On my way to work


I wake up with the sunrise, just before 6am and flip the switch on the emersion heater for 15 minutes to give me enough water for a hot shower. I normally eat breakfast on the verandah, greeting Mary, my cleaner, four mornings a week at 7am.

Occasionally the fruit and vegetable seller catches me just before I leave for work at 7:30. I know him as a patient at the clinic. He must have been one of the last Zambians to have had poliomyelitis as a child. He struggles to carry four or five plastic bags filled with produce. I could buy vegetables cheaper from the market in the village, but I admire his entrepreneurial spirit. At the moment, carrots are pretty expensive at 20p each. Apples cost 40p but they are not locally produced. Lettuce and bananas need to be eaten quickly as they are already wilting and turning brown. The avocados are huge and delicious. There are always tomatoes; they may be misshapen and blotchy but they’re very tasty. Fresh herbs – mint, basil and chives – are great to add to salads.

I have a five minute drive along bush track to get to the main spur road. The first half is in poor condition with lots of potholes, but the second portion is sandy and allows me to get out of second gear. I try to scan the bush for game, but I mainly concentrate on the best route to take between the potholes. I also avoid the elephant dung; the fresher it is, the more cautious I drive. If you see one elephant, the chances are that there is at least one other nearby, and it might be behind you.

The main spur road runs parallel to the Luangwa River from Cropping to Petauki in the south. Where it passes through clay, the surface has been gouged by truck wheels and it is impossible to chose a path which doesn’t jar the fillings in my teeth. After a kilometre or so, it joins a tarmac road which allows me to speed up. Either side of the road, the vegetation is scrub and savannah. I saw a large group of giraffes earlier this month. I wonder what’s the collective name for this? A “stretch” of giraffes? Suggestions in the comments, please.


A local man told me that in February, a pride of lions had attacked an adult giraffe between the road and the river. Lions have to avoid the giraffe’s vicious kicks, but one managed to get a back leg in her jaws and this made it difficult for the giraffe to balance and kick. Another leapt onto its back and a third grabbed the throat as the giraffe went down. I was sceptical about this story, but the man told me that he had watched the kill from the road. “Weren’t you frightened the lions would come for you?” I asked. “No,” he said. “We were on our bicycles.”

I asked if giraffe made good eating, but he told me that after you put a chunk of giraffe meat into the pot it shrinks with cooking and becomes very tough. You obviously need to eat it raw.

As the road nears Cropping, you can see signs of civilisation, a school on the right, Wency’s Autoworks on the left. Straight ahead there is a T junction with the road into the Game Park to the left and the village to the right. Straight ahead there is the famous site where some hungry villagers chased a pride of lions away from a buffalo kill.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a small saloon car parked at an angle at the edge of the tarmac. I stopped, thinking that they had broken down. There were two Zambians rummaging around in the bush. I thought perhaps they were relieving themselves, but they don’t normally have any qualms about taking a pee at the side of the road. I asked them if anything was wrong and they told me that they were from Chipata and were collecting elephant medicine. Thanks for asking, but they didn’t need any help. As I drove away, I thought to myself, “Elephant medicine? What on earth is that?” Is it a plant that elephants like to eat to heal themselves when they are ill? If so, why do humans need to collect it? I found the answer yesterday. A tea formed by boiling elephant dung in water is the traditional treatment for hypertension. I am assured that it is very effective. For the medics reading this blog, perhaps I could extend the acronym for hypertension treatment from ABCD to ABCDE? Or in our case, just E as the clinic is completely out of blood pressure medication at the moment.

By Dr Alfred Prunesquallor

Maverick doctor with 40 years experience, I reduced my NHS commitment in 2013. I am now enjoying being free lance, working where I am needed overseas. Now I am working in the UK helping with the current coronavirus pandemic.


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