National Geographic : 1964 Sep
RETURNING TO TANGA after a vaca tion made me feel I must have been par tially asleep for the past year. Along the road I saw so many things I could not remem ber having seen before. The town itselflooked so familiar, yet so different. Why? The daily routine of Suburbia, U.S.A., was one of the things I had hoped to avoid by joining the Peace Corps and working in a de veloping country. But now I realized that it was easy to slip into dull routine in Tangan yika, too. How had I come to let the days slide by without really living them? What had I been doing for the past year? I thought of that September day when we descended the ramp at the Dar es Salaam air port-Tanganyika Peace Corps Project II, 27 female nurses to work in Tanganyika hos pitals. The intense heat and glare of sun on asphalt hit us cruelly. I felt wilted only two steps outside the plane door. A Ministry of Health official told us cheer fully that this was the cool season. "It doesn't even begin to warm up until the last of October." Driving from the airport into town that first day, I stared at the mud-and-wattle houses, the coconut trees, and men dressed in ankle-length kanzus that looked like night shirts. How strange the Moslem women looked in their black buibuis, which the breeze billowed around them like large bags. Nurses Try Out Their Swahili We lived for two months at a Salvation Army hostel in the Mgulani area, three miles outside Dar. I remember our first visit to the city's large open market. With children and chickens perching on our laps, we rode into Dar on the local bus, surprising passengers by greeting them in Swahili. But soon we were frying in our own fire, because they answered with long conver sations we couldn't understand. A man with a tasseled fez reassured us. "Kidogo, kidogo"-"Little, little," he said, meaning slowly we would learn. Later that afternoon, trying to find the bus home, I managed the sentence, "Busi kwa Mgulani itakuja wapi?" "Where will the bus for Mgulani arrive?" A passerby took us to the bus stop five blocks away, and waited 45 minutes to put us on the right one. After a year the hesitation of beginning a conversation has disappeared. The singsong of Swahili has crept into my speech; the ques tioning inflections that were such a problem come without thought. Five-thirty a.m. one October day found eight of us, plus 1,300 pounds of baggage, at the Dar es Salaam bus station. We were off to Tanga-a tiring, all-day trip-to work in the 414-bed Government hospital. As we jounced along, we dug out a guitar and ukulele and tuned up on favorite songs from our training, both American Tang and Swahili. An Tanganyika English-speaking passenger told us By RUTH E. why we were DYGERT arousing so much interest: Because we were white, he said, and because these people had never before seen a traveling band of women musicians! All eight of us were tense as we filed into the matron's office that first day to receive our hospital assignments. Before I knew what was happening, I was in Galanos Block, a new three-story building with six wards. Mr. Justin, a staff nurse, was saying, "You may go work on the ward until your staff nurse returns." (This came after a five-minute introduction to a busy 28-bed male surgery ward.) I was in a panic. It was my first day as a licensed professional R.N. A moment later I was walking calmly down the long ward, telling myself, "You must at least smile, Ruth!" On past 18, 20, 22 beds I went. It seemed a mile to the far end of the ward, where an orderly who was making beds smiled and accepted my offer of assistance. He was cer tainly more help to me than I was to him in those next few days! Since then, one of my problems has been coping with the philosophy of life based on shauri la Mungu. This means "the will of God." It expresses a profound pessimism, a "leave-it-to-fate" attitude concerning efforts to help oneself or others. This little phrase explains much that hap pens here. For one thing, I feel it keeps many African nurses and orderlies from fulfilling their potential. Cookies comfort a child with a fractured leg as Ruth Dygert calms a noisy 36-bed pediatric ward at lunchtime. Launching her nursing career in Tanganyika, the 24-year old Potsdam, New York, farm girl and seven other Volunteers tend four busy wards around the clock in Tanga Government Hospital, one of the largest in the young nation. KODACHROMEBY NATIONALGEOGRAPHICPHOTOGRAPHERJAMES P. BLAIR © N.G.S.