Saturday, 31 August 2013

Tanzania tales...Lameck

I remember the first time I met Lameck. We were visiting a lady called Mkame who was ill and needed the bottles of water and rice we had come to give her. It was the first time I had been along that well trodden path, and woven between those houses that would become so familiar to me.

As we walked, children seemed to appear from no where. Popping up out of the long grass and flocking towards us, reaching for our hands and peering up at us with those large questioning eyes. Lameck was one of them. He came straight towards me, and I remember thinking that his long pointy face seemed too small for his bulging eyes, his wrists too thin for his hands. He didn't smile, just took my hand and answered my stumbling swahili queries with a small voice and simple 'eeehh' (meaning 'yes'). 

I can't remember what happened after that moment. But we often came back to visit that place to check on Mkame, and I began to recognise that 'lameck' kid who I'd seen before.

Halfway through the trip we decided to build Mkame a toilet. It meant that we transferred most of our energy and time to that small little cluster of houses. We would pull up every day in our truck and the children would swarm towards us, grabbing our bags and tools - eager to help us in our work. We would traipse along that small path together and arrive at the worksite.

I have several stand out memories of this quiet, thin and unassuming little boy. The day we first started building the toilet, his gaze fell upon the box of gloves we'd brought with us. Him and lots of of other curious children seized them and wasted no time in donning them with delighted grins.

We soon discovered that Lameck had one brother (Charles) and a sister (Eppi). And that he and his brother had sickle cell anemia. It's a horrible disease, one only found in black africans, where your red blood cells assume an abnormal shape. If he had been a child in the UK it could have been managed by dietary control and his life expectancy would have been fourty or almost fifty years longer. As it was, he lived purely off cassava and he wasn't expected to live to twenty.

As a team we strived to help Lameck and Charles as much as we possibly could. I remember taking him for a blood test at the local health centre (the coptic). I remember him sat on my lap and looking at me with a strange smile on his face as the needle went into his arm. I think ashamedly back to my own blood-test experiences and my face burns - I can barely stand the experience, but these two boys ages 5 and 7, didn't seem bothered at all.

We fought the government hospital, begging them to give the two boys a blood transfusion but they refused. We went to the bishop of the area and he told us that we would have to take responsibility for the boys ourselves, which could lead to horrible consequences if anything went wrong. We were stuck.

Then Lameck had what's called as a 'sickle cell crisis'. I wasn't there, but apparently it was awful, he had been in so much pain he was barely conscious. The team rushed him to hospital and the government eventually gave in and allowed him to have a blood transfusion. We had spent that night praying that he would survive. 

The relief we had felt the next time we saw him had been almost tangible! He was fine! We rounded the corner of their small village with our hearts in our mouths and came across him and his brother making flags from bamboo and cloth. 

Lameck and Charles with their flags!

I have many other memories of Lameck - him giving Gaby and I two segments of orange and laughing as we spat them out. Him giving Abbie and me two eggs as a thank you for our help - something that must have been so precious to them. Him asking 'picture?' and 'puto'? (balloon) almost constantly.

A week ago we were told that Lameck had passed away.

 It doesn't seem quite real that a boy who is so alive in my memory can be gone. He is still there in my head, walking along that grassy path towards me, him with the gloves on, and abbie's sunglasses oversized on his head. I don't think I realised how attached I had become to that little boy who seemed to need us so much. He lived such a strange and different life to me, so poverty stricken, how is it fair that just because he lives in a rural corner of Tanzania that he doesn't even reach the age of 8? 

I know that God put us in the last few months of Lameck's life for a reason. We enabled him to have a blood transfusion, to enjoy living, to play games with him...So this is a blog post in memory of brave, serious, little Lameck - someone who brought home the impact of poverty with sickening reality.

There are so many other children out there who are just as helpless as Lameck, so so many who suffer from poverty and illness. It just so happens that his life and mine brushed each other for a while.

Lameck and Charles and me.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Tanzania tales...... An 'ode' to Jackson.

I really don't know where to begin. And I haven't written anything for many, many weeks, so bear with me.
This blog has been neglected for a fair few months now (I apologise, thank you for not abandoning us in our absence). And as I scrolled down the pages I realised nothing has been said since we split our different ways and Abbie, Kate, Gina and I vanished off to Tanzania.
Which is criminal.
Because Tanzania really was all I COULD talk about for many months. And even now a day doesn't go by where I'm not wondering about them back there, daydreaming of the hot dusty villages and the wooden house we lived in; Eagle Lodge.

We went out with good intentions. We went out nervous. Excited. Unaware. 'Gap Years' are so traditional and cliche these days, and yet the experience is anything but. I loved that every day was different. That each morning I could wake up not knowing what would happen, knowing nothing would be the same.
No, I lie.
There were some stable people and events in our day to day life. Let me introduce you to Jackson.


He was our Translator (no one there spoke English, only Swahili) and Driver. At the beginning, I'm not sure why, perhaps I was intimidated, he passed me by. I saw him as a cheery, distant fellow who like to wear red. But as the days would fly by and we would spend many a time squeezed in the front of the red truck with him, or waiting in the Coptic hospital together, we came to realise he is one of the best human beings on the planet.
He had, for one, an easy sense of humour and found the most bizarre things funny.
He confessed that he and Freddie (the Driver/Translator for the other team) had thought Gina and I, being twins, were actually one person. He told me, with a beaming smile, how they had rung each other up-
Jackson: "She's with me, at the church"
Freddie: "No, no she is here, in Mkyringo!"

That set me laughing for a long time.

He was open and honest; never shy of saying how he felt about the situation in his country, in the villages, or even us. He had an innate urge to help you, always there to lend a hand be it with hammering, or checking if you are okay when you have been ill. This easygoing, genuine innocence and yet so worldly a wisdom earnt him the respect and love of the whole team- many a journey we would be singing; "we love you Jackson, we do, we love you Jackson, we do!"

A child's 'flap happy' hat he adored so much!
He said many times he would love to go to England, asking what it was like to fly in a plane- I didn't have the heart to tell him, or want to tell him, that living the 'western life' would probably kill all the hope in Jackson. Is it wrong I was secretly glad he would never come to England? To protect that in him?

Because Jackson had an innate prompting to protect us. Especially us as girls, he had to defend us from more than one 'suitor' or drunk on the streets of Musoma. And yet it more the emotional harm he feared we would come to, that he seemed most eager to prevent. One of my favourite memories of Jackson, is when Kate and I were upset, taking a man, Kitara, in our village to a physiotherapist. On seeing our miserable faces Jackson left for a few minutes, then came back in. He beckoned to us to come outside. "I have a surprise, just come, just come." We quietly slipped off the table where we were perched and followed him round the back and outside of the treatment room. We squinted in the sun and tried to make out what he was walking towards. Then we both laughed. It was a playground filled with rough swings, a wooden seesaw and a roundabout. Jackson was trying to cheer us up. I'll never forget the air swinging by, the green and blue background all a blur with the slight and sudden hint of red.

A house in our village.

He also had an incredible strength of self. He knew, and wanted us to know, the 'real Africa'. He would try to explain with words, and failing that, we once disappeared into the Tanzanian landscape. We were down at the bottom of our village, the team leaders at the top, and were filled with an urge to go exploring. Jackson seemed only to glad to steal us away- Kate, myself and Andy. We abandoned the path and went sprinting for a long way through the bristling Tanzanian fields, following Jackson as he ran knife in hand. We reached a pile of vast, large rocks- eerily circular- and began to climb our way up to get the full impact of the fading view. Just that brief memory of freedom brings a smile to my face.

The day we went exploring...
So this is Jackson. He is an expert at knowing which trees have snakes in, exactly how to barter with a policeman, how to eat Sugar Cane and how to cheer someone up. He is very protective about the little hair he has, is an incredible teacher in the schools, has a limited taste in card games, and knows TEN national languages as well as English. He likes to wear red, has a chicken called Jasmine, and believes in what he does. That's Jackson.

But I need to stop.
I could go on in detail not just about Jackson but about all manner of things Tanzania related. Maybe I'll do it this way. In anecdote form. Because I could write a NOVEL about the experiences we had in Tanzania and the people we met, the children we played with and the Church we built. Anyway. This is an 'ode' to Jackson, so that no one forgets what an incredible person God put in our path.

The Church Team