Kilema Days

Days begin when the sun starts glowing in the east beyond the Pares Mountains we see off in the distance. The roosters crow well before the sun, perhaps at 4:30, somewhat tentatively at first and then crescendo somewhere around 5:00, just when the first church bells start. The world is in full sunrise by 6AM and by then the soon to be poultry are fully warmed up and exuberant. These morning routines are well known to me, having sleeplessly waited for them, in the first 3 weeks of our stay at Kilema. My antimalarial, Mefloquine, is a complete bust. In fact, hopeless insomnia and other side effects may not become evident until well past the three week trial period. Now I’m off that dreadful stuff (off everything and taking my chances til the rains come)and sleeping like a baby. Enjoying fully my short and saggy bed, falling into it most days fully saturated by the general newness and immensely interesting aspects of life here.

Certainly the mental workout of Swahili is one thing that contributes to the deep slumber. We are all moving ahead with the language. The children are now saying Shikamoo deferentially to elders without me poking them in the ribs. ‘Shikamoo’ means I put my self under your feet and the only proper response, ‘Marahaba’ means may you not be under my feet for long! This morning Lockie was up greeting Anna and Amelianna ,who help to provide all of us here with very tasty and nourishing food, by saying Habari za asubhi?(How goes the morning?). And there is life even beyond Swahili! A few key phrases in Kchagga, the local tribal language, have produced gales of laughter in the same kitchen. Two of the local medical officers have come to teach us ‘correct’ pronounciation( very useful though way less funny) and more medically useful Swahili. One is learning French so we are exchanging services. Eva may be his French instructor.

Speaking of the kitchen… just a word about food. Thank goodness we do not have to hunt, gather and cook or we would be much thinned out by now. There are few to no snacks between meals(except fabulous peanuts) so we are hungry for the next meal. We see Anna cutting spinach in the garden next near us and then there it is, on the dinner plate. Never far from the source and always fresh. We all feel incredibly healthy, largely due to local vegetables that come out of the many well tended gardens of Kilema. The source of meat is more of a mystery and there is usually a bit of pork or beef in the stew, kuku(chicken) a bit less often. Fortunately no more feathery beheadings witnessed lately! Dessert is watermelon or papaya or terribly addictive little “bites”, like deep fried cookies. These go quickly, old and young participating in the orgy. My colleague, Rick, had me in a fit of laughter when reflecting on the ample food he muttered quietly “must not eat”, which pretty much sums it up here. We are proving one can gain weight in Africa.

Laundry is among the many aspects of daily life I enjoy, surprisingly. I have evolved a unique approach to it that works on many levels. First clothing must be red soil red with dirt. Then they get thrown in the plastic basin in the shower and then one stands in the basin churning the clothes around with your feet akin to one crushing grapes. So like the agitator go ones feet, then wash water out and rinse water in. A few cycles later and presto, clothes are ready for the line… and feet very clean. Eva is washing her own clothes and the boys help to hang stuff out on the line…”part of your curriculum,” I say.

Like the Mefloquine so too went Marangue Hills Primary School. The kids lasted about a week there and finally refused to return at all. The distance, bad roads, early mornings and the public floggings finally got to them together with over-stimulation and having their hair touched too much. So they spent last week home schooling and did very well with it except for Lachlan Fraser who did very little with great enthusiasm. Though he did amass quite a bottle cap collection which he plays with in many interesting ways, not unlike Playmobile. (Playmobile was not wanted on the voyage) This week Sasha, starving for more socialization, joined nearby Swahili parish primary school on his own accord and some encouragement from his friend Godfrey who also attends there. Monday morning at 7 am, Chris and I heard a little voice outside Sasha`s window calling to him. Sasha! Sasha! Come to school! And so it went all week, Godfrey coming down every morning for Sasha. Hopefully Eva and Lockie will follow his lead in the days to come. Interestingly, neither Chris nor I have had the time to go to the school to talk to the teacher and see if this is OK . Haven’t heard so guess it is. Fortunately all public primary schools (to standard or grade 7 ) are essentially free though there are fees for food, payments to the cook, uniforms, shoes etc. Secondary school come at a cost which can vary depending on the school, anywhere from 50,000TSH(40USD) to 250,000TSH(250usd)per term. After primary, schooling usually ends for most people and then work starts(well…continues) or perhaps waywardness. Secondary school funding is central to most support programs for poorer families and certainly some of the orphaned kids that CACHA and other organizations support.

What interesting days, one after the other. Some, feel challenging or move more slowly or circuitously or are overwhelming enough to make one uncertain about where to begin. Some days there are delays or changes in the plan, where the power is out or the internet down or people show late for work or there are rounds and then there`s not. (Johnny Lydon, remember when they used to say,”flexibility, flexibility”? )These are days that teach one to relax and go with it.

But most are exceptional for example last Thursday was a great day of home visits up to a hilltop village called Legho, west of us. The program coordinator Denis, three home based care workers(HBC), health worker (me) with charts and another CACHA volunteer squeezed into the 4WD and bolted down the red dirt road causing all pedestrians to stand aside or scramble up the bank! We then turned west and began climbing up very bad “roads” beyond the valley to the next hilltop. Weaving kulia na kushoto (right and left), the HBC’s guide us to shamba’s(farm plots) of people we know are having difficulty. Some clearly are having more difficulty than others though all are poor. Dr. Anna Nyaki at Kilema Hospital HIV centre says, “You’ll know it when you see it”, referring to families who are desperate and needing immediate supports and this is so true. Two of the families we visited were clearly having a tough time. At the first hut we were greeted by a Bibi who cares for four girl, one of which is her own daughter. The mother of the others has left to Dar es Salaam and the father died.

The husband of this Bibi also left because of to many troubles. Bibi is HIV positive and followed on treatment. Her daughter is also positive with a low CD4 taken over a year ago and many missed appointments since. Bibi gets around with a walking stick ,has swollen ankles and hypertension, can’t work, can’t walk to the hospital. Some neighbours help this woman from time to time but she is weakened and upset with worry. There are worries about her health. There are food fees for school due. And when we go enter the dim, cramped interior of her mud and pole hut the holes in the roof look like stars shining in the darkness. She has plastic pots collecting the drips and plastic sacking used as an extra barrier all above her bed. Two sleep in her bed and three in the other. So we will try to help this Bibi and her charges, with food fees and roofing, healthcare counselling and follow up.

The family in the shamba next to this is comprised of two aged grandparents caring for 2 teenaged boys who were asked to leave secondary school because they couldn’t pay for the school fees. One boy share a small bed in a very poor house with his grandfather and the other shares with his Bibi. The grandparents also care for another orphan girl named Ireni who looks about 5yr. Fully abandoned, she has only her first name, adopting her last two names from the Bibi and Babu. Difficult circumstances and living conditions. Hopefully we can help keep these boys in school and give some support to Ireni too.

So I have spent the last 4 weeks visiting vulnerable families and working on developing and growing the orphan program. Who, what, how much, how, when, where.

A lot of mentoring and planning for success once the mzungus leave. Very challenging, infinitely satisfying. I couldn’t be happier.

Bulletin!!! Hailey Philips, your letter just arrived to us this very minute in what looks like very good condition. This is the second letter received here and with great excitement. A reminder to everyone of the address that is now proven to work. The letter arrived to Moshi on Oct. 8th and it is the 18th.

C/O Kilema Hospital

Box 1080



Soccer has ended for the day with the falling sun on the dusty red soccer field. Exquisite light and so much enjoyment among both spectators and players. Chris not biting too much dust, and enjoying all the soccer games especially the betting ones. But we are both ready for a nice cold Serengeti brew. So Goodibye! Goodinight!

2 thoughts on “Kilema Days

  1. Elizabeth

    Dear Stephanie et al,
    I have sent you a note by snail mail just now. I love hearing all the news, we all do. I just tried to phone the Scotia Bank branch in Oak Bay to make a donation and they didn’t know anything about it. At any rate, she said an account number was needed. At some point, please make this available to me and others who wish to make a contribution. In the meantime, good health to you all. Sending lot’s of love from Vancouver,

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