Photographs by: Haley Steffen
Essay by: Ananya Munjal
—“Come again” [Swahili]
During her undergraduate experience at Luther College, medical student Haley Steffen spent a month in Tanzania studying pastoralism and how the creation of national parks in the area was affecting the local people and their livelihoods. What she found was a community rich in culture and built on tradition.
For the duration of her stay, Steffen lived amongst the people of the Maasai tribe in tents and in their “bomas”— huts arranged in a circle made of cow dung and leaves. One of the tribal leaders of the community, Killing’ot, took Steffen around the area, showing her the local wildlife and foliage indigenous to the region.
Another elected community leader, Musa, founded a preschool for young boys and girls in the local church at his homestead— a rarity in this region where girls often don’t have many opportunities to become educated. This church, sponsored in part by Luther College and other private sponsors in Iowa, supports early elementary education in Tanzania and provides food for the students who attend.
During the month of Steffen’s stay, Musa married his now wife, Dyness. As Steffen had one of the only cameras in the area, he asked her to photograph his wedding. She fondly recalls initially sitting in the back of the church at the wedding, remembering “before I knew it his [Musa’s] mom came over to get me and brought me to the altar right next to the officiant. They kept pushing me closer because they wanted more pictures.”
Steffen also spent some time in the local clinics, explaining, “there aren’t many clinics in Tanzania and they don’t keep track of birthdays or other medical records.” One of the clinics she visited had the slogan “For Healing the Whole Man” written across the front which Steffen said was hard for her to see. “Everyone I saw getting treated in the clinic was male— there were no females there.” She asked some of the women she’d met about the accessibility of healthcare in the area and they told her how women who sought access to contraceptives were often beaten by their husbands and sent away from their communities. “This is what first sparked my interest in global health and medicine and figuring out how to help women in different areas gain medical attention.”
“The nurse at the clinic I visited was also the receptionist and the secretary,” Steffen recalls. “I think she could tell I was intrigued and when I was leaving she grabbed my arm asking if I could stay and help.” Steffen hopes to one day return to Africa after finishing her medical education.
“The people in Tanzania are so welcoming,” Steffen reflects. “Whenever we were walking on the street anyone, whether we had met them once or never seen them before, would stop us and have a ten-minute conversation with us. There was no way to get by. Human interaction is a larger part of everyday life there which is something that gets overlooked a lot here— the power of human interaction and how everyone needs it whether they realize it or not.”
“One of the locals used to tell us that ‘We are are all descendants from the stars of heaven’ a phrase used by the tribe to describe how while the American and Tanzanian lifestyles may be vastly different for a number of reasons, there are commonalities at the very core of who we are that matter.”
About the creator:
Haley Steffen is an M2 at the Carver College of Medicine. She majored in Biology and Dance at Luther College and has interests in photography, Global Health, and OBGYN.