THE CUP OF LOLIONDO: WHEN FAITH MEETS NEEDS! THE PLIGHT OF A DESPERATE NATION AND A CATEGORICAL INDICTMENT OF THE FAILED HEALTH POLICIES OF THE CORRUPT RULING ELITE(CCM) By. M. M. Mwanakijiji In their hundreds they come. No, in their thousands. Sick people, and those suspecting that they are seriously sick they all come. People in pain and anguish, desperate people young and old, Christians and Muslims they all come. Old Maasai women and men from the foot of Oldonyo Lengai adorned in their traditionally decorated garbs, some with their babies on their backs, they all come. People of other tribes from far away like Kilimanjaro and some from Dar-es-Salaam and further South they all come, and many more coming from adjacent countries like Kenya and Uganda as well and as far away as Europe and the Middle East; they all come. In their hundreds they come; No, in their thousands. To a remote village of Samunge in Northern Tanzania about 400 kilometers from Arusha City, Tanzania's tourist capital. All these sick people some with their caretakers and others alone are flocking to meet a retired Lutheran Pastor Rev. Ambilikile Mwasapile (76) from whom a cup of liquid herbal medicine will be taken. A medicine that seems to be extremely potent with powers to heal some of the incurable diseases the modern Western medicine are still struggling to even understand. Diseases such as diabetes to heart conditions, from back pains to cancers and even more astonishing this medicine is claimed to have power cure to cure HIV infections. Yes, in these extremely hours of their needs in thousands they come. Some on foot and others on bicycles and even many more others on motorbikes and a lot more in their cars - luxury cars, tourists trucks and even government issued cars. Indeed, hundreds have made this pilgrim journey as it were on buses and now there are reports of people coming in choppers. The filing line to get the medicinal cup is insanely long indeed; with cars and trucks waiting for days to get to the house compound of this seemingly unimposing figure accompanied by a handful of assistants all dressed in casual outfits - loose shirts, pants and shoes. As the crowd surged and fearing mass hysteria and getting ahead of any potential disaster over the past few days the Arusha regional Police force has stepped in to provide more police officers (general police and riot police) as well as traffic police to control the flow of vehicles to and fro the little village. It is estimated over 7000 people have reached this village in the past few days. The village is located few miles from Loliondo Game Reserve one Tanzania's best national parks. Loliondo Game Reserve is known the world over for its pristine beauty, high concentration of wildlife and for quite sometime now by its controversial hunting permit that granted a UAE royal family a license to hunt wildlife in the reserve. This infamous deal remains controversial almost twenty years since it was signed; human rights and environmental activists have called the deal a "hunting with impunity permit" after the pictures and details of brutal hunting techniques employed by the royal hunting party came to light. It was here in Loliondo the first case of a major corruption scandal to rock the Tanzania government in early 1990s occurred. The Loliondo Gate as it was then known became the symbol of grand corruption and its impacts still being felt even today in most parts of Loliondo. But people are not coming here to protest hunting or to hold rallies against the Arab investors or the government - of course some still do that. They are here in Samunge for healing, at least that's what they say. Yes in their hundreds they come; no in their thousands. Police officers, teachers, politicians, businessmen, farmers as well as young college students, they come just to get the ever increasingly famous the "cup of Loliondo". Pastors some in their roman collars and other religious figures - yes even bishops have come here believing that this medicine will heal their bodies and strengthen their belief in the supernatural workings of Divine Providence. Even after some Muslims and other Christians leaders have admonished their faithful not to make the journey here people have summarily ignored them. In fact some of the former colleagues of Rev. Mwasapile have indeed blessed his medicine arraying fears that superstitions beliefs were somewhat involved - of course to these people the belief in God is not superstition at all. There are no magical chanting here, there are no incantations around a pentagram; indeed there are no amulets or lucky charms given to cast away evil spirits from "possessed people". Just a cup of hot herbal medicine taken only once per person per lifetime - nothing less or more. Just a Cup of Loliondo and "thy body shall be well". But, it is not free. It costs only 500Tsh per person equivalent of about 0.33 Cents USD. The demand is very high, and the supply of medicinal plant scarce but the price has remained the same and according to the pastor it will remain the same for a foreseeable future. Other providers of different services around the area have used this opportunity to make quick money for themselves; the cost of bottled water around the village for example has doubled and the bus fares from Arusha to Loliondo has almost increased five folds. The cost of the medicinal cup I think in itself is another reason why people come here. It has made it possible for even the poorest of the poor to afford to make the long journey through rugged roads to reach here few miles from Lake Natron. For sick people this is a strange new world; if they were to buy medicine from a local pharmacy for their infirmities the price would be relatively high and becomes an obstacle for getting better treatment. So they come. They come in multitudes not because the cup of Loliondo promises immortality. It does not. Not because the cup promises the sick people that they would never get sick again. Not so; but because it promises them immediate relief from current conditions that have troubled them and from which they have given up hope of any cure or healing So they come in their hundreds; no, in their thousands. Not due to any scientific basis of the powers of a little plant known locally here as Mugariga (angelica archangelica??), none whatsoever. So far, there has not been any scientific tests done on the plant or on its supposedly potential healing powers; in fact only recently the the Tanzanian Government has dispatched a scientific team to visit Babu (Grandfather in Kiswahili) and to take some samples from the plant for laboratory testing. The aim is to at least get the scientific understanding of the nature of the powers of this little plant the size of small orchard plant. The government wants to establish and gain an understanding of what the fuss here is all about. But the sick people and their families are not waiting for official word from the government to have faith in the cup of Loliondo. They are the witness of its powers. No microscope nor test tube would change their minds. At least not yet. So far we do not know yet all the side effects of this medicinal drink and in fact some people have even questioned the manner in which people share cups putting them at risks of contamination from water borne diseases such us typhoid and cholera. For this reason, as soon as the number of peopled in the past weeks increased Rev. Mwasapile and other concerned people demanded that the government would intervene to provide some basic sanitary facilities (such as portable latrines) as well as more cups and bigger aluminum bowls that are used for boiling the plant. The government and other institutions have answered this call and some basic facilities are being placed around the area. There is a possibility that even the Red Cross would be forced to provide tents here. But all these health concerns have not made people fear from taking the medicine or being here. In fact, it seems nothing said or done will change the minds of these desperate and very inflicted people. To most of them this not just about the plant or the Cup of Loliondo as it were, it is about faith. It is about a belief that God in his eternal mercies and grace has bestowed upon this frailly man a gift of healing and that the herbal plant is just a point of contact - a channel of healing if you will. So people are flocking not because they know if they drink this medicine they will get better; not really, but because the man giving this cup has faith in its powers to heal the very sick. This is an important distinction because otherwise somebody else could have started boiling the same plant in the same manner. So far there are not copycats yet. Drinking the cup of this medicinal water from Loliondo could be compared (loosely) to drinking holy waters of Lourdes, France or the holy waters of Zamzam in Saudi Arabia. In all three, it is faith that brings people to these points of contact of what believers hold to be God's healing powers. These are not just any water although they share the same chemical properties they are to believers holy waters. Someone divine has endorsed them; so is the case with the herbal water from the cup of Loliondo. This belief in the powers of herbal medicine of course is not unique to Tanzania and indeed the belief that there are gifted people among us with certain healing powers is not an exclusive domain of Africans. Almost all societies and cultures from time in memorial have had such individuals in their midst. From China to India, from Europe to South America, from the US even to the Middle East, people have gone to great length to receive healing from unconventional traditional medicines. Many will swear under the penalty of death to the powers of the medicines and indeed many have lived (and continue to live) to witness of the powers of traditional medicine the world over. Even in Tanzania this is not a new tradition at all. Only now in a very unique way it involves a former pastor with the blessings of his church behind him; this is incredibly unique. According to Rev. Mwasapile, it all started in 1991 when through a dream he was directed to use the plant for healing. For sometimes he ignored the dream until Fall last year when he decided to take seriously and obey it. In the beginning no one in the village believe him until some people from the town started spreading the word when they get back homes in good conditions. The rest as it is said is history. There is no way to predict how it will all end. It might continue for a little while especially if the results from the lab show that the plant has some medicinal properties. Then, probably more permanent facilities will be built and as the signs now show the little unassuming village in Loliondo might become a little town that becomes a symbol of hope to millions of people especially in these troubling times. However, there are those who fear (and somehow rightly so) that a cult of personality is building slowly around Rev. Mwasapile; this has some people cautiously following with interests what is happening in this formerly sleepy village. There are also fear that if the situationis mishandled or hastily brought to a halt something more drastic and dangerous might happen here reminiscent of Jonestown massacre in the US in late 1970s or the Uganda cult deaths under Joseph Kibwetere where 500 souls perished in March 2000. Most social critics like myself would urge the authorities to use wisdom and proceed with maximum caution as one would approach a troubled nuclear facility. The whole episode could as well be a moment that would cause our nation to reflect on itself on the nature of its healthcare services, its accessibility as well as the relationship between tradition/herbal medicine and modern western medicine. For as it stands now this is not even about the plant anymore; in fact it is not even about the Medicine man Rev. Mwasapile; I would propose that it is about the needs of the people and the faith that sustains them. When a nation such as Tanzania with inadequate health facilities and most of the time with very expensive healthcare services what options are there left for the people? When a health system such as the one in Tanzania which in so many ways is seen to have been embedded with corruption from bottom up and corrupt elements that remain unchecked what hope do poor men and women of Tanzania have? How long should Tanzanians inflicted with a myriad of diseases continue to go to India to get health care services that could otherwise be available at home? In a nation of 40 million people where not even a single world class referral Children's hospital exist, what hope do families have when tragedies strike? It is for this reason what is happening in Loliondo in fact is another categorical indictment of the failed health policies of the ruling party -Chama cha Mapinduzi. The current ruling elite has created and sustains a health system where the very powerful and wealth people can easily get world class health services in Europe and India while the poor majority continue to suffer at the mercy of a struggling health system. The President for example, ministers, members of parliament and other top level government officials have created for themselves a system where the tax payers will foot their health care bills for annual medical checkups and treatments in Europe and India's best hospitals while the poor majority of Tanzania only need such services when are in dire conditions. Such is the plight of these people who come to see Babu to get the cup of Loliondo. I would propose that the poor majority of Tanzania are left with such an attitude as that of the Psalmist when he cries as if in pain and misery of the heart "I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?" and he confidently answer with an assurance of a person filled with an absolute faith in Providence (not in men) and he says "My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth." Yea indeed! the maker of the Mugaruga plant! This my friends does not make any sense, it defies logic and any known scientific proposition. This faith in something greater than ourselves has a way of sustaining a people in ways that only the afflicted understand. While to others faith is very irrational - In fact it is, to others there is nothing more rational than getting healing from any source of healing available to humanity. Yes even divine healing - whatever that is. It is here then, through the cup of Loliondo where faith of the people meets the needs of the desperate people. As most of us are still contemplating if we too need to make the journey here. May be we are not yet at the threshold of desperation but as history is the witness when we get to the precipice of own mortality we too will see the rationality of going to see Babu! Only time will be the final arbiter on what is happening here. So they come, in their hundreds; no in their thousands!