30 minutes the plane circled and landed to pick us up. On board was a doctor and equipment in case of an emergency. The flight lasted about 2 hours. When we arrived in Nairobi, there was an ambulance waiting to take us to the hospital.  After 4 days of testing as an outpatient my problem was diagnosed and treated.
       As we traveled back to are home in Lushoto, I started thinking how fortunate we are. Here we are eight thousand miles from our home and can still receive amazing healthcare. Because we have. Our journey home consisted of a plane ride for forty minutes and a 5 hour bus trip. 

      We passed many villages as we traveled giving us the opportunity to see first hand the lifestyle of the people. There before us was the true picture of the way it would be for them if they had a medical need or emergency. When our bus stopped in a village  to pick up more passengers, I saw a person laying by the side of the road needing medical attention. I know for a fact they would not receive any care. Miles from any hospital or clinic most people have no where to go. They may suffer in pain and go on about their life as best they can. Until they meet their fate. If you look around your neighborhoods and cities the picture of the need for medical care is also reflected.

        We as Americans are very fortunate having the best medical care available in the world, but just like in the poverty stricken third world countries, it is not available to every person in the United States.
        Why is that? I’ve been trying to think about this ever since we got back home here. So many thoughts have crossed my mind and I would like to share them with you.
         As Americans we elect our leaders and give them the best medical care available, but do we insist on receiving the same? 
         We allow lobbyist to promote an idea or product to our elected officials  that will have some benefit for them or their party. In turn the lobbyist and the company they represent end up with more power than the politician. We have laws that prisoners in our jails are entitled to health care. Why haven’t we created laws requiring everyone to receive proper health care?  
     We are also responsible for the cost of our health care. We are encouraged by our legal system and our own personal greed to sue everyone involved when things may go wrong.
     Every night in America millions of children go to bed sick or in pain because no medical treatment was available to them.
     Every night millions of seniors suffer in pain doing without their proper medicine because they had to make a choice of which bill to pay, their electric bill or medicine. 
     Everyday many families face being denied health care due to a catastrophic medical condition.
     Everyday the men and women who served our country to protect our freedom are left on our streets forgotten and alone facing physical and mental sickness.
     This is just not right.
     We can afford to give all Americans health care in spite of what you hear. Our government spends billions of dollars in wasteful projects each and every year. Every time a bill is passed in Congress there are many, many extras added on to it. The general public has no idea of what was added. Wouldn't it be great if bills were published prior to passage so we could see all that is included?
      Its time for us to make a change that would be beneficial to all Americans.  Create a health care program that includes all Americans. I ask you to please pray for whoever is leading our country in the years to come, that they may have the wisdom, strength and courage to do what is right for all Americans.