Many instances need attending to, but the next one happens, crawls into the lap of what I was considering, spews red dust, crowds so close my nostrils clog with body odor; the flash of a brightly colored head covering waves in the ocean breeze, a boy carrying peanuts jingles coins rhythmically in his hand, the new greetings “habari ja kukaya?” scrambles in my mind, and Ahadi cries. One minute I am recomposing that night we sat on a concrete floor, sticky with the salts left from the days sweat. Two round trays, four to a tray, we sit eating, Muslim style, right hand grabs a handful of white rice with a bit of beans and brings it to the mouth. There is an aftertaste of coconut and wood smoke. We bathe in the flickering yellow light thrown from the tin oil lamp next to us on the floor; all else is pitch black. We trade Chimakonde phrases. I’m full, I’m getting full, I was full. Say that again? The only difference between perfect and progressive past is the inflection of the voice like skipping up two stairs. I have been full.
And then, I am speeding down the highway in a three wheeled vehicle painted blue called a bajaj. Holding my five month old baby to my lap and squeezed between two short Tanzanians. A man still wearing his work uniform—a pink shirt and soldier pants too large for him, tied with a string, and boots stuffed with newspaper. A woman with a printed cloth thrown around her waist—kitenge—and wearing what looks like a discarded swimsuit cover up from the States over her head—tie-dyed pink with fringe that is knotted with multicolored beads. She wears the side with the fringe so that it dangles crazily in around face. She has drawn dark black eyebrows over her infant’s eyes. Her infant reaches over and holds my infants hand.
She has a prolapsed uterus. Doctor G— talks to us outside of women’s ward 4 which is labeled “ward no. 3” over the door. He sends us to open a file, get medicine, pay for lab work, pay for a bed. Three different trips to the same window. The woman lays in a hospital bed, with the infant with drawn-on, black eyebrows, for two days waiting for surgery; her relatives bring her food. The doctor comes and tells her that she must go home; they don’t have the equipment to do the surgery here. Maybe in June.
Sunday morning, I am sitting in the refectory of an abbey on the farthest edge of Makondeland. The Catholics have camped here, slowly fortifying their stronghold and carving out a presence for the last 100 years. I am sitting next to a surgeon. He’s retired in Germany, but comes here to work in the hospital for half of the year purely for benevolent reasons. He has straight white hair that sticks out of his head so you can see the freckles on his scalp. He wears a soft mint, button up shirt that looks like it was made in the seventies. He laughs when I tell him about the equipment shortage in Mtwara. “You don’t need equipment for that surgery!” he says. “Just a sharp knife, and skill.” I am confused as to why the doctor G— didn’t let us in on these things when we were standing with him outside of women’s ward number 4; he fiddling with that long white probe (I saw more like them in the room for “complete abortions” when the door was left open). And what about the nurses who probably thought I was crazy, parading around with my crying infant, fighting with all my Kiswahili might to get that woman lab tested for surgery, “Will it be tonight?” But now I know that everyone knows that they don’t do surgeries at L—, the regional hospital. But they should.
The morning I came to the abbey, I heard a story about a local woman who died in childbirth; to me, it sounded like eclampsia. She was at L—. The baby was saved. “We’re trying to find a goat,” a member of the baby’s family had said. For the milk. I take a prayer walk and consider if I am so committed to Christ that I would be willing to breast feed a Tanzanian child in tandem with my own.
And then I open my computer to receive greetings from America. The first page pronounces, “Strawberry filled cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.”
That day in church: “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” (Jesus Christ John 10:17-18) So glad He did.