Portrait – Katrine’s stay in Tanzania with Type 1 diabetes

Katrine, staying in front of a beautiful beach in Tanzania

The testimonies published on our blog are original stories. They are intended to inspire people living with chronic disease, to show them that it is possible to live their dreams beyond the borders and their illness, and to overcome any existing difficulties or fears. These stories are also intended to raise awareness among their loved ones, and more broadly among people, about the reality experienced by these strong women and men who overcome many challenges related to their illness or treatment in their daily life. If you would like to share your experience, feel free to reach us at !

My name is Katrine Mariell Karlsen and I am 22 years old. Right now, I am studying for a master’s degree in entrepreneurship and innovation at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. I’ve been living with type 1 diabetes since 2nd of December 2004, so it’s soon to be 15 years.

From September 2015 until February 2016 I went to Moshi in Tanzania on a cultural exchange. The exchange where through the Norwegian Peace Corps and I stayed with a local family and worked at a children’s home during my stay.

This was my first time going away for so long, with no thoughts on if I would be able to get medical help when needed, how and if I could stay regularly in contact with my family and so on. So those were mainly my main challenges. When it came to medical help, I talked to my organization whom I made the trip with, and they helped me find out about insurance and where to get help. Everything else I tried to google my way through, but I didn’t really help much. I just had to calm down and not think about it, and when I came to my destination everything solved itself one day at a time.

Before departure, my main difficulties were also to calculate and predict how much insulin and diabetes equipment I was going to need the next five months I was going to be away. I was also thinking a lot on how to store my insulin because of the heat (insuline is a medicine that should be kept at a tempeture of 4-8° when new, and below 25° when open). I prepared myself for the trip by bringing twice as much insulin and diabetes equipment than I was going to need for my stay. I also made sure that those I was travelling with brought some of it, so that I wouldn’t lose it all if my luggage disappeared.

When I was there, I was also diagnosed with malaria and parasites during my stay, which had a huge impact on my diabetes. I had to be on antibiotics which made me throw up a week straight, and the antibiotics also made my blood sugar go crazy. But after the week was over and the malaria and parasites were gone, I started to function as normal again.

During the months in Tanzania, we also experienced a lot of power loss. Since I had to keep my insulin in the fridge, this could turn into some problems because we only had power for 2 or 3 hours a day. One day, three months into my stay, my host brother remembered that my insulin had to stay cold. We hadn’t had power in almost two days, so he wanted to do a good gesture. His gesture was then to put my insulin in the freezer so it would stay could, because the fridge was turning warm. The only bad thing here is that he forgot the insulin there, so when the power came back, all of my insulin froze. So, a day after when I was going to the freezer to get a new insulin pen, I found it all frozen in the freezer. My panic kicked in, and I made a frightful call back home to Norway to my parents. Luckily the leader in my Tanzanian organization were in Norway at that time, so she was able to bring brand new insulin for me. I haven’t really thought about what would have happened if she wasn’t there, but I guess I would have had to go back home to Norway to either end my stay or to get more myself.

At the end of the day, I learned a lot about myself and about my life living with diabetes! Most of all I think I learned that my life has no limits, even though I am living with diabetes. I also learned that even though if you get sick or experience some difficulties during your exchange, you should never give up. Everything happens for a reason, and most times everything can be solved.

If I had to share an advice with other people living with diabetes or any chronic illness: do your thing either way! Never let your chronical illness stop you from doing something you’ve always dreamed of. And seek help in other people, let them know about your chronical illness, so you can be safe.

Katrine, avec un enfant dans ses bras, en Tanzanie

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