Thursday, March 17, 2011


Healing A Sick Nation The Loliondo Way

Ours is an ailing nation. It is sick socially, politically and even spiritually. That is our Loliondo.

In ‘What Makes Loliondo Treatment Tick?’ (The Citizen 15/03/2011) I curiously concluded that I can hardly wait to see what is happening there. Well, I went. Yes, I saw. But, I did not conquer.

We took off from Arusha at dawn. The bus was fully packed. Nay, it was seemingly fully packed as we kept picking more passengers, if not patients, along the way. Unsurprisingly my ticket was doubly booked. Yes, yet another symptom of a very sick nation that can barely regulate anything.

But everything, as we say in the parlance of miracles, happens for a reason. So as a blessing in disguise I got to sit in the bus staircases right in front, just next to the driver. After all one could not generate any strength, moral or otherwise, to fight for a seat with those who were not feeling well at all. Some could barely walk. Yet some could hardly talk. This bus was their ‘ambulance’.

Of course there are those who opted for relatively more comfortable cars – some hired others privately owned. But as you can tell our society is not only classed but also gendered. No wonder the composition of the fifty plus passengers in the bus reflected health statistics that are frequently splashed in national demographic reports – a lot of women, children and old people.

Perhaps no one knows better than the drivers/conductors of Toyota Land Cruisers which for the time being have forfeited their usual business of tourism in Arusha and Manyara. As they tried to convince me to join them a woman came by. One of them told the other not to even bother to ask her if she could take the remaining two seats in their Toyota. Why? Because he could tell who is a bus passenger’. How? I still don’t know but he kept insisting that ‘you can just tell by looking’.

But even the bus was not that less costly. Some passengers had to pay as much as Tsh 60,000 for a roundtrip to Loliondo and the ‘black-market’ could even peg it at a higher cost. Now imagine a poor woman travelling with her family, surely she cannot afford Tsh 100,000 per person in the cruiser over and above the Tsh 500 that one has to ‘give’ so as to get the treatment let alone afford food required to survive through the night if not ‘lucky’ enough to return on the same day.

But we all came – from Arusha, Mwanza, Dar es Salaam, and beyond. Along the way we even saw a bus from Nairobi, Kenya and another from Kampala, Uganda. They all braved the rough and contentious road which, as I would argue in my forthcoming article on ‘All Roads Lead to Loliondo’, has found a new impetus for construction thanks to the sensational ‘cure’ of Loliondo.

It took us about 12 hours to reach our destination. By twilight passengers in our bus had yet drunk from the cup of what is now regarded in Biblical terms as the ‘water of life’. For a moment the treatment had to be suspended because there was no enough water. They went to fetch more.

We thus used that window of opportunity to talk with Ambilikile Mwasapile, famously known as ‘Babu’ (Grandfather) and ‘Mchungaji’ (Pastor), about the treatment. There is no time to waste so I go straight to the point and ask about the nature, origin and strength of that ‘dawa (medicine)’.

Babu, clearly comfortable with the limelight of the media, also goes straight to the point: ‘The origin of the medicine is God Himself.’ He goes on: “The tree is ordinary, it is just a common tree like any other tree but God has put his Word inside the tree.’ In that regard he concludes: “So it is the Word of God that heals.’ In other words, as he puts it later, ‘this is a matter of faith’.

That keyword ‘faith’ does what one may regard as the ‘trick’, ‘magic’ or ‘miracle’ depending on his/her vantage point. Babu also adds another nuance to it that opens the gate to Loliondo wide open – the treatment, he insists, is ‘not a flag to champion a particular religion’. No wonder he is criticized by some Christians by not using the name of Jesus although in an indirect way he does so when he asserts that if ‘God removes His Word in the tree the dawa becomes ineffectual’.

From a Biblical vantage point Jesus is presented as the “Word of God”. Therein faith revolves around Him as highlighted by the famous phrase “Thus Saith the Lord”. Moreover, the Bible defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” or, as another version puts it, it “is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”.

It should not come as a surprise then when we see people from all walks of life full of ‘confidence’, ‘hope’ or even on what they consider ‘evidence’ go to Loliondo in search a ‘miracle cure’. What is happening in Loliondo has its own internal logic and can hardly be explained by conspiracy theories on the quest to boost tourism in the Northern circuit. Rather it is driven by what we hear and see in the context of a country with pathetic basic social services.

In this regard mass media and religion, two out of five institutions that matters a lot to people according to Twaweza’s study, play a major role. After all Babu did not start his treatment today. When I asked him why such publicity now? He simply said it is because of what patients testify. What is my testimony? I heard and saw a people in pain and in need of a better society that caters for their social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. They clung to any sign of miracle they had heard of or claim to have seen. Unfortunately I did not see any instant miracle. I missed the much talked about helicopter that is said to have brought a critical patient from Kenya who managed to wave on the way back after s/he was helped to drink the dawa. I kept missing such phenomena.

All I could see is a number of my fellow passengers who looked sick and weak even when we arrived back in Arusha after spending a whole night in Loliondo. While there class emerged again. Some of us slept in a tent for Tsh 20,000, others on the bus and yet others on the ground.

Our ‘Ujamaa’ (Familyhood/Socialism) of sharing foodstuffs and seats as well as helping those who were very ill that we attempted in the bus could hardly survive the vagaries of a ‘free market’. There is indeed good business in Loliondo for all sorts of vendors. Some call it a ‘mine’. Its district is not only seen as ‘Eden’ or the ‘cradle of humans’ but also of ‘curing’ AIDS.

A nurse at a nearby village dispensary is cautious enough. She admits their ARV patients who took the dawa still have HIV after testing them. But she also affirms that they are doing very well to the extent that one of them can now walk and work. The nurse, so she claims, has also been healed of ulcers and has stopped taking tablets. But Babu is quoted over and over again as saying it takes time for AIDS viruses to go away while the dawa works on disempowering them.

But those who seemed so ill still have a glimmer of hope though the psychologist in me keeps insisting that there is an element of disillusionment and denial. No wonder a few days ago upon hearing unconfirmed reports of someone who died despite being treated in Loliondo, a close relative who has also been there for medication exclaimed: ‘The dawa is not for stopping death!’

So here I am in Arusha getting ready to go back to Dar es Salaam. But another coincidence is in store for me. One of the women who volunteered to help Babu provide medicine to those in the queue is lodging next door in route to her home. She remembers me as I was begging her to give me her side of the story while in Loliondo. Her story is not any different from the many I hear: ‘I have been healed of ulcers, I even ate chips yesterday’. Her verdict: ‘Babu is from God – that is not Witchcraft’. Who am I to dispute her testimony? After all I am neither a doctor nor a prophet.

© Chambi Chachage

The Citizen 17/03/2011


Anonymous March 17, 2011 at 10:32 PM  

Chambi this is more than one would expect from a writer! The pictures gives out a lot more of what is actully happening;thank you for sharing and for the effort.

Anonymous March 20, 2011 at 12:42 AM  

Really informative, thanks for your analysis and testimony, which helps some of us as we judge objectively the need for going or not.

Anonymous September 26, 2011 at 1:40 AM  

Heehee, You are sooo Useful!
I used both of your articles(pre Loliondo and post Loliondo) for my assignment concerning nutrients and healing!The presentation went well,-My classmates enjoyed your stories!So did I-no wonder I used them!thanks!
keep on Informing us!

Chambi Chachage September 26, 2011 at 2:45 AM  

Thanks, kindly email me the assignment, I am also thinking of writing an essay on Loliondo for my class on African Religion - my email is chambi78@yahoo.com

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