Tanzania Day 2

4 06 2011

Looking east towards India. Never imagined I’d be saying that. Perhaps that’s why it feels good. But it’s quite a dubious statement, in a way. I mean, it’s pitch black out there. The tide has pulled back so far I can’t even hear the waves. And a twenty-foot band of trash defiles the otherwise bucolic beach to the left and right fringes of its reach. I’ve applied so much DEET that it’s probably repelling people as well as it is the mosquitos. That’s a small concession to make. The Campari is wearing off, and 6 am call will come quick and rude.

Today our subject and sponsor took his presentation to an assembly of officials from the national health ministry of Tanzania, including the head minister herself. She surprised us all when (whether for the cameras of to save lives, she only knows) she enthusiastically endorsed not only self-disabling needles but also the need for more comprehensive needle management, including storage and incineration of used syringes. It was a big step towards the adoption of a safe needle policy in Tanzania, which would be the first of its kind in all of Africa.

That these were exciting developments goes without saying. It’s great for our film, and it’s invaluable validation for the team that has been working tirelessly over the last few years to make this dream a reality. But this is only a step. Until those in power really walk the walk and mandate the self-disabling/self-destructive needle technology, it’s all just pomp and circumstance. Until the health care providers who are reusing dirty needles change their ways, it’s all just empty self-aggrandizement.

The plan tomorrow is to drive three hours into the interior of Tanzania (malaria country) in search of some serious back-water medical clinics that reuse needles as the standard of care. The WHO nightmare. Ironically, or so I have heard, deaths from the reuse of needles is double that of the deaths from malaria. Yet the WHO employs hundreds if not thousands of people in the malaria cause, while they keep only one part-time position to deal with the issue of contaminated needles.

Millions of lives hang in the balance. Like the litter problem presenting itself on the beach in front of our hotel, awareness and education are key. Better choices must be made by parents, and clinics cannot continue thinking that they can reuse needles. Babies deserve to pursue a happy and healthy life, not to be infected with HIV or hepatitis before they know how to walk.


Tanzania Day 1

2 06 2011

Sunset comes at 6:30. We are recounting the first day of shooting at the roof bar of our hotel. As a call to prayer reverberates across Dar es Salaam from the north, we toast with Tuskers malt lager. It’s our ritual, easier on the knees, and besides, we like to know what kinds of brew our host country is capable of, from Kilimanjaro to Kingfisher.

So I am comfortable calling this day 1, after a modest but somehow adequate three and a half hour sleep. Today required us to shoot slightly covert. At least from the sound prospective. Our subject had a meeting with the secretary of the national health minister, which he had to pay $3800 to schedule (we filmed our subject counting the money).

Any sound guy would share my trepidation with having to trust a Canon 5D to record production sound and a DP who refuses to monitor. Not that he even could if he wanted to on this particular camera. It became clear, really fast, that all I had to do was test, test, test….and then trust.

The director and DP went in to film the meeting while the rest of us waited outside learning Swahili from the parking attendant and talking about soccer stars. He thought I looked like Messi, and called me that for the rest of our time.

We hung out for thirty minutes under broad reaching trees while women in respirators swept up leaves and dirt from the street. Students passed by, some with smiles for us and other with scowls. All of a sudden I see the DP making double time down the street towards us.

“Get in the car now. We are going back to the hotel.”

Evidently the ministry was not too keen on the filming and wanted the footage. Which, incidentally, includes a shot of the secretary taking the $3800 and putting it directly into her purse. No receipt, no ledger entry, no thank you.

The second half of our day consisted of visits to clinics to determine (and film) whether or not they maintained cleanly and responsible management of used needles. Naturally, many of the directors were uneasy at the presence of cameras in their facilities. But few of them had anything really to worry about…until the last one.

It was immediately clear from the used syringes standing by in cups that they were not destined for the incinerator. In fact, several were used to aerate an IV bottle for a woman suffering from malaria symptoms. Instead of letting gravity do the work, which I have heard is pretty dependable, they used the needles to puncture holes in the bottle to allow the air to push the solution into the vein of the woman who seemed positively unaware of the danger she was being subjected to.

However necessary for our documentary, the scene was simply quite gruesome. Misuse of needles is a massive problem. It’s responsible for millions of new cases of infectious disease every year. It’s why we are here in the first place. And according to our schedule, there is way more in store.

Tanzania Arrival

1 06 2011

After 25 hours of travel I am finally laying down in a bed. I can’t really call this post Day 1 because we landed at 9:30 pm and, due to some bags that didn’t make the connection in Amsterdam and a customs snafu, didn’t get out of the airport until midnight. Some for now I’ll keep it short, and leave you with a journal entry I wrote while waiting for the customs situation to settle. The entry itself references an older entry, in the case of any confusion.

“Read from my post from 3/24 just now:

‘It’s hard to feel enthusiastic about my career currently when friends have great things going on and I am bringing no income…’

Ha! Currently I am sitting at customs at the airport in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania while we are waiting to find out if we can bring our equipment with us. We have been traveling for 25 hours. Some of us don’t smell so hot.

Damn! When I wrote that (on 3/24) I had no idea how April was going to be (it was profitable)…and I obviously didn’t picture myself here.”