"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Africa Journals, Ch. 39, Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?

The Africa Journals

Chapter 39

Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?

Life is either a great adventure or nothing.
--Helen Keller

Russell Gammon is the kind of fellow you’d love to have dinner with, preferably when neither of you has any time constraints and the postprandial conversation is free to wander where it may, because you know Gammon is a storyteller par excellence, and thus the evening holds promise of being both entertaining and educational.

I can imagine him setting down his lager and telling me how to find the big cats of Africa during the rainy season.  They don't like getting wet and since the heavy undergrowth is laden with dew in the morning they walk down the roads, making them easier to track and find. 

Leopard tracks after a night rain.

Gammon looks like he belongs in Africa—to Africa, and he does.   He’s a third generation resident of Zimbabwe, the result of an ancestor coming to Zimbabwe from Scotland in the early 1890s.

He is a big man and his ruddy complexion, exacerbated by the intense African sun, tends to disguise the redness of his beard.   

My introduction to Gammon comes in the late afternoon of a day filled with activities.   Elephant rides, cheetah petting, a visit to a tribal healer, all were spinning around in my head in an orgy of exotic encounters.  When Brian tells our driver to take a different road to wherever we are going, I sit right up and pay attention, ready for the next adventure.

The “different road” takes us through the village of Victoria Falls, then turns back alongside the Zambezi River through brush and trees.   A seemingly deserted road suddenly comes alive with hawkers coming out of the brush as we slow to see another baobab tree.   Thankfully, we are protected within the coach and escape with our dollars intact.  

Hawkers in front of the coach.

A short distance away, we disembark and board a river boat with chairs and tables lining the outside of the deck.  Seated at one of those tables was Gammon, dressed in a gray shirt and khaki shorts.  Once the hors de oeuvres are set out and we have our beverages of choice, Gammon goes to the bow and begins to speak about his hero:  Dr. David Livingstone, the first European to see the “Smoke that Thunders,” who promptly named it Victoria Falls after the queen of England.

Front CoverLike Livingstone, Gammon is Scottish.   He has been a guide for most of his adult life and is now considered the foremost expert in the life of Dr. Livingstone.   He frequently gives talks at Victoria Falls Hotel and other venues, and has worked with the Smithsonian Institute, National Geographic, the BBC, and Discovery Channel regarding Livingstone.   Further, he has traveled much of Livingstone's routes.

I had read Martin Dugard’s Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone before I came to Africa and I was anxious to hear Gammon flesh out the story of the Scottish medical missionary and Africa explorer.

So, I join fellow travelers from Nevada at a front table and settle back with a Coke Zero and a few hors de oeuvres, pen in hand and notebook at the ready.   
I suggest you order a tray full of gin and tonics.   We're in malaria country and you'll need the anti-malarial qualities in the tonic, you see.

The boat pulls away from the dock, passes some women fishing along the shore,  and Gammon begins to speak.   We are literally on the same river at the same place that Livingstone explored in the mid 1800s.

Now, settle back and listen as we learn about Livingstone and Stanley during an era when the average life span of a European in Africa was an astonishing six months.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Africa Journals, Ch. 38, The Medicine Man

The Africa Journals

Chapter 38
The medicine Man

The art of healing comes from nature and not from the physician. Therefore, the physician must start from nature with an open mind.—Paracelsus

I can still feel the leathery, mud-caked elephant ear and the coarse black cheetah hair on my hand as we board up and leave the Wild Horizons Elephant Safari site.   I can also feel the additional weight of the souvenirs now packed in the purple sling bag I carry when traveling.  This place would turn out to have the nicest gift shop of the trip.

Wrapped carefully in newspaper are a hand-painted ironwood candle holder and three candles, also hand-painted, from Swaziland.  They are a thank you gift for Julie, my house/parrot-sitter.  Emily’s “autograph” is rolled up into a cardboard tube for safe-keeping.

A short distance down the highway, at the sign, we again turn onto a dirt road.  We pass huts and tended fields.   

The sign reads "To Mpisi village."

I knew we were going to see a traditional healer on this trip.   I knew better than to think he or she would be in African dress, piercings with bones stuck through them, facial paintings, and wearing dreads.   Didn't I?   Well, I could hope.

The road becomes more primitive, winding through the bushveld, then opens onto a fair-sized compound.

The effusive, gregarious Chief Mpisi.

This is the home of Mpisi Melusi Ndlovu, chief of the village, who greets us wearing jeans and a bright blue shirt that looks like an Hawaiian aloha shirt, right down to the Hawaiian state flower, the hibiscus.   When I get closer, I see the writing on the shirt is “South Pole.”  


Carol is sitting in a clever chair made of two pieces.

Mpisi is a distinguished medicine man, an herbal healer.   He guides us to his lapa (meeting place) and talks about his village and traditional healing.  I’m seated quite far away from him and can’t hear much of what he says.  My attention is focused on a young man sitting with his back to us, adding touches to a painting of a zebra’s eye.   I really can't see anything changing in the painting.


A handbag made of two 33-1/3 RPM records.

Chief Mpisi is well-known in the field of herbal medicine.   He often consults with major drug companies about herbal cures, but he also fights drug companies that attempt to patent traditional African herbal medicines.   He has never attended school, but PhD students come to learn from him, and the Red Cross flew him to Harare to fight the cholera outbreak of 2009.  He has worked in the U.S. on cancer cures, but turned down an offer from a major pharmaceutical company and returned to Zimbabwe.

Mpisi is a charming, charismatic man and loves to talk with visitors.  He shows us around the compound, which is surrounded by fields where he and his family grow millet, sorghum, nuts, and pumpkin, and the important corn.

The all important maize (corn).

Some of the huts are square; others are round.   The round ones, he explains, are so snakes can find their way out.  In square huts, the snake will reach a corner and stop.

In one of those huts, a woman stirs a huge pot of pap over an open fire.

We are invited to look inside his home and office.

A solitary calf is being weaned in a kraal.


We leave Mr. Mpisi’s village and return to the hotel before our next adventure.  I’m still smiling about this famous, respected healer wearing an aloha shirt that says “South Pole,” standing in a village of mud huts while greeting tourists from America.  If this whole thing isn’t the epitome of culture clash, I certainly won't recognize what is.