Working in the hospitals in Arusha was a daily challenge but an enjoyable one. Each and every day we faced a new obstacle with the language barrier but soon learned enough Swahili to be able to get a message across to a patient or their loved ones. This came about most in the vaccination clinics; we were helping to administer vitamins, aiding with vaccinations and immunizations and helping to register new babies into a government system. It was difficult to ask the mothers questions and even more difficult to properly record their answers in Swahili but the more practice I had with it, the easier it started to be. Short phrases came more and more easily with time and I slowly began to comprehend more throughout the trip.
Sanitation was a factor that was hard to cope with within the hospitals and the life style in general. Cleaning of patient beds was often done with dingy soap water and the sterilization of medical tools and supplies was not up to the standards of the U.S. When talking to fellow volunteers and the professionals that we worked with and followed, we were all aware that a lot of the sanitation problems were due to a lack of supply. What could be altered without the requirement of additional supplies, the doctors and nurses were glad to learn from us. They were eager to learn whatever they could in order to help their patients.
Another factor that was hard to adjust to was the slow pace of Africa. “Pole pole,” is a very common term in Tanzania and it means, slowly slowly. The lifestyle is very relaxed and coming from the United States, where we are constantly planning, cramming and in a rush, it was difficult to adjust to something that is the exact opposite of what we know. Eventually, I was able to understand the beauty of the slower paced life. Citizens were happy and relaxed. It was only in the hospitals that I continued to struggle with the slow pace and relaxation. In these settings it still seemed more appropriate, to me, to have a sense of urgency. When it came to patients health and well-being, I thought it necessary to try and complete a task as soon as possible. Especially when some came from miles away to be treated or receive medication.
Transportation was another complication with the treatment of patients. There were multiple patients every day that had traveled for hours to arrive at the hospital. Some came by car or bus but many came by foot and had to walk for hours. This is a problem because it makes visiting a health center far more complicated for families. When filling out newborns registration cards, one question that we asked was where was the baby born, at home, in a hospital or on the way? Even if public transportation is available to some, many are still not able to afford the rates.
However, all of these factors and situations were a part of the society, a part of their culture and there is no way to say that it is wrong. It is different and it is simple. There is beauty in simplicity. Parts of this differing culture could benefit our own process, as ours could theirs.