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On red soil

Babu’s Cup

The most visited place in Tanzania? Not Dar es Salaam by far. Not Zanzibar. Not even Serengeti. Not at least now. The new place to be is Loliondo. A small village on the Kenyan border in Northern Tanzania.  And the attraction? Babu’s cup.

Babu is Swahili and means grandfather. It is also the new nickname for Ambilikile Mwasapile, a retired reverend whose herbal concoction, served in a cup together with special prayers for the humble price of 500TSh (c. 0.25€), is claimed to cure any disease, be it diabetes, malaria, HIV or anything else bothering you. When I first heard about Babu about a month ago I dismissed the whole story as a sidenote among all the ‘bigger’ news on the energy shortages and budget cuts. But now it’s impossible not to hear a reference to Babu in a daily conversation, if not written in big on the front page of newspapers.

As someone who is accustomed to Western medicine and practices, it’s easy to just waive away the whole idea of Babu’s cup. But when asked of some Tanzanian colleagues, friends or acquaintances, the reaction is a bit more careful. Many do believe it works. But who really knows about these things?

The rush to get to Loliondo to try the ‘medicine’ has been enormous. The little village is flocked with the elderly and sick, bringing with it health and sanitation problems as there are not enough toilets around for the visitors, high prices on water (even 5000Tsh (c. 2.50€) for just one litre) and 78 casualties who have died either while waiting to get the cup or right after. In the biggest frenzy a few weeks ago the Tanzanian government was quick to first renounce the whole concoction and advised people not to go to Loliondo, while a day later, after some chemical studies had been made, The Citizen had a headline saying the government now agrees ‘it’s safe to drink the cup’.  And so more people rushed to the village, even high-profile ministers and the like.

With so much visibility given to Loliondo in the media, new herbalists have sprouted up around the country claiming now they have the magic cup. For example in Mbeya, in southern Tanzania, a 17 year old student is providing his own medicine for free because ‘God told him to do so’. The original cup remains in Loliondo however. If you don’t want to sit one week in a traffic jam to get into the village (yes, one week), today’s news was that there are four to five light-weight airplanes landing near Loliondo daily to bring in patients from around Tanzania and the neighbouring countries.

Babu’s cup is waiting.

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