Elephant Trouble
Monkey Trouble
Lions in the Night
Mad Dogs
Swooning Italian
Potholes of Life
Dr. Boteler I Presume
Lions and Lions
Elephant Call
Roxy and Robert
Eagle and Python


First Adventures as a Doc in Zambia!

After a 40 hour journey, I arrived on Tuesday in Mfuwe near South Luangwa National Park in Zambia to be the doctor for the Luangwa Safari Association for three months.  I'm staying at Flatdogs Camp (see www.flatdogscamp.com) in a lovely setting on the banks of the South Luangwa River.  A “flatdog” is a crocodile, and indeed big crocs and hundreds of hippos hang out in the river or on its sandy banks.

The first night, I was awakened from my jet-lagged slumber at 3:00am by an enormous crashing noise just outside my thatch roofed stucco hut.  What to my sleepy wondering eyes appeared but a herd of elephants eating my bushes and trees.  Elephants are very noisy eaters -- lots of crashing and tearing of tree limbs.  I was awake enough to appreciate how amazing it was to be kneeling on my bed watching elephants calmly graze just feet away.  They "talk" to each other with a wonderful almost palpable low rumbling sound that is remarkable to hear.  Moms and babies snacked away for two hours when I finally fell back asleep to the sounds of hippos groaning, hyenas whooping and lions roaring (I'm not making this up -- just another Tuesday night in Africa!).  The "ellies" also make walking about difficult since they are quite big and can be rather grumpy which makes for a worrisome combination.  The baboons and vervet monkeys hang around camp looking for an easy meal to steal, but they don't seem to bother anyone.

My little house here is not exactly the Ritz, but it does have indoor plumbing and comes with two "house men" who clean, do my laundry every day, make a fire in the boiler to heat water for my shower in the morning, and tell me if it's safe to walk to the restaurant just down the road.  Though I miss Bill, I'm not without housemates here.  I have a cute little frog that comes out at night and sits on my glasses case in the bathroom.  The first night two geckos came running out of my sink when I turned the water on.  I've heard two different “cobra in the bathroom" stories now.  The second one involved a cobra in the toilet bowl at one of the lodges.  They apparently like to live in the septic tank.  Gives using the toilet a whole new element of danger!

I did have to stop in Lusaka (the capitol) for a day to have my "documents" (which meant every diploma or certificate I have ever earned) copied in triplicate and approved at the Medical Council of Zambia.  I'm the first American doc they've had in the Valley, so I was worried I would have problems.  However, Mr. Banda, the head honcho said, "American documents are fine.  After all you were a British colony too!!"

The Dutch doctor on her third stint here has overlapped with me for a week to show me around.  Basically we're on call 24/7 for guests and staff of all the safari lodges in the valley.  We also volunteer at the local, Kakumbi Rural Health Center - a post that normally would be staffed by nurses alone.  The health center has six "beds" to keep ill patients for a couple of days.  Severely injured patients (like victims of lion or croc attacks) and very ill patients are referred to Kamoto Hospital with 62 beds and one doctor one hour drive away.  Apparently the Congolese doctor there is gone much of the time on administrative duties, so the hospital is currently "run" by a second year German medical student with the Zambian staff.  The nurses are remarkably good for the equipment and training they have, though in the end most patients get treated for the top two or three bad things they could have all at once since there is no lab or x-ray of any sort here.  Malaria tops the list of illnesses, and seeing a few malaria patients makes me take my Malarone even more faithfully!!  Sadly, the HIV rate here is 20% of the population -- just think of one-in-five of your friends or family having a fatal disease for which they don't yet have medicine here, though thankfully the anti-retroviral drugs and HIV tests are supposedly on their way.

The biggest adventure so far may be driving the "shining chariot" of a beat-up Toyota 4WD pickup that passes for the doctor's vehicle.  When I pointed out how much nicer the cars are that everyone else drives, someone said that for once the doctor has the crummiest car!  Apparently the truck has never been the same since one of the doctors hit a hippo at high speed -- bad for the hippo, the doctor, and most especially the truck.  I've made friends with Patrick the mechanic and expect to be making frequent pilgrimages to his shrine of truck healing.

So I've been here 4 days now and I'm settling in.  I've met hundreds of people it seems, and all have been very welcoming and nice.  I'm learning to sleep through the elephants midnight snacking, though a hippo woke me up last night -- it's always something!! I'm thinking I'll very much enjoy my time here.  It’s already a grand adventure, and I'm just getting started!!

I hope you can enjoy my Zambian adventure along with me!!

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This site was last updated 01/07/06