A visit to a wonderful but depressing country - Veterinary Practice
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A visit to a wonderful but depressing country

Gareth Cross has been to see vastly under- privileged areas of Kenya and, apart from the amazing wildlife, finds it has changed his perspective on what constitutes a crisis.

I HAVE been out of contact with all things veterinary for the last few weeks so have been given dispensation by the editor to present something completely different this month.

Whilst on the John Cleese theme, I can tell you that I have fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition and finally seen “Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plains” as described in Fawlty Towers when a difficult customer complains about the view from her Torquay hotel room, the view being of Torquay.

Basil Fawlty asks her what she expected the view to be: “Herds of wildebeest…” I find Basil Fawlty an inspiration for customer service generally and frequently comment to the staff, “Satisfied customer, that’s good, ought to have her stuffed.”

Anyway, back to the wildebeest. My father-in-law (spot the link) and mother-in-law have a long-standing involvement with a few schools in Kenya and it has been an ambition of theirs that when the grandchildren are old enough they would like to take them to Kenya to see the country and the schools.

So my wife and I have been lucky  enough to get a nearly free holiday in Kenya as chaperones to our children. I have to insert that as I know this magazine finds its way to a few clients  and I don’t want them thinking I have enough money to take a family of five on safari…

We were lucky enough to view the migration of the wildebeest and zebra in the Masai Mara, as well as seeing all the animals you could hope to see. We were also lucky enough to see black and white rhinos plus many elephants, despite the poachers’ efforts.

The Nakuru national park we also visited functions as a sanctuary for both the black and white rhino. Here the rhinos have all been GPS-tracked via a dart shot from a helicopter. Despite this, six rhinos have been killed since January. I asked our guide if there was collusion with the rangers to which he replied that it did seem suspicious that the rangers know where they are and yet they still get killed.

It did mean that the rhinos are now scared of aircraft as to them aircraft=dart-in-the-bum, so as a plane ew over we positioned ourselves near to the escape route for some distant rhinos we had spotted. Sure enough they came thundering out of the bush and stopped just nicely for a photo.

From a veterinary perspective it was noticeable how healthy all the wild animals looked: I imagine the lions, cheetahs and leopards enforce a kind of herd health scheme of their own. I spotted one diseased animal whilst in the Masai Mara and photographed it for this column for a veterinary quiz.

As well as animals, we experienced Kenyan life in many other spheres and the picture of our van tells a story about how the country functions.

The government had installed a new bridge. My family is standing on it, the concrete object in the foreground. The bridge was a single lump of concrete placed across a riverbed in a mud road. When the rain came it washed out the bit where the road meets the bridge. It was a poorly designed project with no maintenance plan.

Money makes the world go round

The Masai villagers can be seen pushing the van through the river bed. They charged the driver for this service (also a Masai – in the blue shirt, looking dejected). When this failed they charged him more to let him drive through the village to bypass this section of the road: the road belongs a hotel by Newquay airport. And how long has there been a river running through the main tourist road into the Masai? Seven years!

We visited three schools in deprived areas. One on the edge of Nakuru town, one in the hills around which served internally displaced (IDP) families and took nursery age children, partly for education and partly so their parents/guardians/grandparents could find work as there is, of course, no welfare state.

These were Kikuyu tribal people who had been displaced during the 2008 election when the political leaders again stirred up tribal hatred to gain votes. The current president of Kenya is still wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity.

The third school was in Mathare slum in Nairobi. About half of the children in the IDP school were orphans, mainly due to AIDS, and a high proportion are HIV positive themselves.

This school has a kitchen (wood- red stove and a standpipe) but no funding for food. So they go the whole day with no food and are lucky to get much of a meal when home. We have offered to help fund the meals.

Kenya is both a wonderful and depressing country. The people are friendly and always eager to help and make friends. I went for a run with several different people, and was wildly outclassed every time.

When we left, one of them, an artist, had painted a picture of a cheetah and his friend had framed it for me. It was passed on by someone else so they were not even there for me to say thanks. It hangs in pride of place at home, and I take the implied joke about the speed of Kenyans!

I have never visited a country where so many people smile so much. The country is wonderful in its literal sense with huge areas of wilderness stocked full with the animals we know from zoos. It has a vibrant agriculture sector (look where your supermarket flowers and green beans come from).

All this is let down by the government (reference Kenya Between Hope and Despair 1963-2012, by professor Daniel Branch, published by Yale). Politicians are millionaires whilst the children of IDPs they created go hungry.

It will make me less complaining of paying UK taxes (slightly), more tolerant of legislation and red tape and also, for a while, make it very difficult for me to put up with the over-the-top demands some clients make in regards to customer service as my perspective on what constitutes a crisis will be different from theirs for a while.

Britain looks like a slightly dull well-tended garden, with no real wilderness and limited wildlife, but also well-tended in that we do not have slums, or IDPs, or schools full of half-starved AIDS orphans. I think on balance I’ll stay in the garden for now.

  • If any of you are going to give any money to charity this year and would like to contribute to the schools mentioned, please contact my father-in-law, Dr Derek Earls, on Derek.Earls@talktalk.net.

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