Ezra wants to sponsor someone.
Everywhere he goes, my cousin is approached by young boys, generally in packs, begging for him to pay the $300 school fees that are a the annual entry price for the Tanzanian education system. Sick of turning them down, he’s decided to sponsor just one or two kids, and is busily trying to wrap his head around the impossible challenge of giving money away. He has a few kids writing essays for his “Sponsor Me” program, but has no idea how many hoops he will make them jump through or what those hoops will look like. We discussed the particulars of philanthropic strategy while milling over a late breakfast of Africafe and white bread when the radio crackled. Ezra left the room, then returned a minute later and announced that I had five minutes to pack a bag and decide whether to come with him “to do clinics.” Choices choices.
30 minutes later I was in the air in the copilot seat of a bumpy little Cessna and Ezra was handing over the controls to use me as a kind of preschoolish autopilot. I cooperated by gleefully slolemming around the clouds until we reached our destination, a wooden shack with a couple dozen Massai, a 23 year old doctor named Barnabus who looked 14, and two Danish medical students both (conveniently) called Erasmus.
We went up immediately for another bumpy ride, landing next to another stick-hut clinic. As we unloaded I was given a task- weighing Massai babies while their doting mothers looked at me suspiciously, writing the weights down on cards that the mothers all carried carefully wrapped in plastic bags, then dropping polio vaccines into the babies mouths while their mothers pinched their lips open and looked noble. Barnabus got to work on more intensive procedures while Ezra donned his flight jacket and expertly managed the crowd.
3 hours later and Barnabus was still at work. Having finished my task and prepped tetanus shots (with careful instruction from the Dutch Erasmi) I had retreated to the wing where Massai warriors were huddling in the shade. We had started chatting until one of them decided to amuse his friends by trying to teach me Massai and Swahili. When that got old he had taught me a game that they play with their walking/beatdown sticks, sort of a stick-assisted one-man limbo. As the game was wrapping up and I scratched my arm on the hard ground, Ezra called urgently that it was time to wrap up.
Hurriedly we packed our gear and took off for the next clinic. Once in the air, Ezra informed us that we had to finish the next clinic and get to the Mission where we would spend the night or risk what he called a “cultural experience.” Once on the ground we worked with startling efficiency, weighing and vaccinating quickly and efficiently and treating 20 patients in just 30 minutes. We piled back in the plane just as the sun was setting, and took off at full throttle. The Ebotamu Mission, Ezra explained, had no landing lights, and a nightime bush landing was not advisable. His eye locked on the setting sun, Ezra put it down just as the last light of dusk was twickling away.
Inside a joyful, curly-haired Brazilian preast served us a meal of freshly hunted Impala and complained about the drought. Apparently the Mission’s borehole was the only one in the region that worked, and a neverending stream of Massai had been driving tractors for half a day to buy his water. “I can’t refuse them” he explained, “they need to keep their cows alive, but soon our water too will be gone.”
After a good night’s sleep and another breakfast of coffee and white bread we set out for another day’s journey. I noticed the cats eating our leftover Impala while the preacher started with the early morning’s customers.
After one more clinic in a converted schoolhouse we headed back to Arusha. In the airport we met one of the boys who had been writing Ezra’s essays and I bought him a coke. Ezra looked at him sternly as if daring him to panhandle, while I asked him about his hopes and dreams. The kid was smart, though clearly the product of an education system aimed at rote memorization. It took 15 minutes for him to stop telling us what he thought we wanted to hear, and another five to take the first sip of coke. He wants to be an accountant, he thinks, but he’s not sure. He just has to choose. He wants to help his country grow, but was too fixated on our help to really tell us how. As we left I asked him to teach me a word in Swahili. He lowered his head, embarrassed and said “kadoga. It means small.