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Summer Postcards 2012

Waiting with Connection

By Ishani D. Premaratne

TANGA, TANZANIA—When my fellow interns and I walked into the Association of Private Health Facilities in Tanzania (APHFTA) training session we were leading for local doctors in the seaport city of Tanga, I felt assured that I knew what I was doing. After all, we had already worked with many different clinics in other parts of the country, helping them use technology to more easily and efficiently keep records and communicate with their patients. As I walked in, I opened up one of the small, black netbooks we were using for training and sat next to an elderly doctor with a slightly furrowed forehead and a perpetual smile bouncing on his lips. I could see him observing me intently as I plugged in the Airtel internet modem into the USB drive and prayed that four little bars would pop up in the bottom right hand corner of the screen.

I prayed for a long time.

Ah, only in Tanzania. “Slow connection?” the doctor said, looking at me knowingly. Luckily, Dr. Mberesero wasn’t the type to get frustrated, and to him, our waiting time for one connection just presented an opportunity for a different one. “So, why do you want to study medicine?” he asked, with that distinctive Tanzanian accent that I have come to love.

That was the beginning of the longest, and most meaningful waiting conversation I have ever had—a small blue circle pivoting furiously on our blue screen all the while. No matter, one lack of connection had led to the ability to make another.

In the U.S., I have learned to accept the long expanses of time spent waiting on a doctor and hoping that he will be able to spare a few minutes of his valuable time to answer my questions. I’ll watch the minutes tick away as I become well acquainted with the hospital waiting room because Dr. So-and-So has too many patients to tend to and will be out in just a minute so that his student intern can introduce herself. In America, waiting is an endless menace that tantalizes you with the promise that it will all be worth it on the other side.

In Tanzania, you don’t wait on someone or for someone—you wait with them. When I came to Africa, I expected the usual smattering of naïve, misguided perceptions to be cast astray and an SD card full of new memories and experiences to return home with by the end of two months. What I didn’t expect was that I would do so much waiting—or, more importantly, that I would count those moments while the “Connecting…” window floats lazily on a computer screen among my most treasured here.

Many people, like  myself, do not truly know about Africa. Worse, many of them are too impatient to experience it for themselves before making a judgment. The Tanzanian doctors and nurses who walk into our training everyday have given me the gift of getting to know at least one part of this incredibly diverse continent.  They –with all their years of medical education behind them—also have an unparalleled patience and a willingness to learn from me, just an 18 year old girl who sits with them while the small blue circle spins furiously. Thinking about it now, I realize what a lovely little circle it is. A furious, impatient, connection-granting circle. It too is hopelessly oblivious to an understanding that the Tanzanians have had all along and have so graciously shared with me in my time here—there is no such thing as waiting for connection, just the thrill of waiting with it.

Ishani D. Premaratne ’15, a Crimson magazine writer, lives in Mather House.

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Summer Postcards 2012