Women of the Northwest

From Tanzania to Seaside, Sophia Komba is a pharmacist, wife and mother

May 16, 2023 Sophia Komba Episode 67
Women of the Northwest
From Tanzania to Seaside, Sophia Komba is a pharmacist, wife and mother
Show Notes Transcript

Sophia grew up in Tanzania in a household with her five siblings, where taking in guests and those in need was a way of life. Living in the country taught her to garden, and care for farm animals.

She talks about school there, where one has to choose three subjects which will determine your future path.

She was able to receive a diversity visa to come to the United States to study to become a pharmacist. This visa is given by lottery.

She lived with her cousin in Virginia and was so surprised to see how many roads there were, especially that they were paved.

She chose pharmacy because she thought she could make a difference.

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Jan: Are you looking for an inspiring listen, something to motivate you? You've come to the right place. I'm Jan Johnson, your host. Welcome to Women of the Northwest, where we have conversations with ordinary women leading extraordinary lives. Women telling their stories and sharing their passions. Motivating. Inspiring, compelling.

Jan: Welcome, everyone. If this is your first time listening, I hope you enjoy it. Feel free to share this or any other episode with friends and family. You can do that by clicking the three dots on the right side of the podcast. If you subscribe by clicking the plus, you will automatically be notified of new episodes. Today's guest is originally from Tanzania. She is a pharmacist mother of three boys under age six, two of which are busy twins. She hopes to use her skills to impact healthcare in Tanzania. Let's listen in as Sophia Komba shares her story. Hello, and welcome to this episode of Women of the Northwest. Today. I have Sophia Komba. Welcome, Sophia.

Sophia: Thank you.

Jan: Thank you, Sophia, you haven't always lived in Oregon, have you?

Sophia: No, I haven't.

Jan: Where did you grow up?

Sophia: So I was born and raised in Tanzania in East Africa. I'm not sure if most of you might have heard maybe the country, but it's the home of Mount Kilmanjaro, which a lot of people usually like to visit, like to climb. It's the only standing mountain in Africa. The longest, tallest standing mountain in Africa.

Jan: And have you climbed it?

Sophia: No, I haven't. I have attempted to climb another one. It's called Mount Meru, but I didn't go very far just because of the acclamation and the attitude. So I got an attitude sickness, and I couldn't yeah, you'd have to do.

Jan: Some gradually work yourself up to doing that. And exercising.

Sophia: And exercising, yes, to be in shape. Right. I went to school in Tanzania in Arusha is where I got my elementary education. And then after that, I joined a secondary school, which we have, like, secondary so you go up to grade seven.

Jan: Okay.

Sophia: And then you go to secondary school after that for four years, and then you do high school after that, which is, like, two years. And after that, that's when you join university.

Jan: Are those public schools or what's their school system like?

Sophia: So it's a mixture of public and secondary school in the government sorry. Public and private schools. But the ones that I went to were private because it's just whatever the parents want their children to, because they do have a different curriculum, like the private and the government. Back then, when I was going to school, the private school had more control of what they teach their kids, their students, and all that stuff. While with the elementary public was a little bit different. They had, like, a set curriculum for all the schools, and most of them were not emphasizing English like private schools. They're more focused on English. And that did help us a lot. Yeah.

Jan: Was it American English or British English?

Sophia: It was British. British English, even, because we were colonized by the British.

Jan: That's what I thought.

Sophia: Yeah. So our school curriculum, everything was mainly like, British. Yeah. It's very interesting. When I moved here, which I'll talk about it, but when I moved here, it was very interesting to see that kids can go to college and then halfway they say, oh, no, I don't want to do this, I want to change. But in Tanzania, the way that we grew up is like, you pick subjects. So once you're done with secondary school, you pick only three subjects that you're going to do in advanced level, which is the high school, and those three subjects will determine pretty much your fate of what you can do.

Jan: I think that's a lot the same in Central America.

Sophia: Oh, really?

Jan: South America also, you decide a path.

Sophia: You decide and a lot of people there are some, for instance, you cannot do the arts classes and then university choose to go to medicine. You can't do that.

Jan: Okay.

Sophia: It's kind of like you have to follow the same path. So if it's arts, you either do like politic or political science or some sort of like human resources or law. But the people who did science subjects had more wider range that they could go either way.

Jan: Okay.

Sophia: All right.

Jan: How many kids were in your family?

Sophia: So I grew up in a family of five kids.

Jan: Okay.

Sophia: So I have an older brother, a younger brother and two older sisters. I was number four on that. I was the last girl. Yeah. So my three siblings are still back in Tanzania. One of my siblings is in my sister is in Australia.

Jan: Oh, Australia.

Sophia: Yeah.

Jan: Opposite direction.

Sophia: Opposite direction, yeah.

Jan: Did you live in grow up in the city or you were in a.

Sophia: No, actually, I grew up in type of countryside. I think my childhood was very interesting as compared to a lot of kids who grew up, like, in the city. Because we saw it all, we did it all. We had a farm, we had cows, goats, we planted our own, pretty much. We garden, gardening, so all sorts of stuff like that. The country life. And I really enjoyed it because it was kind of like a quiet place. There was no destruction from the city.

Jan: And you could probably see the stars.

Sophia: Yes. So it was very interesting.

Jan: What was your house like?

Sophia: I mean, pretty good. Okay, so this is the other thing with back home in Tanzania, everything is concrete over here. It takes time for people to build houses over there, and they're really solid. But in our houses, big, we had people like relatives, either like extended families, they would come because we are very close to town. So if the people from the village, they wanted to kind of establish themselves so they would come. So in my child, though we were five siblings, but we had people in and out and we had enough space, enough room. It was a huge house and it was a house that my grandfather built and when my dad took over, because back home they have like the last born is the one who inherits. Oh, yeah, whatever. Like the house, the place, the compound. So my dad was the last born, a male last born, so he ended up staying where my grandparents were staying. Okay, so what he did, he just extended the house. So we had like two houses in one. So it's like you have the old and then the new house.

Jan: So you grew up learning to be community, welcome people in -correct?

Sophia: Yeah.

Jan: Which probably formed who you are today.

Sophia: That's very true. That's very true. And then it also helped me appreciate the opportunity that I had. And then also it's not only that, but I learned about charity very early on. Compassion, just reaching out to other people and then also just being able to share your resources. Because we grew up seeing people in and out, but as a child, you think that is the norm, but only to come to realize when you grow up, these are people who your parents sort of adapted and took care of them and helped them stand on your feet. It was very easy for us because it shaped us to being a compassion to others, to share whatever you have to give and not expect anything in return. Because there are some that went, they left, they never came back. But they say, you just do good and let it be.

Jan: So how did you end up in the United States?

Sophia: Oh, that's a very interesting question. Okay. I don't know if you've heard about the DV lottery.

Jan: I don't know.

Sophia: Okay, so America usually have every year, like in November, you have a diversity visa. So basically you'll fill in a form through the embassy website, the immigration website, and then they do like a random it's kind of like it's called a DV lottery. Yeah, it's a DV lottery. And I think what I heard is that they pick only 7% from every country.

Jan: Oh, really?

Sophia: That is eligible. It's very interesting. But that is how my aunt used to fill those for us and my uncle and I think the third time or the second time around when they did it, I was selected and that's how I ended up here. Yeah.

Jan: And what were you thinking it was going to be like when you came here?

Sophia: Oh, okay. Yeah. Well, a lot of people, including me, we had that idea of America, what we see in Hollywood.

Jan: Yeah, right.

Sophia: But when I came here, I came through Virginia because that's where my auntie is. It was pretty fascinating because of the roads and everything, and they were paved always. And I remember my cousin telling me that one thing that you will notice about this area, because she lives in Virginia, it's like they're always building roads. They're always building roads. And I was like, oh, that's very interesting. It does make sense because that's part of how the economy of a country grows, right? But back home, we have these little tiny roads. Wow. Anyway, so that was fascinating. And then I was here, and then I started looking for a job because I had just graduated from my bachelor's in commerce from University of Jerusalem. And then I was looking for a job, and I couldn't find a job. And I was like, okay, this is going to be very interesting. So I was like, well, this is the time, because I really had interest in pharmacy. Had interest in pharmacy. But as I said, the combination that I did was not enough for me to go to pharmacy school because I needed physics, which I don't know why I needed physics to go to pharmacy. Where are you going to use that? But anyway, so I had chemistry and biology, so I decided to kind of like switch careers at that time, and I decided to look for a job as a pharmacy technician. My first job was at CVS in Vienna. And honestly, I had a culture shock. I was like, this is very interesting, like, amount of drugs that people use in this country. And then Virginia was not like a setting for a person who is so used to just laid back life, so fast paced. And then the other thing that I actually didn't notice until now is I started as a cash register person at the cash register. And it was very interesting, but very frustrating. Also, just because of my accent, a lot of people are like, oh, what is it? What did you say? And then it was for me, it was the same thing. I would ask them over and over.

Jan: In Virginia, they've all got accents.

Sophia: Completely different, completely different. And then I was like, wow, it's just like everything. Like the first couple of weeks, I was so confused.

Jan: You need Google Translate just for the accent.

Sophia: I was so confused. Anyway, but as time went, you just kind of start adapting slowly, and then before you know it, you could hear them, you could understand. And it happened so slowly. Until now, I was like, why wasn't I able to understand? But now I know because when I go back home, especially when I take the kids with me, they're like, oh, what are they trying to say? Okay, that is the same thing. So I totally understand where they're coming from. So it's kind of like but it's just a culture shock way people do things, the way people behave, the way and it was just a different type of environment for me.

Jan: Well, and I imagine some foods were different.

Sophia: Yeah, some foods were different. But the good thing is that I lived with my aunt, and my aunt still cook all those traditional things, so it wasn't that bad. But it's just the amount of fast foods that are there and yeah, so it was very different. It was very different.

Jan: What was it that fascinated you about pharmacy? Why did you want to do that?

Sophia: So, pharmacy, I think mainly is the chemistry part of it, and then it's just the drugs, just knowing that this is how the drugs work, and then just the compassion that I can make a difference. I can touch somebody's life with what I do. And that was actually the main reason for me to go to pharmacy school. And then also just after being in that pharmacy environment for a little while, starting to understand some of the medications, it kind of took me back to my grandparent, even thinking once in a while, she usually just comes to my image because she had chronic diseases like diabetes and blood pressure.

Jan: Okay.

Sophia: But looking back now, I realized maybe if the therapy could have changed, maybe she would have lived longer. Maybe so there are all these things that's such a huge gap when it comes to health care in Tanzania. It's so huge, and my take on it right now is even worse. Like, I wish I could change something, I wish I could do something. The part of it is just knowing that there is a better way that my country can just improve the health care. And I'm hoping that one day I'll be able to make that impact. Yeah.

Jan: To help make to say, here's what I know. I think one of the things that was hard when we went to Tanzania before was the infrastructure, the lack of infrastructure, trying to find things that you needed to help out. Oh, I can help to that. Oh, I can't.

Sophia: Because you can't get one, two, three.

Jan: What you need, and you have to go yeah.

Sophia: So far to yeah. When it comes to health care, I would say there's a huge gap. There's a huge gap, and it's kind of like a nationalized health care, but it's not really nationalized health care, because people don't get access to the medical care that they need. And then there's also an issue of referral. If I want to go to get treated in maybe like a national hospital, you have to start with the local hospitals first, and then they have to do a referral. Referral to get to the top.

Jan: Meanwhile, you might be dead before you get there.

Sophia: Exactly. That's that or you may get even to national hospital, and then they tell you, oh, there's a waiting line or waiting list. There's a time that I got an accident, and when I was admitted, they were like, okay, so you need surgery, but you have to choose. Do you want to do private or do you want to do government? If you don't do government, there's a waiting line. If you want to do private, we'll take you in tomorrow. Yeah. So when you're in that situation, you kind of just like you're so self centered, you always have to see what.

Jan: You can work for.

Sophia: Afford that's one. And then if you can afford I'm in pain, I will go private. But later on, I came to think about it, and I was like, wow, is this really ethical? There's some people probably who have been down, like, sleeping there, waiting for surgery, but just because I have money, right? So it becomes a little bit sticky in that situation, which is very different from here. And sometimes, even when I take care of my patients, there are sometimes that you may find a patient who is very stubborn, and it just takes me back. Yeah. I was like, yeah, I wish you had known. There are some people who are really begging to get this service that I'm trying to give you. Seeing both sides of those two different worlds, it makes me appreciate what we have. And then I also try to bring my patience into the same. Like, you should be thankful. If they start complaining, I try to take them to the positivity. Like, at least yeah, you're breathing. At least you had that opportunity to live again. Let's think about the positive. And then something like, okay, Miss Positivity, there's so many things to be thankful for. Of course you don't tell them your story, but at least that makes you kind of, like, change their perspective. And then when the next time that they come in, they have to wear that positivity right, because they know you're going to expect it. Yes.

Jan: Well, and it was probably a shock to see the cost and price of our patients.

Sophia: And that's the other thing. You just wonder the price of the medication, and some of these medications are needed. So something like insulin, you wonder. And sometimes well, sometimes you reach into your pockets once in a while, just depending, and then sometimes you cannot do anything. If your copay is, like, 400 and something like this person really needs it's very disturbing because I believe and I hope well, right now I'm excited about this insulin thing that I heard that they're trying to cap the prices on the insulin because that has been a.

Jan: Problem that would help our son Lenny.

Sophia: Yeah. So I'm so excited about that. I think that's one of the great things that they did, because that is a needed drug. But yeah, the price difference in the medications, it's kind of like it makes you wonder. It makes you wonder, is it really benefiting the patients? Is it really big farmer, the big farmer? But yeah, I think it's maybe hopefully it's something that can they can do something about it and just help. But it's very different in terms of where I came from. People will beg for health care. They will beg for the drugs. And there's a huge challenge because a lot of people are not educated about the drugs. And not only the drugs, just the equipment, the labs, the management is so poor.

Jan: Right.

Sophia: I remember my grandmother had a clot, and then they decided to put her on warfarin, just a straight dose of warfarin. She wasn't managed or anything. And then shortly after, a couple of months after, she had an aneurysm and that was it. But she was on warfarin that it needs to be monitored. But nobody knows. They just had somebody on five. And that's kind of like, coming to start practicing. I was like, wow, my grandmother was on five milligrams every single day. That's 35. And then you get a patient who only needs 14 a week. It's kind of like disturbing. Maybe. Was she over treated? Right. But there's nothing like lawsuits there there's nothing like lawsuits. You don't see it. So there's also that aspect. It's like, okay, how far do we go? What can we do? Can you really change this? Can the government do something?

Jan: And what are the steps to even try and make happen?

Sophia: Exactly.

Jan: Change whatever. Yeah, it's a big thing, but I.

Sophia: Was just thinking, so something like the warfare. We have meters, just like the insulin meters. Maybe they can buy one and put it in every hospital. Yeah. And maybe that can help. Or is it that we need to do an education? Do we need to educate the care providers? Yeah, so there's a lot I mean, when it comes to health care, we can talk. I have a lot. Yeah, we can. When I do the comparison and everything, I still think that there's so much that can be done. And I hope that God will actually give me the grace and the opportunity and just destiny helpers to help accomplish that at one day. Even if it's to start somewhere, something is better than nothing. And if you think that something needs to be done, maybe it's you who needs to do it.

Jan: Yeah. Step out and do it.

Sophia: Step and do it. And not expecting somebody to do it. Because maybe you might be the you.

Jan: Might be the cold person. So how did you get from the East Coast to the West Coast?

Sophia: Yeah. Okay. So when I was applying for pharmacy school, so I did my prerequisites at Northern Virginia Community College, which is in Annadelle in Virginia. And then I needed to go into pharmacy school to get my Pharm. D the Doctorate of Pharmacy. So I was applying to different schools. There are some that required Picat, which is like a standardized, like, Sat.

Jan: Okay.

Sophia: Yeah, Sat for pharmacy. And I was like, I'm not very good with standardized exam. That was fun. And then I bought this textbook for preparation. The first chapter was English, and I was like, what is this? There's no way that I am going to get because I do not know most of these vocabulary is like, what do these words even mean? And then they're asking like synonyms. And I was like, no. So I started researching. I was like, so what? Schools do not require picket? What schools don't require picket? So Pacific was one of them. I'm going to apply to Pacific. And hopefully they picked me. So I applied to Pacific and lo and behold, I was in one of the first groups to be interviewed. I know. And then I think they sent me an email. It was, I think Monday. And they were like, oh, you're supposed to be here on Saturday for interview. And I was like, wow, okay. So I was actually debating because when I went online to look at the tickets for 700, I was like, wait, I'm it's just a pharmacy technician. I just started working, paying my school, because I wasn't taking any student loan by then. I was paying everything. So I was like, okay, should I really spend 700? Should I should I not? Yeah. I was like, okay, I'll just go. So I went. I took the leap of Faith and went. And I did my interview on Saturday. And then on Monday they were like, yeah, good news. So that's how I ended. I ended here in Pacific. So I went to Pacific. I did my three years. It was an accelerated program. It was all year round? Yeah, for the whole year. I think we only took two, so four weeks total for the whole year. So it was all year round schooling for three years.

Jan: That's intense.

Sophia: Yeah, it was intense, but it was very good. I really liked their curriculum. The way that they structured their curriculum was perfect. It was very easy for one to remember, one to grasp the concept and just to apply it. And then when I graduated, I was like, I don't think if I really want to go there, because over here it was more of a community. They're more friendly, they're more welcoming. It was like a very mellow pace back then. Right now it's different just because of the people who have influx in red. But back then it was very different. So I was like, no, I'm going to stay here. Kind of like it here. Yeah. So that's how I ended up here. Since 2010, they flew by really fast since 2010. That's when I moved here for pharmaceuticals.

Jan: Well, Sophia, thank you. This was really interesting.

Sophia: Thank you so much for having me. Yeah, thank you.

Jan: If you enjoyed this or any other of my podcast episodes, it would be amazing if you would take a few minutes to leave a review so others can find it. Transcripts are available on my website@janjohnson.com. Please join me again next week.