Zoom in and search all you want with whatever Google or Garmin has to offer, and you’ll come up empty. Even a WorldAtlas, compliments of Rand McNally, will prove lacking. But having just returned a little over a week ago, I and 21 others who were part of a medical mission team can dutifully confirm that the small, remote and rather desolate Tanzanian village named Mzogole does indeed exist.
No formalized directions were available. There were no street signs pointing the way. Even our trusted driver of the minibus Toyota Coaster was initially “geographically challenged” in taking us there the first day.
After multiple daily treks to and from our appointed destination, we became marginally familiar with the journey. We learned to first simply head east out of Dodoma, a major city in central Tanzania’s plateau region. It was necessary to stay on the congested two-lane paved highway for a few miles, enduring the awkward coexistence of a conglomeration of pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles, cars, Bajaj, small three-wheeled motorized taxis, buses, and semis, all vying for their determined right-of-way. Eventually you’ll come upon a nondescript dry and dusty dirt road. Turn off and follow the road for over an hour while navigating the narrow path fraught with potholes, deep ruts and multiple boulders protruding from the ground.
The nearly barren landscape to either side will seem virtually uninhabitable. Still, dotting the landscape are quaint huts and homes varying in shape, design, size and materials of composition. Each will be distinctive by virtue of the red brick or mud walls and either thatched roofs or ones with a sheet of corrugated metal held in place by large rocks lining the perimeter.
Any breakfast previously consumed, while en route, will be well on the way through the digestive system thanks to the rigors of the unsettling terrain. Without warning, in due time, a modest building will present itself to the north, maybe 20 meters from the road. The first readable signage will appear in the form of a black and white placard posted above the entrance door to the humble structure. Among the verbiage we could read, “Lutheran Church of Mzogole.”
On day one of the medical clinic, in a few short hours, the church would undergo a massive remodel. The long narrow wooden pews inside would be turned into makeshift desks and exam tables. The sanctuary nave would morph into space for three triage stations, a dentist’s office, three doctor’s examination “rooms,” a pediatrician’s office and even a vision center. The chancel would serve as the medical supply room. The church office was transformed into the radiology department, equipped with an ultrasound machine, while the sacristy was fashioned into a walk-thru pharmacy.
A few small windows plus four solitary light bulbs dangling from exposed rafters provided all the limited interior illumination.
A few hundred well-worn white plastic patio chairs would be the makings of an outdoor waiting room where a wealth of patients would wait with great patience to be seen, having arrived at dawn each day.
This impromptu medical clinic would be staffed each day by an eclectic group of diligent, dedicated and determined volunteers, most of whom call northwest Ohio home. Each was aided in this church-turned-medical-center by invaluable local translators fluent in Swahili and other tribal dialects.
Key players in the effort were three medical doctors, a pediatrician, a doctor of radiology, a dentist, a pharmacist and a nurse practitioner. Further support came from a handful of nurses, three pastors and a collection of team members ready and willing to take on whatever task needed to be done. The mission effort was simply called “Hope,” or in Swahili, “Tumaini,” the third such effort to bring medical care to an impoverished and isolated community.
All medical providers brought the highest levels of competencies and compassionate medical care and treatment. While their skills and knowledge base were unquestioned, there were two team members severely lacking yet still pressed into service regardless of their collective deficiency in medical qualifications.
I and another colleague were called upon as novice opticians. We knew enough to possess two eye charts and had them duct taped to the walls. We were provided three flimsy plastic tables, space for displaying hundreds of pairs of donated glasses, calibrated and organized in Ziploc bags.
With nearly 10 minutes of instruction, and wishing we had a previous night’s sleep at a Holiday Inn Express, we were “open for business” with a process designed around “trial and error.” We, with a self-deprecating smile, called ourselves the BLB Eye Center, or the “Blind Leading the Blind.”
Still, what we lacked in expertise, we made up for with relentless determination to satisfy a client-base who had never worn or owned a pair of glasses in their life! In the process we even gained a subsistence level of the native tongue of Swahili. Our repeated litany with each hopeful patient included the following: Karibu! Afadhali? Mbaya? Nzuri!
In English, Welcome! Better? Worse? Good!
Each glimmer in their eyes made our day!
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org