Thursday, June 14, 2007

71-Year Old Witchdoctor Pays Radio Reporter a Visit via Motorcycle Taxi

The headline pretty much says it all. That was, without a doubt the highlight of my day yesterday.

I made the trip down to Nshamba on Tuesday. Nshamba was the site of the worst part of the reported epidemic: more than 217 people were affected there. By the miracle of the small-world-game style of reporting I'd adopted I'd actually located a woman who'd been affected with Omunepo when she was 6 in 1962.

My local guide/fixer/translator/former TZ national team soccer star Raymond and his dutch friend and our driver Arianne took the car in to get some oil in the morning and hours upon hours later we finally hit the road to Nshamba. It was a 2+ hour journey on really rough roads past small subsistence farms (coffee, bananas, pineapple).

When we arrived, Gertrude, the interview subject, told us that she'd planned to take us 1 hour further down the road to see the man who helped treat her. He was 22 at the time and was the assistant to the witch doctor. Looking at the low position of the sun in the sky, and consulting my traveling companions, we told her it was impossible, we'd never make it there and back to Bukoba before dark. (Raymond was in a pretty severe car accident about 2 weeks ago -- his face and head still show the evidence pretty graphically -- which infused a healthy measure of caution into our driving plans.) Raymond hatched up an excellent back up plan, though: let's send a motorcycle taxi to go get the witch doctor. this way, we can interview Gertrude while he makes the trip and we'd still have time to make it home before dark. Perfect!

The interview was exactly what I'd hoped for: a very detailed and specific story and entirely new information, unlike anything I'd heard in Kashasha Village or Bukoba.

After waiting an hour after finishing with Gertrude we finally get a call: the motorcycle taxi has broken down on his way to reach the witchdoctor. But Raymond has an idea. He tells gertrude: "I think it would be possible for you to send him to Bukoba tomorrow by dala dala." (Dala dala is a minivan which acts as a local bus). Gertrude says "no, I don't think so." And that's when Raymond pulls out the Jedi mind trick. He keeps repeating "I think it is possible."

Low and behold, Gertrude calls me 4 hours later: the motorcycle brought this 71 man to her home and he's just arrived and she will send him by daladala to Bukoba in the morning. "He will be there at 7 am" she tells me. Yes, I think it is possible.

And THIS is what a daladala looks like:

He made the trip...and then...oh, I'm out of time...I am writing this from a tiny grass-roofed hut on beach on the island of Zanzibar. Yes, literally.


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