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Day 1: Tanzania Mission 2015

Mission Diaries: Dinesh Kommareddy

· Tanzania
Hello friends,

Thank you for taking the time to check out my blog. My name is Dinesh Kommareddy, and I am the newest member to the Radiologists Without Borders (RWB) family.

As it so happens, I’m also RWB’s acting Secretary and I’m proud to have started this blog all the way from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania! President and Founder, Dr. Tariq Gill, has graciously invited me to accompany him and his team on a week-long mission trip to Muhumbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS). The objective of this trip was to provide essential equipment, training, and expertise to the Radiology department at MUHAS, in order to improve the quality of patient-care to the delightful people of Tanzania.

As part of this initiative, Dr. Gill has asked me to keep a blog of everything I encounter during this week and to not shy away from offering up any of my original opinions and impressions. Consequently, this blog has been written through the eyes of someone who has never been to Africa and has relatively little experience in humanitarian service abroad.

For those that know me well, you know that I can be quite open about my opinions and that going on long, slightly sarcastic tangents has become somewhat second nature to me. Good news, I can promise you all, more of the same. You may ask why I’ve never had the idea of writing a blog before, and well, I simply don’t know. I was probably busy touring the country-side as an undercover magician.

And to those who are just getting to know me, I can promise you a highly entertaining read that comes peppered with some unique and hopefully influential perspectives for you all to consider. And did I mention there are pictures? And not just any pictures, I’m talking about the cream of the crop. I managed to take over 600 pictures during my seven days abroad and if a picture is worth a thousand words, well, lets just say it sometimes pays to be brief. As a result, I did manage to go through the whole assortment of pictures and pick out the best pictures that made “blog sense”.

Now before I begin blogging about my Day 1 experience, I think it would be best to preface all of you with a little information about RWB and the wonderful people I have had the great privilege to travel with:

“The future of Radiology is sitting in this room.”

Brian Wetzel, Director Diagnostic Imaging/Cardiology, Lourdes Hospital. If there was anybody who could match me in a battle of sarcasm and straight-face bluffs, I say enter Brian Wetzel. Brian has been with Radiologists Without Borders since it’s fruition back in 2007 and has accompanied and assisted Dr. Gill on a number of projects and mission trips. Brian carries with him a plethora of unique life-experiences that I’ve welcomed him to share with me during the trip. If I had to describe Brian in one sentence, it is that he has an uncanny ability to delight everyone he meets, one laugh at a time. Couldn’t leave this out: he’s also a father of quadruplets—not kidding.

“This experience will change you.”

Laurie Ziegler, Chief Mammographer, Lourdes Hospital. The self-proclaimed Q-tip in a box of crayons, Laurie is the fearless mother of the group with a knack for adventuring. Laurie joined RWB in 2009 as the Women’s Imaging Coordinator where she continues to educate and train equipment technicians in an effort to provide optimal quality mammograms for breast cancer screening. She wields an iron clad stomach capable of handling any exotic food thrown her way, and is certainly no stranger to the color pink—her favorite color. When traveling, she dons a bright pink suitcase that lets just say, has put her in couple of unusual predicaments to say the least. Still, Laurie’s openness to try new things and meet new people gives our team a type of energy that keeps us all eager to experience the world.

“As caregivers, it is our moral, ethical, and professional obligation to level the playing field by providing the best of the best to all, independent of geography and socio-economic status.”

Tariq Gill, MD, Community Care Physicians, Albany Medical Center. A Radiologist by trade and humanitarian by experience, Dr. Gill founded Radiologists Without Borders in 2007 with one simple desire in mind: to bring life saving equipment and expertise to medically underserved populations worldwide. He has since dedicated his life to this noble cause, and continues to abide by the mantra that good-hearted people always find a way to become apart of each other’s lives. There really is no way to be brief when it comes to detailing Dr. Gill’s array of accomplishments and personal qualities, and so I’ll have to let the blog speak for itself. However, I couldn’t refrain from mentioning that he is also a fellow New York Giants fanatic.

Day 1

After nearly two days of traveling, the RWB team had finally arrived in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania very late Sunday night. We were picked up from the airport by the lovely Katherine Thomas (pictured below in pink) who represents Tanzania’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, as well as with her husband (not pictured).

Needless to say, we were all exhausted. I know Laurie someday intends to blackmail me with a photo of me sleeping in the Dubai airport during our unexpected ten hour [!] layover (I decided it was best to stay on her good side).

When Monday morning rolled around, lets just say we all had a rough time rolling out of bed. Dr. Gill decided it was best to devote half a day towards saying hello to all our friends/colleagues at MUHAS and reacquainting ourselves with the hospital’s layout and organization. Tomorrow would be the day to begin exercising our mission when we were fully rested, rather than on half a night’s sleep (If these couple pictures are any indication, beauty sleep is a must for me).

We were picked up from the hotel around noon on Monday, and taken directly to MUHAS. There, we were welcomed by the head of the Radiology and Imaging department and long-time friend to RWB, Dr. Lulu Fundikira (pictured, bottom-center). After a quick meeting to summarize our itinerary for the week, we headed outside to tour the MUHAS campus.

One of the first things that struck me when heading outdoors, was that despite our typical hospital scrub attire, we all stuck out like a sore thumb. I don’t think I saw a single other person wearing scrubs during the entire week that I spent there. Rather, many of the men wore business casual clothing, while many of the women wore beautiful and brightly-colored garbs (more on that later).

The campus itself was beautiful, filled with healthy trees and bright green grass. I did manage to stealthily (and somewhat creepily) take some pictures of some of the physicians walking past me:

As we entered into the Radiology section of the hospital, we couldn’t help but walk past the waiting room area which divided the corridor. Waiting rooms at MUHAS are much different than the waiting rooms we picture in the United States. Rather than being a devoted section of the hospital, we couldn’t help but walk through an audience of concerned friends and families.

The rest of the day continued with several other reunions with various hospital personnel, each of whom I could tell was genuinely delighted to see Dr. Gill, Brian and Laurie. I remember Dr. Gill turning to me and asking:

“Do you see how we go about making a difference? It’s all about establishing yourself within the hospital community.”

To that point, I have to agree. No institution wants to have some outside arbiter swoop in and start pointing fingers at everything that is perceived to be incorrect. While the intent of such an arbiter maybe valid, unless you have the full trust and support of the hospital personnel, even the most practical proposed solutions can fall on deaf ears.

The premise on which RWB operates, isn’t unlike the setting of a large Thanksgiving dinner. Imagine many relatives coming together with the mutual understanding that there should be enough food on the table for everyone. Sure many of these people haven’t seen each other for quite sometime, and some tend to get along better than others, but at the end of the day, we realize there isn’t anything we wouldn’t do for one another.

When I saw the RWB team interact with the MUHAS personnel for the first time, it felt as if I was at a family reunion. Lots of hugging. Lots of laughs. And most importantly, I could tell they wanted us to be here. I was looking forward to getting to work tomorrow.

Day 1 Impressions

Prepare for battle?

Before we even landed in Dar Es Salaam, I remember Laurie prepping me for a frenzy free-for-all, otherwise known as baggage claim at the Julius Nyerere International Airport. She told me to brace for lots of pushing and shoving due to the sheer volume of people trying to get their luggage. However, upon landing, I was delighted to see only a handful of folks calmly waiting for their bags. It was a scene that could bring a tear to any JFK employee’s eye. As a result, reclaiming our luggage was a pretty smooth process, and Laurie’s bright pink suitcase only generated half the amount of stares as expected. I think it says a lot about the airport with how they managed to address an otherwise chaotic situation within a year.
Familiar territory.
Stepping out of the airport, I was expecting a culture shock right off the bat. However, I was incredibly surprised with the stark similarities to some of the city’s in India—a country I have traveled to a handful of times. Cars drive on the left side of the road, while a significant portion of people walk across the roads at will. The building architectures, while I can’t quite put my finger on it, seemed both unique and familiar at the same time. Even the salty aroma in the air was similar to what I’ve experienced before.

What do you think of this outfit?

As I continued to take pictures out the window of the car, a group of school children saw my camera and proceeded to run towards me waving. They all wore white-shirt uniforms, most likely in the school district’s effort to avoid socioeconomic discrimination. I feel as if uniform requirements are becoming increasingly common-place for areas with large dichotomies in both social status and affluence. In the case of the United States’ public schools, we tend to oppose uniforms in favor of freedom and self-expression. But can you imagine in other countries, that the purpose of uniforms can be used to potentially save a child’s life from violent discrimination?

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