2011 – Make or Break

January 2011

This was a quiet month after the excitement of Christmas. Abasi is back at uni and studying hard. He has to do well over the next few months to stand a chance of getting onto the MD degree course and is concentrating his efforts on that goal. Like everywhere the cost of living has risen dramatically in Tanzania and Abasi was feeling the pinch, though I think he helps his family out to a certain extent!

Abasi managed to trash his laptop when he got some malware on it, while helping a friend out. This resulted in having to reinstall everything but luckily he keeps a backup, so it was just a bit of time that got lost.

Not a lot of other communication due to the need to study (I hope!). However I did get a text towards the end of the month to say the exam results were out and he got B/B+ in biology and C in chemistry. This is excellent news and adds a little more conviction that Abasi will pass the year…

February 2011

Another quiet month. There are not many ways to say I’m studying hard I suppose. I did get one email saying Abasi had got 83% in a Physics exam, so this is really good news. It looks like we only have Chemistry to fear! He has started studying Anatomy now, so he’s beginning to move into proper medicine. He says he’s having trouble remembering all the names of bones, nerves and so on. I don’t think this is a big problem. It’s just a matter of going over them repeatedly until they sink in.

Abasi still has a mountain to climb but his university seems very good and his results are picking up well. I have a feeling of both excitement and trepidation as we move towards the first goal of passing Pre-Med. All of us here have got everything crossed…

March 2011

The month went well academically. Abasi continued to get good grades (B’s and A’s) and continued to work very hard. On top of that Abasi got chosen to be the research assistant on an Anatomy project for 5 Masters students. It’s pleasing that his lecturers are seeing in him what I see. For some reason Abasi felt the need to upgrade his mobile phone to a better model. I’m not sure of the necessity and I wonder if having access to money is going to his head a little. However he is studying very hard as his increasing grades show, so I’ll let him have his little pleasures for now!

The month didn’t end so well with the news that his mother was unwell, with a bleeding wound from an operation some time ago. She’s had to have some drugs which cost the same as a month’s worth of Abasi’s living expenses. If that doesn’t work then another operation will be needed. This leaves me with a moral dilemma. I decided to help Abasi train to be a doctor but I didn’t sign up to supporting his family come what may. However if his mother is seriously unwell he will not perform well in his studies. He did take the decision to send the money for the drugs on his own which I think shows he has the ability to make decisions when the pressure is on. This must be a good trait for a potential doctor.

So time for me to examine my conscience…?

April 2011

Another relatively quiet month. Abasi is working hard and getting good results, with the occasional blip. But we all remain hopeful. We are now having to prepare for the move to the full MD degree, assuming Abasi is successful in his exams. He has to re-apply to the uni for this. He asked me about applying to other universities, but we have decided that though his current uni is expensive it is very good and we have decided he should stay there if he can. He also mentioned applying for a student loan. However even if he got the maximum loan it would only cover a third of the course fees and none of the living expenses. So we agree it is probably not worth the effort.

Abasi’s mum continues on her medication and we wait to see if it is effective. This is really a distraction that Abasi doesn’t need but it can’t be helped. The final exams are on 9th – 15th May. The outcome is now very much in the lap of the gods. We’re keeping everything crossed…

May 2011

Well it all happened this month! Abasi’s mum went back to the doctor who told her that she needed another operation. However Abasi’s family were not confident in the doctor and have arranged for a second opinion in Dar in early June. The final exams were due to start on the 9th, but sadly one of the students died the day before from malaria. The exams were postponed for a week to enable the funeral to take place.

The exams finally took place and the wait began. I think Abasi was very relieved they were over and the studying could stop, as it has been a very intense year. Abasi filled the wait by helping his lecturers with various administrative tasks. He appears to be very well liked by the teaching staff.

Abasi’s sister has been off school apparently because she was sick. After she had recovered she was soon off sick again. Abasi found out that she was not sick at all but had been missing school to avoid “the stick”. In some schools the teachers will hit students with a stick when they get wrong answers in class. Apparently some teachers use this approach regularly. While hitting students is illegal in Western countries, it is still acceptable in many African countries. I think there is a move to get it banned, but these things move slowly.

At the end of the month the news finally broke. Abasi was called into uni and told informally that he had passed! So with much relief we have cleared the first hurdle. Five more years of study ahead and five more sets of final exams to get through! Can Abasi take the pressure? Can I? Abasi hinted that he would like to come to the UK again. I think he deserves it, and it will be a trip to take in celebration rather than consolation…

June 2011

Abasi’s mum had her consultation with a top doctor in Dar and was prescribed medication instead of needing an operation. However the medication was very expensive and hard to find. Abasi spent quite a few days going round suppliers but eventually he got enough supplies. So far his mum is doing well and it seems to be working.

More good news. Abasi was told he had been accepted on the MBBS course in September. As in England the costs have increased dramatically and far exceed initial expectations. But we will push on, albeit with a close eye on the budget! Abasi also put in his application for a visa so he can come to England. We are still waiting for the application to be approved.

Abasi went back home to southern Tanzania for a week or so to visit his family. While there he helped create a vegetable garden and he had the toilets upgraded. So I think his family were very pleased to see him, in more ways than one!

Now we just wait for the visa…

July 2011

Well the visa finally came and Abasi flew into London. He is here for 5 weeks. Unfortunately I don’t have that much holiday so I have to take a couple of days off each week to do the tourist things. We have done a few of the usual tourist hotspots like Brighton, Tower Bridge and the odd castle and church, but it soon became clear that Abasi saw these as photo opportunities to show he’d been there. We started to strike a chord with a visit to Wembley stadium.

Meal times have changed significantly since Abasi’ arrival. Instead of sitting around the TV except on Sundays, we have taken to meals round the kitchen table. This has enabled some interesting conversations about customs, language and religion. My wife particularly likes this approach to family life and used the time to dig deeper into Abasi’ family. She is particularly interested in the female members of his family as these do not get mentioned very often.

We engaged in a few more activities like walking the dog, bike rides and taking rubbish down to the dump! These all require photos to be taken, including one of the mountain of rubbish at the council recycling centre. However we finally hit on the top activity when, on my birthday, we all went karting. This proved to be a big hit with both Abasi and my daughters. I managed to win the race with some surprisingly aggressive driving coming from my youngest daughter. Abasi was fast but tended to spin the kart on so many occassions that we nicknamed him Kobayashi.

I think they would all like to beat me so a rematch may be required…

August 2011

The visit continued for the first half of the month. A few more tourist visits ensued, like Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, but particular favourites were Chelsea stadium and Thorpe Park. However the most surprising activity was swimming. Abasi couldn’t swim but wanted to learn. So I took him down to the local pool and gave him a few tips. He spent the next week down at the pool most days practising and by the end of the week could swim a complete length of the pool! We all thought that this was a stunning achievement.

As the visit drew to a close Abasi needed to get presents for a number of people because, as he explained, this was customary in Tanzania. This led to some confusion as he had no money and I assumed his friends and family would be aware of this. Thus the expectation was that I should fund presents for a number of people I have never met. We found a compromise, but I still don’t quite get it…

Well the visit ended and we had a fairly emotional goodbye at the airport. But the visit achieved a number of things. My wife had been unsure about Abasi being away from home for such a long time, but she did say that she felt that this had really helped her to get to know and understand Abasi. I think the cultural differences were interesting to explore and I think we understood the differences a bit better. Of course Abasi was very impressed with what everybody in England has and how it contrasted with what he has not. However this was a double edged sword. He could see a future that he could strive for and I think this added to his ambitions. However it also made him see himself as very poor. This is of course relative. He is indeed poor by comparison to the English and indeed some Tanzanians. And this is the driver for me to provide his educational opportunity. However I have involvement with a charity that works in Darfur, and these people are truly desperate.

Perhaps when he qualifies, I’ll take him there…

September 2011

A quiet month for me though a hectic one for Abasi. He had to get new accommodation for the academic year and sort out all the bills, fees and other problems that come with starting a new course at uni. He also visited his family in southern Tanzania and attended a friend’s wedding. The biggest problem has been the large increase in tuition fees in Tanzania, as elsewhere. This led to a number of protests over the last few months by the students. Abasi has been advised to register for his course by the student union, but not to pay the fees until things are resolved. This is a little worrying. He doesn’t want to be out of step with his fellow students, but it would be disastrous if he did not get his place at uni. However there is little I can do so I have advised him to do what he thinks is best and we’ll just keep our fingers crossed.

All things being equal the MD course proper starts next month. I don’t envy Abasi the hard road ahead but I admire his determination. I wonder how he’ll fare…

October 2011

Well Abasi started his course on time, though there are still some ongoing issues with the students and fees. It was supposed to be resolved by the end of the month, but I haven’t heard if this has actually happened. Still Abasi says he is really enjoying the course. He has a different place to live this year. It is very close to the university, which makes life a little easier. He had to spend a bit of time and money doing it up with a few of the essentials that make studying tolerable like a fridge, a comfortable chair and a decent bed!

Abasis’ mothers’ medical problem was not corrected by the drugs so she had an operation, and that seems to have done the trick, from what I can tell. Unfortunately towards the end of the month Abasi went down with malaria. He has had this a few times, but it is still worrying. I understand that bouts of malaria can be bought on by stress. This doesn’t bode well for someone facing five years of difficult studies…

November 2011

I’ve only had one email from Abasi this month, but its contents reveal why he has been quiet and probably will be for the next 5 years. His day runs out at around 18 hours a day, which includes 9 hours of lectures, 3 hours of group discussion and 4 hours of revision. It’s a tough regime by any stretch of the imagination. Still the good news is that he recovered from his bout of malaria and also his mother has improved after her operation.

I expect that Abasi is rather looking forward to the Christmas break…

December 2011

Abasi has been very busy with his studies so not much contact. He has been having tests right up to Christmas so he’s not had time for anything but study. He wasn’t even able to go home for Christmas. He was a bit disappointed with a “C” in the first test, but at least it’s a pass, and as I told him, it’s better than a “D”! Unfortunately his laptop motherboard had to be replaced and emergency funding was required. This became his defacto Christmas present.

Between Christmas and New Year we set up a Skype link and we all had a video chat with Abasi. It was great to see him again. He was managing to still do a little swimming from time to time, and seemed happy. I think he’s settled into the student life now and is concentrating on moving forward with his studies.

So on to 2012…