Walking in Bagamoyo with Terri By Dr. Anne GoldbergFebruary 1, 2012
As I looked through photographs of my recent trip to Bagamoyo, the first one to make me laugh was taken on our first day there. I took the picture of our group – my colleague and friend, Maxine Payne, two students, and Maxine’s 12-year-old daughter – standing next to a building with Terri and the father of Muba, a boy who Terri helped to receive surgery to remove a tumor from his face. I laughed because Terri has her cell phone in her hand, not tucked into the large bag over her shoulder. I knew Terri before she had a cell phone, back in her other life in Arizona. Now, it’s hard to imagine her without it. But more on that later.
We had just arrived in Bagamoyo the night before, after traveling for 36 hours from the United States. We were on a trip sponsored by Hendrix College, during which Maxine and I would photograph and interview, respectively, as many rural women as we could with Terri’s help. The students were with us to learn about doing this type of work and to pursue their own related projects. Terri offered to walk us around Bagamoyo that first afternoon. Though jet lagged, we were eager to see the town. None of us had ever visited Tanzania before and it all felt strange and new.
We started walking at 4:00 in the afternoon. Many people were out in the streets, as were chickens and goats. The people called out greetings to us as we walked and we were all conscious of being such obvious outsiders with our pale skin and awkward Kiswahili replies. Terri was stopped several times and exchanged greetings with people she knew, including former street boys now living in town. It was clear that she did not suffer from precisely the same outsider status that we held. She was also interrupted from her tour guide duties by the phone.
That phone rang and rang. The babies were sick at the farm. Her kids were sick. Test results were awaited and discussed. Where was the medicine? How would we get to the interviews in Kiwangwa? Did someone need to go back to the hospital? Could George pick up the medicine for Mrisho? Kiswahili and English, more Kiswahili peppered with medical terms, flew from her lips. Between calls, Terri laughed and smiled and pointed out landmarks and identified plants and trees. Bits of her conversations began to paint a picture of her life, and the reach she had in her community. Her very central place in the lives of so many made the pace of our walk through town comfortable for, say, a very sick turtle.
Suddenly, she said, “Oh, I’m going to have to talk to this one for a while.” We saw the man she had identified walking enthusiastically our way. Strangely, at that moment Terri’s sandal broke, the thong pulling away from the sole, and rain began to fall. We hurried under the awning of a building where the man had been standing. In less than a minute, he had Terri’s shoe in his hand and was running down the street with it.
As we struggled to process what had just happened, the rain started to come down in earnest. We were stuck there, one of us shoeless, all of us without raincoats or umbrellas, and Terri began to explain. That was Muba’s father, the boy who had needed facial surgery. Another group from Hendrix College five years before had taken his picture. Terri had sent it to a group, Facing the World, who had agreed to help. For two long years, Terri struggled to get visas and permissions, medical records and test results, and funding. Officials in the U.K. had lost the paperwork twice. Complications in Tanzania arose. Finally, though, Muba got his surgery. That was why, with barely a word spoken, Terri would have her shoe fixed in minutes. That was why she would always need to stop to talk with this family.
Every time Terri told me about a success story, someone she was able to help, I thought of this man. Helping one person in Bagamoyo has a tremendous ripple effect. You don’t help a person, you help a family, a neighborhood, a community. Those many phone calls were laying the groundwork for the next success story. Failures, too, surely, but moving undeniably in the right direction.
As Terri told us this “happy” story, tears rolled down her face several times as she recalled the frustrations of that process. His surgery was in 2009, but it was still fresh enough to hurt. Terri sees so much suffering, but she isn’t hardened to it. It is fresh every time. She pushes and fights so people will suffer a little less. She knows about the high price and likelihood of failure, but it doesn’t keep her from trying.
Whenever we went anywhere with Terri, we were reminded of her impact. The phone continued to ring, sms messages from the U.S. beeped, people came to find her. She never walked anywhere quickly, but she was always moving forward.