Tuesday, 6/10/14

Matt Gass is going into town today to take care of several matters, so I’ve asked if I can go along with him to get some work done as well. He says we need to leave at 6:30, because he needs to make a hospital visit, and visiting hours end at 7:30 am. (Yes, you read that right.) So at first light we climb into his Land Cruiser and head into town.

I remember his vehicle from last year. It’s a stripped-down, no-nonsense bush vehicle, diesel engine, canvas seats, wooden console, bush brown. He says the suspension is “bullet-proof,” so we can make the trip faster than we would with Shangazi driving her vehicle. 🙂 It’s definitely a guy ride.

Just south of town we take a left and find the city hospital. It’s a compound of 1-story concrete buildings with steel roofs, connected by covered sidewalks; there’s a choo at each end of the compound. We walk across the compound to where our visit is. She’s an orphan who is being cared for by one of the pastors and his wife; they have taken in about half a dozen orphans over the years, in addition to their own 5 children. This girl is a teen, and the pastor’s wife says she “has no blood.” I’m pretty sure that’s not literally true; I assume she’s speaking of anemia or some other similar problem.

We step into a 30-foot-by-20-foot room, painted a dark yellow, with 8 old-fashioned steel-frame beds about 2 feet apart, each one occupied, many of the patients coughing. There are mosquito nets but no partitions or privacy curtains. Our friend is in the last bed, with an IV in her hand. She’s receiving something called Hemovit, which the box says is a zinc supplement; I can’t read the fine print in the dim natural light. As we speak to the pastor’s wife, a woman steps into the ward and begins to pray in a loud voice. I hear the words “Yesu Kristo,” so I bow my head until she’s finished. She steps out, and our conversation continues. After 10 minutes or so the guards begin ushering everyone out; it’s 7:30, and you know what that means.

We talk outside for several minutes more. The conversation is all in Swahili, so I have to depend on Matt to tell me afterwards what was said. The hospital requires payment up front before they will treat; the patient’s family has to pay for all supplies (e.g. IV tubes and medications) as well as doctors’ fees. It’s appropriate, of course, that they pay for things, but these are people for whom $20 is a month’s worth of food, and the bill so far is around $50. Someone has covered that, but there’s no telling how long the treatment will take. Matt gives her enough to take care of the immediate needs, and we head into town.

While the system may seem primitive, this is the real world, and while mangoes grow on trees, money doesn’t. The doctors and nurses have to eat, too.

I’m expecting Matt to drop me off at our regular coffee shop while he conducts his business, but we head another way; he says, “Let me take you to the place I prefer to work.” We drive by Ryan’s Bay Hotel—ooh! we’re on the uppity side of town!—and a few doors down he parks in front of the Hotel Tilapia. As I get out of the left side of the vehicle, on the curb side, he says, “Watch out for the ditch.” I look down; there’s no curb, and there’s a 3-foot deep ditch to catch runoff. I don’t even want to think about dropping a wheel into one of those.

The gatekeeper opens for us, and we walk into the hotel compound. Fancy, shmancy. I suddenly realize I’ve been here before; last year, Beth brought me to a jeweler here to buy a piece of tanzanite for my wife. We walk past the jeweler’s and up a small set of tile steps to a coffee shop. It looks closed—it’s still not 8 am yet—but a staff member assures us it’s open. We pick a table, order something, and plug in at the outlet. Oh yeah. Ready for business. Matt says he needs to wait until the people he needs to see wake up, so we work together for an hour or so before he heads off and leaves me poolside.

Oh. Did I not mention the swimming pool? A sign says, “Swimming strictly allowed in swimming attire only,” just in case I get any ideas. I wonder momentarily what it looks like to be “strictly allowed,” but then I get back to my work. It’s a real luxury to have both bandwidth and time, and I spend the morning getting the blog completely updated, including photographs, and doing some correspondence. Matt’s back around 1, and we climb another small set of steps to the dining area, which overlooks the lake. Yes, I believe I’ll have the fish curry, thank you, with garlic naan, and a Thai spring roll, and, oh yes, a refreshing club soda with just the right amount of fizz, and perhaps a little napkin to wipe my little fingers on. Thank you.

[Photos 610ab]

Matt has an online class at 4, so we keep working until then. After about 2 or 3, the Eastern Seaboard starts to wake up, finally (what is it with you people and your sleeping?), and I get to have an email conversation with my wife as well as see other things start coming in from work and friends. Getting a lot done.

At 3:30 the power goes out. I’m fully charged and keep working, though offline, since the wireless router needs power to operate, but Matt isn’t, and with the class coming up, he decides to do it on his cell phone. In go the earplugs, and he stares at the tiny screen and occasionally speaks, sometimes in English, sometimes in a strange language. Not Swahili, but familiar, but unfamiliar at the same time. What is that? Ah. Greek. Koine Greek. Spoken. He’s taking a course in speaking New Testament Greek. Now, that’s odd.

Class over. Now we can leave, right? Well, not quite yet. After seeing the people he needed to see in the morning, Matt has dropped the Land Cruiser off at a shop to have the fuel injection and leaky radiator worked on. He has checked in by phone every so often all afternoon, and they keep telling him that they’re almost done. Finally he thinks they’re close enough that we can unhurriedly disengage from the coffee shop and catch a taxi over there.

He directs the taxi driver into a market, with little booths and frantic activity everywhere. We drive about a block through it, take a left down an alley, and then come to a stop as 3 or 4 trucks have the alley completely blocked. Eventually we decide that it would be faster to walk the rest of the way, and after another block or so we find his Land Cruiser in the shade of a tree with 3 or 4 men working under the hood (or “bonnet,” as they say). This is one of those older, plain vehicles with enough room under the hood to actually work on the engine—you can see right through to the ground in several places. Boy, is that refreshing. One of the men, who seems to be supervising the others, tells us he’s replaced the leaky lower radiator hose and is working on the fuel injector system. I can see the ends of the fuel line pointing randomly into space, so the job is obviously still not done.

Matt says, “Let’s go find a comfortable place to sit.” We walk across the alley and into the office, where the owner greets Matt as if he knows him. Turns out he does. He’s an Indian, born and raised here in Mwanza, nicknamed Shilu. (His real name is something-or-other Singh. I ask if he’s related to Sundar Singh, the famous cricket player. He isn’t. I guess in India, “Singh” is like “Park” in Korea or “Smith” in the US.) He points us to a couple of chairs, and we pass the time in conversation. He’s Hindu—he’s wearing the standard turban—but he refers several times to “God” and even to “one God,” which puzzles me. He’s amiable, and the conversation moves right along. Last fall he went to India for quintuple-bypass surgery; he tells us he’s 60. “I’m 60!” I respond. “1953?” “No, 1954.” “Then I am older than you,” he says. “Shikamoo,” I respond, with the standard greeting of respect to an elder in Swahili. He laughs heartily and shakes my hand. “That was a good one,” he says.

A man appears at the door with a string of coconuts; Shilu asks for 3. The man expertly trims them down and opens the top with his panga (machete), and we each get one. We sip the milk and continue the conversation. Eventually the man comes by for the empties. I ask, jokingly, if they send them back to the factory to be refilled, and Shilu laughs again. We talk about family and life experiences; he tells of a flash flood that came through this very shop in 2000, when it was his family’s apartment. About 11 feet of water. He and his daughters ran out; his wife, unable to get out, climbed on top of a piece of furniture and rode it out. After 3 hours he was able to re-enter the apartment, expecting to find her body, and found her, alive, clinging to the furniture. They moved across the street, to the 3rd floor.

Here is a man who has confronted death more than once. He is friendly, gracious, kind, contributing to the world by his presence, but not a child of God. He would make a good one. Pray for Shilu.

We hear the engine roaring across the street as the mechanics fine-tune the injection system. Getting close. We walk over and watch now 5 different mechanics lean into the engine compartment. It occurs to me that this economy, like that of most of the developing world, is similar in many ways to that of the US during the Great Depression: people are cheap, and Stuff is expensive. There was a time in the US when an employer would pay an employee to straighten bent paper clips for re-use; but now that makes no sense, because it’s cheaper to buy a box of new paper clips than to pay an employee to straighten the old ones. But in much of the world, labor is so inexpensive that it’s cheaper, even in the long run, to pay 5 people to work on an old car to keep it running than to buy a new car. I suspect that you can pay for a new engine and the labor to install it here for less than you could buy a used engine in the US. Truly cheap labor changes the entire structure of a culture’s economy—and as long as the cost of living is generally low, then the laborers can survive on their low wages. But there are consequences in such an economy. Things that are inherently expensive, such as MRI machines, will simply never make it into the system, because there’s no way that they can be paid for. And so you have a “developing” nation rather than a “developed” one. Optimistically speaking.

OK, kids, that’s our economics lesson for today.

The mechanics finally drop the hood, and we’re ready to go. It’s completely dark by this time—they’ve worked the last few minutes by the light of the torches of several cell phones—and we have one more stop to make; Laura has asked Matt to pick up some groceries at U-Turn. We’re there in a couple of minutes—Matt gives a few shillings to the beggar there (who likes the place because a lot of foreigners shop there, and who is consequently a familiar fixture)—and gets the shopping done in a few minutes more. I think it’s the first time in two team trips to Mwanza that I go to U-Turn and don’t buy anything—although I do take a long, longing look at a very tempting round of obscenely over-priced Gouda cheese. When it comes to Dutch cheeses, you know, you Edam because they’re Gouda. (I’m working on a pun for “Gorgonzola,” but nothing’s coming to mind.)

A wild ride in the dark across the bush, bouncing in totally legit canvas seats, and we’re home at Tumaini a little after 8 pm, more than 13 hours after we left. Laura has fixed the two of us some supper, which is welcome after the long day.

I drop by the big house, where the team is just finishing devotions with a testimony time. They say they had an unusually good day, and the children were generally well behaved. Hmmm. Maybe I’m the problem. Maybe I should go to town more often.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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