Ngorongoro Crater and Beyond: FAME

DC fell ill on the way out from the Serengeti. We didn’t think it would be that bad and figured it was a matter of lack of acclimatisation. The cold mornings and evenings and hot days coupled with the dusty weather didn’t agree with him. At first I thought it was travellers’ flu, but it seemed to get worse. Thankfully the good people at The Manor pointed us towards a clinic in nearby Karatu. “They have a very good American doctor, please check in case it is malaria!” urged the staff at reception. Muba drove us there and soon we had registered and sat waiting with the locals.

It was slightly bewildering to suddenly be part of the local scene. We’d already seen some of the local Maasai coming in, still wearing their traditional clothing, just their everyday cloaks and not their Sunday best for the tourists. In the waiting room proper, there were Maasai in deep blue cloaks and local townspeople of other tribes wearing bright green and yellow sarongs. The Maasai really didn’t wear anything under their cloaks and didn’t seem to think much about partial public nudity. A grandmother entering the waiting room didn’t seem bothered at all that her cloak covered up in front but not a great deal from the side. Another mother brought a toddler with a hacking cough to see the doctor; she suckled her infant quite easily under her cloak while comforting her poor son. We stared, each finding the other exotic. Unfortunately, I was the only one who appreciated the local life as DC was pretty much wrung out and exhausted.

It seemed like a bit of a wait before it was DC’s turn. We realised that we’d waited a while because the American doctor himself saw DC. Dr Artress welcomed us with a big friendly smile and, as he washed his hands thoroughly, he asked us to call him Frank. He was disarmingly friendly and told us that while it was unlikely to be malaria given where we’d been in the past few days, he’d check anyway just to be sure. He then told us that the usual treatment would be what we’d have self-medicated with anyway – anti-histamines and a course of Augmentin. If we needed more paracetamol, he’d be happy to provide it, but for him? He prefers ibuprofen.

We chatted for a while. He was very impressed with DC’s diving watch, which DC explained was completely useless since we use dive computers (these babies aren’t actual computers – they compute dive times and depths and come in compact watch sizes) for diving. We were very impressed with his story. On his 50th birthday he and his wife attempted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to celebrate. He almost didn’t make it down because of a pulmonary edema – an air bubble that gets into your bloodstream because of sudden ascents to high altitude. He didn’t say the details of how he survived, but suffice to say that after he recuperated, he and his wife decided to spend their retirement giving back to Tanzania. Within months, they were back and set up FAME. He said that Karatu was much nicer than being in California where he hailed from. To our disappointment that we didn’t see any elephants in the crater, he deadpanned that they were all in his backyard stealing his bananas.

Before sending us on our way, Frank explained that tourists and those who could afford it would be charged more than the locals. This is a charity foundation after all. We were surprised that the bill (USD50) came up to less than what we’d pay for the same doctor visit back home. Tell me, which clinic in Singapore charges that little for consultation, pretty much instant lab results (very professionally done, no less) and expensive, albeit generic drugs> Since the fee would be covered by travel insurance anyway, we matched it with a donation.

To my horror, DC later developed the same hacking cough as the Maasai toddler. We took things much slower after that, which explains why the Ngorongoro Crater part of the safari is so short in this blog. After extensive medical observation and two months of convalescence, he’s recovered. Moral of the story? Buy travel insurance. It was unfortunate that DC caught something in Tanzania, and it’s pure speculation whether he got it at the waiting room in FAME. Whatever the case, Muba said he was glad to have taken us there, the alternative was the local hospital. He said that unlike FAME, the place wasn’t run as professionally and the doctors tended to take a trial and error approach.

Sadly, it didn’t occur to me to take a picture. You’ll have to content yourself with the website. Go on, click on the link and donate if your heart moves you.

FAME: The Foundation for African Medicine and Education
Karatu, Tanzania

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2 thoughts on “Ngorongoro Crater and Beyond: FAME

  1. It seems like a great foundation! I’m glad you guys had the experience of this place – not so glad that DC got sick, of course. But these little events lead to different and unexpected adventures and exposure!

    • Exactly! It was the first and only time in the trip where I felt like I was travelling rather than just being a tourist.

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