Stanley Livingstone Expediton 2008: Part Three
The Second Leg: Morogoro to Dodoma
Also Known As: Tala Learns More About Malaria Than She Ever Wanted
We left Morogoro on foot, and found ourselves walking a day’s worth of tarmac (never anyone’s favorite activity) before turning off onto less paved territory. The lands to the west of Morogoro were the first empathetically Maasai territory we spent time in, and a few short days out we had to seek permission from a Maasai village to camp nearby.
The next morning we hiked the few miles to the village, indulged in some sodas, then followed a man over a patchwork of dirt footpaths to meet the village chair and his many, many, many wives (and daughters, and sons, and more on the way).
We gave them mosquito nets and maps of the world and discussed what we were doing and why, with a particular fixation on history and making sure the history of Africa is never forgotten, and we received his blessing and the blessing of his village for this trip and any future trips we’d like to make through the region. Morning spent, we put our heels to the road again.
On the way out of the village we found what the Tanzanians on the expedition called a Toothbrush tree.
Of course, we had to give it a try.
My second and third Maasai marriage proposals were quick in coming. The third in particular sticks in my mind: when the woman determined that it was my will and not that of the team that kept me out of her son’s reach, she decided to break with the tradition of going through the men and bargain with me directly.
With Francis acting as a forbearing translator we discussed the milking of cows (and how many cows she could have at our campsite RIGHT THAT SECOND if I’d consent to stay), how handsome her son was (truth! Maasai boys are pretty), and how if I gave up on my education and all my goals and moved to the middle of Tanzania where not even e-mail could reach me my mother would likely kill me- this last bit was the argument that convinced her most, I assume because it appealed to her love for her own children.
Business taken care of, we talked about how old she was (43, though she didn’t look it at all) and how many children she had (eight born, two dead, welcome to the bush) and it really was a pleasant experience, even if I had to decline her offers of a brand new life as diplomatically as I could manage. Nonetheless she returned for one more try the next morning; Evordy told her she couldn’t have me then either.
I still find myself stopping and trying to imagine what it would have been like if I had said yes. It’s a dizzying sort of thought, to realize just how quickly I could change my entire world.
(James is going to kill me if he notices I posted that picture. BWA HA HA!)
The lands around Morogoro consist of the eastern wall of the African Rift Valley- they’re mountainous and green and certainly not the wide-open-Zebra-infested-Mikumi-type-plains most Americans I’ve talked to think of when they think of Africa.
Said mountains gave us two days of walking without our support vehicle: the first, up a steeply paved escarpment that our little Land Cruiser simply could not stop on and the second, over a footpath pass to the town of Mpwapwa. I made the first, and was extremely grateful to find a soda at the top of the hill (followed by the SCARIEST DALADALA RIDE EVER, complete with barely-working headlamps, totally missing windows, no seatbelts or heating and a driver who firmly believed the faster he drove the better and safety and comfort were not to be bothered with). I missed out on the second, Mpwapwa Pass; more on that to come.
Everywhere we went we were, in the words (word?) of our illustrious leader, “Rockstars”. Crowds gathered in seconds and stayed for hours, and it didn’t matter if we were doing something as amusing and alien as playing Frisbee or as boring as taking naps and reading books. At first it was quite fun, but it did get tiring after awhile, particularly if you were trying to find a private place to take a bucket shower.
While navigating the sunflower fields of the village of Rubeho our much-abused trailer hitch snapped, abruptly cutting the day off early and forcing us into an emergency camp in some poor villager’s front yard. This gave us a few hours to kill while half the village looked on, wondering what we strange mzungu were up to.
Our breakdown coincided with a coming-of-age ceremony for some of the local boys, celebrating rites of passage including circumcision. Ergo it was not only we who provided the show: they marched around the village, dancing and chanting to the rhythm of a horn played by an older boy, and decided share the experience with us by routing their march directly through our camp.
As we progressed further and further West my journal takes a noticeable downturn: I report muscle and joint pain, report insomnia, report “how very uncomfortable I’ve felt in my own skin lately.” We have adventures and setbacks of all sorts before coming neatly to medical incident for Tala number two, and the reason why I didn’t climb over the Mpwapwa pass.
“Hajambo, from an internet cafe in Dodoma (the fourth or fifth one we tried- the rest weren’t working, but this one is quite safi). It’s been a couple of weeks and I’m really not sure where to start- this will be a long one, though, so you might want to grab some popcorn. I said in my last e-mail that I hoped I was done with medical issues for the trip; I wasn’t.
“About six days ago I got into camp exhausted, even though we had stopped for cold sodas and I really hadn’t done any walking for at least an hour, so I decided to set up my tent and take a nap. Come dinnertime I made my appearance wearing two long-sleeved t-shirts and both my and James’ wool sweaters along with a wool hat, and all this before sunset in the middle of Eastern Africa. Even with all my layers I was still shivering uncontrollably and my skin was intensely hot; that was our first clue. Rather than walk the next morning, Fuad (Chief of Staff/Driver Extraordinaire), the Doctor and I drove to a small clinic in the town we were staying in, where they examined a smear of my blood under a microscope for 1000 shillings; about 1 US Dollar.
“The result: three malaria parasites per 200 white blood cells, and a hemoglobin level reduced to 77%. I immediately started on heavy doses of Malarone (four pills a day for three days) and was grounded to the car and let me tell you, Malaria sucks. Malarone sucks too. Its side effects eerily parallel the symptoms of malaria, and thus I found myself not knowing if my fever, chills, exhaustion, achy joints, nausea and other symptoms meant I was still sick, or meant I was getting better. Don’t worry, though: we caught it fast, and the day after I finished the Malarone I walked 15.8 miles with the rest of the team. The day after that I was good enough to lead the team 18 miles…
That little adventure made me the third person on the trip to catch Malaria- but then and still the only Muzungu (white person) and the only person on prophylaxis to catch it. The rest have been Tanzanians including, most recently, person number four: Fuad. It hit him badly enough yesterday morning for Jim to jump on the vehicle and drive him ahead to the hospital in Dodoma, where they found he had a parasite load of 987 Plasmodium for 200 white blood cells- when they thought he was sleeping, the doctors marveled that he was still alive. Imagine: three is enough to knock a mzungu like me down; but almost 1000? He spent the night on heavy IV drugs and is back with us this morning, though he’s spending the day sleeping rather than gallivant around Dodoma with the rest of us.
“All this has really brought home what I’m doing here. The clinic I went to was relatively nice- glass in the windows, concrete floors clean and not crumbling, neatly-tended flowerbeds outside- and yet their one blood pressure cuff was so old its Velcro barely worked and they didn’t have a single thermometer. While sitting waiting for them to examine my smear (on their single microscope) I noticed lists on the wall of the most common diseases they had faced in 2006, broken up by age group. Malaria topped every single list- thousands of cases, in a clinic that didn’t even have a thermometer.
Thanks to the efforts of good people, Malaria is nowhere near the threat it used to be. By some estimates, the parasite has killed half of all people EVER BORN on the planet earth- even by more conservative estimates it easily outstrips any other killer in history, from Tuberculosis to old age to car accidents. Now it kills only about a million a year (I feel bad saying ‘only’, but compared to the past it’s fitting), and very few of those are adults. And yet, even with an extreme case of cerebral malaria like Fuad had, a night in the hospital –which, mind you, cost about $10 with food and medications included- is all that was required. The lesson that I’ve taken from this trip thusfar and my own illness is that this is not an abstract problem. This is not the way things should or have to be. This is a concrete issue with a concrete solution, and some day we -will- solve it.
“I’ll bet someday soon. I know I’ll be working on it. It’s personal now.”
And that was my brush with Malaria. Even now I may not be done- two of the four species of Plasmodium which infect humans can remain dormant in the liver after recovery, and cause relapses up to four years later. This also means that my proud-yet-young tradition of giving blood whenever they’ll take it must be put on hold for three to four years.
The day after my diagnosis we camped amidst some beautiful and notably large trees and were visited by four women who sang and danced for and with us. Their voices and the irresistible beat of their interwoven chants burned through even my fever-addled mind (always worse in the evenings), and I find myself coming back to those moments –the bright-patterned fabrics, the haunting trills- in my mind often.
The music of Tanzania’s tribes was a constant companion on the trip- more than once we stumbled upon a drum-beating gathering in our walks and gleefully crashed the party, and more than once the locals brought the music and the party to our camp. It brings to my mind one of the most striking things about Tanzania, in fact, one of the things I’ve become most evangelical about since my return: the sheer overwhelming friendliness of the people. Everywhere we went we were not only welcome but celebrated- and not simply because we were strangers and interesting, but because that’s how Tanzanian culture is.
Much of our next series of fun adventures concerned the wildlife without rather than the wildlife within. At Mpwapwa we took an extra day to rest, which was most helpful with both Francis and I recovering from Malaria and everyone else just plain exhausted. From there I walked, and it was only a night or two later that we heard our first hyenas of the trip. Laying quietly in your tent in the dark of night listening to the alien whooo-op! of a hyena is a primordial experience that defies description.
A few days after my recovery we stumbled into a rather safi looking campsite in a grove of green guava trees. James found a mantid while setting up his tent, which provided some amusement, shade was abundant and crowds not so much; all and all it was an idyllic scene… by day. Nightfall brought about a whole different adventure as we learned that we had set our camp right in the middle of the Siafu superhighway. Regular watchers of Discovery Channel or Animal Planet can’t have missed a glimpse or two of these legendary and reportedly man-eating insects; we got a bit closer to them than the distant comfort of the TV screen and spent the night fighting them off with hot coals and diesel. It kept nightwatch interesting, at least.
For the record, the mantid survived the attack just fine- we found her the next morning hanging out on top of my tent; one of the few spared a deluge of carnivorous ants.
By then Dodoma was nearing and, as previously mentioned, Fuad grew deeply ill and was rushed ahead. The last bit of tarmac to the capitol of Tanzania is notorious for bandits, and so the morning sun of the final day of this second leg found us waiting in a schoolyard for a daladala to take us to those wonders of the city: to clean laundry, to beds with mosquito nets, to food cooked over a stove and not a fire and to sweet hot showers.
I still haven’t gotten over hot showers.
And that was the second leg; a little under halfway.