Story by Sam G. Photos by Sam G and Paula Alderblad.
“We walk two days to sell the cows in the market; these days the cows are so skinny and tired that after two days of walking nobody is willing to purchase our cows”, N said. You can see the pain in the eyes. The smile never left him though.
Drought in Eastern Africa is so severe that people living in remote places are managing to have only one meal a day. One MEAL! I tried doing it for a few days in the name of “losing weight” and the headache was unbearable. There were children; most of those who looked 15 were carrying babies. I had just flown into a remote Tanzanian village with a few colleagues and government health workers. If the phrase “in the middle of nowhere” has an address, that is the place. The place was dry and had absolutely nothing. We landed on a dusty dirt-filled airstrip. The pilot proudly said this is one of the best airstrips he has flown into. As I got down from the tiny 6-seater aircraft I was a little surprised. I was imagining being taken to a village, but this place had absolutely nothing. Just plain barren land. A few minutes later people started to trickle in and slowly started assembling under one of the few trees.
The six-seater dropped us off and went to pick up the health workers. Within a few minutes, four smartly dressed govt health workers from the nearest hospital 40 km away dropped in. Yes, you read it right! The nearest hospital is 40 kms far, or as ’N’ put it, it is 40 kms near. “So what do you do in case of emergencies,” I asked. “We walk to the hospital”, he said. “Walk? 40kms?” “Yes, we do. It takes us 2 full days of walking.” “But in case of emergency?”, I asked again. “Yes sir, only in case of emergency we go to the hospital. For small illnesses, we cannot afford to walk the distance, lest we become sicker”, he complained. I think it made sense for the sun was scorching hot. Even I, who has been born and brought up in the scorching hot plains of South India, felt the heat. In fact, my lips got burnt. Yet, the women walked without chappals. They couldn’t afford them.
The smart health workers weighed the neonates, checked on pregnant women and issued vaccines to children. They even did a small house visit nearby before taking the flight back to their place. “Where did you learn such good English, N?” I asked him. Nobody else in that community could understand me. “Ah, I went to school in the city.” So what are you doing here?” Why can’t you go and work in the city? I was about to ask, when he replied, “I can’t leave my people in this tragedy and be in a city. So, I decided to be here and rear cattle instead. I had 21 cows a few years ago. I have 4 now. 17 of them died of hunger.” My eyes were getting moist by now. Yet he smiled throughout the interview. A few hours away from that place, houses some of the greatest wildlife safaris in the world. Foreign passengers thronged the small airport. There were many small aircraft waiting to carry them all to the forests to get a glimpse of the grand spectacle of the jungle. I guess one day I will do it too.
With a questioning brain, a tired body, and an aching soul, I came back to my cushioned fancy bed and slept like a log. Tomorrow is another day at work; another day to complain about bumpy car drives, interrupted power supplies, and the absence of spice in the food. I just hope and pray, that in all the luxuries of the world and mundane complaints of my life, I don’t forget to remember the pain and the suffering of the world.