A Rollercoaster Ride

Less than one week left. I woke up this morning feeling really excited about finally coming home next week, then I almost felt like crying, because this would be my last week here in Tanzania. But its too early for a reflection post, there is still too much to do!

This past week we had the opportunity to start wrapping up on a lot of the equipment we had difficulty with. We were finally able to find a replacement backup battery for a pulse oximeter (measuring the oxygen concentration in the blood) that was then placed into the ICU the hospital is trying to start. They still need some ECG’s and a respirator before they feel comfortable calling it an Intensive Care Unit. We are still working on developing some replacement ECG pads. We have two working machines, but no pads. Disposable parts are a huge reason why a lot of the machines that have been donated don’t get used. Because the hospital can’t afford the machines, they generally can’t afford money on disposables, and so there are some projects working on developing pads that can be built from local materials. Unfortunately, ours haven’t worked out so far.

Larry (our professor) and Gordon (his British friend) also made another stop at our hospital this week to help us with some of the equipment that we couldn’t finish ourselves. We looked at a heat therapy machine, laundry washer, and a surgical bed. Unfortunately, we went 0-3. As sad as telling the staff we couldn’t repair the machines was, internally, I felt good knowing that Nabil and I had developed a good sense of what we could and could not repair with our knowledge and that we had been able to work pretty self sufficiently up until this point. While its a shame that Larry and Gordon couldn’t help us finish repairing all the equipment, an important part of this trip has been learning my limitations given my knowledge, tools, and time.

After their short stop at the hospital, we had a chance to swing by Moshi to pick up wire for our intercom system. After spending the day bouncing from shop to shop, following strange little boys who told us their older brother had exactly what we wanted (I heard that one, one too many times), I was extremely pumped to start putting this intercom system up across the hospital. Its the project we have spent the most time on, mostly because the hospital was really small and didn’t have a ton of machines in general. Also, because last year’s group probably did an awesome job, most of it was working, so our time has been spent working on this secondary project.

Friday morning I jumped out of bed, really excited to start wiring the hospital (ok, I wasn’t excited to do the physical wiring, but was excited that our project was going to start wrapping up). When we got there, I had to make a quick tour of the hospital, testing an sterilizer with a broken pressure gauge and looking at a water bath that wasn’t boiling, while Nabil finished installing the little Barbie buzzers we found in town into the phones. Surprisingly, things like simple buzzers and wires are not easy to find, and a store like Radioshack would have made this project a joke. But alas, we don’t have all those luxuries. As Nabil and I like to say, Karibu Tanzania (welcome to Tanzania).

When I got back to the office, we started to test the wire, before we put it up. Half the wire couldn’t short from one end to the other. So half our money spent on this wire was now junk. We would have to cut open the wire to find that opening. Not fun. OK, with the wire we do have, let’s test how loud the buzzer can get. We set up a mini system in our office, with wire going all over the place. We press the switch and….nothing. We test all the wiring again and try again…nothing. Turns out the wire had too much resistance over its entire length. This meant that someone on one end of the hospital could not phone someone on the other side, because the wire would eat up too much power for the speaker to work. AAARRRGGH (insert random expletives here).

Things were starting to look down for us, when the canteen manager walked into our office. Babie (pronounced Bobby) was actually a local hotel owner. I didn’t believe him at first, because he looks like he is 24 (he’s actually 26), but he inherited it from his mother when she got sick; leaving school in Nairobi, Kenya early to do so. He took over the business of running the canteen at the hospital as a project to expand. He told us the hospital then started changing the rules on the contract, increasing rent, changing regulations, and doing things to the point that it was running a loss each day it was open. So our canteen, where we had lunch every work day for the month, would be closing our last week on the job. AAARRRGGH (insert more random expletives here).

He was closing shop for the day and was waiting for a final sit down with hospital administration, so we spent the next hour talking. Nothing in particular, but enough so that he invited us for dinner that night at the hotel. Things started looing up. After a little more brainstorming for our intercom system, we headed home, hopeful that the night would make up for a really frustrating morning. We got to the lodge (Babylon Lodge) and had a few drinks, talked for another good hour, and headed down for dinner. Because we were dining with the boss, Nabil and I got the full treatment, with a 3 course meal, waiters there for our every whim (we didn’t have any though, so it was kind of a waste) and a great conversation with a young Tanzanian man, really hoping to change the community around him. It was really refreshing to talk to someone who had hope for the country that wasn’t trying to sell us a hike to Killimanjaro or get us into a taxi. I felt at ease, and the western dinner he made us felt almost foreign to my mouth. Delicious.

It was an interesting day that started off extremely hopeful, dove into failure, but finished off real nicely with a new friend. Almost like this entire trip, I could talk another couple paragraphs about the parallels of the day to culture shock. But, now I’m off to Moshi to see what we can do to get this darn intercom working. I’m almost tempted to buy them walkie-talkies and call it a day. Who knows what will come out of it. With less than a week remaining, I gotta make every day count.

6 Days Left!

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