BOOK REVIEWS

AFRICA – MY SURGERY. Leader Stirling (former Minister of Health in the Tanzanian Government). Churchman Publishing Ltd. Worthing and Folkestone. £4.95.

Leader Stirling’s story spans a period from his pre-first-world war childhood until 25 years after Tanzanian independence. His autobiography makes compulsive reading.

After sewing up the burst abdomen of his teddy bear while still in the nursery, we proceed through student days to his qualification as a doctor in 1929. The rigours of giving birth ‘on the district’ i.e. in the homes of the East End of London, are graphically described. The early chapters are slightly tedious, but once Dr Stirling reaches his training in clinical work and qualification the narrative has the quality of a novel by A.J. Cronin, both in content and writing. The reader is not spared clinical detail. Technical terms are used freely – eg .. the child “who developed sceptic thrombosis of his lateral sinus, and so pyaemia … ” This may prepare us for the more gory details of the animal injuries he later encountered in Tanzanian rural hospitals.

Descriptions of his early days in Africa in the Southern Province of Tanganyika are hair-raising. The operating theatre “was an open-work bamboo building with a grass roof and every gust of wind filled it with dust and dead leaves. A hen had also found its way in between the bamboos and was nesting quietly in the corner. There was no running water and no lighting except for oil lamps”. Many of the conditions he had to treat were horrific due to the distances patients had to travel to get medical help. The accounts of his journeys on foot or bicycle; sometimes at night, in response to emergency calls bear witness to his incredible stamina.

“The Dirty Game” heads the first chapter about Dr. Stirling’s entry into politics and here I have to part with him. Whatever one thinks about colonialism, in fact, most Africans accepted it without rancour at least until the middle fifties. It is true that it was due to the “…political dedication and consummate skill of our leader Julius Nyerere … that independence was secured peacefully” but an important part was played by the last Governor Sir Richard Turnbull, who is not mentioned, but who was chosen by the British Government with the purpose of working with Julius Nyerere to being about independence.

Two matters regarding registration of nurses and doctors require comment. On page 37 we read of Indians with “unregistrable qualifications”. These were, in fact, Asian doctors, of whom there were many in Tanganyika, qualified in India but whose degrees were not recognised in Britain or her colonies. Soon after Tanzania became independent they were fully registered as doctors. They were experienced men from whom more than one green young fully registered English doctor learnt much.

The Grade B nurses are described on page 153 as “..second class nurses simply because they were trained in their own country …” Any difference in the syllabus apart, no mention is made of the fact that their basic education was to middle school level only whereas the English nurses had GCE or its equivalent. Maybe it is not important but lack of basic education applies, of course, also to the “upgrading scheme” described on pages 130-131.

The later chapters are perhaps the most important in the book. Dr. Stirling presses for proper care for some of the cinderellas of the African medical services; patients with mental illnesses, leprosy etc. Then there is a chapter on primary health care, the “in thing” for the past 15 or 20 years, which Dr. Stirling rightly points out “we had been giving in Tanzania for the last 50 years or more”.

Altogether this is an excellent book. If parts read to those of us who were in Tanzania at the time like the writings of a politician, well, that is what the author acknowledges them to be.
Ursula Hay

TREVOR HUDDLESTDN. Essays on His Life and work. Edited by Deborah Duncan Honore. Oxford University Press. £14.95.

The Oxford University Press have produced this book of personal reminiscences and essays covering the main spheres of Trevor Huddleston’s life and work on the occasion of his 75th birthday in June 1938. Of course it cannot be a full biography of his life, for he is as strenuously active as ever in the leadership of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the Defence and Aid Fund, not to speak of his active chairmanship of the Britain-Tanzania Society and much more. But the man shines through these essays encompassing the areas and materials of his major concerns – in South Africa as priest in Sophiatown, so movingly pictured by Desmond Tutu, in Tanzania as Bishop of Masasi, in Stepney, in Mauritius, and now in the continuing struggle for justice in South Africa.

Those in the Britain-Tanzania Society will of course be drawn by the chapters on Tanzania by Julius Nyerere, Roger Carter (on Anglo: Tanzanian Relations Since Independence) and Terence Ranger (on Trevor Huddleston in Masasi). But the book should draw us as a whole if we are to grasp his courage and his integrity and his power to discern the heart of the matter in each of these situations and understand their background so vividly described and the problems so well discussed in these essays.

Here is Trevor carrying his Christian faith into the thick of the struggle for human dignity and respect against the powers of racialism, poverty, class, even of competing churches and faiths which so disastrously divide and may lead to violence. And unlike many prophets and campaigners he carries a power of friendship for us all, of every race, creed and age, and the abounding sense of fun (most of it at his own expense), which we have all joyfully experienced at our meetings and beyond.

At the centre is Trevor’s urge to break through the barriers that divide (see the delightful pictures of him enjoying the company of children in Masasi and Stepney). And if we need a bit of stretching of our horizons try the chapter by Pauline Webb on ‘The New Ecumenism’ in which through experience beginning with tribal beliefs in Tanzania and coming to flower in Mauritius he turns from the traditional exclusiveness of the Church to find in other faiths, tribal, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist not only a respect but a bond in the search for spiritual and human values and a new light on his own Christian belief. Bernard de Bunsen

SOLOMAN AND THE BIG CAT. A play presented at the Young Vic. June 8-25,1988.

Soloman and the Big Cat is about a schoolboy called Soloman in Tanzania. People thought that there were no leopards there but Soloman found two leopards, a mother and a baby while he was running his usual five miles to school. The rest of the story tells how Soloman and the Game Ranger try to protect the African poachers.

I thought the acting was very good especially as there were only six actors to take the parts of the many animals and characters that were in it. The costumes were also very good and the masks for the leopards were brilliant.

I thought the play was very exciting and worth watching. Harriet Benton (aged 9)

This play was given such an outstanding review in the Independent (“It is, quite simply, the best children’s play I have seen” – Alex Renton) that we asked Christine Lawrence, who also saw it, to give us a second opinion. Here are her comments – Editor.

It was exciting to find this very Tanzanian children’s play in the middle of London. Before the performance the cast were able to sit on the edge of the stage and chat informally with the children so that a link between performer and audience was established from the start.
There was practicaly no scenery but clever use was made of lighting and a large screen at the back of the stage. At one point the Serengeti migration of thousands of animals moved across the scene and while Soloman had a nightmare about poachers a kaleidoscope of coloured patterns swirled dizzily around.

The play was made topical and true to Tanzanian tradition by the inclusion of a refugee schoolgirl from Mozambique and by giving Soloman a ‘big brother’ who is an Olympic marathon runner. (Two Tanzanian marathon runners, Juma Ikangaa and John Bura have recently qualified for the Olympic Games in Seoul). Big brother does not actually take part in the play but is a constant inspiration to Soloman as he runs to school and elsewhere.

The simplicity of the production, something like a superior game of charades, made it easy for children to follow but in no way did it detract from the creation of atmosphere. Our emotions were constantly stirred. We worried about the two leopards, (first caught in snares and later pursued by poachers); we loved Soloman and agonised or rejoiced with him and prayed that he would resist the bribery and threats of the poacher’s boss, a slick, sun bespectacled city-type. At various points we laughed, especially during the first school scene with Soloman repeatedly trying to tell about the leopards and being repeatedly ‘squashed’ by the school mistress; when various animals appeared (played by people); and, at the sight of a remote-controlled toy Landrover journeying across the stage (recalling to my mind those home made toys made by African children).

The climax was superb. Soloman discovers that the poachers know the whereabouts of ‘little Africa’ (the smaller leopard) who has become pregnant. He does a marathon run to fetch Ranger Filbert from the Serengeti but they arrive back too late to save both leopards from being shot dead. There is a terrible moment of despair but this is turned to joy when two tiny living cubs are taken from little Africa’s dead body, The poachers, of course, are caught. Soloman is a hero.

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