Johnny Ambrose

Fifteen years ago, Johnny Ambrose was trampled and killed by an elephant. He was guiding a group of tourists on a walking safari when the elephant charged the group. He drew the attention of the elephant away from the tourists and was crushed. Every year in mid May, there is a touch rugby competition in his memory, held at Croc Valley Camp.


Teams come from as far afield as Malawi and Lusaka to compete. It is a round robin competition, with every team playing every other team, to decide an eventual winner. It usually starts at about 2:30pm and finishes three hours later, as the light is fading. As the Valley doctor, I have to be in attendance in case a contestant is injured.

There is no grass on the field, just hardened, dry, dusty clay. Some players felt that their trainers did not give them enough grip on this surface, so they removed their footwear. Two barefoot players tore the hard skin from the ball of their feet, and these were the only casualties I had to deal with. It was hot, blistering heat, if you will forgive the pun, and the players came off for a refreshment break after five minutes. Rather than drinking oral rehydration solution, some were drinking beer, others vodka and coke. The standard of play deteriorated as the day wore on, as contestants became tired and emotional.

Eugene – he is not playing for Harlequins

After the prize giving, there was a barbecue. At the bar, beside the river bank, a sheep’s carcass had been roasting over a low fire for most of the day. The corpse was stretched out over a wire mesh, and the cook basted it regularly with a honey glaze which had caramelised to a rich dark brown colour.

In addition to the sheep, there was the usual array of sausages, steak and chicken, with salad, for $10 a plate. There were some interesting prizes being raffled off at $2 a ticket. And the high light of the evening was Karaoke. You could pay to nominate someone to sing. If they refused, they would forfeit double your bid.

I decided the atmosphere was too raucous and loud, so I slipped away and made myself a vegetable curry with rice. Just as I sat down to eat it, I was called out to see a tourist who was unwell in the camp next to Croc Valley. After seeing the patient, I rejoined the party primarily to see another client who needed some malaria pills. Everyone was well-oiled. “C’mon doc, down this Jaegermaster in one! You’ve earned it,” said the captain of the winning team. I politely declined, saying that I was driving and on duty.

“It didn’t stop some of the other doctors. I remember one doc, who was once so drunk that we had to tie him to an open LandCruiser, dowse him with water and drive him to the lodge for some black coffee to sober him up. There had been an emergency call from Nsefu, so we put someone in the car with him and drove to the camp. He might have been drunk, but he saved the man’s life.”

I drove back home and started typing out another blog. I was about to go to bed when I was called out to another patient who had been badly injured in a fall. I am on duty 24/7 and for me that means I need to be sober at all times. Perhaps I can let my hair down a little bit when I return to England in two months.


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