A few weeks ago there was a large outbreak of malaria cases in the Uzi district, which is in the southern part of Zanzibar. Uzi is really interesting because it becomes an island during high tide when the water submerses the coral road, so you have to plan your trips there carefully or you will get stranded for 8 hours. With so many cases we thought it would be useful to do some mapping there so we planned to hold a community meeting on Monday to inform the villagers of our project and ask their approval of our presence. The girl who had piloted this mapping project, Stacy, had done several community meetings with Makame in March and said it was a big success. Since Makame had done 8 meetings and we had never done one, we thought we would follow his suggestions. We should have known better.
Makame called the health facility on Friday afternoon and told them we wanted to have a meeting on Monday. Perhaps that was not enough time in advance because when we arrived on Monday there were only 18 people assembled for the meeting which was far fewer than the 30-40 that Stacy reported at her meetings.
We also thought that Makame knew what to say and had prepared something. Another wrong idea on our part. After introductions, Makame told Tanya to start speaking and he would translate into Swahili for her. Completely blindsided and unprepared, Tanya did an amazing job on the fly explaining the research study, what we wanted to do and how it would help them. We had found a short protocol that Stacy had written up so Tanya asked a few questions such as, “What do you think causes malaria?” and “do you sleep under a bed net every night?”.
When Tanya was done talking, Makame turned to me and said, “Now Lisa, I think you should say something to them.” I thought the meeting was over and I had no idea what to add since Tanya had gone through all of our points. So I just told him to thank the community for coming and we look forward to working with them in the future. Then he wanted Jaclyn to say something as well!
It was like the 8 previous meetings he had done had left no impression and he had no memory of them. And his suggestion that the three of us, plus him and Madja all go was overkill. We only needed one Swahili speaker and one student. I felt completely useless.
After the meeting was over we consulted the health facility records to get the names of the most recent malaria cases and gave a list of the names to the Sheha (the village leader) and told him we would come back on Thursday to map the cases he had found by then.
We departed around noon, driving back over the coral road and off the peninsula.
On the way back to the office, we stopped at another health facility called Tunguu and copied the list of malaria cases from there and gave them to the local Sheha so that we could map cases in two areas at once.
We ate lunch back at the office around 2:30 then spent an hour planning for the following day before getting the driver to take us home.
I wasn’t feeling hungry at 6 pm when Jaclyn just went ahead and started making dinner without saying anything to me or Tanya so I didn’t eat the pasta and vegetables that she made. Sadly, the power went out at 8 pm when I was hungry so I had some granola for dinner then spent an hour reading in the dark until the lights came back on.