Habari Kamanga! (Hello Kamanga!)

My name is Katherine Anne Lee. I live in the beautiful city of Zug in Switzerland and, a few weeks ago, was given the unique opportunity to visit the Kamanga Health Centre in Tanzania, which was opened by the Cedar Foundation Tanzania one year ago. My friends and family back home have been very excited to hear about my latest Africa journey, in which I saw many things, some beautiful and some hard to grasp, even painful. They are all stories about everyday life in Tanzania and the wonderful work the Cedar Foundation team is doing. I’d like to share my first story about my visit to Peruzi, and maybe I can share some more later on. I hope you will enjoy reading this, and see how your support for the project matters.

Peruzi’s light

by Katherine Anne Lee

It’s only a short drive from the Health Centre in Kamanga to a small village nearby. Clay huts line the busy, graveled street. It isn’t a classic street as you would imagine in the western world - the main street of Kamanga is along stretch of dusty gravel that connects remote communities. Sooner or later, everything that is making its way from A to B, has to end up on this street, dodging portholes and stray dogs. Overloaded buses, children who walk for miles to go to school, cattle in search of a new grazing spot and locals on their way to the market or maybe the Health Centre, pass by. It’s a bustle you could watch for a while if you wouldn’t become coated in red dust every time a heavy lorry passes by. But we’re not here to observe the street. We are here to visit Peruzi. Jackie and Neema from the Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) project are showing us their work. CBR is an outreach project, aimed to offer quality health services to those unable to reach any form of medical support.

It’s only a short jump down the bank from the dusty road and we’re standing in front of a tiny mud house with two simple doors. Both are open, but it’s dark and difficult to guess what’s inside. An elderly lady is nervously sweeping the floor outside, and greets Jackie and Neema. She is missing some front teeth but nevertheless has a happy smile, and points us towards one of the small doors. As we come a little closer, I can see an old, weathered mattress on the floor. There are colourful sheets on top of the mattress, all muddled up. And there, in between the colours, I see a face and part of a leg sticking out between the sheets.So small and fragile, as if it were a child lying there. It’s Peruzi, a 40-year-old woman, marked by her heart-breaking past.

Peruzi is challenged with epilepsy. The illness was more under control in her younger years; she lived within the village and even gave birth to a son. In her twenties, her epileptic outbreaks increased to the point where she was no longer in control of her own destiny. Her mother, a small lady, closely interwoven into the local community and swayed by social stigmas, was unable to cope with her daughter’s deteriorating situation. Embarrassed by the local talk that her daughter was afflicted due to the failure of her mother, she thought the only thing she could do was to tie Peruzi to a rope and lock her into a small dark room. There, Peruzi vegetated for a full twelve years on the bare, cold, clay floor, without any form of comfort, light or proper nutrition. It was a pure coincidence that the CBR team found Peruzi. The degeneration of her body left the team with no option other than to transfer Peruzi to the nearby hospital. While Peruzi received care, the team patiently educated her mother to correct her misbelief about disabilities being a consequence of personal failure, and persuaded her to share her old - and only - mattress with her daughter.  

Peruzi’s situation left me feeling ashamed, and reluctant to enter the dark room. I didn’t want to disturb her; maybe she would be afraid or feel uncomfortable at having us all looking down at her. On the other hand, I didn’t want to appear rude by not visiting her.While I waited, I deeply wished I could do more for her. A new mattress, some fresh clothes, sanitary material; this would be easy for us to organise. Having so much, but having nothing in my hands to help gives a feeling of powerlessness. Her big brown eyes gazed up as I entered her room. I wished I could comfort her, tell her it will be better now that Jackie and Neema have found her.

A few weeks later, back home, I was happy to hear that the CBR team had been able to improve Peruzi’s situation. They brought her a wheelchair, bedding and sanitary material. I can picture Peruzi sitting outside, enjoying some fresh air and finally feeling the sunlight touch her cheeks again after twelve years in the dark. It must be an exciting moment for her to be part of the community again.  

Only a few days later, I received the terrible news that Peruzi has sadly passed away. Her poor health and missing nutrition had taken its toll. Were we too late? Or could we have made a change? While frustration and deep sadness cloud my heart, I decide to light a candle for Peruzi. Gazing at the flame, I whisper to her and thank her for her time. The candle burns all night in our window. In the morning, the flame flickers one more time before turning to smoke and I realise that Peruzi’s story matters. Peruzi’s light has been seen.