Moral dilemma in Zanzibar

Have you already had your Ebola dream? I had mine about a month or two ago. I was wearing a mask and walking towards trucks that were carrying endless amounts of people. It was hot, humid and dusty. People seemed to be escaping something while I seemed to be walking toward that something. The scene looked like refugees escaping an invisible war zone, a mass exodus, but the dream didn’t transcend fear. Nobody died and I woke up without sweat.

The dream has stayed in my mind, and not only because of the ongoing global Ebola scare. It has brought my mind to something that happened in Zanzibar, Tanzania, in 2000 (the same project that inspired me to write Making friends over the Indianย Ocean).

Working in Tanzania was such a pleasure! My first African project.

Working in Tanzania was such a pleasure! My first African project.

Dar Es Salaam was my base for months and it was a very pleasant African city to work in. There were great restaurants serving grilled jumbo prawn and the beach was never too far away. National parks were easily reachable. When I was not working or on safari, I hopped on a ferry to visit Zanzibar, this mystical island culturally so different form the mainland Tanzania. Sometimes I even had to go to Zanzibar for meetings, but most of the time it was out of pure pleasure.

Photos from the paradise -Zanzibar.

Photos from the paradise called Zanzibar.

During one of my last visits to Zanzibar I was diving with a local dive master somewhere off the eastern coast. We had finished turtle watching, I was back at my hotel and had just had a shower when I heard a knock on the door. The dive master excused himself but quickly continued that we are not too far away from his native village and there is a problem. The village needs my car. It appeared that a child had died and needed to be transported from his father’s village to the mother’s village, and the only person the dive master was comfortable with asking a favor for was me. Would I come with him and help him to transport a young dead boy to where he needed to be –with his mother?

A few minutes later we hit the road. Needless to say, it was pitch black. The road was tiny and we were certainly very far from any place a normal tourist goes to. I had no idea where we were. I now hope I had a bottle of water and a torch but I am not sure. We must have driven a hundred kilometers that night. Eventually we collected the tiny corpse, which meant that the father placed his son at the back of my car, taking a seat to it. In silence we continued driving. I followed the instructions and the road certainly didn’t get any wider. I guess I asked what the boy had died of and I think the answer was the usual malaria.

Our arrival at the mother’s village was quite something. There were dozens and dozens of women in a circle, welcoming us, and as soon as I opened the car door, they started The Cry. In fact I can still hear The Cry of these women but I still don’t know how to describe it. It was the most haunting cry I have ever heard, so loud that it must have been heard all the way in the mainland Tanzania. It was not a cry one hears at western funerals. It was something more planned and integral, something that culturally separated me from them. It would be too narrow-minded to say it was a scream from a horror film. For these women it was a way of welcoming this little boy with respect and doing what had to be done. For me, all I wanted was to put hands over my ears. The fact that there was no light brought additional disturbance.

I drove back to the hotel in silence with my dive master who by the way was just a child himself. Well, a young teenager. He thanked me and left. I remember thinking that he probably didn’t know either what to do or say –how to comfort a westerner who is so shocked by something so natural. I also remember that I did what most westerners do when they get confused and disturbed in Africa –I had a gin and tonic before heading to the bed.

Children in the Stone Town (they don't have any relevance to the story).

Children in the Stone Town (they don’t have any relevance to the story).

Now, let’s play a mind game. Fast forward this event to 2014. Remember that I am today fourteen years older than I was in 2000, and supposedly wiser (one must believe in progress, right?). Remember that today’s world is shaken: Ebola kills 70% of those infected. With Internet, news travel faster. There is no way that in 2014 I would be in the dark. In fact, I would know exactly that carrying a dead body of someone who just died of high fever would automatically put me in risk. But what would I do today should a similar opportunity arrive in front me? Would I still today be as “naive” as I was in 2000 and without any hesitation take the car keys and leave? But in the first place, is it justified to say that I had acted out of naivete? I could continue these questions forever.

If my dream was any indication of my possible behavior, I think I would do the same. Or is it only something that I would like to see myself doing? After all, what do we really know about ourselves before the opportunity or the test presents itself to us? Not much.

What are your thoughts?

PS Already following Pearlspotting on Facebook?

 

 

28 thoughts on “Moral dilemma in Zanzibar

  1. Vasilis Meschinis

    A brave and human thing to do, to say the least. If I were 14 years younger, I would probably have done the same. Now, definitely not. I guess when you have children, you tend to take fewer risks that might put theirs or your life in danger and we all know that Ebola can be fatal.

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  2. Sue Slaght

    Miia what a kind and generous heart you have. Being a nurse my heart would likely still want to help so I would need to see what could be done about precautions. It is a very difficult thing.

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    1. Miia Post author

      Thanks Sue, but it was not to highlight my “goodness” (if there is any!) ๐Ÿ˜‰ Honestly, don’t you think that 14 yrs ago many of us would have done the same thing? After all it was only about lending a car, and had I not done that, I would have been playing silly power games…
      But I do think people would feel different nowadays, or at least think twice.

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      1. Sue Slaght

        I agree Miia that we know so much more as the years go by. When I graduated from nursing HIV was unknown!
        Whenever we help others we have to look at our own safety first. As we know more about diseases we also learn more how to do that.

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      2. Miia Post author

        It is impressive how much things change and evolve in such a relatively short time! I still remember watching the TV when they “announced” this new virus called HIV…

        Have a great weekend! What are the plans?

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      3. Miia Post author

        Thanks Sue!

        Even if you may not feel like it (I know shoveling IS HARD WORK!), looks cool to me ๐Ÿ˜‰
        I feel funny that it is so warm in Paris in November –it is supposed to be snowing! Or at least cold enough to go to the attic and fetch woolen clothes!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Indah Susanti

    14 years ago I would do the same as what you did. Today? Maybe I will do the same as well but perhaps I would ask first in details of what had happened and suggested to check the medic. Brave story Miia! Africa is a continent that I wish to explore someday and you had amazing experience there.

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      1. Indah Susanti

        Nope. I had a dream to work in the continent though and I had a job interview for a post in Ghana – but unfortunately I did not get it ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Now I think my moments have passed so I guess I will visit the country as a tourist instead. I am thinking to visit Mozambique as my first African country..but who knows Morocco could be on the way ๐Ÿ˜€

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      2. Indah Susanti

        yup..yup..that was the reason ๐Ÿ˜€ but the visa process from NL is not that simple – the closest embassy is in Brussels. Maybe we should visit Tanzania instead. How was the diving in Zanzibar?

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      3. Miia Post author

        Can you not get a visa on arrival? That’s what we did when we visited Tanzania, very easy (just need USD in cash upon arrival ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).

        I would think TZ and M are very similar, but TZ has more tourism infrastructure. The best diving to my knowledge is around Zanzibar and particularly Mnemba atoll as well as around Pemba island, which is one island up north from Zanzibar. I have been to several sites around these places (plus mainland TZ where I got my license but that’s less exciting).

        I cannot compare diving there to Asian diving but I thought it was pretty cool! Culturally Zanzibar is very interesting and pretty, too.

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  4. Packing my Suitcase

    Woman you had unique experiences in your life, and I have no doubt that you became wiser… our experiences teach us in ways we have no idea and most of the time dont even notice. Im pretty sure today you would act differently, the world is facing a serious problem with the Ebola… and i really hope we can all manage this problem in the best way possible!

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      1. Packing my Suitcase

        Its a tough one for sure… but knowing the kid had Ebola, I dont think you would have lost your humanity not doing this favor, it is a matter of risking your life too ๐Ÿ˜ฆ pretty hard… I bet some people might be on this situation as we speak… we never know!

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      2. Miia Post author

        I see your point but when the situation is that you don’t know…. then you may come across as pretty petty for not helping. After all, most of fever-related illnesses in Africa are not contagious.

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  5. Heyjude

    I think you just act on instinct. At the time your instinct was to help. You knew nothing about the circumstances of the child’s death and you didn’t enquire. If he had died of an infectious fatal disease you wouldn’t be here to write about it. Such is life and death in Africa.

    Now you know more, now your instinct would cause you to act differently I think.

    An incident in Melbourne comes to mind. A couple came into the restaurant and stood by my table waiting to be seated. They seemed slightly drunk or drugged. Suddenly the woman fainted and crashed to the floor, blood pouring from her skull. The boyfriend stood there. I grabbed my napkin and pressed it onto her wound to stem the flow, and shouted at him to come over so he could hold it in place. The Maรฎtre d’ called an ambulance. My friend whom I was dining with looked at me in concern. “You’d better go wash your hands” she said, ” I hope you don’t have any cuts”. It took a moment for me to understand. HIV / Aids. Yes I knew about it. Yes I understood how it spread. I was even trained as a First Aider at Work, which is why I reacted so quickly I suppose. BUT still my instinct kicked in.

    I think some of us just do.

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    1. Miia Post author

      Interesting story you have. Were you scared afterwards of “what could have happened”? Do you now wish that your instinct would tell you to act differently (should that happen again I mean)?

      That’s kinda my dilemma… Would I want to act differently should that same incident happen now? If I did, would it just mean that I have grown up and that I am wiser now (=something “positive”)? Or would it mean that I have lost some “humanity in me” (something that I guess happens with age, right?) and that I am less naive…..? Somehow that doesn’t sound as dignified to me! So, I guess my question is Should I am aim at acting differently next time? Part of me thinks that if I did, I would be disappointed in myself…

      Did you ever find out what the woman in the restaurant had? I think it is not by hazard that you had done the training –suited your personality ๐Ÿ™‚

      Have a lovely week!

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