Daniela Mucci carried out the research for her degree thesis at St. Gaspar Referral and Teaching Itigi Hospital

24 January 2017 - by Daniela Mucci

It hadn't been my first time in Africa; I've dreamed of it since I was 15. Thanks to the honeymoon in Tanzania, part of my dream had already come true; the following year my husband Tommaso and I chose Namibia. However, I still didn't feel that I had completely fulfilled my dream: I wanted to know more about that culture, those people, women with typical colorful costumes and children with big eyes. Thus, at the beginning of the course (second year of the Master's Degree in Food and Human Nutrition Sciences), the professor of Endocrinology Nicola Napoli he proposed a thesis experience in Africa that I couldn't refuse.

The desire was great, but the fear of not being able to do it was also growing in me: it was my first experience alone, away from home. Initially, Vittoria, the colleague who had accepted the thesis proposal in Africa, and I didn't know which country we were destined for. However, we knew that the continent was the African one and this was enough for us. What initially worried me was the fact that I didn't know the l very wellingua inginjured, but I trusted in the survival instinct.

Thus, after several meetings with the professor, on 5 August we found ourselves at Fiumicino airport, ready for a direct flight to East Africa: Tanzania. That morning, among other things, fate had reserved me, upon check-in, an unexpected free upgrade to business class which made my journey even more comfortable. After a ten hour flight, we landed in Dar Er Salam in the afternoon, where Dino picked us up, our good drivers and future dispenser of smiles, especially in moments of despair. During the transfer to the accommodation I had the opportunity to admire what the professor told us following his experience in these places: a city, like Dar, which lights up with lights at sunset. Those of the roadside markets, where people laugh and chat around huge and hot braziers that cook chapati e sent, typical sweets with a very high glycemic index.

The following morning, we set off by jeep for Itigi. Ten hours of travel, interspersed with stops in typical bars and houses of the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. Arriving in Itigi, we found many people willing to take care of us, starting with Lucio, an Italian who moved there for several years, who takes care of the hospital pharmacy warehouse; Also all the doctors placed themselves at our disposal, presenting us with what that reality was, which would also become ours in the days to come.

The thing I really appreciated was the ethics this hospital had: the meet those who had economic difficulties, give priority to saving the lives of others rather than looking at the economic factor of profit. This is one of the main reasons why the hospital is in a situation of economic crisis. Another interesting and fascinating thing was seeing the doctor and/or nurse nuns of the various departments work with professionalism and love. On Sundays we all went to mass together, which was celebrated completely indoorsingua Swahili, with the choir performing tribal songs such as “Sala yangu na ipae honey yako” (“May my prayer rise to You like smoke”), a truly unique experience. Every Sunday after mass I knew I could feel at home for a moment thanks to the delicious breakfasts prepared by Sister Dina and Sister Esterina, two courageous women who have lived in Itigi for almost 40 years and who have dedicated their lives to serving the sick. Another moment that I remember fondly are the afternoon prayers in the small church together with the Ursuline nuns, completely thereingThose are also Swahili, accompanied by tambourines and other typical instruments.

Our work consisted in researching the correlation between the intake of antiretroviral drugs with related side effects that lead to the onset of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. The impact with patients was initially strong. Almost none of them spoke theinginjured, but only the lingthe local one, Swahili. They also often spoke dialects. What amazed me most, however, was how each of them made themselves available to us. Over time I began to look patients in the eyes, I got used to their way of speaking and relating to us; everyone is always so helpful and understanding. At a certain point I felt so integrated that I began to use some of their ways: counting like them, using terms from their language.ingua local (which I still happen to use in Italy).

What I could notice is definitely the fact that these people they need professionals who advise them on how to eat and combine foods, in order not to run into protein-type nutritional deficiencies. It is also important to teach diabetic patients how to adjust the insulin dose to the amount of carbohydrates eaten during meals.

Among the causes of the HIV epidemic are promiscuous relationships, which occur on both sides, but above all on the part of the man, who for religious and social reasons can often have more than one wife. In some rural tribes, the more traditionalist ones, unfortunately techniques such as infibulation and the removal of the woman's genitals are still practiced, a fundamental requirement for being able to find a husband, who is most often chosen by one's family and not by the future bride. The other thing that surprised me was discovering that some children up to 10 years old don't have a precise name, given the high infant mortality rate. It is probably a "defense" mechanism adopted by the parents to ensure that they do not become so attached to that child, until they have the guarantee that he has passed that age with a high health vulnerability.

Saturday was the day of the mobile clinic: together with the nurses and the physiotherapist we went to the villages to visit pregnant women and children. After work we could spend some free time in the village, wandering around their homes and finding here and there curious children eager to get to know us. Their parents were very welcoming, inviting us to sit outside on rickety little stools created by local artisans. Some children, probably never having seen a white man, cried as soon as they saw us, thinking we were albinos. Above all, I aroused particular interest, perhaps because chiara fair complexion and blonde. The children did nothing but touch my long hair, to make sure it was real or just feel like it was straight and long hair to the touch. As soon as I saw these children I couldn't help but hug them and my coat turned brown like the earth they had on them. In particular I remember a little girl, Daki, who as soon as she met me she did nothing but stay in my arms looking for affection. What I felt as I left was indescribable: she didn't want to leave me, on the contrary she wanted to go away with me, get into the car; to see her crying as she ran home... well, I guess I'll never forget it! As I will never forget Salima, the little girl with big eyes and the sweetest and smartest smile she has ever seen, suffering from osteomyelitis.

What will remain forever in my heart will be the people I met in this wonderful adventure: some doctors, such as Dr. Salis, a man who dedicated his entire life to that hospital, to whom I really owe a lot from both a professional and human point of view, Dr. Mikaeli, my great friend and inspirer of positive thoughts and good, Dr. Nerbat, a young trainee, who was one of the first to dedicate time to me and make me feel at home, Sister Incoronata, another pillar of the hospital, a pediatrician, a volcanic woman full of ideas that have revolutionized positive hospital. I also remember with immense affection the nurses and nuns, especially Sister Mary Frida, a companion in prayers, laughter and confidences. For me it was a great resource, as were the sisters Sr Mary, Sr Edith and Sr Graziana, whom I remember with great affection and with a smile on my lips. Another special person was Sister Esperancia, a great help during our research and a workmate who was able to make even the most difficult moments of our experience pleasant and enjoyable.. There isn't a day you don't think about them. They knew how to enrich my soul with a simple but pure smile, with a wonderful and big hug. Certainly there were moments of difficulty during the work - dealing with more problematic patients or simply seeing dying people - but God's help was a great resource for me, none of the staff ever turned their backs on me , I met some wonderful people that I will never forget. Each of them through a smile, a minute spent talking to me, a kind gesture towards me made this experience unforgettable and partly changed my work plans.

The other great thing was meeting Davis, a primary school teacher, and having the privilege of being able to hold together with Vittoria two lessons concerning food education and HIV. What struck me the most was seeing how the teachers are able to interact with these children while keeping their attention high and how these children had a lot of respect for the teachers. Seeing how most of the time they don't have the appropriate means to be able to study, starting with the book and ending up at the counter, they don't have a snack, but despite this they are among the most smiling and happy children I've ever seen.

I have seen mothers and children immersed in extreme poverty, but who were able to live peacefully even if it was day to day, because there no problem is really defined as such. “Hakuna matata”, this is the first sentence I learned here. In Africa life flows slowly: if they see you walking at a brisk pace they wonder why, they think "Maybe something happened?", because time passes there "pole pole", or slow slow.

What made me happy was making myself useful every day even in the smallest things, but I really think that the thing I miss the most is them, because it's them, the children, who have given me so much, despite having nothing. Now my desire is to go back there to bring what they need and maybe even find a way to make myself useful through my work.