Vol. 22, #10
A story from Christmas Past…
It was Christmas week sixteen years ago and time for the usual twice a month trip to Olbalbal on the edge of the Serengeti. The trip is twenty minutes by air on the Flying Medical Service’s airplane. Dr. Pako, recently arrived from Spain, and one of the sisters were going to do the “mother and child” clinic. I went to have a meeting with Maasai elders of the area. I had asked them to come together to talk about allowing their daughters to attend secondary and technical school, a mostly fruitless exercise in those days. I attended meeting after meeting in the Ngorongoro area for years with no agreement from the elders to send their girl children to school beyond the first years of primary school. It is a little better these days but not much.
The day started out normally enough with a mixed Maasai and Swahili Mass for sisters, Swahili workers and Maasai patients at the hospital in Endulen. After breakfast with the sisters there came the jolting ten minute ride in the hospital pickup to our dirt air strip. Our missionary pilot Don Fox, a Spiritan Associate, got us all organized in his six seater Cessna and off we went. The clinic went well enough, although attendance was sparse. The day before an elephant had dug up and broken the pipe that brings water from the spring in the hills nearby. This meant the women of the area had to go for water with the five gallon kerosene tins. Donkeys carry these in cow skin bags fixed to their backs. The trip for water takes most of the day, so both clinic and church gathering had fewer people than usual.
Dr. Pako was packing up his baby scale, hypodermic needles, portable table etc.. I had just come back from my ineffectual meeting with a few of the local elders held under a shade tree some hundreds of yards away and Dr. Pako holds his clinic in a corrugated tin shack. On other days it is a classroom. Dr. Pako, the sister and Don, who also helped with the clinic, were picking up their things to leave. At the doorway of the hut, they were met by a distraught Maasai woman pushing aside the gunny sack door of the clinic and holding out a small child for treatment. Pako saw at once the child was in the advanced stages of pneumonia with lungs clogged with fluids. The little girl not more than two years old, needed to get to Endulen and the hospital quickly. Don Fox went into high gear getting people and equipment back to the plane. After a quick check to be sure no one had tampered with the plane in our absence, and a look at the strip to see if there were any wildebeast, zebra or Maasai cattle in our way, off we went.
It was a bad trip from the beginning. Don was using every trick he had learned in his more than thirty years of flying to get more speed out of the little plane. Pako sat in the right hand seat next to Don. Sister and I were in the middle two seats, and the mother was in the back. Shortly after take off, the baby stopped breathing; we passed her forward to the doctor. He held it on his lap and got its lungs going again but its breathing was very shallow. The mother behind me constantly demanded to know whether her child was still alive. I kept her informed as best I could of the continued efforts of Dr. Pako.
As Don lined up on the Endulen air strip, Pako was giving the little girl mouth to mouth help to breathe. As we landed it was over, the baby was dead and the mother in hysterics. As we stood next to the airplane looking at the dead child and its shattered mother, Don Fox spoke for us all as he commented, we must find a way to do better next time.
Lots of Maasai Girls apply for help…
The Class Seven results are beginning to come out now and many Maasai girls of Ngorongoro have been chosen for secondary school. Their parents, read mostly fathers and brothers, can not stop them from going. There is now a law. They can’t refuse their daughters, who get chosen by the government, to go to school, but there is no way that they will agree to pay the tuition and other expenses. Therefore, most of the chosen girls are little better off than before. Anyway, forty six girls have applied to me for help and we’ll try to choose the neediest and help them as much as we can.
Till next month,