A review of the Jilek-Aall Biography in the Ormsby Review

Love affair with Africa

Moon Madness: Dr. Louise Aall, Sixty Years of Healing in Africa
by Alan Twigg

Vancouver: Ronsdale Books, 2019
$21.95 / 9781553805939

Reviewed by Valerie Green

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In writing the true-life story of Dr. Louise Aall (pronounced All), author Alan Twigg has produced a spellbinding biography about an incredible woman.

For sixty years, Dr. Aall devoted her life to healing the sick in Africa, establishing a clinic to treat patients with epilepsy (initially known as moon madness — kifafa in Swahili), while at the same time continually researching and writing papers about epilepsy in order to help obliterate the stigma and lack of education surrounding this disease in Africa.

A young Louise Aall

Dr. Aall’s story is both refreshing and unusual and tells of how a shy, introverted young woman did great things to change the world through determination and fortitude. Twigg has presented the reader with a biography that will definitely inspire all those who read it.

Louise Aall was born in Oslo, Norway, in 1931. She was the second child of Lily Weiser-Aall, an ethnologist, and Anathon Aall, a professor of philosophy and psychology. Louise and her older brother, Cato, with whom she was especially close, and her younger sister, Ingrid, were largely home-schooled by their parents who always encouraged them to read above all else.

From an early age, Louise knew she must aspire to great things as she was part of a family of high achievers. In addition, both her paternal and maternal ancestors had played a large part in the history of Norway.

Aall as a young doctor

Despite the pressure this might have put upon a young child, Louise recalls her childhood as being “mostly happy — full of music, laughter and learning…. ” (p. 2) There was also the occasional beating from an over-zealous nanny who was instantly fired once the beatings came to light.

Twigg intersperses the story with Louise’s own words, which begin when she explains how her father’s deteriorating health during the 1930s was never discussed. “In Norway, people don’t talk about illnesses … unlike in North America where people love to talk about illness.” She added, “I don’t like that at all. It embarrasses me.” This is a somewhat strange comment in view of her lifelong profession in the medical field.

The coming of war in 1940 drastically changed Louise’s life and that of her family. During those years they moved from German-occupied Oslo to their country house, during which time Louise’s father’s health deteriorated even further and he began to experience hallucinatory episodes. He died in 1942 of Parkinson’s Disease.

In 1946 Louise’s brother and sister were allowed to return to Oslo but Louise remained with her mother and indulged her passion for reading, teaching herself to also read in Swedish and Danish and learn to play the piano. Over the next two years, she decided she wanted to become doctor.

Dr. Jilek-Aall making house calls in Africa. Photo by Wolfgang Jilek. Courtesy BC BookLook

This was not an easy path for her because of years of home schooling and then returning to the school system late, where her inability to become proficient in mathematics held her back. She failed to gain entry into the University of Oslo, but in 1951 gained entrance to the University of Tubingen in Germany. The next few years were a happy experience for her despite her shyness. One particular event in 1954 long remained in her memory — when she joined a torchlight ceremony to sing a Norwegian hymn to honour Nobel Prize winner Dr. Albert Schweitzer, a man who would later play an enormous part in her life in Africa.

By 1958 Louise had completed all her medical exams and then for one more year studied tropical medicine in Switzerland. In 1959 she was offered a small salary to conduct research in Africa. Thus began her life-long love affair with the African continent.

The author later points out, “Her love affair with Africa was a lifelong commitment — a passion — and she had to wonder if — it would be the most important relationship she would ever have. It was certainly the longest” (p. 196).

Dr. Jilek-Aall with the first group of female patients at Mahenje, Tanzania. Photo by Wolfgang Jilek

Although she loved her work in Africa, she often questioned herself about whether she should have married and had children — but her relationships with men were few and far between.

For the next few years she began her important medical work in the field through twenty Catholic missions. This often entailed long days of travelling to outlying regions either by truck or by bike. Sometimes she had to walk for hours to reach her destination, but she loved the work as she knew she was laying the foundation for her future epilepsy clinic at Mahenge.

Dr. Jilek-Aall (centre) during a recent visit to Mahenge. Photo by Wolfgang Jilek, courtesy BC BookLook

However, when called by the Norwegian Red Cross to head to the Belgian Congo in 1960, she didn’t hesitate — despite the dangers involved.
Author Alan Twigg describes this perilous time in detail as well as her future meeting back in Lambarene in Gabon with Dr. Albert Schweitzer, with whom she formed a special bond of understanding.

Alan Twigg. Photo courtesy Nelson Star

In 1963, back in Europe while undertaking further neurological training under Professor H. Landolt, she met Wolfgang Jilek, and agreed to allow him to accompany her back to Mahenge, where their relationship developed. They were eventually married with two wedding ceremonies in Oslo and Vienna.

They both were inspired to study further the subjects of transcultural psychiatry and epidemiology at McGill University, so they set sail for Canada. During those next few years they wrote many papers on those subjects and in 1965 Louise received her McGill diploma in psychiatry. During a cross-country holiday they both fell in love with the beauty of British Columbia, where they decided to settle.

But Louise’s love of Africa always called to her, and once again Twigg describes those future visits with explicit detail as she desperately tries to re-establish her clinic while continuing to study and broaden her medical knowledge.

In 1979, Louise and Wolfgang adopted a four-year-old girl from an orphanage in Bogota, Colombia, and little Martica became part of their family.

Alan Twigg has presented a biography rich with medical information alongside the personal and amazing life of a woman whose devotion to healing is second to none. At the end of the book he has included research and scientific papers written by both Louise and Wolfgang Jilek, as well as an Appendix with letters written in 1992 to Dr. Aall by two women — a 17 year-old and a 24 year-old — who thanked her for dispelling the notions that epileptic seizures were unnatural. They hoped that everyone would come to understand that these seizures could be controlled with medication. I guarantee these letters will move readers and enable them to understand the prejudices Louise had to fight in Africa.

Even those with little or no medical knowledge will be moved by this biography of an incredible woman, whose work and career needed to be documented both for future generations and for the purpose of tropical medical research.

Louise Jilek-Aall of Tsawwassen

Sixty years after Louise first encountered a small boy who believed his life was ruined because of “moon madness,” her revitalized clinic for epileptic patients at Mahenge still operates today with renewed hope (p. 209).

Author Alan Twigg has written many books and biographies, but is perhaps best known as the creator of BC BookWorld, the ABCBookWorld reference service, BC BookLook news service and the Literary Map of BC, all of which have enabled British Columbian writers to have a voice in today’s world. In 2014 Twigg was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

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Valerie Green

Valerie Green was born and educated in England where she studied journalism and law. Her passion was always writing from the moment she first held a pen in her hand. After working at the world-famous Foyles Books on Charing Cross Road, London, followed by a brief stint with M15 and legal firms, she moved to Canada in 1968 where she married and raised a family, while embarking on a long career as a freelance writer, columnist, and author of over over twenty non-fiction historical and true-crime books.

Valerie Green

Valerie Green

She is currently working on her debut novel Providence, which will be published soon as the first of The McBride Chronicles, an historical four-generational family saga bringing early BC history alive. Now semi-retired (although writers never really retire!) she enjoys taking short road trips around BC with her husband, watching their two beloved grandsons grow up and, of course, writing. Editor’s note: Valerie’s most recent contributions to The Ormsby Review are reviews of books by Leslie Howard, D.B. Carew, Caroline Adderson, Dean Unger, Jody Hedlund, Dora Dueck, and Tara Moss.

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You can read the original review here.

Why we need to build a school in Luhombero

In this video, Father Placid explains why they need to build the three room school house in Luhombero. It will be called the Yosef Wosk School, named for a wonderful donor. Most schools are in the towns and not close. In any case they are expensive and often have 120 students per class.

If you would like to donate, click on this link to  The Provision Charitable Foundation at Canada Helps. In the drop down menu, select “Luhombero Primary School,” and enter the amount you would like to donate and your personal information so that you may receive a tax receipt. If you prefer to use Paypal (no tax receipt), you can click the Paypal button below.





In this video below, Father Placid talks about how the whole village worked to build the bricks for the school. He asks for help from Canada and all the children thank you very much, “Asanta sana!!”


THANK YOU!





Because of improved irrigation, agriculture is improved in the Village

Because of your donations, Placid has been able to install improved irrigation. Now they can plant a lot of maize (corn), melons, tomatoes and more. And they are even starting to raise pigs. There is no longer hunger in the village.

Here the villagers of Luhombero are planting 6 acres of maize.

Father Placid proudly showing off the tomato field!

And here is the beginning of their pig farming industry.

Thank you for the car!

Father Placid thanks everyone for the donation of money that allowed him to purchase a new car (truck). With it, he can transport patients to hospital, get their spare produce to the market town and move tools and farm equipment. This is a godsend for them.

In this video, because of the new truck, Father Placid is able to drive a pregnant mother who was having difficulty delivering her baby to the Health Centre in the next village.

And in this video, he drives at least 20 children to church. See if you can count them all!

Working in the fields

Here is brief video of villagers helping with the harvest.

In this video, they are growing seedlings that will be transplanted later, into the fields.

In this video, Father Placid shows us the fields and the crops that are made possible by your generous donations. The village now enjoys food security, which they did not have before.

A Visit to Luhombero in January, 2018

Who do you think of when you think of a Renaissance man (or woman)?

Leonardo da Vinci? Dude who painted the Mona Lisa and harnessed solar energy 450 years before green energy was cool.

Ben Carson? The neurosurgeon and presidential candidate who is currently dismantling the US Department of Housing and Urban Development?

Lisa Kudrow?  She was a biopsychology major before becoming Phoebe on Friends.

Julia Shinnick and her mother visit Luhombero 2018

Julia Shinnick and her mother visit Luhombero 2018

I think of Father Placid.

I first learned about Father Placid Kindata when he was the bursar at Kasita Seminary, one of the premier Catholic secondary schools in Tanzania. Having completed a masters degree in business administration, that administrative role made sense for him.

Then, I met him when he was a parish priest at Kasita parish, a small parish down the road from the seminary. He started a kindergarten there. Due to an unwavering belief in the power of early childhood education, he could often be seen with a swarm of 5-year-olds following him.

Water access is a huge issue in Mahenge, and when there was not enough water to irrigate the small farm he created on Kasita land, he found a natural spring to water it. Then he set about trying to implement year-round farming.

At the same time, he oversaw the construction of a massive, new building to replace the parish church, serving as a contractor for the project. And he taught people how to look after livestock.

Over beers during a visit in the rainy season, Father Placid has told me the stories of how he used to trap animals of all sorts—warthogs, hippos, antelopes, to feed his grandparents and others in his village. He learned to fish and farm around the same time.

During one of these stories, two little girls came and joined us for lunch. Before long, Father Placid was laughing heartily with them over rice and beans. They were born with HIV and their classmates refused to sit with them at lunch, so Father Placid invited them to his house instead.

Julia Shinnick and a mysterious beekeeper

Julia Shinnick and a mysterious beekeeper

Father Placid fixes a myriad of problems arising from life in the under-privileged and remote village of Luhombero, and he’s also fixer of problems of the heart.

As well, one of the things that makes me love Father Placid and proud to call him my friend—beyond his great sense of humor and his talent as a conversationalist and his infectious laugh—has been his unwavering commitment to help people with epilepsy.

A generation ago, many people in the Mahenge region believed that epilepsy was a curse from the devil or ancestral spirits. To this day, many people with epilepsy in the area are discriminated against and thought incapable of working.

Having worked to help Dr. Louise Jilek-Aall provide medications and rehabilitation for people with epilepsy, Father Placid sees the potential and ability in those who have been viewed as hopeless cases.

This especially matters to me in particular because I was born with refractory temporal lobe epilepsy.  I would have been seen as a hopeless case had I been born in Luhombero rather than the United States.

If I had been born in Luhombero there’s a pretty good chance I would have been ostracized at elementary school, too, like those two girls afflicted with AIDS, and I’d most likely be unemployed as an adult.

Julia listens to Father Placid explain more irrigation plans

Julia listens to Father Placid explain more irrigation plans

Instead I’m applying to Ph.D programs. I live and normal and often privileged life.

Father Placid is the sort of person that every young person with epilepsy needs: the teacher who treats them as capable, the social worker who makes sure they are not too anxious, the case worker who makes sure they took their medications, and the friend who invites them to a meal all in one.

Having now visited him in Luhombero, I’ve seen how he serves as the epilepsy jack-of-all-trades for the communities of Luhombero and Mahenge.  Genetics or fate didn’t call him to this work. This is a man who pours his heart and soul into working with people with epilepsy simply because he sees their need and believes that everyone deserves a fair shot at a decent quality of life.

Too often this work with people with epilepsy day-in and day-out goes unrecognized.

It’s important for my good friend Father Placid to know he has allies in North America.

If you’re reading this far, you are likely someone who cares about such matters.

Please help Father Placid help Luhombero.

Please made a donation by contacting us. Even a little makes a huge difference.. Thank you!

— Julia Shinnick

Beekeeping comes to Luhombero

Donations from readers of the literary newspaper BC BookWorld in Vancouver, Canada, continue to make a huge difference to the lives of people in the remote village of Luhombero.

Placid on zip line over river

Father Placid en route to his beekeeping seminar, crossing Little Ruaha River.

Empowered to purchase extensive irrigation equipment, Father Placid has been able to develop two large farming projects at Luhombero and Kasita. These agricultural projects will soon be self-sustaining.

Now, to start a new industry in the area, Father Placid, has graduated from a course taught by Ted Rabenold of AfricanBeekeeping.com to train African beekeepers in both English or Swahili. This course was taught in a rural area outside Ifakara, accessible by ‘zipline’ ferry that enabled people to cross the Little Ruaha River one at a time.

Working with the widespread Apis Mellifera Scutellata bees, Rabenold’s organization has held seminars in Mbeya, Iringa, Sumbawanga, Rukwa Valley, Ufipa Plateau, Nairobi, Kijabe, and Maasai-land.

Meanwhile ten thousand dollars has now been set aside for the eventual purchase of a vehicle in conjunction with MIVA, a European organization that will pay 50% of the purchase and delivery costs.

We still have a long way to go before a vehicle purchase can be made—another $5,000 at least—but Rome was not built in a day, and Luhombero cannot be uplifted overnight.

Thank you to all who have given.

Placid and beekeepers

Placid and beekeepers