Healthcare

Reflecting on Life in Medical Missions

It had been a very full day at the hospital. Though, really, there were very few days in Temeke District Hospital that weren’t full. With 800 medical personnel produced by Tanzania’s education system every year and a considerable portion of these either leaving the country or working in private hospitals, the healthcare system in this land was overworked and underpaid. Our team always had plenty of opportunity to jump in somewhere. Just that day in the Intensive Care Unit we’d delivered a baby, managed Eclampsia and Post Partum Haemorrhage, and monitored a room full of 17 women waiting to deliver.

I looked through the panes of dirty glass and saw a group of brightly dressed women with the flamboyant colours and bold patterns of their clothes clashing gloriously. 

I leaned my head against the window. Our dala-dala, one among hundreds of buses that comprise the public transport system in Dar es Salaam, slowed to a stop as we crawled home through the evening traffic. Beads of sweat trickled down my back and collected behind my knees. I looked through the panes of dirty glass and saw a group of brightly dressed women with the flamboyant colours and bold patterns of their clothes clashing gloriously. Babies jostled along on their backs as they passed, chatting and laughing together in Swahili. Young men walked by with trays of chewing gum, piles of dish towels and baskets of cold water and sodas on their heads, kissing loudly to draw attention to their wares. Pedestrians walked freely among the stagnant traffic that waited for the policeman at the intersection to signal us to move on.

I turned my head to look through passengers standing in the aisle, at the grandfather pulling a young boy along by the hand, a boy riding a bicycle rigged with an ice-cream chest in front and a colourful umbrella behind, the piles of used shoes being sold for a few cents on the side of the road. I wondered at the man in a bright red shirt pouring water into his radiator in the middle of the road. He finished just in time to start his tiny truck and move forward, hauling a giant bus behind him as traffic started up again. A stranger in an SUV gave him suggestions and a ‘thumbs-up’ when he finished, apparently satisfied with the job well done.

These are the stories you’ll tell your grandkids. These are the days where you’re living life to the fullest.

 As the bus groaned into movement once again, I began to drink in the moments: Felicia, Rosie and Rebekka sitting in the back seat chatting away, the smell of latex and sweat, the late afternoon sun casting long shadows on the road, the lively community spirit thriving around me. And I thought to myself, “You know, Sarah, someday you’re going to look back on these times and miss them. These are the stories you’ll tell your grandkids. These are the days where you’re living life to the fullest. These are the days that are rich with opportunity and filled with the smells of life and death so acutely defined and mingling together. These are the days…take time to really live them.”