Here’s what a typical home visit looks like: social worker, psychologist, nurse, doctor, and translator form the core visiting group. Other members of our group-artists,teachers, tech folks-often help out too. Currently we’ve been seeing people in Endulen, an out-of-the-way place tucked into the hills of the Ngorongoro region.
There is a small hospital-clinic in Endulen. Our translator, who is also a community worker, selects the people we’ll visit-all of whom have HIV/AIDS. The roads are rutted and the trip bouncy. It’s hot, dry, dusty. There are LOTS of flies. We’re in Maasai country, so we greet the men with “Supai” and the women with “Takienya.” The homes are traditional huts with thatched roofs. They are small and dark. It doesn’t seem possible, but many of the patients here seem poorer and sicker than those we saw in the city. There are lots of grandparents raising grandchildren because the parents have died.
We start off the session by asking the patient who lives in the home with him/her? This gives us a quick feel for living situation and support. We ask if the person has been able to access the clinic and if there are any obstacles to getting their medications? We ask if they are taking their antiretroviral meds daily? Sometimes people skip because of the prevalent problem of food insecurity. Taking the meds on an empty stomach commonly causes nausea and dizziness. Still, we encourage them to try and take them every day – this is key to maintaining health.
We ask about their “illness” or “condition” and avoid saying HIV or AIDS. There is still a lot of stigma out in the countryside and many nosy “Gladys Kravitz” type neighbors stopping by. 🙂
Tanzania has a culture of reciprocity. We thank the person for welcoming us into their home. Then we ask if we may leave some “thank you” gifts: bags of rice, tea, hygiene items, toys, solar lights, and knit hats. The hats are hugely popular – good for keeping the dust off during the day and for keeping the heat in at night. Hot Wheels are a big hit too. There is nothing like seeing a Maasai dad play with Hot Wheels with his kids.
Our patients are warm and welcoming and grateful for our care and concern. The tangible gifts are much appreciated, but the intangibles have a profound impact as well. Many people have told us, “Thank you for coming. You give us hope.”
We in turn are grateful for the support we’ve gotten from our people at home: Those “holding down the fort.” Those who’ve donated money in large and small amounts. Those who knitted countless hats. The list of contributions goes on and on. Working here brings a profound sense of interconnectedness.
From the support from home to the collaborative relationships with our Tanzanian colleagues to the impromptu Kimaasai lessons from villagers to the heartfelt hugs and handshakes from our patients and families. It all counts. It all matters.
This is arduous work but rewarding work. Venturing beyond our comfort zones can be nerve-wracking. Sometimes we tend to focus on our perceived deficiencies instead of our strengths. But, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “…anybody can serve…You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
Thanks to all, near and far, who have enabled us to serve.
As our fearless leader, Dr. Kim Shriner says, “If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far go together.”