We stop on a grass bank and park our car and the motorbikes. We are out in the middle of nowhere, and I can’t imagine where we are heading. The sun is beating down on my head, I feel thirsty and a first wave of travel tiredness overcomes me. But it feels good to move and use my legs, following Jackie and Neema down a little path. Well, it’s not really a path; it’s actually just some beaten down grass. It reminds me of hiking the rural hills of Church Stretton in England, close to the Welsh border. My grandparents lived there and, every summer, my brothers and I would spend loads of time exploring the hills. The grazing sheep left similar simple paths behind them. It was a great adventure to follow the short-legged animals while picking wild blueberries, and feeling the harsh Welsh wind on our faces. Lost in memories, I reach a platform with a wonderful view of Lake Victoria. Large rocks seam the outer area of a simple clay hut. But my attention is drawn to the view and the peacefulness of the area. It’s a beautiful spot, and its tranquillity distracts me from the real reason for being here. It takes me a minute to realise that we have arrived at Emanuel Mavuno’s house. Actually, I have to admit that I know we are visiting someone, of course, but I’ve somehow missed out on what I should expect. A tall man is sitting on the ground, bent over some old shoes. He carefully gets up as he sees our group. Still admiring the view, I wonder who we are visiting. The tall man has such a happy smile and a calm aura that I don’t immediately make the link between him and medical support. I admire his happiness as he slowly moves closer to our group, but then I notice that he doesn’t walk smoothly. His flip-flops are totally worn under the heel. Well, the rubber shoes don’t actually have heels anymore, just a large hole at the back. Jackie and Neema introduce Emanuel Mavuno to us. He doesn’t really give me the impression of being ill. But as I study him more closely, I realize he is missing large parts of his fingers. Only maybe 30 per cent is left from what must have been once long fingers. While I’m wondering what happened to him, Neema explains that Emanuel suffers from leprosy. Leprosy! A thousand thoughts rush through my mind. Does leprosy still exist? How does leprosy infect you? Is it safe to be so close? What about vaccinations? Did I get a vaccination? How can Emanuel be cured? After inhaling the tranquility of the place, it’s like being slapped in the face.
Emanuel carefully sits down on a rock and slips his feet out of the remains of his flip-flops, while Neema unpacks some medical supplies.
Emanuel Mavuno is one of the many people in Tanzania who rely on water supplies from Lake Victoria. The water is used for daily nutrition, and many people also wash themselves on the shore of the lake. The growing population, industrialization and the lack of water and waste cleaning facilities have led to the poisoning of this water lifeline. Lake Victoria is ill, and is infecting the more than 30 million people from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania who depend on its water. Emanuel Mavuno also washes himself in Lake Victoria. After he became infected with leprosy, his family left him so as not to risk becoming caught by the same destiny. Alone, he was not able to keep up with life. He lost his family, his work and his connection to the community. Before the CBR team found him, he was in great pain, hoping for the odd passer-by to show compassion and leave him some water or food. Today, the CBR team has been able to stop the infectious disease on his hands. But his feet are still a worry. Ulcers the diameter of an orange cover both his feet.The medical care has luckily been able to stop the further growth, which would have led to losing his feet, and thereby the ability to walk.