A VISIT TO KINDWITI – THE LEPROSY CENTRE

(Extracts from a Diary)

At Dar es Salaam airport on November 5th 1992 everything could not have been smoother. Pleasant atmosphere, changing the money, finding a taxi and so on. Straight out to Buguruni, and under a mango tree I found the house I was looking for. In fact, every house was under a mango tree.

As I carried my bag across, all the little boys and girls as they passed said ‘Shikmu!’ (I clasp your feet), to which 1 answered ‘Marahaba’ (Thankyou). When I was here twenty-eight years ago, I was the one who used to say Shikmu, but then I didn’t have a long grey beard.

On November 6th I woke up at 4.30 a.m. and listened for some sort of sound which might indicate that the driver had come to take me to the bus for Kindwiti, But it seems that he has a wife somewhere far away and was not expected to come until the following morning.

The next day I woke at 5 a.m. and went with the driver to the bus. I got a seat, which was just as well because I sat in it for the next eight and half hours! The seat was comfortable, but the bus was inclined to jump up and down because the road did. We stopped, after possibly two hours, when there was a very loud mechanical noise. I think that the prop shaft came off and rattled along the road. People got out of the bus and someone had a very large hammer. Anyway after about twenty minutes the bus continued its bumping southward.

In fact it is about 120 miles to Utete and the journey cost 1000 shillings. When we got there, I jumped out of the bus with great relief and contemplated how to get across the river. It was probably less than half a kilometre wide at the time and I jumped into a canoe, which seemed to be quite solid and safe. I thought I could probably make it to the other side. I landed and asked which way to Kindwitwi and someone with a bicycle offered to show me. When we got to the top of the slope he indicated that I should get onto the carrier of the bicycle which I did. Although this was possibly better than walking, it was also very precarious since there were no foot rests and I had my briefcase (which was all I had) balanced in front of me. After a kilometre of hard pedalling, we found someone else who was walking to Kindwitwi and I was handed over to this new guide. We walked on in silence and heat, and, after probably no more than another 3 kilometres, we got to the village.

We went straight up to Canon Robin Lamburn’s house and there he was, sitting in the seat which apparently he always occupies, in his room in his house. He was having tea and the first thing I did was drink tea, until I had used all the hot water, which must have been about five cups. He has a system of using a strainer and pouring the hot water over the tea. It makes a surprisingly successful cup. Perhaps it was because he was using what must have been a fairly strong Tanzanian tea. We had landed at 2.30 p.m. and I got to the village at about 3.20 pm, which Robin seemed to think was a bit slow.

I was shown a room; retired there for a brief rest and then returned for the evening meal. It consisted of rice, beans and fish. As there was no fruit, the second course was rice and honey, which I am very fond of. The problem with the fish was than they were rather small, and consisted of a large head, a large tail and a considerable number of bones in between. In fact I was able to find no more than a piece of skin which would just about cover a teaspoon, and even that seemed to be liberally sprinkled with bones. Anyway, Robin was his usual convivial self, and we followed the meal with tea or coffee. Robin has become very deaf. He has a little hearing aid but it seemed to make wee noises much of the time and was only of limited help. I found the best thing was to sit somewhere near the hearing aid and blast in its direction. Thus one could have a reasonable conversation.

I woke up next day for Communion at 7.30 a.m. After 15 minutes there was no one else there. However, about ten people then drifted in. The service was really very nice and I had little difficulty in understanding the Swahili. I even knew most of the hymns. Afterwards we stood in line. Most people ‘Jambo’ed’ one another but to me and Father it was again ‘Shikamu’

Breakfast consisted of the bread I had brought the previous day, maize porridge with some honey and canned milk and tea. Then we went for a walk around the village. Robin took me to the ‘ward’ where the remaining dozen or so leprosy patients are accommodated. These are the much disfigured ones who have little hope of a normal life and will continue to receive rations. There are many others in the village who do not need special facilities but who continue to need treatment since the cure takes two years to complete. We saw a school, the clinic and the library, and met numerous people. Got back about half way through the morning. Robin normally has a morning snooze and then is OK until lunch time; a further snooze until 3 p.m. when tea appears. I was happy to have a rest and read my book. It is extremely humid and that makes it quite difficult.

I found another place to shower because the shower behind the guest quarters and Robin’s one consisted of some rather flimsy reeds which could keep the eyes of casual bystanders out, but the facility consisted of a bowl of water and a cup with which to pour it over oneself. My shower had a 44g drum set up above which was filled daily with water and you could have a real shower. In the cool evening and by moonlight this was really very pleasant and refreshing.

The Rufiji Leprosy Trust is already thinking about what it will do when leprosy is eliminated as a major problem hopefully, by the end of the century. It could be TB, AIDS, or other things. They have recently reduced or cut rations to former patients who are now able-bodied and can fend for themselves. The avoidance of a dependency attitude is very important and that is very much their aim. Robin objects to giving out cash but when asked to contribute to funerals and such like things, is a soft touch. He walked me back to my house because I didn’t know which way to go and was rather nervous about meeting lions on the way.

During the night there was considerable activity in my room. It could have been birds on the roof; rats playing around in the area above the door; bats doing their thing.1 am sure it is not what my host’s predecessors experienced; they used to leave the door to the sitting room open at night so that the dogs could get in and out at will. They woke up one night to hear the dogs screaming; opened the bedroom door and came face to face with a leopard. It was so scared that it dropped the dog and ran away.

Breakfast, and then a walk down around the riverine agricultural area. They are trying to stop the banks of where the river comes to when in flood from collapsing by planting trees. I suggested that Vetiver grass might help as well and apparently it is available in Tanzania. Farming must be pretty difficult. There are hippos and pigs to contend with as well as many of the usual pests and diseases. Everything looked pretty dry and miserable as it was some time since the rains. Lunch, rest, tea. Then I went down to the lake behind Robin’s house. I think it is an old branch of the Rufiji. Some people had been trying to grow vegetables down there, but the problem was water. It had to be collected in buckets from the lake, and apparently the water was getting more and more salt, so the people had given up. By the way, the water we drink at table is like mineral water. There is a boiling natural spring near the lake. Very tasty it is too.

In the evening another meal with Robin, including a chicken. At one point – I think Robin was possibly negotiating the purchase – a small chicken flew in through the door, rushed across the room jumped up onto Robin’s head and flew out through the window.

Robin’s house consists of three rooms; the Holy of Holies, which is his room; the kitchen; and, the sitting room in which were to be seen an astonishing number of books, many of them of great interest, but deteriorating in condition because of climate and insects; Robin’s M E certificate; the Queen’s signature having survived the depredations of paper-eaters. Also various crosses and other things, mementoes of a long life. I would think that in spite of the hardships of his situation, he is probably very happy and entirely content to remain at Kindwiti. He has an extremely important function to perform, because although young people come and go, Robin goes on for ever and provides the continuity …….
David Gooday

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