After-all he had made his mark as a practicing doctor there, after graduating in 1984 and managed to reach the level of professor in 2000, without having to leave there. So why didn’t he just continue working there until he reached retirement age?
Why come to Tanzania? This question was put to him last week, while on the way to Dodoma and Tabora regions by road. As head of the Chinese Medial Team in Tanzania, he was on the way to make a quick call on the doctors so as to check on their welfare. He says it is a vital part of his duty to keep track on the 23 specialists in the country from the Far East country.
These doctors, of differing specialities are spread out in Dodoma, Tabora, and Mara regional hospitals, together with the Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) in Dar es Salaam. According to Prof Chen he chooses to stay here in Tanzania simple because there is a need of doctors here and it is his desire to continue giving his services here for as long as his country wants him to. For him it is even more than the agreement between the two states, which has lasted for many decades.
He told the ‘Daily News’ that he is well aware of this friendship between the two countries, as being the foundation from which China has been sending medical teams here from Shandong Province for over 44 years. It is just that for Prof Chen, it has become a little more personal than that. Over the years, not only has he made a number of friends here, which he cherishes, to a large extent he has learnt how to feel at home here. That is despite the obvious drawbacks he has to endure from being far away from his home-town and family.
There is a need to become acquainted with the facts here. Prof Chen first came to Tanzania in 2003, as a volunteer doctor. This was also the first time for him to move away from his home province for any length of time. Two years later, at the end of that stint he returned to China and his former hospital, then in 2007, he came back here again in the same capacity. It was in August 2009 that he became leader of the Chinese Medical Team here, which is a position he has held to date.
Over the nine years that he has been in Tanzania he has seen changes for the better but says they have been very slow and not what one would call big adjustments. However, they have been significant, like the increase in doctors at a higher level here in the country and some noticeable improvement in available medical equipment. Yet all is not smooth sailing for him and the team of Chinese doctors here.
“As leader of the Chinese Medical Team here, the biggest challenge I have to face daily, is how to improve the working and living conditions for our doctors. As should be appreciated, for it can easily be seen, the working conditions here are limited and their living environment is more difficult for them than it was in China. However, our doctors are determined to continue striving towards improving the quality of service they provide for the local people,” he explained, being very careful not to be taken as someone complaining.
It must be said that Prof Chen admitted missing his family, while here but got the chance to be with his daughter, when she visited him some time past. However, his love for fishing, which he used to do during holidays and on Sundays, when in China has had to be shelved; now he is in Tanzania. This does not mean that he has to forget the joyous moments in his past, as the description of his home-town indicated.
“At spring time there are flowers everywhere and the grass is green. In the summer there are lots of fruits on the trees, the weather is hot and there is usually a lot of rain. In autumn there is less rain, the climate is cool and the fruits are ready for eating. This is when the maize, beans and sweet potatoes is harvested and stored for winter. Our winters are very cold, with a lot of ice and snow. We have to wear thick over coats. I think my hometown is the best place,” he explains not caring that his emotional attachment can be heard in his voice and expressions.
Well at least he can continue practicing his other hobby: Taijiquan, also written as Tai Chi Chuan - a Chinese exercise system that uses slow, smooth body movements to achieve a state of relaxation of both body and mind - while in Tanzania. Actually, he had started by learning a more mainstream kung-fu when a small boy, as is the tradition in his province. The sport is very popular there, especially during the winter, when people have a lot of time on their hands because there is no farming.
In the case of Prof Chen, he was taught kung-fu by a neighbour but switched over to taijiquan in his thirties. His wife, a professional teacher joins him occasionally but their daughter, who is taking her master’s degree in Industrial Design there in China; as most young people, is not interested in this slow form of the martial arts.
The chances are that when Prof Chen eventually returns to China, he will go to the capital of Shandong Province, where he has his home. His father, a farmer, who passed-away 15 years ago, has left a family house in Da Xue Village, which is their actual home in the region, within the east of the country. It seems the son has inherited his leadership qualities from his father, who was the team leader in the village, which has a population of about 2000.
His mother, a housewife had five children: three girls followed by two boys of which Prof Chen is the youngest. He wanted to become a doctor from when he was very young simply to help people obtain and maintain good health. He became aware of this desire when his paternal aunt had asthma, then on a particular occasion when she feel sick and couldn’t get vital treatment from a doctor, she passed-away. It was from then, when he was still very young that he remembers wanting to become a doctor, so that he could save people’s lives.
This desire stayed with him throughout his primary school, there in his village, followed by his formal secondary education. Prof Chen attained his high school in the town then moved onto the capital of the province, where he attended medical college. He worked and taught in the provincial hospital, which has over 1000 beds in it. This gave him much satisfaction to know that he was helping to save lives. Coming to Tanzania is another facet within his desire to serve his country and save lives.
This has not stopped him from talking emotionally about going to swim in a pond within his village, which is where he used to fish in the summer. He also talked about going to play with his friends in which he always played the leader. In primary school he was a monitor. His sisters, who have moved to the town, are all married housewives while his brother a modern farmer is still in the village.
As a doctor he has to follow his vow to help as many people as he can, which is the basis for why he came here, where there are a large number of people needing vital help. After all, whenever his stint is finally over, he will be able to return home to his town. In the meantime he is happy being here, where he gets the chance to continue making a physical contribution to improve the medical services provided, on behalf of his people and country.