We drove for 10 hours but only covered 200 km. The destination was the East African village of Loliondo, where a retired church pastor nicknamed Babu had dreamed up a miracle medicine that would cure all incurable diseases such as AIDS and Diabetes. The treatment had gained incredible popularity, and hordes of East African people (and a few tourists) made the treacherous journey to visit the spiritual healer, often leaving their doctor prescribed medicine behind. Why would they need it?

We were lucky because we managed to get there when it wasn’t so busy. But this was THE thing to do in Tanzania at the time. Babu and Loliondo were all over the media, and rarely shared the front cover of the local newspapers. We heard that there was usually a six day (yes, six days!) wait time, and that wasn’t hard to believe as the vehicles lined up for kilometers.

African Spiritual Healer Babu, Loliondo

Our rickety old Landrover was uncomfortable, but compared to most of the travelers’ conditions, it should have felt like royal treatment (AC would have been nice though). The windows were usually closed to keep the dust out, despite the stifling heat. Every fifteen or twenty minutes you would see a broken down vehicle, and there were many stories of people dying because the journey was too rough. Wealthier individuals, such as political figures, would arrive by helicopter and this seemed like cheating to me. The journey is the destination, right?

African Spiritual Healer Babu, Loliondo

Babu had proven results because two people had claimed to be cured of AIDS as a result of drinking the medicine.  But the medical community seemed unimpressed, especially since unwell people stopped taking their medication. One doctor explained that there is an inexpensive and not all that accurate preliminary AIDS test. If the test results were positive, the patient would be given a more accurate and more costly test. Now, the patient may choose to forgo the secondary test because, well, it costs a lot more for potentially bad news. On the other hand, a cup of miracle medicine and another inexpensive and inaccurate preliminary test, and they may have been cured!

African Spiritual Healer Babu, Loliondo

Babu would dip his cup into the green bucket, fill it, and pour the liquid into the empty cups. The tray of full cups was then carried off to the vehicles where they would be emptied as quickly as they were filled. The used cups were washed in the basins that can be seen in the background. Babu would do this methodically for 12 hours of the day. He filled each cup himself because he was dedicated to his cause.

We drank the herbal tea-like drink, but reluctantly. At first Char and I opted to share a cup. Not that half a cup less of bacteria laden, tepid “miracle medicine” would make the week go by any smoother (read: E. coli bacterial infection), but we were told that it wasn’t possible to share. So we took solace in the fact that it had been heated up to be pretty hot (read: not boiled) a couple of hours earlier. Fortunately, we didn’t get sick and that bodes well for it’s miracle medicine status.

African Spiritual Healer Babu, Loliondo

Our visit was in March of 2011. Since then the popularity of Babu and Loliondo has died down but we were told that he is working on a new medicine. Some are now calling Babu a false prophet and some still believe in the goodness of his medicine. We weren’t there to judge.

On a side note, this was the first time shooting with the Zeiss 21mm Distagon lens. Almost all the photos from the series were shot with this lens in MF, so I had to be really close to the action, and I lost quite a few good shots because they were out of focus, especially images shot in strong sunlight.