In the villages of rural Tanzania, life is simple, but nearly every essential task requires more than one set of hands. As a practical requirement of life, families are large. Siblings are especially important and the bond that seems to be the most important to the success of any family is the bond that exists between brothers.
Women work incredibly hard in these villages, but in the local tradition women often marry at a young age and move on to start a new family in a new village. Parents grow older, the remaining sons marry and the new wives give birth to more children. This natural process leaves the sons to carry on the family traditions and vests them with the duty to make sure that every mouth has food and shelter.
Brothers hunt together. They farm together. They build family homes together. All of these activities take a team. Men in Tanzania know that they need a partner, and they know that by working together they can sustain life for their parents, children, and wives. Brotherhood is much more than friendship – it’s a requirement for life.
When I met Sadiki and Mohammed at KCMC I couldn’t initially tell which one was sick. They sat together on a small bed, smiling and talking, looking out the window, and always sharing meals from a single bowl.
After a few days I began looking at each of them more closely. With this sudden attention, I could immediately see that Sadiki had a large tumor on the side of his neck – most likely a late stage lymphoma. On the day he was admitted, I learned that Sadiki had taken six pints of blood. His body was no longer creating red blood cells and without the transfusions, he would die within a few days. However even with transfusions, the cancer was continuing to spread. Without chemotherapy or radiation, the cancer would quickly overtake his increasingly frail body.
As Sadiki’s condition improved and deteriorated with the timing of each transfusion, his brother did what brothers do. Each night while Sadiki slept, Mohammed would make the long journey back to the village. If Mohammed had his own motorcycle it would have taken about an hour, but he had sold it to pay for Sadiki’s treatment. Now the journey took nearly three hours each way – first by public bus, then motorcycle, and then by foot.
When Mohammed reached their home, he would harvest a few crops under the light of the moon, slaughter a goat, leave what he could for his parents and children, and then begin the long journey back to the hospital with food for his brother. If he had been efficient in the night and finished his work early, he would stop by a small mosque along the highway to give thanks on his way back to the hospital.
Mohammed was a master of survival, but after making this commute for several weeks, I could tell that the many mysteries of the hospital were beginning to take a toll.
After Sadiki’s diagnosis was confirmed, he was discharged.
We offered to take Sadiki and Mohammed back to their village for the last time. On our way to their home, we stopped in to a small pharmacy in search of morphine. The charge was only a few dollars but Mohammed had spent the last of his family’s savings and sold everything he owned. We purchased the remaining inventory and began the drive east.
After reaching their home, we helped Sadiki inside, and then watched as he laid down in the bed where he would die.
His mother wept as his father began to pray.
“God is great,” he said.