As I write this enjoying a Stiggbucks lunch watching Arusha life flitter around, I can hardly believe what's happened over the past week. I for one cannot believe Medi Trip is halfway through hosting it's first nurse volunteers. For months I had been communicating with a nurse from London who had spotted our ad on her Guy's and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust news feed. What struck me about this nurse was just how plucky, determined and positive Thara was. I instinctively knew I would be hosting her on a Medi Trip placement one day. To my surprise she hinted at bringing a friend who "might" be interested. I never imagined I would be sitting with Thara Mubarak and Hayley Toll in Arusha downing margarita's after a long day. But that is exactly what has happened.
Let me take you back a week and perhaps you may understand just how motivated these two ladies truly are. Late at night on Wednesday last week, I received a message from a distressed Thara letting me know they had missed their connecting flight from Istanbul. My heart sank and immediately went into crisis management trying to console the girls and communicate with my Arusha team. I thought this was the end and the beginning of a disastrous week. Following an eventful flight to Istanbul, where they'd also been called to a minor medical emergency during the flight involving a fellow passenger. But true to form, they managed to book a new flight and find a place to stay as I began replanning their week with us.
Thara being the wonderful person she is, managed to send me pictures of them enjoying a meal in Istanbul putting me at ease that they were safe and sound.
Friday morning I awoke to an avalanche of messages and pictures from an excited Dr Japhet, of the girls' first morning in Arusha. I was slightly concerned by the pace as they had just dealt with an intense journey to Africa and were hitting the ground running with a schedule packed with greetings, orientations and visits. But we were all determined to carry on. Perhaps naively. After receiving confirmation that the team had delivered their schedule as planned, my heart sank as I received a call from the girls' who were finding it all too much and were having second thoughts about staying. I was prepared for culture shock, but not for my two star nurses to leave disillusioned. My team and I were completely understanding, but at a loss as to how to reignite the fire that had driven Thara and Hayley thousands of miles from home and to put their faith in our vision. It's safe to say none of us slept well those first few days. I had long conversations with people I trusted who empathised with the girls. As I frantically searched for solutions, a friend of mine with a sociology background explained to me the process of "forming, storming and norming" and encouraged me to allow the girls to organically adapt or perhaps come to a decision on their own.
Then a small flicker of hope. The girls wanted to go ahead with their weekend day trips we had planned for them. This was the kind of courage and bravery that I saw in them from the beginning. In a strange country, with people they did not know and yet they had enough faith in themselves to continue to put one foot in front of the other.
Little by little as they formed bonds with Juniour their Kwanza hostel coordinator, Emmanuel their tour guide, friendships emerged and the mood was changed. The girls had a spectacular weekend visiting the Meru Waterfalls and the Hot Springs in Moshi before starting placement.
It was no surprise then that their Monday morning at Levolosi Healthcare centre placement took a fresh and energetic start. They have been working closely with Dr Alex in the maternity department looking after pregnant women, mothers and newborns. The girls showed how universal a language nursing truly is by effortlessly joining the nurse/midwives in their tasks.
Dr Alex asked them to join him in theatres to assist the team of midwives and a nurse anaesthetists in a c-section which surprised everyone when they found one expectant mother was carrying twins! Both described many concerns however in practice comparative to the standard in the UK, mainly infection control. They described feeling apprehensive to raise their concerns, however as both highly experienced nurses felt it their duty to at least voice their concern. Although language was a barrier, it became quite clear on observation that both were able to assimilate to their working environment quite well as they had a positive demeanor and were very willing to get involved straight away. Dr Alex and the nursing team remarked to me how impressed they were by Thara and Hayley's rapport with their patients was outstanding and it was quite evident when Dr Japhet and I went to meet them.
After what seems like a blink of an eye, Thara and Hayley have managed to take in an extraordinary amount of Tanzania, managing to even visit Tarangire national park and finishing off their extraordinary journey with a trip to Zanzibar. They never held back their enthusiasm, never failed to drink in the culture and the warmth of their strange new environment. It doesn't surprise me then that both have already started to plan their return for later this year!
Asante sana dada Thara na dada Hayley, karibu tena Tanzania!