The week in Review
Monday was spent seeing patients at the hospital that were in the surgical ward. Fortunately, the newer wing is finished for the pediatric ICU. Still, unfortunately, this means the therapy ward has to be cleaned and painted after hosting the ICU for the last few months. This mostly cosmetic project could take a week or month, so for the time being, we will be floating throughout different wars and spaces. Tuesday was another Swahili class for volunteers learning more about Tanzanian culture! On Wednesday, all the medical volunteers, primarily nurses, midwives, premed students, and me met to travel out to local villages with a doctor and the projects abroad staff to complete medical outreach. We took vitals and checked-in patients before the doctor saw them, and then filled the physician’s prescriptions with donated medicine. This cycle was completed 129 times over the day. It was a very cool thing to be a part of and good practice for taking blood pressure and learning common Tanzanian medicines and illnesses.
Thursday and Friday were spent at destiny foundation, performing basic passive stretching on most children and teaching one to push his wheelchair independently.
Thursday night, dinner with all the volunteers was at a Chinese restaurant, and on Friday night, I visited the local resort to see the grounds and restaurants. The resort was beautiful, but hard to reconcile that it’s the same Africa I have been living in it explains why most locals in Arusha assume all visitors are affluent.
Saturday morning, I cooked French toast with my host mom and sisters, which they called egg bread, a very accurate description. Later we showed some newer volunteers around the neighborhood and Maasai market a center full of hundreds of small shops full of souvenirs. On Sunday, all the volunteers attempted to make a cake, and we watched football with the host family.
Culture Maasai Tribe
I asked my friend Patrick Langai Munga an occupational therapist who grew up in a Maasai in Ngorogoro, to help me explain the Maasai. Patrick speaks Maasai, Swahili, English, and is learning Italian and incredibly smart and articulate, so I hope that some of the color and intricacies of his stories and explanations transfer to this post.
I have mentioned that most Africans in Arusha speak their mother tongue, Swahili, and maybe English. Popular mother tongues or tribes include Chaga, Ngoni, and Maasai. The largest non-indigenous tribe in northern Tanzania and Kenya is the Massai tribe. It boasts numbers of over 400,000 in the Arusha region of Tanzania alone. The hospital I work at is in the outskirts of the city and the last medical center before rural western Tanzania; this means over half of our patients are Maasai and specifically in the pediatric ward, families live at the hospital until treatment is complete, giving me plenty of opportunities to meet and work with many Massai men and women.
Traditional Maasai clothing is a Shuka, a brightly colored and patterned cloth that drapes around the shoulders while another is tied around the waist. It is worn daily either in a hybrid with more western garments or alone. Maasai culture is patriarchal and polygamist still in many families. A traditional Maasai man’s wealth is contingent on three facets the number of cattle, children, and wives. Most the wives are at the minimum ten years their husband’s junior and Marry near the age of 15, if not before. While not all Maasai choose to raise cattle and take multiple wives, it is still practiced. Specifically, those who choose to attend university and live in the city are much more modern in example below is a picture of Munga in a suit jacket for work at the hospital, although he says sometimes he likes to put on his traditional clothes and walk around Arusha city to remind everyone he’s still a very proud Massai man.
Munga tells stories of what it was like growing up in the African wild near Ngorogoro crater and Serengeti, casually mentioning having to defend his family’s herd of cattle from lions, Hyenas, and buffaloes at the age of 8. He also cannot comprehend why tourists pay so much money to see the animals from a truck when they are friendly enough to pet, especially elephants and giraffes, since they live around villages like his.
The Maasai face a lot of influence to cease some traditional practices that are inhumane or cause environmental harm. The most egregious practice that humanitarian organizations and human rights volunteers try to stop is the act of female circumcision or female genital mutilation, it’s rather graphic, and I will not go further into it in the post but suggest you look into reputable sources like the World Health Organization or United Nations if you’re curious. Male circumstances is seen as the ceremony to signify the end of childhood and is only earned after the boys finish living in the deep African wilderness without help, before the 1970s, it was necessary for them to kill a lion before returning home. The medical procedure is preformed by the village (Witch) doctor with no anesthesia and if the boy expresses pain it brings dishonor to himself and his family and hinders future business deals and marriage prospects.
Other traditions and ceremonies that are well known and not contested by modern society include jumping and dancing ceremonies. After watching lots of Patrick’s videos and a demonstration, I firmly believe that most Maasai’s verticals are no joke, and no ceremony is complete without barbecue. Maasai is also very much a culture built in the respect toward elders and my favorite anecdote of Patrick’s is that if an elderly Massai, even if you’ve never met, asks you to run an errand after having you introduce yourself, you have to do it. When he was 12, Patrick had to walk 38 kilometers to a different village to collect four goats for a man he had never met and never saw again, but he told the story with an amused smile and said, “ that’s life, ya’know?” Even though it’s not a life I know or can relate to it is incredibly interesting, so I hope to hear and share more stories with you all.
Next week should be more of the same, with hopefully a few more patients in a fixed hospital wing, but I would be surprised if it’s finished before July.