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Farewell Zululand

Mseleni Life

sunny 28 °C

So our time in Mseleni is drawing to a close. A chance to reflect and think about some of the things we’ll miss and some we won’t!

Things we won’t miss:

This is truly the most horrific disease known to mankind and has the potential to destroy all hope in Africa.

I have seen a pretty young lady loose her whole cheek – exposing her teeth and her oral cavity to the outside world just because a spot wouldn’t heal.

I witnessed a young man – a hero among in the community because he competed in ultra marathons all around South Africa slowly slowly waste away with diarrhea and MDR TB until he was a skeleton unable to move or speak in more than a whisper.

Vaginal warts the size and consistency (but not the smell) of cauliflowers.

Orphans with HIV and no support structures than can ensure the children take their treatment and eat decent food. 20% of the young mothers admitted to my ward left via the morgue.

The list goes on and on but there is hope. It’s not all doom and gloom (see things we’ll miss)

Bugs and Snakes


Have so far managed not to get bitten by any nasties. Have once been inches away from stepping on a snake and 3x very nearly bitten by highly venomous snakes. Have once run straight into the web of a spider with the legspan the size of my hand.



Dongas – a very descriptive name coming from the sound your car makes as it falls into one! They seem to be designed to catch the Parks Board Rangers when they are in hot pursuit of poachers!

Things we will miss

The Gogos (‘granny’-term of endearment and respect. 55yrs onward plus a few wrinkles and you’re a Gogo)

They are cute. Always smiling and will always be happy if they walk out of consutlation with a pack of paracetamol and a de-worm tablet.

The Children


‘Jabu’ her name directly translated means Joy.

I come into children with them when they’re sick or injured.. in general they are either terrified or incredibly stoical. The main reason for this difference seems to be that some mums tell their children that if they are naughty they will be taken to the white Dr for an injection… or worse… these are the terrified kids. The remainder though are incredible. Last Tuesday I saw a 7 yr old who had cut off the end of 3 of her fingers with a machete. As I arrived in OPD I saw her sitting, her mangled hand held over a plastic bag full of blood, calm as a cucumber. She then let me inject anaesthetic into her hand and stitch the wound together without flinching.


Polly comes across them when they are well. The children’s home has 40 kids in and it is incredible how they interact with each other. They are all form broken homes, many have been abused and many are orphans that have been abandoned by their families. And yet they are (mostly) well behaved, polite, considerate and care for the other children smaller than themselves.


Children in the community do mostly all go to school but they are also expected to help with the household chores – especially collecting water.

The Patients
Seeing a young mother malnourished and ravaged by HIV/TB/fungal meningitis. She battled death for weeks, tolerating dozens of drips, tablets, blood tests and Lumbar punctures but survived and returned to the ward 3 months later to thank everyone for saving her life. Nobody recognized her as she arrived. She had put on 20kg and was beautiful in body and spirit. She thought she was never going to be beautiful again. I have never seen the ward staff so happy and excited. (and that’s quite something – happy Zulu people are VERY animated)

The patience
“Sorry – I can see you probably have broken your leg but we only do X-Rays between 8am & 4pm. You’ll have to wait ‘til morning.” The patient shrugs his shoulders and goes and makes himself comfortable on the floor of the waiting room with the other 50 patients.

Plodding up the hill to labour ward with a sick feeling in my stomach as I’ve only had 40 minutes sleep and I know that whatever this emergency is on maternity, it will be something I have never seen before and will be way out of my comfort zone. Then seeing the sun rise and remembering the Glory of God who created this beautiful earth and has promised to sustain us in all things. Rembering that I needn't draw strength from my own inadequate reserves but from Him. That sick feeling melts away.

The Names
Most zulu names are descriptive, some are zulu words others are not. Some of my favourate examples:

‘King’ is an 80yr old Gogo. As I shouted "King Gumede" into the waiting room a very proud and beautiful old lady rose – she wasn’t royalty – her mum and dad just thought it would be a nice name. She had one of the highest Blood Pressures I have ever seen. Looking back in her notes it was clear that she had this problem for a long time but seldom came for her treatment. I asked to examine her.. "Oh no my child, you will have to pay first for I am King Gumede...(in Zulu)" she then burst into fits of laughter. I then explained to her she would have to be admitted to control this blood pressure or she would have a stroke. "oh no my child, I cannot be admitted, I cannot afford it, I have too much to do at home and strokes occur when the ancestors send a bird and it kicks you in the head. Just give me the tablets and I'll be on my way"

‘Wonderboy’ – 5 yr old kid – not wearing a cape but with a very proud father.

‘Aeroplane’ – 75 yr old Gogo. A plane flew over the house when she was born – the first plane the community had ever seen. The same plane then flew over the hospital. It had a lady in obstructed labour inside. The pilot shouted out of the window ‘ceasar!’ to warn theatre staff to prepare. Everyone panicked thinking the plane was about to crash land. 'Siza' in Zulu means Help!

‘Nurse’ – The other day I asked the theatre sister “what’s your name?” “Nurse Nxumalo” “No sister what’s you’re first name?” “My first name is Nurse Dr Summerhayes!”

‘Lucky/Happiness/Fortunate’ - Of course by the nature of my work I only see these people whan their luck has run out.

Peoples uncomplicated and relaxed approach to life:


We asked the owners of the store miles from any settlement or tar road; "God knows what?" “Well, some days we are very busy, others we see no-one. When we wake up God Knows which day it will be!"

The Beaches


A busy day at Bhanga Nek


The sea is full of fish, turtles and sharks. Seems to be near impossible to catch anything on a rod and line.


So I invested in a spear-gun… much more successful.

‘Baby Goat’

We found Baby Goat at night barely rousable, hypothermic, hypoglycaemic, and dehydrated. She had been abandoned by her flock. Too small and weak to keep up.

We force fed her sweet warm milk with a syringe and she came back to life. She quickly identified Polly as Mum and followed her everywhere.


Unfortunately the hospital management disaprove of farm animals within hospital grounds so she had to go and live with a flock of goats in the local community. Baby Goat didn’t like the other goats and they didn’t like her much. At night she bleated outside Gogo’s rondaval until she was let in. during the day she spent her time with the family’s dog and in the end she suddenly got very ill with an infection and died before we had a chance to say goodbye. Poor old Baby Goat.

The incredible wildlife


Yep. Really did get this close (plus a pretty good zoom lens)


Nyala male


God is an incredible artist


A welcome visitor to the wards at night.

‘Sundowners’ at the local lake after work


As it gets dark the sound of hundreds of frogs ribbiting contently, thousands of crickets chirping, hippos snorting and grunting as they get out of the water, fireflies lighting up the water’s edge and the brilliance of the milky way glittering overhead.

Things we’ve learned

It's good to be out of your comfort zone

For it is when we realise that we are unable to control a situation by our own means that we see our need for God. And it is when we trust in and rely on Him that life fits back into perspective.

Elephants aren’t as friendly as you’d think.


This Bull elephant was very grumpy.. or maybe just horny!


He seriously wanted a piece of us…. Fortunately he couldn’t outrun a V8!

Posted by robandpol 01:08 Archived in South Africa Tagged living_abroad

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