Thankfulness in the Shadow of Cholera


The entrance to Berega Hospital on a slow day.

On Thanksgiving Day, while us Americans, the Brits and our Belgian doctor were celebrating Thanksgiving Day Tanzanian style, the first cases of cholera began to appear in our village. The hospital is filling and we have already lost at least one child (not one of our students). This is an extremely serious and contagious disease, and there will probably be more deaths. The government is sending a medical team today who will set up an isolation camp at the edge of the village on the abandoned airstrip. Today, three days after the first cases presented, there are 31 confirmed cases. Our doctors think it’s possible we’re on the cusp of a serious outbreak.

Hospital Truck

Hospital staff awaiting the vanguard of the government medical team.


“Downtown” Berega.

My perspective on what it means to be thankful, or mindful, has modulated a bit. I’m sitting here wondering if any of our kids have been admitted today. I can feel the sting of tears just thinking about it. I’m drinking clean, filtered water, have a flush toilet and soap to wash my hands; bare basics I never thought twice about back home. I never had to worry that water from the tap was so unfit to give to my children that it could kill them. I didn’t have to haul the day’s water up from the river in a bucket on my head, or carry a 60 lb. bundle of firewood just to boil that

Fetching Water

Fetching water.

water or to cook. I never had to worry about where my children were going to get their next meal, or whether or not they’d be playing near (or in) where someone had just relieved themself. I never had to boil the milk I gave them in case it contained tuberculosis, or watch them get bloated worm bellies. I never had to worry that their anemic little bodies couldn’t fight off malaria, or that it would develop into cerebral malaria. Hell, the most serious disease I had to worry about them getting was chicken pox. Back then, if a neighbor kid had it you’d just send your kids over to play so they’d catch it and get it over with.

Std 4 Class Pic

The class pic I took of Standard 4 on our back porch. I’m closest to this class, but losing any of the kids would devastate all of us.

So, this holiday season I am both mindful and thankful that I’ve been given the privilege to observe and take part in someone else’s very different reality. I am thankful that my education allows me to understand that the tents at the edge of the village are where you want to go, not avoid, if you’re sick. I am thankful for vaccinations and quality medical care; again, something I’ve always taken for granted. I am thankful I can afford toilet paper so I don’t have to use my left hand.

Carrying Wood

This is that bundle of wood that weighs about 60 lbs. This lady has a ways to go before she gets back to the village and, as you can tell from the lighting, it’s almost dark.

            But I am mostly thankful that this alternate reality now has a face. Indeed, it has many faces. It is Mariam and Maria that carry the daily water to school, it is the other Maria who empties the buckets from the school latrines. It is the dirty, dusty, smelly little village kids that should

Village Kids

Dirty, dusty, smelly little village kids. But you have to admit they’re cute.

be in school but aren’t. It is the faces of all 136 of our students who run up to gives hugs whether we’re in school or just around the village. It is the boys that bring the cows and goats home and the girls that carry the water. It is the village women who try to teach me to speak Kiswahili and the children from Mgugu, the local government school, that say hi and now call me by name. It is the mentally disabled boy who drools and can’t speak but is full of love, and Bestie the mentally disabled man who “herds” his 2 pet goats. It’s the little 2 year old that yells, “Hi!” every morning from inside his house as I walk to school. It is the lady that sells us eggs, Stan the Taylor who makes our clothes, the young Maasai mother in the maternity ward who’s new son weighs only 1 kilo. It is Jackie at the

Joyce at Sunrise Cafe

Joyce from Sunrise Cafe.

duka (store) who wants to be a mining engineer, Joyce at Sunrise Café who dances with me on occasion, Asefiwe the choir director’s young daughter who tries to teach me song lyrics. It is our student Hasan’s bibi (grandmother) who washes our clothes, and Frida who begged to clean our house once a week because she is a single mom and needs to feed her 5 children and sick mother. It is Ruth, Isaac and Mapenzi the local Hands4Africa staff who want better for their children. It is the men,


Asefiwe singing her little heart out as she leads the Children’s Choir in song. She isn’t one of ours, but I love this kid.

women and children at the hospital waiting their turn to be seen. It is the Maasai women of Ifunde who make it a point to say hello when they see me on their forays to Berega for Monday Market. It’s the Laughing Lady  we hear every night from across the gully, and the friendly laughter of the women in the village when they hear me butcher their beautiful language as I’m trying to learn it.

This reality, the reality of poverty and disease, is the face of everyone I meet each and every day.


Minge. He lives way out of the village with his family. I frequently run into him on my walks.


This is Nelson, who I also run into on my walks. He carries a machete and a hoe in case anyone wants to hire him to clear brush. This is the only place I know where a lone woman can run into a man carrying a machete and hoe in the middle of nowhere and fear doesn’t even cross your mind. As it should be.

All of these people have changed my perspective on my reality; of privilege I grew up with and never questioned. I don’t feel guilty about how I was raised or how I raised my children. Every parent wants to provide their family with the best they possibly can – there’s no shame in that. It’s just that I didn’t deserve the circumstances of my birth any more than the people born here deserved theirs. It’s just what happened. But because I’m living here, if for only a short while, my reality and my good fortune of being born into privilege, is now inseparable from the reality of the people who live in Berega.

Little Joyce

Asefiwe’s little sister, Joyce. All this kid does is laugh, and smile, and hug. Happy, happy little girl.

So, on this 1st day of Advent I will, as usual, enter my annual season of reflection and expectation. As I do so this year in the face of cholera, I am mindful that the people of Berega and the facet of life that is theirs, are now and forever will be a part of who I am, and who I am becoming.

Rahabu A

Rahabu enjoying Children’s Choir rehearsal. She looks about 18 here, but she’s really only 10.


Rehema feelin’ the Spirit at rehearsal.

Dani and Duck

Dani eagerly anticipating step 1 of getting our duck ready for dinner.


Couldn’t find Stan today to get his pic, but here’s a shot of his taylor shop. Sunrise Cafe is just to the left. Guess there was no hanging goat today.  Maybe the goats get a Sunday reprieve.


Village boys goofing off and just generally being boys.

Pasco with Recorder

Pasco about to get his recorder swiped.


7 thoughts on “Thankfulness in the Shadow of Cholera

  1. SarahAnnSmith

    This makes me wish we had had internet and blogs when I was in Africa. It all rings so true. I realize that from most people in the US and the west the idea of Africa is an outline of the continent that they see on a map. Once you get there your perspective changes from the birds eye view to standing on the ground looking at the people and the land and their homes. Just like your photos do here. How long will you be there? My first experience in Africa was the summer in Guinea-Bissau and was much like your time there. We spent another two years and gamble, but were affiliated with the embassy so it was a whole different experience .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mytthumbs Post author

      It’s true, once you’re on the ground your perspective changes drastically. Originally I was only going to be here one year, but now that I’m in charge of the school I’ll be here till the end of the school year, which is end of November (school is Jan – Nov). But, to be fair, I think I’ll end up being here a few years. There’s no reason not to, and I have a lot of ideas I know I can at least set the foundations for here. There’s also things I want to see in Zambia, Rwanda, Botswana, South Africa and Namibia. I might as well stay until I’ve seen it all. Why not?!


    1. mytthumbs Post author

      Hello my friend! We all made it through unscathed, asante Mungu/ thank God! There was only one death in our village. A child, but not one of our students. There were over 7000 cases throughout the country. Of those, I’m not sure how many were fatal. We were lucky.

      Liked by 1 person


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