I remember that time as vividly as if it was yesterday. At around the same time I started working in the Magunje area, another young man joined us as a livestock extension worker. The Livestock Production Department (LPD) was a newly set-up department whose mandate eluded me then, and still eludes me today. It was supposed to service a niche between the agronomic extension system and the veterinary extension system. But the surprising thing really was that all the guy wrote in his monthly report was an extraction from my own report! The logic of it!
The LPD was in actual fact, a poor cousin of a department: without a clear mandate, with no offices (he shared offices with me), no clear reporting structures yet. And of course their guy was quite inexperienced too, straight from agricultural college. On the upside, he was enthusiastic and affable so I kind of took him under my wing. And I must say the guy, Itai was his name, was a natural at the job. He was organised, he could talk well to the old men and women of the village and I found him very useful as manpower in some of the operations that I had to do. A great friendship developed between us.
One day, we were called to attend a farmer’s cow which had a sizable fleshy protrusion out of its vulva. We restrained the animal, with panicky thoughts running through my mind. Was it collapse of the uterus? Vagina? What could have triggered it? Upon closer inspection, and considering the history and size of the organ, I concluded that it was the vagina. So we went about trying to resolve it. I took control of the situation with as much confidence as any novice could muster, surrounded by a sizable crowd of curious onlookers.
We restrained the animal. As expected that was not easy. There were no holding facilities. We had to improvise, using a rope to tie the fractious animal on a strong pole inside the kraal. Then water in a bucket, soap. Disinfect as best as you can, then manually try to return the organ. I had the theory well-set in my mind. I even ordered them to bring a drum so that we could manoeuvre the animal in such a manner that gravity could help us. The animal couldn’t stay still, the drum kept rolling away. I abandoned that. I was nervous but I knew the theory: start from the edges, coordinated smooth pressure and voila, it’s in! Not so fast, the mass of flesh wouldn’t budge. The animal kept straining against my force and I didn’t know the amount of pressure to use: books don’t tell you that! After some period of trial and error, and a lot of force I finally managed to resolve it. Next I was thinking: purse suture to keep the organ from relapsing. But the was no suture material, and no twine. We had to leave it at that and hope for the best, after profuse thank you’s from the grateful owner.
Two days later, I heard that they sold the animal to the butcher after a relapse. Ah well…you can’t win them all.
On another occasion, a distressed farmer visited my office early in the morning, distraught about his pregnant animal having difficult birth. His home was at a distance, and by the time we arrived, the calf was dead. The point now was to deliver the calf and save the mother. With the assistance of the farmer’s son, I corrected the mal-disposition. Push the calf inwards to create more working space, correct the shoulder flexion to extended posture and calving ropes to deliver. This one went like a dream, and we delivered the calf uneventfully. The farmer owner was very grateful. My chest swelled with pride! I accepted his token of a very big cockerel! I gladly took it home, and feasted on it for three days!!!
It was good experience for a young man. I saw first-hand the trauma of people getting their herds wiped out by tick-borne diseases. Anthrax outbreaks were common, blackleg, and a whole host of mysterious ailments that one did one’s best to treat symptomatically. It was a critical period in my life, and one that reinforced in my mind the criticality of being well-trained in order to make palpable difference in people’s lives and lives of their animals.
But it wasn’t all sombre. There was time to explore the delights of Magunje. Time to patronise the noisy and smoky bars that come spectacularly to life at nights…and surprise surprise, even time to fall in love…