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An Update from the Rowbergs in Tanzania

We have crossed the two month dateline. I am happy to report we are both doing better in every way.

Don’s hearing MUCH improved, but is not yet back to baseline; he will see the ENT specialist again on August 26. I think I am over my original respiratory trouble and I had ONE day if being Kleenex free before coming down with something new! I don’t know if this is a dust allergy or a new virus! I am coughing up new stuff and it cost me a night of fun last Friday, but I am better….and I am sick of being sick…if not sick, not well either!

As far as adjusting to the culture shock, I think it is amazing that in such a short time one can adjust to so many things that are unlike home. Now it is the dry season and our windows are always open. Each day my IPad is not just covered with dust….it is dust mixed with sand. Funny how that begins to seem normal. You get used to litter…terrible, disgraceful litter. I understand the new TZ president wants to combat this and declare every last Friday “clean up day”. A great start…Trouble is, where will it all go without a collection system? Traffic remains a daily challenge, but even that starts to seem more normal. I love being the driver for new visitors to TZ. They gasp and cry out helpful suggestions which makes me feel accomplished and confident in comparison.

Last night was an exception. We had a near miss. Drivers are CRAZY here! On a curvy road we met head on with a car in our lane passing several cars on blind corners. When I saw his headlights coming at me, I veered left, but there was also a bicyclist to avoid. How I missed both of them as he squeezed in front of me to his lane, I will never know! All three of us in the car needed some recovery time. I am glad once again to be alive!

The BEST experience for our little group of visiting medical people was to visit Plaster House. Somehow we never got there last time but are so happy we got to visit this time. For more information on this inspirational place see their website:

Again, the visionary, Mark Jacobson, realized that the healthcare system was missing some of the most vulnerable and needy among the regional population. Somehow it seems only logical to me that if you are able to provide care and treatment to society’s most deserving, they will come! Not so! There is too much fear of a healthcare system and all the unknowns and expense involved. It is incredible to me that the way the staff finally got referrals was to go to schools and talk to school kids about the miraculous treatments available. They would show pictures of kids with club feet, cleft palates, severe bow legged ness from fluorosis and severe burns and ask, “Do you know of anyone who suffers from any of these conditions?” Kids would recognize their siblings at home!

Nine years later, plaster house is the most amazing facility able to treat some of the most severely disabled children! Just a simple cast is a challenge to care for in a cow dung hut which is home to the Masai! It did not take long for professionals to realize a residential treatment center would be necessary to treat the toughest cases. Many children come in so malnourished (with hemoglobins of 3-5 when normal is higher than 12!) and with such complex medical needs that they require therapy and food prior to corrective surgery.

We saw a clean, rather modern, peaceful, attractive facility where everyone helps everyone else and a place where the most disabled are not alone. We witnessed an impromptu soccer game where kids, using various assistive devices, were amazingly adept at moving the ball around! One boy’s foot was so severely deformed that he was running on top of his foot! He was obviously getting pre-therapy and surgery was in his future.

The burn cases were the hardest to see. We have seen these cases before, but I don’t think we have ever seen so many in one place. Two people were so scarred that their faces were hard to describe. They looked like what Halloween masks try to portray! My stomach did flip flops and I cannot think about them without a visceral reaction. Imagine trying to live your life with that kind of deformity!

Plastic surgeons come from the US twice a year and do amazing reconstruction on these victims. Orthopedic cases and other reconstructions can be done by the general surgeons (who have extra training) at the hospital system where Don works. Mental health is pretty nonexistent in TZ, but the work done at this place is nothing short of life changing and transformative. The coordinator realizes that kids come in SO damaged by their disability that part of the care is to rehabilitate their inner being. Sometimes this takes years.

I am SO grateful to the US and Canadian doctors who work here full time and for the visiting US plastic surgeons who do miraculous work on their “vacation”….many were Mark Jacobson’s classmates! Also, I am grateful to the mostly US sponsors of these children who contribute money each month to sponsor one child. They treated 700 kids last year! Just astounding!

Back to other news…our daily routine is that Don gets up and goes to work and I stay home and do whatever. I do not yet have a niche other than hospitality. I brought all kinds of improvement resources out with me, but so far no one has asked for my help. I am still overwhelmed by all the cultural differences that I would not know where to start! Maybe by putting tape on the floor so people would know to line up? ? Of course it would take a Tanzanian leader to think this is a good idea, etc. I am hoping Tanzanians will be interested in this kind of work and I could be a resource for them.

In the meantime, I have “get togethers” of various kinds with various people. Sometimes it is snacks on the patio, sometimes dinners and sometimes picnics. I can find the most amazing food now that I know where to go, like frozen raspberries and Pacific Northwest salmon! I am trying all kinds of spice blends. One if my favorites is a called chicken masala. I plan to bring back a container of Chicken Masala when we return. it makes a yummy chicken dish to eat over rice…really easy and really good!

Last Saturday we ( Don, mama, Orjantan, Herison and I) went to visit Wema. Turns out, we were breaking all kinds of rules and norms for a student in boarding school! Who knew??? At first they said we could stay 10 minutes, but later relaxed the rules after we spoke with head master. We stayed three hours and had so much fun playing cribbage…and UNO! I brought two UNO decks because I thought it would be easy for Wema’s family to catch on. We had a hilarious moment when Herison played a wild card and got to choose the new color. He chose PINK! They are not used to playing cards so they make many mistakes. They deal the wrong way and even hold their cards backwards so we can see what is in their hand. Fortunately they find their mistakes to be very funny!

Wema is doing extremely well in school. We met a teacher who is sure she will be in the top 5 of her class…if not #1! And the teacher said Wema is a leader among students and works to spread encouragement and kindness. I am so grateful we are able to support such a deserving young woman!

Don came home from the hospital recently and said, “Well, today I think I was worth what they are paying me.” ($0.00). He has become familiar with the common diseases and the treatments available so he does not hit the books immediately upon coming home. We are also making an effort to get to know the Tanzanian staff which is a delight to me. I don’t like feeling like such an outsider.

Linda and Mark will be back in two weeks which will be really nice! Ann Rowberg, who is newly retired, will spend most of November with us. We will celebrate her 70th birthday and Thanksgiving while she is here! So, things are looking up!

Thanks for your interest and your prayers!