I found myself in rural Zimbabwe through a series of fortunate events. As a vet student with a longstanding passion for working equid welfare, I had expressed these interests to several kind and like-minded individuals. So plans were made. I would spend four weeks with two dedicated veterinarians who were responsible for holding mobile donkey clinics down the length of this beautiful country.
An excerpt from a diary documenting my trip to Zimbabwe in August 2014:
“We arrived in Rutenga after refuelling on maputi at a shop on the A4 highway. The main street thronged with people carrying containers of all shapes and sizes. The piped water supply had been cut off for some time and no one was sure when it would return.
I scavenged half a bucket for shower water which we’d brought with us from Chivi plus a cup from a kind watchman who was standing guard over our camp. This was still very wasteful given the circumstances. Since the pipes were bone dry, the luxurious flush toilets in the government vet office were no longer a viable option. A mechanic across the road agreed to let us use his long-drop. Like most toilets we’d been visiting, this was a simple concrete construction with a sealed pit below. The majority were clean, private and could double up as a shower space. Ideally, to avoid a fall into the abyss, you should remember to cover the drop hole before you start stumbling round with soap in your eyes.
We stewed beef and sweet potatoes over the gas flame. The armed night watchman advised us to cough if we left our tents before dawn. This would avoid us being mistaken for intruders or one of the local rail workers convening by the tracks for a smoke. Warning received, I hauled myself into the tent and drifted in and out of sleep with the intermittent sounds of the post-mortem room generator next door.
I woke up with much the same expectations as the past few days; small manageable numbers of patients. We arrived at our next rural location with the friendly veterinary extension assistant and positioned ourselves near the cattle dip tank. A couple of donkeys were waiting amongst the mopani trees which we treated diligently. Then began donkey armageddon. From all directions they swarmed in their masses kicking up dust as they flooded towards the clinic. As they were too jumbled up to treat in a sensible order, we began funnelling them down the path to the dip tank. Long faces and big ears crowded ten-deep around the car until there was hardly room to turn and draw up the ketoprofen. Every time I glanced around, several new donkey eyes and their ocular pathologies appeared on the horizon beside their expectant owners. I was pushed back by the crowd onto a pile of rocks which I scrambled over back and forth to reach for the drugs and examine their corneal scars. If I could better explain the scenes of chaos as owners attempted to tame their excited beasts, you wouldn’t believe me. In short, it was brilliant and challenging. The last of the crowd dissipated and we returned to town for sadza and the most blissful braaied chicken at a local culinary hotspot.”