After 4 months of lodging at the District office, I was finally pissed off. For one, I couldn’t sleep in, no matter how much I loved to! For another, all my fellow workers had now been assigned their own work stations in the rural areas, and they all strutted around like peacocks, reveling in their new statuses as “officers”, “authorised persons” or even veterinary “doctors”! It certainly was a privileged position and I guess that pressured me to finally demand my own deployment.
My case was not straightforward: they liked me at the District office. Nobody was in any hurry for me to go anywhere. I guess I was a good errant boy. But more importantly, they were also treating me with great care because I had made an extraordinary decision: I had agreed to go and work in Musambakaruma area. The boss (Senior Animal Health Inspector) had gone to great lengths to persuade me to go there. Other people had advised me to turn down that posting. I was in a real dilemma!
Musambakaruma is a place not easy to locate on the map of Zimbabwe. It is deep in Matusadonha National Park, deep enough to make the sighting of an elephant a very normal thing. The great hulking giants were very much part of the scene, their stately gaits and giant grey ears a dignified part of the landscape. There was only one bus that plied that route, and only in the dry season. The alternative was NGO all-terrain vehicles or cattle trucks, which travelled as regularly as once in two months.
The settlement at Musambakaruma was a contested affair. Originally the area was inhabited by the ethnic Tonga people, who lived by hunting on the margin of Matusadonha National Park. However their numbers were swollen by the influx of people mostly from Masvingo, themselves running away from population pressure in their communal areas. In reality, these people had forcibly resettled themselves. Political expedience had ensured their endurance, as opportunistic politicians woed them for their votes. But their survival was hard: the place is deep in the Zambezi Valley. It is hot and dry, and they hardly harvest anything in most years. So this impoverished, diverse community eke out a precarious livelihood on the edge of the wilderness, aided mostly by international NGOs.
Their jeopardy did not just end with perennial hunger. Every year, there were deaths from attacks by wild animals. Elephants destroyed crops. Stories of people stampeded by elephants were common. But more worryingly, the area was a hotbed of zoonotic and parasitic diseases. Rabies was known to kill people regularly; tsetse flies transmitted trypanosomiasis to animals and people. And then the great danger: malaria. The place was known to have a highly virulent form of malaria. I was told that 5 agricultural extension officers had died in succession form malaria.
Onto this cauldron I was diving! It was enough to knock the wind out of the sails of the toughest person. But I still agreed to go, out of a combination of a perverse sense of daring, a misplaced sense of vanity (I was going where no vet extension worker had ever worked!), and a good dose of foolishness.
Star graduate from Mazowe, the world at my feet, going into the deep end. Would I thrive? Would I wilt in that stifling heat? Would I even die?
Find out in the next entry…