Saturday, August 7, 2010


A joint effort for our last post! Here is Priyanka, with a word from Stone Town.

Stone Town, the largest city in Zanzibar, is a place of sensory overload. Each winding alley brings you face to face with bustling bazaars, mosques, and beautiful carved wooden doors. The labyrinth of streets makes it almost impossible to find the same place twice, but that is half the fun. Not only is Stone Town appealing to the eye but the abundance of fresh tropical fruits and locally grown spices are a treat to your taste buds. When we tired of wandering the streets of Stone Town we indulged in fresh coffee spiced with locally grown cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom, passion fruit juice, homemade chapattis, and some of the most delicious freshly caught fish. While we enjoyed wandering and exploring my favorite part of Stone Town was our final Saturday morning. Up early we dressed conservatively and went to Ben Bella Secondary School for the Students for Students International Health Seminar.

Students for Students International is a non-profit organization whose mission is to create educational opportunities for high-achieving students in the developing world, with the belief that education is essential to community leadership and a country’s development. Based at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Amit and I began working with S4Si during our first year of college in 2004. There were countless hours spent in meetings, recruiting volunteers, planning educational events, and so much fundraising. During undergraduate I was inspired by the idea of helping to fund the education of female students. But across an ocean and continent, I had no idea what the reality of the S4Si scholarship was, until a few weeks ago.

You can imagine how excited I was to meet the infamous S4Si scholars who I had worked with for 4 years but never actually seen. We began the morning discussing nutrition but quickly launched into female reproductive anatomy. Despite the lack of a projector, the makeshift chalkboard drawings did the trick and we continued the morning with a discussion of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. With a few snack breaks, before I knew it the morning had flown by and it was time for the girls to go home. The health seminar was a success! I was amazed by the intelligence of all the scholars and their prowess of the English language. It is hard to describe in words how wonderful it was to see with my own eyes that the work we had done for many years was really and truly making a difference in the lives of these remarkable young women. To learn more about S4Si you can check out the website:

Alright, time to let Priyanka take a break. Amit’s your guide on a vacation in Matemwe.
After two months of toil and trouble in Tanzania, three days of nothing but laziness was not something I was going to feel guilty for. A ride on a one hour dala dala, the local transport van, was a guaranteed cultural experience in itself. Open air and bumping all the way to Matemwe, our rear ends were happier than ever to switch from the barely cushioned benches to the soft beach sand typical of the eastern coast of Zanzibar. Here, the finest whitest sand one may ever see forms an endless strip separating the brilliant blue waters from the overhanging palms of the coastline. The mornings are restful, the afternoons are relaxing, and the evenings are breezy. Matemwe is both an idyllic getaway for travelers and a fascinating home for locals. After treating ourselves to fresh squeezed juice, Spanish omelets and toast we would walk the ten yards to the beach, our home until the stomachs indicated it was time for lunch. The morning view was always dotted by women wrapped in multi-colored kangas making their seaweed collection rounds. With the tide low, the women were able to wade knee-deep to their collection site. Hours could easily tick by just watching the work progress. Women would come with empty hands and leave hours later with dressing gowns of seaweed trailing behind them. On afternoon walks we would notice the same seaweed hanging from makeshift clotheslines connecting the palms. Curiosity was certainly peaked by this practice, but in honor of “pure physical and mental relaxation”, I never did figure out what the purpose of harvesting all that seaweed was. Regardless, the fascination remained and I watched from morning to afternoon.

Once the tide came in we were free to wash away the morning heat before returning to the bungalows for some casual reading. And each evening ended with an incredible meal of the catch of the day, grilled and curried with stir-fried vegetables and rice. If ever in Tanzania, I am happy to provide a personal guarantee that you will not be disappointed with Sele’s Bungalows in Matemwe!

And now I'm back in the states just four days away from the start of year 2. Thank you all for reading and writing! Hope you had a great summer and enjoyed the blog!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Outside the Lines

Seven weeks have already passed since I first stepped off my Precision Air flight into Mwanza on June 2nd. It's hard to believe that I have been working here at IHP's clinic for that long, but now that I stop to think I notice the small things that indicate I am no longer a new presence, but a part of the usual circle. Zefaniah, our favorite guard, greets me as cheerily as always, but so kindly lies through his teeth, “Ohh Amiti, very good, you are speaking Swahili now, it is very good!” Bibi, our clinic grandma, doesn't hesitate to ask me to start an IV, granted I still defer to Jimmy. Lucy, chef extraordinaire, knows chapattis and french fries at dinner are guaranteed to make my day.

Work here has been very rewarding, as I have learned a great deal about tropical diseases and medicine, become more comfortable with blood draws than I could have ever imagined, and had the opportunity to share time with people that laugh their way through any setback. One aspect of work that truly stands out, are the general health education presentations we have done in the local schools. The initial idea was to determine where there might be a void in health education and how we could fill it. Upon asking educators and students if there was anything they needed us to present on, one answer always found its way to the top of the list: STD's and sex education.

Last Wednesday, this seemingly benign concept led me to find myself with my friends and fellow medical students from IHP (Courtney – girl, Priyanka – girl, Natalie – girl, Sarah – girl), at the front gate of the Loreto Secondary School for Girls, ready to do a presentation on wo
men's health, to include: reproductive anatomy, the menstrual cycle, UTIs, yeast infections, and more. In a relatively conservative setting, this situation made me wonder what in the world I was doing there. Pepsi in a Coke culture, I was trouble.

Beyond the gates, past the guard tower, and under the archway, the grounds opened out into a beautiful landscaped courtyard flanked on all sides by concrete education blocks. My mind didn't want to give in that I was actually nervous about this, but my involuntary physical changes yanked the cloak: erector pili muscles pulled my arm hair to attention, temperature notched up a couple, and palms became clammy. I dipped my head into the room filled with almost a hundred Form 3 girls in uniform. As we walked in and it became apparent to the Loreto girls that I was the only male presenter, the giggles and whispering began. I busied myself setting up the computer and projector, counted to ten, and looked up. This was going to be special.

Fortunately, Priyanka began the presentation and introduced reproductive anatom
y and the menstrual cycle before time came for me to talk more in depth about ovulation, fertilization and dysmenorrhea. I started off strong. Ovulation and fertilization no problem. On to dysmenorrhea. “One risk factor of dysmenorrhea is having a positive family history.” Blank stares. I continued, “this means if you have a parent or a sibling who has experienced dysmenorrhea then you are more likely to have it.” Blank stares. My clammy palms had lost sensation, the room was shrinking, and sweat was forming on my receding hairline. “You know siblings, as in sisters or brothers...or, haha, obviously not brothers.” All I could do was laugh, run my hand through my hair, and look to Sarah and say, “I think it's your turn.”

Making a mistake always makes it easier. Having butchered dysmenorrhea, everything else seemed better and the rest of the presentation went smoothly. We fielded numerous questions that shall not be repeated and were asked to come back the next day for more. After two days, I am confident the girls had a much better understanding of STD's, how their body functions, and how they can, both protect themselves and receive the care they need. Having survived Loreto, the presentations in Zanzibar should be a breeze!

On a side note, Priyanka and I decided to write two completely different blogs about different aspects of our work here because we realize we cheated some of you out of different entries with our last joint post about the safari. So, to read a fabulous description of life in the clinic from both the student and patient perspective, hop on over to

Tanzania tidbits:
  1. I find it sad to report that, while the harmless act of yawning is contagious in the states, the not so pleasant act of in front of your face nose-picking is contagious here. While at the tailor the other day, we noticed one lady start, and then two more follow in suit. This is an observation that can be corroborated by several volunteers here.
  2. An “i” is added to the end of almost every name. Amit = Amiti. The name, Martin, given to me by our driver, Mboto, actually equals Martini.
  3. The collection of pumpkin foods we have consumed thanks to Paula's love for pumpkins is now: pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin bread pudding, pumpkin soup, boiled pumpkin with butter, and pumpkin cookies.