Having never visited sub Saharan Africa before I didn’t know what to expect from the trip. The pre departure talk answered a lot of questions as did the information pack, but the weeks leading up to trip were still nerve wracking.
After a ten hour flight (for what it’s worth I’d recommend the direct BA flight to Dar rather than connecting somewhere, unless you are staying over on the way) the arrival in Dar is something of a contrast to the comforts of Heathrow, but Alpha, the programme manager in Dar, was there to meet me once I got through immigration. I arrived early on a Sunday morning and as with nearly every student house in the world, Sunday mornings are for sleeping and recovering from the night before.
Everyone in the house was really welcoming; sharing a room with several other people may not be what you are used to but it is brilliant for getting to know people. The house is an incredible place to base your stay.
The swimming pool is the heart of the house and is always in use.
The Monday morning was spent getting to know the immediate area including safety information. As a foreigner you are very noticeable and therefore potentially a target for crime. However, follow the advice given by the staff and you shouldn’t have a problem. I was the only one in the house based at my hospital so while everyone else could go to their placements together I had to face the dala-dala (local bus) journey solo. Thankfully Alpha took me on the first day otherwise who knows where I would have ended up. The local transport seems daunting at first but stick with it as it offers a real slice of local life.
The pre-departure chat from Work the World gave some details about the placement like the number of patients being treated each day – 85 patients per machine per day! I thought I’d be rushed off my feet! However, African life moves at a much slower pace than in the UK so things are never rushed. Equipment and techniques are basic so don’t expect cutting edge treatment or to learn new techniques. The biggest difference you will see is in the patients themselves and their illnesses so try to get involved and ask lots of questions. The staff at the hospital were amazing and always willing to help in translating or explaining things I didn’t understand and were full of questions themselves about life and work in the UK.
The majority of cases treated (around 60%) are women with advanced cervical cancer. As with everything there, the techniques are simple and without any imaging the success rate is thought to be quite poor. I say “thought to be” because there are no follow-up appointments or information on survival rates so nobody really knows how useful these treatments are. The average life expectancy in Tanzania is just 53 years so you are unlikely to see the cancers that we see a lot of in the UK such as prostate cancer. I also got to see some paediatric patients while I was there which was an intense experience. Small children (just 5 or 6 years old) were treated for complex conditions such as retinoblastomas without any immobilisation, imaging, or shielding.
But there is far more to a Work the World experience than the placement – apart from the usual stuff of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs (which you will thoroughly enjoy) there is a ton of amazing stuff to do!
One weekend was spent in Zanzibar, which is just a short ferry away, and lets you see far more history and culture than is available in Dar itself. This isn’t a tour guide so I won’t bore you with what you should and shouldn’t do and see but the house’s black book, which is filled in by people who have stayed at the house, is incredibly useful and will give you loads of ideas.
Many people opt to go on to places like Kilimanjaro and Serengeti after their stay in Dar, but if that isn’t an option then do what I did and get together a group of you for a safari at one of the nearer parks. I went on a two day safari to Mikumi which is only a few hours away by road and it was well worth it. Okay, they don’t have rhinos so you can’t say you’ve done the big five but everything else was there and it was an incredible experience. 400 photos can’t be wrong!
If I had to pick one highlight from the whole trip it would be snorkelling off the island marine reserve of Bongoyo. Picture an island paradise and that is it! Good for trekking, swimming or just lounging in the sun, if you go to Dar you have to go to Bongoyo. The visibility in the water is dependent of the weather but if you are lucky you will see a plethora of marine life, getting to dive in amongst a coral reef and a shipwreck. The food on offer is pretty incredible too!
I couldn’t end this piece without talking about the food at the house. Probably not the best if you are on a diet but amazing nonetheless – thank you Raheema! Thursday night is barbeque night and is guaranteed to be a great night, in no small part due to the delicious food and Mark and Alpha’s African dancing master class; hard to explain and impossible to forget.
I can honestly say that my time in Dar with Work the World was the best month of my life, and something I will never forget.