Stories from Karagwe: Forever Young

by Amizade Global Service-Learning

This blog entry is part of an ongoing series from Amizade’s semester Service-Learning course in Tanzania. Today’s entry comes from Katie Wozniak, a sophomore biochemistry student at Duquesne University.

Since coming to Tanzania, death has slapped me in the face three times:

My first encounter was at the Nyakahanga hospital, where I am volunteering. Dr. Methodia and I were doing our normal Monday morning patient check-ups when a pregnant mother came into the clinic. She was seven months along and had been bed-ridden for the past two weeks with a high fever. During that time she noticed that, gradually, her fetus stopped moving inside of her. She knew she needed to go to the hospital, but she lacked the strength and money to get her there. She had to rest until her health improved enough that she could walk again, and she had to save enough money to pay for a taxi before she could come to Nyakahanga. When she arrived, it was confirmed using an ultrasound that the fetus had died, which was most likely a result of the mother contracting malaria during the pregnancy. When I inquired as to when she would receive surgery to remove the dead fetus, I was told that the procedure was not an option. This mother will carry her dead fetus for the next 2 months until natural labor occurs, unless she self-administers an abortion in the secrecy of her home.

This past Wednesday, another pregnant mother came into the clinic. She was two months along and had started bleeding from her vagina the previous night. She had to wait for daylight to make the trip to the hospital, and once she arrived it was confirmed that the mother had a partial miscarriage. Once again, the cause of death was attributed to malaria. The mother was scheduled for surgery to flush out her uterus and rehydrate her body. The nurses took 30 minutes trying to find a vein, just to inject an IV, while the mother laid motionlessly numb on the table.

That night, I remember lying in bed thinking about these two experiences and contemplating how mothers cope with tragedies such as these. Unexpectedly, my phone rang. I was informed that my friend Adam died that day in a motorcycle accident. He had the right-away at an intersection, yet the oncoming car did not stop for him. Thrown from his bike, Adam was killed from the impact since he was not wearing a helmet. That night, I cried myself to sleep in remembrance of these young lives all taken too soon.
I’m still trying to figure out what any of this means to me and how I am supposed cope an ocean away from home. The babies in the hospital never even had the chance to live outside of the womb. The warm and safe enclosure that has biologically evolved to protect them ended up as their final resting place. As for Adam, he got to have a taste of life. And he had plans to make something of it. Against all odds, he ran for district magistrate at the age of 18, was to attain a welding degree in Philadelphia next fall, and most of all was a kind, humorous, loving friend. Why did they all have to die?

It seems that the anthem for my trip thus far has been the song “Forever Young”. I’ve listened to it every night before falling asleep since I’ve arrived in Africa, and it seems that each night a different section speaks to me. For now, for Adam, and for the young lives lost, let me leave you with this…

“May God bless and keep you always, may your wishes all come true, may you always do for others and let others do for you, may you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung, and may you stay forever young. “