Friday, May 15 The Satellite Office

Today we joined Mr. Mayama for a drug counseling session at one of the Kimara satellite offices about ten minutes from the main office (by rut and road). Mr. Bennet, the caretaker of the satellite center, did most of the translation today to allow Mr. Mayama to focus on the “user” population they were trying to reach.
All of the African attendees seemed bright, young and healthy, although basic logic tells me that this group probably exceeds the general statistic for HIV infection. But they are so young and healthy looking! They certainly didn’t look like a “user” or even “at-risk” population. (Goes to show what I know) Mostly male, teenagers…there was a lunch provided after the session and I have to assume some were there just for that reason.
After the introductions, Gideon, one of our favorite Kimara staff members, led a brainstorming session regarding the ground rules for the discussion. This was, of course, all conducted in Swahili so we found out what it was about when Mr. Manyama translated.
As the first hour moved ahead, more and more young boys (at least they look like young boys to me) joined the group. Seating in the small room soon became a problem. I shared my straight-backed wooden chair with Godfrey, a young guy who came in with his ball cap in his hand and two cell phones. I wondered about the phones. (This is a real anomaly. Almost everyone we’ve met has a cell phone. Even some of the Mamas during the Grandmother’s Day had cell phones. Obviously, text messaging is cheap here. And obviously communication is important. But at home I don’t carry a cell phone, and it seems such an odd indulgence in these circumstances. I guess it’s not possible for me to understand or explain everything here.)
There were five females in the group. One young girl had the most beautiful baby girl – huge baby eyes, healthy-looking, interested in everything and dressed in a little pink dress.
The group was uniformly engaged and interested in what Mr. M is saying. And that seemed to have something to do with inventorying the drugs used in the area. One the white board he listed nine, I recognize cocaine and petrol. The list also included Gubeli (Ecstasy) and Pombe (Alcohol). In Africa drugs touch youths 15-45 in large numbers. Above that age the user population is smaller and not significant.
Nikki occasionally tried to relocate her video camera and tripod in the tightly packed space. She had ear phones on and was monitoring sound as well as visuals. She was trying to be inconspicuous but that was a challenge with forty-some people packed knee to knee to a 16×10 space.
While there has always been traditional drugs used in Tanzania, today’s more serious problem stems from the movement of ‘hard’ drugs from the eastern countries such and Pakistan and Bangladesh in the 1970s and 80s. Africa originally was not a market, just a transfer point but it wasn’t long before the merchandise was tested. When drugs were introduced in the 1980’s (by North American standards that was actually quite late) HIV/AIDS was introduced during the same period of time. And the danger of drugs is not just the injections. Under the influence people will engage in riskier sex and there is the possibility that a user may be raped or sodomized while high. The group is warned that IV drug users have twelve times more chance of being infected with HIV/AIDS.
The discussion moved on to safe injection sites, an interesting concept for the African participants as it seemed to them (and some Canadians will agree) that this is the government condoning drug use. But Jolene made the excellent point that not only does this work to stop the spread of HIV and Hepatitis but it also puts the users within reach of councilors and services which may lead to possible recovery.
At one point Mr. M got caught up in the discussion and perhaps forgot to translate or have Mr. Bennet translate. After forty minutes of animated Swahili, he explained that one young man in the front row has stated that he used that morning; he wanted to know what Kimara could do for him. Mr. Manyama’s response, translated for our benefit, was “ We will listen to you. We are here for you.” (I suspect from the length of the discussion that this translation was not comprehensive) But now I understood why Mr. Manyama’s focus was on the Swahili discussion. He was engaged with someone he felt was ready to receive help. To stop and translate would have been a distraction at a crucial point. As well as we were treated at Kimara’s sessions, at that point we were secondary and after a very brief translation (or perhaps more an explanation) Mr. M returned to the Swahili discussion.
At the end of the session Mama Kiwia spoke to the group in Swahili. There was lots of vocal agreement with her comments. Despite their circumstances and the facts of poverty and despair this group faced, they put their heart into this discussion.
When one of our group asked whether drug users here were ostracized by their families (as they sometimes are in Canada), the answer was yes – for those who still have families. Many in this group had lost their parents and other family members to AIDs.

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